PRP, Make and BDP among practices emailing clients
Architects are moving to reassure clients that they can continue to serve them after the prime minister told people to work from home wherever necessary.
Practices are issuing statements and calling clients to underline their preparedness in the face of unprecedented restrictions facing the nation.
Firms have set out details of their business continuity plans while rapidly stress-testing their working-from-home procedures.
All businesses are facing increasing numbers of staff being forced to self-isolate because they or someone in their household is displaying symptoms of suspected Covid-19. In addition, since Boris Johnson’s press conference last night, even healthy members of staff who can work from home will now have to do so.
Most practices have been testing remote working capabilities for some days – and most have also now “grounded” their staff from unnecessary travel globally and in the UK.
PRP issued a statement this morning announcing a home working policy that meant from tomorrow 90% of staff will be working remotely, using Microsoft Teams to collaborate.
The architect said it was still open to clients visiting its offices for important meetings, but that it would seek to reduce the numbers of people attending. It also said staff would avoid visiting individual homes for consultations or for site safety and quality inspections, in order to remove two-way risks of infection. This is a reference to visiting flats where cladding or balconies need checking. The practice has been working for MHCLG inspecting existing apartment blocks for regulatory compliance.
The statement ended: “After 57 years of uninterrupted design and business activity, this is an unprecedented challenge. We will continue to operate with a people-focused approach to our work which we hope sees all of our staff, our clients and the communities we serve come through this crisis with dignity and health intact.”
BDP, the UK’s biggest architecture practice according to the WA100 rankings, issued a similar statement saying 70% of its 1,350 staff, who are based in 16 global locations, had a company laptop while others had remote desktop access, allowing a significant proportion of project activities to be carried out from a distance.
Chief executive John McManus wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that BDP will continue to support you and your business and we will take whatever action is necessary to maintain continuity of service to our clients and contacts over this difficult period.”
A spokesperson for Foster & Partners, the second biggest UK practice, said: “We have been trialling home-working for some time – our Asia offices have all done it successfully. Around 50% of our teams in London are currently working from home.”
Grimshaw conducted a deep clean of its Clerkenwell office over the weekend which a spokesman said was simply “following the NHS guidelines and advice and doing everything we can to minimise the impact and prevent the spread of the virus”.
It had also trialled remote working ahead of the prime minister’s announcement last night. It said its business continuity plan sought to safeguard staff and visitors while simultaneously ensuring the practice could continue to serve clients.
PRP emergency protocols update
As Covid-19 continues to spread we want to provide you with an update on how PRP is addressing this extraordinary challenge.
First and foremost is the protection of our staff, our clients and our clients’ residents and customers. Our current policy is to carry on business as usual where we are able, so that our efforts and yours will collectively minimise the potential damage to the economy and the livelihood of our staff that a policy of full retreat and lockdown would entail.
PRP has a comprehensive and robust business continuity plan that we are now implementing as part of the impact of Covid-19.
The majority of key IT systems are cloud based with flexible remote access solutions to enable staff to work remotely if required and to reduce significantly the number of personnel that need to commute. We have initiated a working from home policy that from tomorrow will have 90% of our staff working remotely.
Our staff members have tested these remote working methods and we are using Microsoft Teams which is providing us with a powerful tool to communicate and collaborate with our internal studio teams. We can also stay in touch and hold collaborative meetings with our clients.
We are open to clients to visit our offices for important meetings although we will seek to reduce numbers attending. We will review consultation events to reduce attendance where possible or to communicate and consult by other means. We will be avoiding visiting individual homes for consultations or for site safety and quality inspections to remove two-way risks of infection.
After 57 years of uninterrupted design and business activity, this is an unprecedented challenge. We will continue to operate with a people-focused approach to our work which we hope sees all of our staff, our clients and the communities we serve come through this crisis with dignity and health intact.
Business continuity update
In view of the changing environment associated with the spread of Covid-19, I would take this opportunity to confirm that BDP has an existing business continuity strategy in place to ensure that the health risks to our staff are minimised and that we continue to service the requirements of our clients. The potential social and business impact of the Coronavirus is, of course, unprecedented and we will continue to review and update our plans in light of evolving circumstances and government guidance.
BDP employs over 1350 staff in 16 locations around the world. 1000 of those are located in the UK / Ireland in 10 different locations. We have long experience in deploying this resource in a flexible manner across our IT network in order to accommodate the peaks and troughs of large-scale project demands. The processes and protocols which we have established over many decades will help us to mitigate the impact of a potential event occurring in any one location associated with the spread of Covid-19.
Approximately 70% of BDP staff have access to a company laptop which provides direct access to the BDP network and associated software licences allowing a significant proportion of our project activities - including BIM - to be carried out remotely. We also provide remote desktop access for the remainder of our staff, ensuring that powerful workstations are available for advanced modelling and visualisation activities remote from BDP’s studios using personal equipment to access BDP networks securely. All staff can access BDP email via business or personal phones.
While it is difficult to forecast the impact of the virus, it is evident that social distancing measures are likely to increase over the next weeks. We have already directed our staff to take a number of steps in this respect including the following measures:
• Suspension of all non-essential UK and international travel. Conference calling is readily available across the whole of BDP’s IT network.
• Suspension of attendance at, and hosting of, large business related meetings and conferences.
• Advising staff to follow UK or their local government guidelines in relation to self-isolation requirements.
• Introducing additional office cleaning regimes and requiring staff and visitors to use hand sanitiser when entering our offices and at each floor level.
• Testing and assessment of remote working hardware and software in advance of any requirement for staff to work from home.
BDP’s leadership team monitors government advice across all of our locations and is meeting regularly to review our policies and processes and to put in place mitigation plans accordingly. I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that BDP will continue to support you and your business and we will take whatever action is necessary to maintain continuity of service to our clients and contacts over this difficult period.
John McManus, chief executive
>> Also read earlier update: Architects warn delays and tender prices could hit cash-flow
Make also issued a statement saying: “From Tuesday March 17 we have asked all Makers in the London studio to work from home, in order to protect them as much as possible from the escalating health crisis.
“Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, we have been testing our IT infrastructure and platforms and are confident they are robust and will enable all of us to work successfully remotely and that we can effectively respond to most eventualities.
“As far as possible we intend to keep project schedules running to time, but ask our clients to bear with us in these unprecedented times. The health and safety of us all has to come first.
“Makers in our Hong Kong studio are continuing to work from home, and we are waiting on further advice from the Australian government to guide our next steps in the Sydney studio.”
HKS said its offices were not closed but the practice was transitioning to mobile working. “We have instituted health protocols for our employees that include heightened personal hygiene, workplace sanitisation and online health screening if they are experiencing any symptoms,” said a spokesperson. “To mitigate risk of exposure, HKS are limiting travel, large gatherings and face-to-face meetings, and will carry these out virtually where possible.”
US-based HOK also issued a statement:
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, we want to provide you with an update on our ongoing efforts to continue assisting clients while also protecting the health and safety of our workforce.
We have instituted a mandatory working from home policy for all our North American offices. With conditions changing daily, we will re-evaluate the status of our policy at the end of the month. HOK has a sophisticated system in place to support distributed work for all our staff. While working remotely, we are completely connected. Our advanced technology options to support remote work include Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops, a virtual private network (VPN) and remote desktop protocol (RDP) along with various cloud-based collaboration platforms already being used on many projects.
We value our relationships with our clients and partners. We remain committed to providing the level of service and responsiveness you associate with HOK. Together we will see our way through this period.
We wish you and your families the best.
Sincerely, William Hellmuth, HOK chairman and CEO