Drastic changes to the office routine: How is the Henn architecture studio working during the coronavirus crisis?
Architektects: HENN, München (DE), Berlin (DE), Beijing (CN)
Interview: Leoni Spies
How has the routine changed in your office?
Martin Henn: The routine has changed dramatically at the Henn office. Most colleagues are now working from home and communicating mainly via digital platforms. Of course, this represents a big challenge for us. Fortunately, the office was well-prepared and we were able to respond quickly. We tested and optimized the infrastructure with individual teams doing home office in advance. This means the move went relatively smoothly for all our employees.
Our building sites are continuing under high pressure. To a greater extent, we are focusing on the safety of our employees and fellow people. We are experiencing a greater degree of commitment and solidarity both within our team and among the offices. For instance, we had breathing masks delivered from Germany to our Chinese colleagues when there was a shortage of masks in China. Last week, we received a delivery from Beijing. The crisis has brought us closer together.
How are you handling the coronavirus crisis - are your projects continuing?
In China, the entire office is back at work and the projects are continuing at top speed. The contract volume is even greater now than it was in January, so we have to provide support from here in Germany. It’s good that so far, all our projects in Germany are continuing as planned. We are working to capacity and our most important goal is to serve our clients as always and keep our team employed. Only a few planned projects have been postponed.
Do you have any tips for your colleagues?
What our team members miss the most are the social contacts. The informal encounter at the coffee machine, the conversation at the table or the beer after work. We must compensate digitally as much as we can.
We use our intranet to share important office-related information every day. Once a week, we get together with the entire office online in a Speakers’ Corner to have a conversation. Yesterday, for example, our colleagues in Beijing reported about how they are handling the crisis and asked our team in Germany about how we are doing things. It’s important to show your face; it generates trust and closeness. In addition, there are many other opportunities for individual exchanges, from online yoga classes to happy hour.
Do you have any plans for the time after the coronavirus restrictions?
The state of emergency has accelerated certain things. We have already got used to having mobile access to data and communicating virtually among teams and with clients. This will make us more flexible in the future and keep us from jumping onto an airplane for every meeting.
We also see that in some ways, home office works better than we had thought it would. Most of us want to get back into the office, but we will have to give some thought to how we can enable more individual freedom in our future work routines.
However, it is becoming clear just how valuable it is to the creative process when everyone involved in a project is physically present. Being connected with 10 people via a screen is a different experience from sitting around a table with sketching paper and models. It all depends on finding the right combination.