Working remotely wasn’t a shock to the principals and staff of Seattle-based AOME in March 2020. They dropped their expensive office lease and set up employees with studios at home in 2011. According to principal Mark Elster, “One surprise to us when we went totally virtual is now being discovered by more firms – working remotely is more productive. Graphisoft made it possible.”
Too often firms force paper paradigms into a digital workspace. AOME adopted Graphisoft products in the 1990’s with Archicad v4.0 and is still there in v24.0. The driver behind their success has been to fully embrace the software. As a result, AOME now does with four people what they did with eight people 10 or 15 years ago – it’s all about a culture change using Archicad as it was designed to be used.
There are three things Elster focuses on to maintain a smooth and efficient design process for his firm.
Embrace the workflow: Go with the flow. Adopting the workflow built into the Archicad process changes the bell curve of SD-DD-CD-CA workflow to front load design. Embracing this workflow changes your way of thinking. Instead of sketching lines on a pad of paper, you learn to think “wall” with all of its parameters as you sketch lines in the model.
Other workflow improvements using Archicad include more auto-populating schedules and real time BIM model updates to all sources and links simultaneously. What used to require updating in three places now happens once. “It’s a heavy lift to get your mind wrapped around workflows, linking schedules and properties and classifications,” said AOME’s Elster, “there are lots of moving parts and pieces but once you do so it dramatically increases productivity.”
Set up templates and processes: One step to greater productivity is establishing robust office standards and a “favorites” library of consistently used elements. For example, when designers are drawing walls in the model, a palette of wall sections is as necessary today as a glossary of line weights was for ink on linen. The barrier for most firms is taking the time to do it. “We can see that’s low hanging fruit,” said Elster. “Creating favorites as we go ends up with six ways to do the same thing.” His firm plans to spend the December lull producing custom favorites. While it will be a labor intensive heavy lift, once done it will be a powerful tool in on-boarding new staff, with better consistency and less energy wasted re-inventing wheels. Or rather, reinventing walls.
Maximize a collaborative work culture: It’s counterintuitive, but working long distance enhances a collaborative work culture. Before going virtual in 2011, AOME had an in-office environment where dropping by the desk to look over a shoulder was the norm. It worked in the old paper taped to the drafting table days, but not so well when work shifted to a computer monitor. Two people looking at a zoomed in view on a single computer monitor is physically challenging. Screen sharing is actually clearer in a virtual office, with a cursor pointing to exactly what to look at and the ability of both parties to zoom in and zoom out. Collaboration is enhanced with everyone on screens.
“It took a couple of months to figure out why it was easier to share in the virtual world,” said Elster. Graphisoft enhances team effectiveness whether everyone is in the same physical office or scattered across the globe with teamwork and BIMcloud options.
Successfully transitioning to design in the virtual world begins with the principals. Firm leadership must be on board and persistent. But changing the way the team thinks about design can’t be imposed from the top, it takes educating on the benefits to everyone of full participation. It has to be matched with plenty of human connection – on the phone, video conferencing, screen sharing. And someday soon, planning renewed face to face connections to enhance the personal relationships that foster a strong team.
Written by Sue Lani Madsen, AIA Member Emeritus, Freelance Columnist
You can reach Sue Lani at firstname.lastname@example.org