The value of experienced, committed part-time architects cannot be overestimated. Misty Waters outlines the key issues surrounding permanent part-time employment, and gives advice on how to maximise the business benefits of flexible part-time architects.
1. Value for Money
Knowing they have limited time, most part-time architects work more efficiently and waste less time on Facebook and personal admin than full-time equivalents. Judge them on their output, not the ‘hours in the chair’.
It is often more effective to have a slightly more senior person working a three- or four-day week than it is to have a full-time junior for the same salary.
If you are not confident about the part-time model, agree to a trial with an end date for review. Be sure you then measure the contribution rather than focusing on the time in the office.
2. Processes and Technology
Make sure your processes and technology support business efficiency. For example, if you have someone who is on maternity leave but is happy to do QA reviews on documents or other tasks from home, your systems should be flexible enough to allow an hourly rate system (perhaps with a weekly cap) for a period of time. Then, when your employee returns to more regular hours this can be adjusted back to a permanent part-time arrangement.
Similarly if you are hoping that your employee will continue to do lots of extra hours when needed, make it easier by ensuring they can easily access files from home. They should have an iPhone or similar so that they can access voice messages and emails very easily, minimising client awareness of their absence.
It may be that a $1,500 laptop pays for itself pretty quickly.
3. Practice Projects – Freeing up Director time
Think about how much inherent knowledge this person may have and think laterally about how it may be used in a part-time capacity.
What are the practice management projects in a firm that would make a big difference but no one ever has time to attend to them? These can be great projects for an architect returning to work. Does this person have great people skills? Writing skills? Documentation skills? An area of expertise that can be developed into a training series to lift standards across the studio?
Depending on the architect’s skills and seniority, the list may include any of the following:
- Upgrading marketing material – submission material, CVs, website content
- Implementing a new CRM or other systems in the office
- Rolling out documentation improvement workshops
- Rewriting manuals and/or policies
- Reviewing your employment contracts
- Client reviews
- Updating the website
- Reviewing and supporting staff review process
- Miscellaneous research projects
- Recruitment activities such as reviewing CVs and undertaking first-round interviews
Many of these tasks are not necessarily exciting (or suitable as long-term roles), but could be ideal for an experienced employee who knows who to consult in the office and may be happier than usual to undertake this kind of work for a set period of time while they transition back into the workforce. It can give the employee increased exposure to directors or senior staff, and new insight into how the firm works.
4. Project Architects
Working part-time and undertaking project work effectively has become easier. It does, however, require more thinking in terms of structuring teams and resource allocation. We have a general expectation that if a staff member wants to undertake project work they must be available for three days per week minimum. Other roles are more flexible.
In terms of part-time project architects, here are some successful examples we have achieved:
Site architect role
Where the fee didn’t support a full-time architect we allocated an experienced part-time female architect (three days per week) who worked well with the builder for 12 months during the site phase – regularly travelling to Wollongong. She enjoyed it, the builder was extremely happy and the project was efficiently completed. Most projects at this stage actually can’t support a full time architect so the only unusual factor was that we asked the builder to set up regular meeting times that worked with her childcare days. Otherwise it was very straightforward and set a new precedent in the office, proving it was not only possible but very effective. She also made herself available on an as needs basis on the days she was not working. Over the period of the project the builder relied on this less and less once he knew she was not at work. She has since undertaken four more similar roles, her daughter is now at school and she is working four days per week.
A strong 2IC
Teaming the part-time architect with a strong 2IC. We have had successful outcomes with part-time project leaders when we team her with a (typically female) 2IC who enjoys the added responsibility and mentoring. The project leader should have a mobile with internet access for easy checking of emails.
A junior role
There will be times between the effective roles where the part-timer may have to be used in a more junior role than their skills might normally allow, but long term the payback is generally valuable in terms of motivation and reduced turnover.
5. Greater flexibility for everyone
We allow all staff to work reduced hours to accommodate tutoring, studying and picking up kids in the afternoons. There are no hard and fast rules. Each case is considered individually but we almost never deny a request for flexible hours. I think this has indirectly reduced any potential resentment for working mothers. We hire good people and give them a lot of responsibility but then reward them with trust and some flexibility.
6. Women at the table
If you are serious about increasing women’s participation and retention, you must include women (preferably an architect) on your interview panels, resourcing decisions and in your promotion discussions. This is a larger issue that affects more than part-time work.
Architecture is a tough industry. It’s difficult to remain stable and profitable and this puts pressure on all aspects of the business. One of the easier benefits we can give staff is higher flexibility and I genuinely believe that the business benefits outweigh the negatives.
See also Misty’s tips for employees returning to work and working part time.