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Social Distancing and Architectural Practice In The Time of Covid-19

UPDATED 5/4/20: The San Francisco Bay Area Shelter-in-place order has been extended to May 31. Consequently I am extending my social distancing measures until at least the end of May, and beyond. It is important to maintain these measures to ensure that the infection and death rates plateau and drop before the economy reopens.

I am looking at how this will change my practice in the long term as well. But for now, I will continue working on current projects, and offering Virtual Design Counseling for those that want to explore building or remodeling in the near future.

The Costco shelves have been stripped of toilet paper and pasta. The Target is out of canned and frozen veggies. Schools are closed. You may have been asked to work from home.

What is your architect doing? How is work getting done?

I can’t speak for all architects, but this is how my boutique architectural studio is functioning in the time of Covid-19: we are implementing practical measures to ensure our own health, and the health of our clients and consultants.

How are we doing that?

We are doing that by instituting Social distancing and making the studio as much of a “virtual” studio as we can.

How do we make our studio as “virtual” a studio as we can?

That means Hunkering Down

We are hunkering down in our office space, and working on our clients’ projects. We are doing our utmost to stay in our office while also providing the kind of service our clients need.

That means using email and video conferencing

I am a major email guy anyway. I prefer it to phone calls for many things. It gives me a record of our conversations, and it provides me an opportunity to give my communication some thought. We can share PDF and other types of files. We can also use DropBox to share bigger files.

Phone calls still work of course. I prefer if we can schedule calls in advance so that we can be as efficient as possible.

Video conferencing is a very effective way to meet with one or more other people. Once a day and time has been determined, I set up the meeting and make sure everybody gets an email invitation to the conference. (I use for video calls and conferences.) We can chat and share screens, and the conference can be recorded.

That means remote workers

For the last 5 years or so, I have been using a drafting service to provide drafting support in the various software programs I use – Chief Architect, AutoCad, Revit. Note: the only program I have on my machine is Chief Architect. But I use the others via the remote workers.

During this time of heightened concern about infectious disease, using remote workers from a drafting service means that I will not be confronted with ill employees who have to stay home for two weeks. The drafting service has workers all over the world and can, at the moment, continue providing services during this pandemic.

This means in person meetings still happen

UPDATED 3/16/20 at 3:00pm: The counties of Alameda (where I live and work), Contra Costa, Marin, Santa Clara, San Francisco, and San Mateo are going into a “shelter in place” order beginning at 12:01am on 3/17. All “non-essential” businesses are being asked to remain closed and residents are asked to remain home until at least April 7.

Given this situation, I will not be having any in person meetings. I do work mostly from home, so work will continue, but in person meetings, site visits, and trips to government offices will not happen until the quarantine is lifted.

If we need a face-to-face meeting, it is still possible. If I am healthy, and you are healthy, lets meet. But when we do, I’ll insist on an elbow bump in lieu of a handshake.

I will be wearing gloves, if I have to take documents into a business or government office. Local jurisdictions do seem to love paper. While many other places in the country accept electronic permit applications, most Bay Area jurisdictions do not yet. With Silicone Valley so close, why not? (Rhetorical question.)

This means postponing some kinds of work

I will have to postpone some in person work in order to ensure the health of all concerned. I may not want to provide an initial design meeting, or to come and field measure your house at the moment. For your safety and for mine, we may need to schedule that kind of visit out for three weeks or more, depending on what the outbreak is like in the Bay Area.

This, too, shall pass.

These are my working principals for the next three weeks, at least. I will re-evaluate at the end of March and extend these measures further out if necessary.

Remember, this is a temporary situation. Things will return to normal, and life will go on much as it has. I am confident that all of our normal lives will resume.

We will return to our offices. Our kids will return to their schools. There will be toilet paper at Costco and frozen veggies at Target.

But I may keep using the video conferencing, because it saves me a ton of time driving around the Bay Area to attend meetings.

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