Our Professional Circle members are successfully working remotely on buildings as far away as Hong Kong. They are following all the health and safety guidelines as they work on essential project sites. They are sending out weekly protocol updates to their staff. They are visiting sites after hours to avoid contact with others. They have, or are preparing, “comeback plans” for the office. Ordering masks, gloves and wipes. Taking staff surveys. Discussing rotating staffers. But there is one problem they can’t solve.
While one project manager says workers are taking subways to a midtown Manhattan essential project, many of our members say their colleagues don’t want to get on any public transit …whether subway, bus or train. So, even when offices open, how will people get there?
Transporting staff was one of the common problems discussed during a Professional Circle Zoom meeting on “Going Back to Work” that we hosted last Friday.
Architects, engineers and conservators with cars or vans are driving to projects. One architect bikes from his Bronx home to his Queens office. One architect who lives on the Upper West Side uses her Nordic trekking poles to walk across Central Park to East Side projects. Many participants will continue to allow working from home even after the City opens up. “It will be after Labor Day before there is any real attempt to populate our office,” one architect said.
Some firms are encouraging people to buy bikes. Some are willing to “wreck budgets” to pay for rental cars, Uber or Lyft for the staff. “Long term, this is unsustainable,” one architect said, as he anticipates paying for staff rides.
Some clients are starting to ask for on-site visits, citing contracts and deadlines. One conservator is debating whether to drive or fly to a project in Detroit. Others with out of town projects are looking up local protocols and anxious about hotel stays. A federal project in DC lost bidders on a recent project, a member noted, because companies weren’t comfortable getting staff there safely.
“You can’t do everything virtually,” one engineer said. He recently drove to the East End of Long Island to crawl under a 19th-century building that is being shored up. “You can’t see areas of distress or areas out of plumb unless you are there.”
Western New York now allows all construction. So a Buffalo architect assembled a team of specialists to work on a complex church restoration project in an area near the Pennsylvania border with relatively few COVID-19 cases. “The church is eager to do the project,” she said, ”but they aren’t eager to see us because we come from areas that were hot spots.” She is still negotiating a visit. Another architect was asked to provide her office safety protocol to be considered for a job.
“We’re taking baby steps,” said one conservator whose work is primarily done in his studio. “There is no road map for this.”
When people are back at some point in the future, there is something to look forward to. A Professional Circle member, whose office has a wonderful view of the harbor and the three East River suspension bridges, promises to invite everyone to an ice cream party. I’ll raise a butterscotch ripple cone to that.
With best wishes for your health and safety from all of us at the Conservancy,
Peg Breen, President