HOW THE DESIGN STUDIO OPERATES IN THE TIME OF THE PANDEMIC
Interview with Grzegorz Tacakiewicz – the CEO of Tacakiewicz Ferma Kresek
Is the studio still in operation in the time of the pandemic?
Yes, of course. Like many other service providers, we have suddenly been placed in a new and critical situation. It is a challenge we have to face if we want to survive the crisis.
Tacakiewicz Ferma Kresek is a design studio specialising in designing industrial facilities ranging from complex industrial buildings, through distribution centres and logistics facilities, to office buildings. Our project team comprises 55 architects, 3 environmental specialists and administrators. Our headquarters is located in Poznań, but we also have other branches in Wroclaw and Krakow. We are in quite a good situation now as, unlike other business or service providers, we can still work.
And we do. We continue working on ongoing projects and we are still keen on accepting new jobs. Despite many changes in the daily functioning of our office that have been introduced to prevent and combat COVID-19, our company is operating without major interruptions, which however requires increased effort on our part.
What did the process of introducing the changes look like and what exactly were the changes?
As we all know, the situation has been changing rapidly since the very beginning. Changes in everyday social life caused by the epidemiological risk happened really quickly and immediate response to the introduced restrictions and consequent reorganisation of work were necessary. The first preventive measures were introduced in our company as early as in February, when the news about the situation in China spread around the world. We purchased and installed antibacterial liquid dispensers in our offices and carried out an information campaign on how to behave in contact with foreign investors. As the situation developed, we took additional measures, i.e. we reduced the number of business trips, restricted direct contacts with people from outside of the company and switched to teleconferences instead.
As of the beginning of March, we have been gradually shifting to home office mode of work.
What did the process look like?
Our management and HR department reacted immediately and implemented an emergency plan, allowing most of our employees to work from home. The basic tools that our designers use at work are computers, professional software and phones. That was the easiest part – the tools were simply delivered to our employees’ homes. The key requirements in our teams’ work, however, are access to projects stored on our server and working together on the projects. What came to the rescue, and what not only our company but also the majority of the society appreciated, is the Internet. Usually taken for granted, it has now become an indispensable tool in our work. One of the challenges we faced was making the resources stored on our internal network accessible to our employees working from home. Team managers devised a functional file exchange system based on the access channels to the server and NAS discs. At the same time, we implemented the BIM 360 platform enabling file sharing, which is especially crucial for teamwork while working remotely. Employees keep in touch on regular basis via business phones and Mictrosoft Teams, a hub for teamwork. Despite all of these adjustments, something that hasn’t changed is the dynamics of teamwork itself. Employees within a team are supported by designated coordinators, whereas the teams are supervised by managers. Our employees form a tight team and so far everything has been working smoothly.
Are all employees working form home now?
Most of our architects and specialists do. However, as the company is in operation, our administrators and accountants are still working in the office. Without them our office wouldn’t be able to function properly on the regular basis. Additionally, they are now in charge of providing the necessary technical support to employees working remotely, so that the latter can serve our clients as best as they can despite the difficult situation we have found ourselves in. We are talking here about access to correspondence, plotters, printers and other equipment needed for assembling project documentation. The team in the office is small and we have provided them with the necessary protective resources. Our HR department constantly monitors the situation and passes instructions from the Health and Safety Specialist on how to keep safe both in the office and home office on to our employees. We have made sure that the desks in the offices are positioned at safe distances from each other. We also have antibacterial liquid dispensers, gloves and a non-contact thermometer at our disposal; door handles and handrails are disinfected regularly. Additionally, for the time of the epidemic our employees have all our company cars at their disposal, so that they can avoid using public transport.
How are the architects dealing with home office?
As their employer, I’d say they are doing great. All tasks are completed as before, that is with professionalism and punctuality. We haven’t as yet had a situation in which a manager would have to step in. However, the word has come to me that employees complain about the lack of direct contact with their colleagues, who they used to see every day and got on well with. Our employees have always formed close-knit teams and have been almost like family members towards each other. I think we have all been struggling with this issue in isolation. As for now, however, the only thing we can do is contact each other via telephone or the Internet to discuss not only work-related matters, but also to chat socially. We have to be patient and responsible. We are looking forward to the day when we will be able to have lunch together again as we used to.
Have you noticed any difficulties in how the studio operates during the pandemic?
Well, there are situations that didn’t pose any problems before and do now, such as direct contact with investors, subcontractors and surveyors, as well as business trips and visits to construction sites. The most challenging, however, is contacting government offices and public administration bodies. Due to the implementation of the so called „anti-crisis shield”, officers in charge of conducting our administrative procedures remind us more and more often of crucial changes resulting from the new regulations. Of course, we realise that implementing the bill was necessary to help relieve the consequences of the pandemic, but unfortunately is is quite troublesome for us and our investors alike, because in many cases it practically disables us from receiving crucial decisions, such as environmental approvals or building permits.
No new administrative court proceedings are initiated at the moment and the ongoing cases have been suspended. Response times are not currently binding upon the authorities and bodies conducting the proceedings. Moreover, new proceedings will be withheld, until all parties have exercised their new rights or until the pandemic ends. Government offices have decided not to continue the proceedings, as they are not able to provide safe conditions for the parties to familiarise themselves with the case documentation. As a result, investment processes will be extended. Nevertheless, we are still trying to keep in touch with officers, many of whom also work from home, and solve problems as they arise. As the situation is very dynamic and decisions are made on the go, even officers can’t tell what the exact stages of procedures are. As for now, we do a much as the new bill allows us to do.
As the owner of a design studio how would you say the current situation has affected the construction industry?
I think it’s still too early to say, as the consequences of the current situation will manifest themselves in a few weeks’ or months’ time. Despite the growing uncertainty about the future of global economy, we continue working on ongoing projects and look for new ones. However, as I said before, the epidemic will definitely affect investment processes deadlines. Although we hope that the stagnation will not last long and that all our projects will soon be completed, it goes without saying that we will have to face a completely new reality.
Are there any positive „side effects” of the crisis?
The crisis has definitely risen our awareness of things we used to take for granted, and has changed how we perceive certain aspects of life. We have become more appreciative of them. I have noticed this fantastic attitude of our employees who, in the face of difficulties, keep doing their best. They are as motivated and ready to work as ever, and they support each other. I am immeasurably proud and happy that over the years we have managed to build such an incredible and loyal team and create a system and company policy that work even in unfavourable conditions. We have realised how unappreciative we were of certain comforts we could enjoy in our everyday lives at work and at home. I’m sure we will value these seemingly unimportant things and each other much more in the future.
Now, Easter is coming and I think it is a great opportunity for reflection. It is bound to be quite a difficult time for all of us, our families and friends, as we won’t be able to gather at one table this year. All the more, on behalf of the whole Tacakiewicz Ferma Kresek family, myself included, I wish all of you peace, joy, and above all, health, this Easter. In most cases, we will spend this time separately, but remember that we are in this together and fortunately we have computers and phones. As limited as they are, they can still help us spend this Easter with our loved ones.