Last summer I joined IKM Architecture as a Project Manager in the recently established Cleveland office. IKM Architecture, a Pittsburgh based firm with over a century of experience, and a deep portfolio in healthcare, higher education and workplace, was looking to expand into new markets and territories. The idea of joining a firm with such a rich history, was an enticing proposition. The prospect of playing a role in developing an office was an opportunity that I could not pass up. Although born and raised in Pittsburgh and having lived in Cleveland for the past 15 years, I now found myself in unfamiliar territory.
How do I balance the transition to a new job, contribute to a growing team in a new office location, manage multiple projects, and manage a staff located back in Pittsburgh?
The answer was simple: GO REMOTE
Throughout my journey, I have been exposed to multiple new technologies and ways to work that have completely upended how I perform my responsibilities. Below are a few lessons learned that I would like to share with you that have helped me navigate this new digital landscape. These topics are relevant for those working remotely in any situation but are even more pertinent in today’s “work from home” environment.
Working remotely will only be as successful as you want it to be. It is important that if you are going to follow this new work model that you fully embrace it. If you are a sole proprietor, buy-in can be relatively easy. If you work for a larger firm, you must have buy-in from the ownership/management level all the way down to individual team members. Technology is ever-changing and the dynamics of practicing architecture and design “virtually” are complex. To get started (budgets aside), I recommend:
- Establishing an action plan with goals (What do you want the technology to do)
- Do your research on what’s available and study lessons learned from other firms/organizations
- Be open to learning something new! Or learning to do something in a new way!
Technology can be Your Friend
As the design profession advances, technology is dictating how we collaborate internally, communicate externally, and market ourselves. New hardware, software, and digital tools such as apps, continue to be developed and utilized to keep project teams connected, organized and functioning with a high level of efficiency.
In most cases, someone you know is more knowledgeable with technology than you may be. Whether that individual is a colleague, friend, or competitor, now is the time to ask for some help! There is no shame in reaching out for advice on how others are using technology to their advantage. Remember, no matter what one’s experience level may be, mentorship is a two-way street. Years of professional experience doesn’t always equate to mastering advancements in technology. We can all learn from each other in this particular scenario.
Once you have access and an understanding of the technology, you may ask, “How do you manage it all?” “How do you set yourself up for success?” The easiest way to manage this is to take advantage of the software’s companion apps that are typically available for phones and tablets. Using the apps in tandem with the software increases your mobility and productivity.
Collaborate and Participate
Collaboration and participation are crucial for any successful project. Don’t allow team members to get lost in the technology. Incorporate different strategies into your virtual meetings to encourage full participation by the entire team. Ask questions, call on participants, and allow feedback from the entire team.
Staying on task and remaining engaged when working remotely can be a challenge. Scheduling weekly check-ins via video conference allows for each team member to provide an update. These check-ins will help to identify when additional staff may be needed to help. Assigning tasks with specific dates will ensure the project schedule is maintained.
It is always important to evaluate the success of using the virtual tools to manage a project and the design process. Ask for frequent assessments from your team. Is this working? Are there ways to improve our communication? Is everyone’s voice being heard? Are there other options available to improve collaboration? Is the availability of each team member appropriate? Once feedback is provided, take action to address those needs of your team!
Where Am I?
As you work remotely, it is easy to begin to feel “out of the loop,” and alone on an island. Keeping a schedule is important to maintain your well-being. Communication with your team on what your schedule is and what the expectations are is paramount. Technology allows us to always be plugged-in, but it is extremely important to UNPLUG at certain times for the sake of your own mental health. Having guidelines on when individuals can be reached, except for emergencies, will greatly benefit the entire team.
Finally, I wanted to share my suggestions for what makes for a rewarding experience working remotely.
While working remotely, and specifically during these trying times, it’s OK to have a sense of humor and to show off your personality. The key is to know your audience and when it is OK to introduce some measures of informality. These informal gestures can often help a project team communicate and provide some much-needed relief from external stresses. Whether it’s having some fun with your daily wardrobe, changing your virtual background on video-conference calls, or just accepting some humor and playfulness into your meetings, your team will thank you!
You are not alone!
Adam Yaracs, AIA | IKM Project Manager