Everything we’ve gained and lost

Mar 21, 2021

Now that we’ve been working from home for a year, let’s unpack the pros and cons of our new lifestyle.

Now that we have been working from home for almost a year, we are used to this new way of delivering projects and reporting for duty. Let’s unpack the pros and cons of our new lifestyle.

What is working? Working from home gives us increased flexibility. You can work when you’re sick. You can work when your kids are sick. It reduces schedule-stress and enables us to work around “whatever.” We no longer drive in rush-hour. We are spending less money on gas and reducing our carbon footprint, which is good for the environment. We can also take our work to remote and exotic locations with the all-powerful combination that is a laptop and Wi-Fi. Some organizations are starting to consider the option of downsizing office space to reduce costs.

This change has forced us to collectively adapt to technologies that had already existed but were being underutilized. Virtual client meetings/interviews have become the norm across the industry. That means no wasted time traveling and fewer lunch or cocktail expenses.

“Had it not been for the pandemic, we would never have fully adopted the new technology. Now, you have no choice but to get on board. I have seen some of our project managers get really sophisticated with how they use the tools for collaboration. It’s been cool to watch people do that – reviewing drawings and red lining edits together in real time.” – Timothy Lindholm, PG, Senior Executive Officer, Capital Projects, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

We can be thankful this much needed progress and innovation blossomed out of unmistakably tough times.

What’s not working? Now that we have scaled the hurdles of home-office setup, I often hear people say they can “complete all their work from home.” Let’s take a look at the challenges we face working in our comfortable pants.

Distraction at the office is real. Chitchat and interruptions are something we all contend with. However, home is not without distractions – from family care to all the needs of domestic life. Balancing these is an obstacle.

Second, our level of engagement is impaired – with management, peers, and our teams. Many of us are experiencing workplace disconnect. The connection we had with our employer is not what it used to be and we’re struggling to establish the stable link we once had. Productivity in Zoom meetings, whether all your colleagues are paying attention or not, is no fun. Team relations are sometimes reduced to a soundbite. It is very easy to miss read cues via electronic communication, and staying engaged with people has presented its own new challenges. Externally, private companies are losing when client development and client relationship maintenance is restricted.

Then, there’s Zoom burnout. Working from home eliminates the option of catching someone in the hall or elevator and quickly handling a collaborative discussion. Now, collaboration must be scheduled. Often, it is scheduled alongside six other Zoom meetings in a given day. By your fifth video conference, you may not be your best self. Zoom burnout is real.

Finally, we contend with increased isolation. While our industry has historically attracted introverts, not everybody fares well in isolation. These days, we must make an effort to get a change of scenery. We have no separation between work and home. There is always a risk of developing a disproportionate work-life balance and overworking.

Does the value we provide to our organizations add up to a list of tasks we can complete remotely? I would argue this grossly underestimates the level of engagement our organizations want and need from us.

A hybrid future looks bright. The flexibility we’ve gained adapting to new technology and working remotely was much needed. However, it is clear the engagement and efficiency of being together provide an indispensable support system for delivering AEC work. We can utilize all the tools and skills we have gained during stay at home orders while reuniting our teams to regain the level of engagement and efficiency we had before. Continuing to evolve, support, and strengthen our organizations is, as it always has been, the critical future path for our industry.

Talin Espinoza is chief strategy officer at Twining, Inc., executive board member with CMAA Southern California, board member with AGC Los Angeles District, and state board member with AGC of California. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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