As with everyone in the Architectural design industry, I have noted the inexorable rise in the number of hours that individuals in offices are required to work in order to meet deadlines. These deadlines are very often set very unreasonably, to say:
- Fit into a funding bodies’ end of financial year time scale, to suit their own bureaucracy and funding deadlines;
- Developers requiring redesigns because the “market” has run counter to their cost consultants’ estimates of schemes’ construction costs.
- Clients’ changes to designs required on site and the necessity to deal with the fall out, with increased contract administration not to mention redesign time.
These time pressures are similar in many associated building consultancies such as engineering, but it is far worse, I feel, in architectural practice. Needles to say that this culture is not compensated for with increased fees, reflecting the extra hours worked as fees continue to drop rather than increase.
This ‘extreme hours’ culture eventually takes its toll on individuals’ lives both private and professional, with many dropping out of the profession.
Therefore our 5in4 trial period, is BLA’s attempt to start looking at this phenomenon in a way that – whilst working the hours of a full week – makes the extra hours often required from staff members to be either paid for separately or negotiated with a client, to then be added onto the programme of a commission.
I, of course, have worries about what we are embarking on :
- Loss of 20% visibility during the week.
- Inability to meet urgent deadlines as staff will be unavailable for that 5th day of working if needed.
- Negative perceptions within the client group of part time working.
- Disproportionate effort by certain individuals to maintain “the safety net” of being available on the Fridays for emergency issues.
However on the positive side:
- BLA will still work a 38hr week, it will just be compressed into 4 days.
- Individual staff members will have a reduced commute to and from work.
- There will be an extra day for staff members’ private lives, potentially making family life less pressured.
- We should be able to manage the expectations of clients and contractors that meetings and queries are arranged in the first four days of the week.
- For the 5in4 to truly work we will have to work much smarter. There will have to be less repetition; less pondering re design; less bespoke unique solutions.
- There will have to be much faster initial solutions, with modelled presentations leading to faster and firmer sign offs of frozen design stages.
- We are going to have to gauge our clients needs in how bespoke they wish to be in design, or in fact how they want to simply have a standard solution.
- We are going to monitor and possibly scale back the “service” we provide to inexperienced and under-resourced contractors and clients.
Experiences so far:
– Shifting my sleeping pattern by an hour and a half made the first morning a little tough, but since then I’ve felt much livelier again as the new working hours are becoming routine.
– The additional working hours of each day have so far remained productive and haven’t yet given me that ‘it’s been a long day’ feeling. Neither do I feel that my evenings have been significantly shortened; there’s still plenty of time for me to relax and refresh for the following day.
– Starting work at 7:30am has encouraged me to be more efficient with my time in the mornings before I leave for work and I’ve so far managed to cut down my morning routine by roughly 20-25 minutes!
– The most frequent question I’ve been asked regarding the 5 in 4 experiment has to be ‘won’t people just work on the Friday anyway when a deadline is approaching?’… At this stage we can only wait and see what the answer will be.
– It doesn’t seem like the local newsagent is too happy about us buying one less paper each week!
– I’m hoping that this long weekend will be one of my most productive weekends to date due to the extra time that I will be able to spend on my personal projects and studies outside of the workplace. I believe that more can be achieved in the one Friday than in the five evenings of the previous working hours.
– As I’m not living with family here in Leeds I won’t experience many of the effects that the new hours have on family life, but I’m certainly interested to see how those living with partners and children find the change in routine.
– Although the first weekend is yet to come, I feel that there will be a positive impact on work/life balance
– I wonder if tea and coffee consumption will increase with the longer working hours, I’ll keep an eye on it!
As I now work 29 hours in 4 days (increased from 26 hours) this change doesn’t affect me too much – however, I have noticed that the week has gone so much quicker – on Wednesday I thought it was Tuesday eek!
From a personal point of view, I like mornings and enjoy my job so getting up nearly an hour earlier hasn’t had too much of a major impact although the queue for the bathroom takes some getting used to. When I used to come in the office it was quiet and I had time to set out my stall and get ready for the day – now when I come (as all staff have been in an hour already) the office is busy and straight away staff are needing me (a small point but noticeable).
To work with the rest of the team I changed my day off from a Thursday to Friday – you may think that’s not much of change but it took me a long time to find a great Yoga class on a Thursday and now cant go :o( – also when I’m not at work I’m am carer for my elderly parents and the day change has impacted on them. This may seem a negative thought but I am confident the 5in4 can work for the office – with a little outside understanding and good communication within the office!!
• Part of working efficiently is to know when to abstain from things which are a waste of time.
• Reduced hours places a greater impetus on effective working and as such a regular (and dynamic, changing) assessment of personal work-planning, team resource-planning, what actions to take/not take; becomes very important.
• Which means lots of sleep and coffee!! (Or vitamin B…)
• In the first week however, it seems to have made us cheerful and motivated.
• A question in my mind: how will it work if/when Clients demand a presence on Fridays? Occasional will be OK, but do we make a stand and say that we don’t work Fridays if pushed? Or can we negotiate and reason our free time when challenged?
In June 2011:
• There were 31million workforce jobs in the UK, shared by 29million people.
• 21million people were working full-time (of them 4million were self-employed).
• 8million people were working part-time & 1.5million people were working on a temporary basis.
• Of those 21million people who work full-time posts flexitime is an available feature (eg for Civil Servants, Public Servants, Self-employed and a range of other Private Sector jobs).
• What would happen if all the rest of the full-time employed workers changed hours to 5in4…? Would it change expectations of availability??
What my commute usually look like!
I’m LC, I joined Bauman Lyons as an Architect a year ago and since starting I have worked part time.
I live in Manchester and commute to Leeds by a combination of train and bike. I’m married and I’m not a parent, yet. Why am I sharing this? Because I know very well that if I was a mum, my needs/responsibilities towards family would be quite different from my current situation.
Nonetheless “5in4” (4in3 for me as part time) is a step up, in working hours, than what I was on before we began this interesting trial.
In the last 3 years I have actively been searching for a slower, lower-carbon lifestyle. I have had the possibility of taking a year off work-in-practice to study at the Centre for Alternative Technology for an inspiring MSc. This opportunity not only enabled me to learn new knowledge and skills, but actively instilled in me an understanding and appreciation that a very fulfilling life can be lived with less.
This has brought me to value working part time in an effort to find a better life-work balance. My week is full but richer because of it; I am able to give voluntary work just as much value as paid work and I feel I am a better Architect for it!
Hopes & Worries:
- I am excited to be part of an architecture practice which is not scared to challenge the profession status-quo, by giving the “5in4” a try while still understanding the need and value of flexibility…
- …Although part-time, I do think these new hours are probably going to push me very hard. I will need to leave the house at approximately 6.20am and I will not be back till 9.15pm (I am quite accurate with my timings as I am now a veteran in my train+bike commute!)
- Being able to work one of my days from home will enable me to cut down on commuting hours and also overall tiredness. It will also help me to concentrate and be very efficient without the disturbance of phone-calls etc.
- The isolation of working by myself will be balanced, hopefully, by the days spent in the office.
- The set up of the 5in4 (4in3 for me as part-time) will enable me to continue being involved in the various environmental and community projects I have help set up and run in Manchester over the past 5 years.
- A worry, which I am hoping will be unfounded, is that the level of tiredness will be too much to bear. A 10hr in the office, will mean a 14.5hr day for me, over two days alone I will clock up 30 hours approximately.
- Having to give up on vital and engaging personal activities. For example with the new working hours, I will now not be able to attend the monthly get together(s) of Manchester graduates from the Centre of Alternative Technology held on last Thursday of the month. I find this monthly event a burst of energy with regard to renewed knowledge and enthusiasm to live sustainably and support others in doing so.
- Hoping that if tired I will not take it out on my husband.