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  • Writer's pictureAndrew J Bannister

Be a one man company, with as many staff as you need !

No, I have not gone mad through isolation in these testing times, but it has focussed my mind into thinking hard about how we ( architects and designers ) will progress out of this pandemic tragedy, and where many of us are working at home, alone already.

As many of you will know, I have been working at home for some time, but I still need to work with others who do the things that I do not do, and all for the clients benefit.. But if you are a one-man company, how on earth can you take on the projects that need a full and varied team of experts, each in their own filed of speciality ?

In a previous article, I discussed modern technology giving us the opportunity to talk face to face over our computers, and with whomever we want to, and who want to talk to us. But who are they and where do they come from ? how do you get them onboard ?

A few months ago, I was at a social event and where I bumped into a friend who employs a large team of architects, engineers, designers and managers in his architectural practice in Dubai. He explained that for him to run his company, he has to not only employ all of those people, but he also has to pay for the office rent and electricity and water, office furniture, fixtures and fittings, printers, cleaning and maintenance... His monthly overhead is substantial, but that is the way it has always been, and therefore "we" feel that it is the only way to run an architectural practice of that size and complexity. They design and manage the construction of tall buildings, residential and commercial buildings, f&b, retail and master planning, and they do it very well. So they need to employ a varied range of talented people with specific skills and bring them together as team to show clients how capable and experienced they are as a company. But at what cost ?

What will happen now that many are being forced to work from home ? That company will still have the monthly overheads of the offices, but no full practical use for them. So it makes you question, why ? Why do we need these offices and overheads ? If times are changing, which I am positive they are, then perhaps we should question 'how' we employ the services of the people we need. And do we still need a company office ? and if so, how big ?

Over recent years we have seen the emergence of 'co-working' offices, where you basically rent a small space within a larger one, and benefit for the overall larger facilities, but you are only paying for a small part... good idea, but not always practical for what I am illustrating here, and yet, in part, co-working could play its role in my thoughts to follow. But do you lose some of your identity when you do this ? and does it matter ? Time will tell...

My thoughts and ideas are not unique to me, but it's how we put them into practice that will make the difference, and I suspect those owning large blocks of rentable offices will not like these this could lead to a mass exodus from large expensive offices, and instead be replaced by the formation of large networks of individuals working together as a professional community, mostly online and mostly working from home. A network of available skills each making themselves available for projects and the formation of teams to undertake any size and complexity of a project, and the network can be fully International, and work from anywhere.

More and more of us will be working in a solo manner and within our homes. I am implementing this concept now, and I suspect may architects and designers are already one step ahead of me. Developing the 'nature' of a larger architectural practice, but without employing anyone in the traditional sense. Maybe you will be your only employee !

How do we go about this ? First of all we need to establish what areas of expertise will be required to complete the architectural or design challenge presented. So let us assume that I do not have all of the skills and technical qualifications to get the new project through all of the approvals required by the local authorities, drawings, engineering, inspections etc.

I need to arrange a list of people with the skill base required to fulfil my contract with my client.

Of course, as the lead architect, this is first and foremost my project, and I must control it and own it and be responsible for it, so any other 'talent' helping me, must first accept that they are to keep within pre agreed terms and communicate as agreed. Agreements, maybe including non disclosure agreements between us, so that each know fully their responsibilities and scope of work. We also need to fully understand and agree the terms by which we charge for the work we do, because why else would we enter the arrangement ?, but equally, those on board must keep to the promises made in the agreement and to the time lines. Because for the project to receive payment, which is distributed by the lead project owner, then each must fulfil their roles and in a timely and competent manner... in other words, if one of the team does not perform, then they will be letting the whole team down ( just like it is in a traditional company, only here we have a much easier path to replace someone who does not perform )

Example: As the lead architect I will need for this project a Consultant Structural Engineer, Electrical Engineer, HVAC engineer and Soft Furnishing Interior Designer. It really does not matter if your list is the same or different, so long as it includes for everything and therefore everyone, you need to accomplish your project.

So, a client comes to me and for a price to design and oversee the construction of their new family villa, and just as always, we need to be sure of what the client is expecting from us, a full scope of work which can then be priced and agreed to. Knowing the approximate size and full scope of the villa, I will be in a position to send out to my preselected potential team of professionals, what I need from them. The structural engineer, electrical engineer and others can all 'quote' for their scope and within the range of work required, also explaining what happens 'if' there are variations, etc. Armed with this, I can put together a quotation to my prospective client, come to an agreement, and start the project.

Now let us look into this in more detail. What have I just done ? Effectively I have asked the "market" how much they will charge for their individual skills for this specific project and the variations within it. These professionals could be based almost anywhere, so long as they do not need to go to the site. They could be in another country, so long as you can all communicate in a common language and they fully understand how buildings are structured and finished according to the scope in my region. It is preferable if you know the team members already, because for some professions, you need to be totally confident that they will perform their duty to the agreement and be available when required. But new individuals and maybe even teams may come to my attention, and with proven track records, then the door is always open, but ultimately I only let in the ones I trust.

How different is this to having your own employed full time team in an expensive office ? I have employed many people over the decades, and I can say with some authority that even when you employ someone full time, there are no guarantees, and with respect, not all are as capable as you would wish. But to change a full time employee is no easy thing, the costs and time lags can be extensive and not always practical.

However, imagine a bank of professionals, ready and willing to work to time lines and the quality you need, and where you can change them if its not working out, and without the problems incurred if you had fully employed them.. Literally thousands of potential work colleagues available, and more importantly, each having specific skills, making the team highly competent and competitive.

It is important to note that your pricing may not be the lowest, even though you have no large office overheads, because you can offer the best people...and they simply cost more, but ultimately the client benefits by getting more experience, professionalism, skills and talents ... because instead of paying for the large office expenditure, they are instead paying for the best available... a win win situation for everyone involved. You are no longer shackled to a limited resource, but instead you have an almost unlimited resource, and all via the internet and modern communication systems.

I could go on, but I guess this article is long enough already, and so I will close in the knowledge that my message to you may have already crossed your minds, you may already be doing the same or similar, or my words may be the spark you need to regenerate your business and where because of current events, you will need to work from home alone and into a bright new future full of new opportunities, because you are no longer restricted by ways of the past.

Final note. I do not have all the answers, but I can see that this, or something like it, is the future for not all, but many of us. It is both exciting and challenging. I see a whole new network of work colleagues and friends coming from this approach, and it will for certain, give me new ways to expand my business but without taking as many risks as I did before with massive overheads that are difficult to dispense with, and ultimately, it will be the same for the majority, therefore making many businesses more practical and potentially more profitable, without increasing costs to clients, and all in the comfort of our homes.

Your thoughts ?

Andrew J Bannister

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