Editor’s Note: Are the Days Numbered for Architecture Studios?

As we begin the new year, the shadow of COVID-19 still looms over us. Last year, we struggled through weeks and months in survival mode, just trying to keep our businesses and personal lives going. But as the light begins to flicker ahead in the distance, many of us realize we have to do some deliberate planning for the future. After we’re vaccinated, we will emerge from our caves and attempt to resume some semblance of normal life.

The question is, what will the new normal look like?

For those who have toiled from home even before the pandemic, work life might not change that radically. Certainly, we will all be glad to go out to lunch—and dinner—and all those wonderful activities we’ve gone without for so long. We will meet face to face with clients and colleagues again, reinforcing those ineffable human connections that are so hard to conjure on video calls and phone calls. We will stand close, putting our heads together over plans, computer screens, iPads, napkin sketches. We will walk home sites unencumbered by masks, breathing in the earthy fragrances of the trees, grass, flowers.

Residential architects who maintain studios outside the home will welcome this return to normalcy, too, but you have more ahead of you to consider. It may be time for a deeper reckoning on how and where you work. Will you, should you, bring everyone back to a shared workspace?

Surely, some members of your firm miss the collaborative exchange that comes of working in close physical proximity. There are those serendipitous moments when someone glimpses another’s computer screen and a creative spark is ignited, a problem is solved, a new path is taken. Then there’s the more formal crit, when everyone comes together to brainstorm a project pinned to the wall. There is gold in these moments together.

But, there’s also the tiresome commute to the office and the real struggle of triangulated trips to the jobsite and school or childcare pickups. Liberated from these concerns, some of your people may have concluded they are more efficient and happier working from home. Or maybe they would be happier working from another home base entirely— from another city or town?

Yes, last year we were locked in the shadows but, at the same time, we may also have seen our lives in a new light. Must we go to an office? Or, must we go there every day?

When the COVID fog finally lifts, not everyone will reinvent their workplaces right away. You might choose a hybrid model for the near term—asking your staff to come in several times a week for full or partial days. You might eventually downsize your space and infuse it with some of the pleasures of home—an outdoor space, perhaps.

Ah, but reinvention is your wheelhouse, and when you figure out what the new pro- gram is, you’ll know just what to do.

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