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The new normal: hybrid, remote, or office – what the future looks like for RBA

With studios in both London and Paris, the future of working looks rather different across the Reid Brewin Architects family. In the UK, colleagues are gearing up for the reopening of retail and hospitality, with the vaccine rollout in full-swing, while in France, we’re facing a fresh round of regional lockdowns.

Such disparities in infection rates has meant it’s hard to apply a blanket policy at RBA, but last month our co-founder, Adrian Brewin, was invited to share his thoughts on the future of the architectural office, with Design And Build Review Magazine. In case you missed it, you can catch up on the original Q&A, here.

How has Reid Brewin Architects’ way of working changed since the start of the pandemic?

Fundamentally, our method of working hasn’t changed, but it has become trickier. It’s much easier discussing projects face-to-face, rather than via video calls and screen sharing – although these were both part of our makeup pre-pandemic, as we encouraged the team to reduce travel when it could be avoided. However, the events of the past 12 months have brought everyone up to speed when it comes to the virtual meeting, so it’s more accepted than it used to be.

We’ve also had to become more proactive to maintain psychological wellbeing, organising different ways for staff to check in with each other – rather than simply when ‘needs must’ for project-related tasks.

The major change though, is that it’s given everyone more flexibility to work from different locations, and there is a desire to provide laptops for everyone moving forwards. However, some of our CAD requirements need special graphic cards that are only available on desktop machines – which does make things a little more difficult.

How difficult has it been to implement and adjust to these changes? What challenges has the firm faced and how did it overcome them?

Initially, it meant everyone dismantling their computers (and desktop setups) and taking them home in a taxi. Luckily, our existing infrastructure enabled everyone to connect to the network remotely via VPNs – although we did have to purchase some additional licences, and colleagues were forced to reorganise the layouts of their London or Parisian homes.

Notwithstanding the odd missing cable and the requests for proper workstation chairs and tables, it was a fairly smooth transition. A few members of staff struggled with the isolation, but we’ve worked through it by enabling them to come into the office on occasion.

What tools and technologies have been most helpful throughout the pandemic? Will you continue to use these tools after Covid-19?

Top of the list must be Teams, Zoom, Gotomeet, Chime, Webex, to name a few. Every client has their own system with a different host of settings and controls, but these tools have become integral to everyone’s working day.

Security is also a top priority for a lot of our clients, so ensuring the firewalls, dual factor authentication, and password protocols comply with our Cyber security certification is important.

Will the firm continue with remote or hybrid working in the pandemic’s wake? Why/why not?

We will continue to be flexible with requests for remote working, but there will be a requirement to come into the office on a regular basis for team meetings and social cohesion. The social aspect of seeing work colleagues, and particularly communication across different teams and the sharing of ideas outside everyone’s immediate group has been missed.

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