Work-life balance is a compelling issue for our society, and its importance to the youngest generation of professionals is well-documented. But in our profession, it is still seems to be thought of as a special-interest issue. How do we reconcile our profession’s love-affair with overtime, our productivity-obsessed nation’s “always-on” mentality, and our own desires for personal balance and the best possible work? How do these things relate to each other? I would argue that this desire for greater balance is not simply a personal issue of quality of life, by which I mean life outside work. I think it actually affects quality of work.
There are times when there is no substitute for powering through something, which usually just takes time, including overtime. However, the culture of long hours and face time, cultivated in school, actually hurts us in a couple of ways in the office. I’d like to think that pursuing work-life balance for our staff can actually go hand in hand with improving certain aspects of our work.
Design: For most people, ideas don’t gel instantaneously. Clichés about having a brainstorm in the shower, or ‘sleeping on’ a big decision don’t come from nowhere. Allowing an idea to simmer is instrumental to the beautiful synthesis of complex concepts, just as receiving outside criticism is. Walking away from a parti, a drawing or an aesthetic choice for a chunk of time can be an effective way to stop spinning our wheels.
Production: Now that CAD documentation is the norm, we struggle with over-drawing and under-thinking our contract documents in a way that was not possible in the era of hand-drafting. Whereas a small building, even a very intricate one, can be detailed in a fairly straightforward way, the larger the building gets, the more complex is the interplay between various conditions that must be detailed; put more simply, there are more combinations of various conditions to contend with. To succinctly and clearly express these combinations takes quite a lot of forethought. Our tendency to work long hours favors drawing over planning, analyzing and editing the set. At 10:00 or midnight or 2:00 am, it is so much easier to simply copy a detail and modify it slightly than to think about whether it actually belongs in the set, or whether the sub-contractor will easily glean the difference between the two details. In the past, this tendency was offset by the sheer time it took to draft a set; the slowness of hand-drafting forced one to be spare and efficient with one’s details. Today, the bounty of CAD and the long-established culture of long hours combine to create sets that are often bloated and labyrinthine.
I truly believe that when people can spend a little more time away from the office, during high-intensity periods especially, they come back so much fresher and sharper, prepared to analyze their work more critically and to make decisions faster. In short, 12 hours in the office does not equal 1.5 times an 8 hour work day.
21 Ways Architects Can Work Smarter, Not Harder