Embarking on a new role during a pandemic, particularly during ongoing lockdowns, can be challenging but exhilarating. We launch our new series with some valuable insights and advice from Parlour people who have recently made a move in their professional lives.
I was working with a Perth-based practice remote by myself in Melbourne since the beginning of 2019, and at the beginning of 2020 we had a couple of positive fee proposals out and were about to sign our first client. When the pandemic hit, I kept working remotely, but the pipeline was scary and my mental health was suffering with the rest of the team in Perth and just me in Melbourne. This became more problematic with WA coming back to normal and Melbourne going to … well … crap.
I interviewed at Austin Maynard Architects in July 2020 when we had just gone into stage 3 restrictions in Victoria and started the job about a week before we went into stage 4, so aside from the first three days with one other person in the office, I started the new job fully remote. I actually kept working for my Perth practice in the evenings, helping to finish off the jobs I was working on for about six more months, so there was that ‘double job’ aspect that kept my mind busy.
It was weird, it was exciting, it kept me distracted from what was happening in the world.
Onboarding took longer than it would usually do, and I didn’t meet the whole team until December. Imposter syndrome was my biggest issue, but that also came down to my own passive nature. The team was great and I felt really trusted and valued. I look back on it as one of the best decisions of my career.
Starting a new role remote, whether it’s during a pandemic or just the nature of work moving forward, can be daunting. The daily feedback from facial expressions and body language is missing online and I think graduates or younger architects could really struggle with this while they’re building up confidence in their skillset. My advice would be to keep asking questions, engage in small talk, as awkward as it may be in the beginning. Know that you’re getting an interview or employment because you can do this job and your new team wants you to succeed.
I suppose my point is, we should encourage people to make the jump. Maybe I got lucky, but I think as we keep saying, the market is hot, and you can be selective about the practices you go work for right now.
I never set out with the intention of setting up my own business when I left my full-time job at the end of March 2021. It was a break for myself to reset my boundaries and reshape some balance back in my life.
It was a huge change, but after a few weeks break, which I’d promised myself, I started to become more excited the more I considered going solo. At the beginning of May, word had started to spread and on one Friday afternoon I had two enquiries and four potential projects, which was all I needed to know that I could do this.
When I really dive deep into how I got here, I feel it comes from a place of need. Last year when the global pandemic saw us all retreat from the traditional office space to working from home, I made a slow shift in my priorities to be a better role model for my kids as my work ‘came home’ with me.
This played out in small ways, but it really shifted my view on what I was missing at home. We began eating dinner together and I would often cook, which my husband had previously done. I was there to walk them to school, see them when they got home, talk about their day and help with bedtime and reading. I even began eating better and exercising more because it was so accessible.
I guess after having this and then returning to the office in September 2020 I felt a loss, perhaps even a depression in having to give it up. Perhaps I didn’t have to give up, but for me it felt like I couldn’t have both just as pre-pandemic Kim had shown me.
I had discovered a personal need I didn’t know existed in myself and I needed it back and that’s what ultimately brought me here. I now work the hours I need to work so I can look after myself and my family’s needs better. Sure, I miss having my colleagues around and the orchestrated chaos of big practice but, ultimately, I had fallen out of love with where I was, the work I was doing and missing the flexibility of working from home.
This career move has been weird, exciting, exhausting and most importantly enjoyable. It’s my journey into small practice and working on my own terms. It’s still early days as I begin my fifth month of running solo but I’m excited to see where this will take me and watch our kids grow up.
I believe strongly that what I grow here will not follow the pitfalls of our profession in perpetuating long work hours, gender inequity, tight programs and poor urban outcomes. Most importantly, work won’t take away from time spent with family and friends.
Work-wise, I try and keep my day structured. I do my reading and writing first when I’m my most agile and can flick between ‘in’ business and ‘on’ business tasks, then begin design work later in the morning.
My advice is to stay on top of your consultants and look after your client. If you don’t know how to do something other than draw, find people to help with the rest or learn the hard way.
Yes, I’ve been without work, made mistakes, cried and second-guessed my decision to leave the comfort of big practice countless times, but I wouldn’t change where I am right now.
Be prepared to fail.
After all improvement at anything is based on hundreds of tiny failures.
I started my new role during lockdown and endeavoured to create a sense of newness in my immediate environment. This can be quite challenging after 200+ days in lockdown. I redecorated my small home office/corner/table/situation by buying fresh flowers and a new candle ahead of the first day. Scent is a powerful trigger of memories and associations. I went for a very fresh, new and unfamiliar smell; burning this candle while I worked for the first few days. These small things made it feel like I really was in a new space, starting a completely new job.
I have found that digital onboarding can be both complicated and exciting, but ultimately we are fairly used to collaborating and learning in the online space now. I can’t change the situation so i’ve tried not to focus on what I might be missing out on by going through inductions online – perhaps the screen sharing functionality is actually making this type of training easier!
Even though two states are in lockdown as I write this, I highly advise taking as much time as feasible and affordable between jobs to rest and recover. Resting and “doing nothing” is essential for creativity. Give yourself some time for contemplation and breathing room to feel that you really are starting something new.
Don’t let lockdowns prevent you from networking, building relationships and applying to more exciting opportunities. The job market is quite hot right now and it’s a great time to look for opportunities that better align with your values or interests. You are never stuck. “Never waste a good crisis!” works both ways!
I have found that with the increase of video conferencing and screen-time, I need to give myself a “tech-detox” at the end of the working week for at least 24 hours. Having that time to switch off and re-centre in the analogue real world has been absolutely life giving.
The spaces that I design have of course been impacted by considerations of outdoor gathering, take-away coffee windows, hygiene / sensor tap technology and ventilation. I have taken an increased interest in the mechanical systems being designed for the project that i’m working on.
Otherwise I have found that my workflow and process have remained relatively similar while printing and paper use have slightly decreased.
My decision to switch employment during the pandemic was difficult as I felt secure and happy in my previous role. I enjoyed my position in a large practice, learned a great deal from it and miss some of my ex-colleagues intensely, but like all things in life, change will always be the only constant.
My current role as a graduate in a small practice offers the professional exposure that I sincerely believe I need given where I am in my career stage. I remember reading the job description and thinking to myself, “This! This is exactly what I need right now!” But that was the emotional response. The rational part of me took a step back and set out to write a pros-and-cons list. Thus, when the pros list had a few additional points, I switched – making the change a very rational and level-headed decision.
While changes can be daunting, facing them directly can be liberating. That is exactly how I felt during my mid-pandemic interview. I had a bluntly honest conversation with my current employer regarding not only their ongoing and prospective projects during the pandemic, but also about flexibility with hours – specifically to teach at the university and, most importantly, registration support. At the end of it, I had faith that I was making the right call, and I am yet to be proved otherwise.
Someone in my past practice offered me these wise words when I left the role – the outcome of a decision often becomes unimportant when that decision is made in good faith that it is for the best. Over the past two years, as I shed my new graduate skin and evolved into an experienced graduate, I gained clarity on my preferred career path, learned to look at the bigger picture and attained confidence in my own judgement, particularly in relation to what is best for me. I trust that this self-growth contributed to my decision.
I would conclude by saying that I always felt an aversion to the colloquial term ‘jumping ship’ when describing switching jobs, as it connotes that we ‘abandon’ our past roles and perhaps with it, the relationships. We don’t. I never considered the end of employment from any practice as the end of my association with them. If anything, I consider that the beginning of some relationships that will turn into lifelong friendships. And what better time, if not the isolating pandemic, to focus on nurturing those relationships!
Conceived, compiled and edited by Susie Ashworth.