Much like the rest of the world reacting to the rapid spread of COVID-19, HFA made the decision on Monday, March 16th to close all of our offices and transition to a completely remote office model. This unprecedented decision did not come lightly for CEO Dave Wilgus, but it was one that allowed HFA employees to stay safe, do their part to minimize the spread of COVID-19, and still work collaboratively as a team to get the job done for each and every client. The impact of moving 257 employees to remote workspaces across the country seemed like a daunting task, and wasn’t without its hurdles, but by weathering this storm together, the team at HFA has come out of this stronger and closer than ever before.
“This was one of the ‘hardest easier’ decisions we’ve ever made. We needed to protect our people, which made it an easy decision. However, we needed to continue to provide quality service to our clients while maintaining effective collaboration, communication, and teamwork,” said Wilgus. He continues, “There was a lot of risk to efficiency and it required a lot of trust in both our people and leadership.”
Let’s take a look at some of the unique learning some of our HFA employees have assembled throughout their time working remotely.
What’s Working Well
Thankfully, teams were aware that the transition to a fully remote office was a possibility, so it did not come as a shock to most when the decision was made. But still, it was something that everyone had to work at to make as seamless as possible for clients: the work did not stop, so productivity couldn’t either. So, what’s working well for our teams? Let’s take a look.
• Microsoft Teams
• Dedicated workstations
“Now that we can’t simply go visit each other at our desks, Teams fills in the gap between emails and phone calls. I can’t see working without it now,”
- Director, Bo Ebbrecht
One of the most influential pieces of technology that HFA employees have utilized heavily during this transition is Microsoft Teams. Because of the nature of architecture and engineering work, being able to be present with one another by sharing screens to look at a document together is critical for workflow, and Teams gives our employees that ability. It’s also a great asset for those quick questions that were typically a quick desk visit in the office but can now be completed via the chat functionality. We strongly believe that one of the most vital ways for a remote work environment to thrive is with open lines of consistent communication. If that can be accomplished, then no matter how long we must work apart, we will always feel closely connected — even when we’re not.
“I was surprised by how seamlessly HFA transitioned to digital communication tools that were able to supplement the non-face-to-face communication,”
- COO, Ryan Ray, P.E.
Seemingly one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when looking at transitioning hundreds of employees to a completely remote work environment is technology. HFA’s situation was unique in that we had many pieces of technology and workflows already in place that streamlined the transition. In moving to a 100% remote office model, we found we had to adapt many of those to better serve our employees, as well as add new procedures in order to facilitate productivity and connectivity. For some that meant non-traditional fixes for lagging WIFI connections, and for others that worked solely on a desktop, that meant outfitting them with a laptop that they could use from home with a connection to the server. The entire IT department at HFA has been fundamental at making this transition as smooth as possible and it would not be nearly as successful without that valuable support.
“Being a working mom and a wife, I’m still working through how I can maintain my productivity at work, while also allowing my husband that productivity time too, while still having time to spend with my two-year-old daughter, as well,”
-Meghan Vincent, Team Lead
Having a dedicated place to work is crucial in any job, but never more so than for someone working in the architecture or engineering field, where desks are typically outfitted with multiple screens and other accoutrements needed for productivity. For some, it was an easy transition; for others, it was a challenge, but a necessary one. One of the biggest complications of any remote working scenario can be distancing yourself from distractions, so many HFA employees found that setting up a dedicated workstation away from the areas of activity at home - including kids, pets, and spouses also working from home - is one of the keys to success!
Key Takeaways from a Remote Office Model
Because this is still a relatively new development for the entire nation, we’re all learning how to be productive in nontraditional ways. With each challenge comes opportunities to keep evolving and improving collaboration, both apart and together. As things continue to evolve with regard to COVID-19 and our ability to be productive working remotely, we’ve seen plenty of learnings that can help other firms and even clients with their transition to a remote office, even when it’s not mandatory.
“Working from home can make it easy to fall from your everyday routine, so it’s important to do your best and maintain what you can.” - Michelle Mace, Designer
“Find your new routine, set goals, and abide by them. There will always be flexibility when it comes to working at home but having a rhythm to accomplish your workload will normalize your workday.” - Rebekah Wierson, Designer
“We all just need to embrace cloud-based workflows. I think once people begin to embrace that, they’ll realize that we can gain a lot of efficiencies while working remotely with those digital workflows. I challenge everyone to not forget what we learned through this process,” - Steven Baker, Team Lead
Growing Together as A Remote Workforce
We’re closing out week two of a completely remote workforce, and we are still growing and learning, alongside the majority of the world. What we do know is that it is possible to mobilize an entire office and outfit employees with what they need to continue to be productive at home. Our unending and unchanging goal is to serve our clients well throughout this time of uncertainty. Time will tell if this opens up new avenues of workflow in the architecture and engineering world. For now, we wait and see while continuing to grow stronger as a team with trust in each other.
“Trust your people! You will be exceedingly pleased with their resilience and cooperation. They are the reason our overnight transition was so successful.”
- Dave Wilgus, CEO
This post was written by HFA staff writer, Ashley Hayre, who collaborated closely with thought-leader Meghan Vincent, AIA and various other HFA employees to bring this article to life.
Look for Part 2 of our working remote series in the coming weeks. In the meantime, stay safe and healthy.
Founded in 1990, HFA is a full-service Architecture and Engineering firm with locations in Bentonville, AR; Franklin, MA; Fort Worth, TX; and Mexico City, MX. Focused on designing for the customer experience, HFA works coast to coast with retail, real estate development, office, industrial, fueling, restaurant/food service, lifestyle, and education clients.