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Meeting the COVID-19 Moment: Insights and Reflections

June 09, 2020
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yanitzajonathan moody yanitza brongers marrero, brian sell, troy sherrard WFH

The worldwide pandemic threw our economy into a tailspin and forced companies to learn new ways of working – with colleagues, clients and partners. We asked several Moody Nolan leaders to reflect on the adjustments made to accommodate this new environment and some of the outcomes so far. Here, respectfully edited, are their observations.

1. What have been your biggest challenges during the pandemic?

Jonathan Moody, AIA, NCARB, NOMA, LEED AP; Chief Executive Officer – Prioritization. There’s only one version of yourself. In the past, you could only be physically present in only one meeting at a time. Now, you can be everywhere at once. That means you have to figure out where you SHOULD be. That takes a higher level of scrutiny and prioritization of time. Otherwise, it can be death by a thousand paper cuts. However, connectivity has had its advantages, too. I was in six different cities on one day.

Yanitza Brongers-Marrero, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C, LEED For Homes; Principal and Director of Housing Studio – Challenge One: Life work balance. I find myself working longer hours as communication protocols take more time.

Challenge Two: Good communication. Good communication takes effort. Good team and client communications have been possible during this time, but they take more effort than ever before. As we are not in the office and can’t conduct business in person, we are not able to rely on body language, tone of voice and spontaneous conversation, in order to sort out team input and client feedback. As a result, we are more intentional about a structured approach to communications that takes more time and energy.

Brian Sell, AIA, FITWEL; Associate Principal, Senior Project Designer, Architect – One of the challenges has been the restrictions on collaborative sketching. I also miss having a dedicated project space for formal and informal collaboration.

Troy Sherrard, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP; Partner and Practice Leader, Sports & Recreation Design – The biggest challenge during the pandemic has been connecting with new clients and securing new projects. In addition, many of our strategic sports and recreation national conferences have been canceled or postponed, which has impacted our ability to stay “personally” connected to past clients and host new ones. Right now, our clients are focused on keeping their organizations going and our focus must be to do what we can to help them. I believe clients will remember how they were treated during this time.

2. What new strategies or approaches have you taken to overcome the challenges, serve your clients or collaborate with partners?

Jonathan – Using technology in a disciplined way. In the past, you may have had several people with expertise in Texas, but you couldn’t bring them all to another city. Now, all of that expertise can listen in to a meeting remotely. If a structural engineer in Kansas City is needed for only 10 minutes, they can contribute and go about the rest of their day. You can also get more done in a shorter amount of time, because instead of having to schedule three hours over two weeks in different meetings, you can get it all in an hour or two. It should also now be possible to shorten the decision-making process if you can get all the right people in the room at once.

Yanitza – Overcommunicating, being fair, being kind, connecting, asking questions and caring more about others, looking to help. Going above and beyond. Being there to help in whatever is needed, even if it is not asked or expected.

Brian – Tools such as having a virtual “whiteboard” or “war room” allow a project team to access, contribute to and present from anywhere at any time. This ability has proven invaluable.

Troy – I am proud of how quickly our staff adapted to professional “virtual” design and studio touch base meetings to overcome the work-from-home challenges. Since a majority of us have been virtual, and not traveling as much, we have been able to include more staff in key meetings as well as connect with more staff in a purposeful way.

3. Please describe any successes that you’ve seen as a result of this new way of working.

Jonathan – So many projects could have just stopped. We have been able to continue making progress on major new projects, like the Warrensville Schools and the Michigan State University Cultural Center. We just completed three community meetings remotely for the Rainier Beach High School project on the West Coast. Everything from community engagement meetings to zoning board meetings have been done remotely, and it has led to greater inclusion, as everybody can access meetings. It brings up the question: Shouldn’t some things NOT be in person?

Yanitza – Success One: As we have multiple offices in the U.S., we have always been accustomed to working in virtual platforms. The pandemic has taken us in a direction where remote meetings with open cameras are a must. As a result, I (we) have been able to connect with colleagues on more personal levels and can conduct business in a more efficient way. I have become more familiar with everyone and we are all more open to calling each other to work through project tasks and technical challenges. We are able to better capitalize on the tremendous amount of human capital that we have within our firm.

Success Two: As we have been able to successfully conduct business with less travel, I anticipate that we will all be more thoughtful about air travel and in-person meetings in the future. This will also help us balance life and business in a more efficient way (save time, resources and hopefully be more sustainable). We will need to continue to remember that we should always make time to connect in person as this is critically important and will allow us to better connect with others and also with the communities that we look to serve.

Brian – The collaboration and communication needed for a condensed design schedule and weekly client design meetings, on a particular project, could not have happened had we not focused on working in an integrated fashion using communicative tools that gave the project a virtual “home.”

Troy – Personally, I feel like this time has allowed us to see more clearly what we believe to be valuable in our lives, and I hope we all carry this forward into the new “normal.”