Most architects today have learned how to practice architecture through in-person collaboration with other architects and emerging professionals at architecture firms. With the added advancements of technology, our profession has continued to evolve, and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, firms have been implementing remote work opportunities for architects. Now many other firms are joining in this movement and shifting quickly to remote work to accommodate for unforeseen circumstances, creating a new environment for the profession that has never been seen on a mass scale. So, how does this shift in the architecture work environment match up with the requirements of licensure?
Remote Work and the AXP
In the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®), there are no requirements for supervisors and their respective licensure candidates to be in the same physical space to count as “direct supervision.” Some architects may recall such requirements as part of the Intern Development Program (IDP)—the previous iteration of NCARB’s experience program. However, in 2010, NCARB began expanding on the definition of “direct supervision” to allow for remote work. Since then, NCARB has updated its rules and requirements for the AXP to allow for contract work, as well as 100 percent remote work to qualify as “direct supervision.” Because of this, the AXP is positioned well for unexpected challenges, including worldwide pandemics.
To clear all misconceptions, “direct supervision” of an AXP participant must occur either through personal contact and/or remote communication (e.g., via email, online markups, video-conferencing), provided that the supervisor maintains control over a candidate’s work and has sufficient professional knowledge to determine the competency of their performance.
So how can AXP supervisors maintain control and knowledge when their candidates are not in the same location? As an AXP supervisor, you are most likely aware of your candidate’s capabilities—having identified areas where they are strong and where they may need improvement. When in the office, you know which candidates you can assign a task to and they will complete it or follow up with you or other architects if they have any questions. On the other hand, there are candidates who need more oversight and guidance. When you are remote, some of these aspects may continue. However, engagements and quick conversations may not happen naturally. In addition, the incidental engagements, such as overhearing conversations that provide context or feedback, and ease of asking questions may become more difficult in remote situations. That’s why we encourage our supervisors to set up times for these intentional learning opportunities and open conversations to occur—ensuring your candidates can continue to build trust and the competency they’ll need to work independently.
How to Support Candidates Remotely
To facilitate your candidate’s ease in gaining the proper experience and support while working remotely, you should consider these tips:
Schedule recurring virtual meetings
To create an opportunity for questions to arise, small talk to happen, and planning to take place, consider creating a meeting schedule for office, projects, and one-on-ones with those who report directly to you. Keep in mind, it is best for all of these meetings to be done through a video platform as it allows everyone to observe the non-verbal cues that happen during conversations.
During virtual meetings with your candidates, you should take time to:
- Establish regular meeting schedules with each candidate you supervise. As a note, you should aim to reschedule as little as possible. If you do need to reschedule a meeting, move it within 24 hours of the original time. Repeatedly postponing meetings may send your candidate the wrong message.
- Ask questions that require a reflective or explanatory answer. For example, “What have you felt most/least confident in doing this week?” “What resources are you using to help complete this task?” “Is there any task you need me to provide more coaching or explanation for?”
- Discuss specific, recent examples of work situations or tasks. Use virtual platform tools such as white boards, screen sharing, etc., to view work as you discuss it.
- Talk more than just about work-related topics. This will assist in creating an open space for your candidates to feel heard and for you to properly support them.
- Review their AXP progress and discuss tasks in the experience program to assess your candidate’s competency level.
- Create a plan or strategy for professional development based on upcoming opportunities.
Encourage and maintain healthy work schedules
Working from home can easily blur the lines between you and your candidate’s personal and work lives. Each person will need to find the right balance that suits their own needs and effectiveness. When having one-on-ones with your candidate, make sure to make this an area for discussion. Support your candidate’s search for balance and then honor it once it has been established. For instance, do not expect an immediate response via text (or other quick messaging systems) outside of work times. After that, consider focusing on work products rather than timeframes and hours in a day. Remember, everyone will have a different situation at home, so it is important to recognize scenarios, focus on what needs to happen, and plan out how to accomplish it, rather than sticking to the timeframes normally associated with traditional work days.
Engage in online conversations
Does your office use an application to facilitate the exchange of quick conversations? Do you use Slack, Google Hangout, Jabber, Skype, Yammer, etc.? All of these tools can be a great way for your candidate to conveniently ask you and the whole project team or office questions as they arise, and vice versa. On Slack, you can create channels for small talk, sharing current life events and experiences, and ultimately stay connected.
If your team is currently shifting to a virtual work environment, it may also be helpful for everyone to agree upon shared expectations on how these communication tools should be utilized, including the type of messages and speed of responses. Lastly, don’t just assume everyone has a shared understanding—it is always helps to be explicit about the purpose and needs right from the start.
The Future of Remote Work
Many architecture professionals may wish to continue remote work in varying degrees as social distancing measures clear up and office spaces are safe and healthy to occupy again. Just as our tools of the trade have changed, so will our methods of passing on the proper knowledge and competency for the generations to come. No matter where we find ourselves working, remember to always be inclusive and open, and create opportunities to allow for social engagement to build trust and a strong sense of community.