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The Sinking Work Culture of Architectural Industry

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Sudarshan Uppunda
Born & brought in Bombay, based in Bengaluru, Sudarshan is an ambivert who can be outgoing-open and reserved at the same time. It all depends on the vibes! He deeply believes in vibes and personal energies. As an Architectural Journalist and Architect, he aims to write in a way that his content is relatable for all. Design is what interests him the most and he keeps trying his hand at different design verticals such as graphic, UI & UX design at times. He likes to write and explore varied topics on Workplace environments, Architecture, and Culture. He is quite active in architectural content writing and has written for various platforms like RTF, The Arch Insider, Gharpedia, etc. He strongly believes that whatever one does in life, one must do it with passion & be happy with it.

Architecture is a profession which highly involves human intervention and the whole process revolves around creating the best human experience. It is a design process led by humans for humans, hence people management and work cultures become an important aspect here, yet we often see highly unhappy hearts and frustrated minds in this field. ‘Architecture has a serious problem today’ said Dutch architect Rem Koolhas, at the 2016 AIA convention. He urged architects to adapt to the changing social and technical climates of today so as to enhance the future of architecture.

In spite of the changing times, we architects have still not given any thought on improving our work culture. The age-old traditions of making interns work for free, exploiting fresher Architects, poor policies to manipulate employee benefits, tricking architects into working for free or for less with a bait of ‘professional connections’ or under the pretext of ‘teaching’ & ‘learning’ are still prevalent without any resistance, thereby tarnishing the work style and culture in the Architectural world. Overcoming these will surely be an onset of healthy work culture for Architects.

Architecture is like a ship on the verge of sinking and needs immediate efforts from young sailors (architects) to save its plight.

The ship is sinking!  – Deteriorating work culture

Workplace design is a current trend, therefore architects strive to design efficient workplaces. But in this course of creating efficient workplaces for others, why have architects forgotten to pay their due attention to the conditions they themselves work in? The exploitation of architects is on the rise leading to a decline in interest and skills, making employees quit, disrupting mental health and creating work-life imbalance. Have you ever heard – Happy employees are most productive? Valuing the employees and giving them their space can enhance creativity, increase participation, thereby creating a healthy work culture.

What made the ship sink?  – Facts v/s Ignorance

Poor management of resources – Time & human is a major issue in Architecture today. A majority of leading firms, clients and other stakeholders at the apex of this industry fail to acknowledge these issues due to their ego or ignorances. Some even see it as a legacy and feel that ‘This is how it is’. While this might be how it is, but surely ‘This is not how it is supposed to be’. We must instead renounce the stereotypes that ‘to achieve a good design, pulling an all-nighter is mandatory’, ‘staying back at the office every day is the key to success’, ‘This is how Architecture is, accept it’. This does not mean that one must stop working hard or be rigid at the workplace, but this means that one must never encourage unhealthy work cultures – neither as an employer nor as an employee.

Who’s saving their ships? – A step towards a healthy work culture

Amongst all this exploitation, there are a few firms that have taken work environment under serious consideration. To tackle the unhealthy work culture, the firm’s abroad to name a few – Charlottesville-based VMDO, HDR Chicago, McMillan Pazdan Smith etc. have resorted to interactive ways such as Studio chats, HR interactions, flexibility at work, health care benefits, Structured teaching schemes for interns and young architects and employee inclusion in five-year plans.

Let’s save our own ships!  

For employees

  • Do away with the ‘This is how it is’. Speak up! Accepting an unhealthy culture will only adversely affect your future.
  • The interview is a two-way process. While they analyse your ability, you must also analyse if their culture is the right fit for you.
  • Have patience. Do not hurriedly accept the offer; analyse the work culture, take reviews in your circle. Be extra careful around companies with employment bonds and salary retention policies.
  • Respect your work. Non-paying clients is a very common aspect in this profession. Respect your work, be confident enough to fight for what you deserve.

For employers

  • Be reasonable. Yes, long working hours is a common factor and much needed at times, but unnecessary exploitation is not an option. Some compensation in terms of appreciation or benefits helps in retaining good employees.
  • Set realistic deadlines. Working long hours is not a badge of honour while designing challenging projects is one. Extreme long hours and frustration eventually affect work quality.
  • Your Company = Your policies. Policies must arise out of your work ideologies, not your exploitative intentions.
  • Hire & Fire is a vicious circle. Replacement is always available, true. But people leaving and joining year-round is only going to degrade the quality of your workforce.
  • Stop targeting Interns and fresher’s. Rather than making interns and young architects your soft targets, focus on giving back good to the industry.
  • Do not eat on employee benefits. Unacceptable pay cuts, forcing employees to voluntarily give up benefits is also a common aspect of architecture. Valuing employees helps in creating a proactive culture.
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