Design collaboration in the age of online meetings

I hate meetings.

I suppose I am not unique in expressing the negative (but very true) sentiment.

My reasons for hating these “necessary evils” in my work are the same as everyone else’s; time-consuming activities that seem to drag on and not produce clear outcomes at the end.   

However, those meetings continue in the name of collaborations…

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

During a recent meeting, I had an unfamiliar sentiment: feeling of calmness. It occurred to me that I was not being my usual self: the fast-talking/furiously note-taking/ constant watch-checking person I used to be.

What is Integrated Design Process (IDP)?

Two things surprised me about the meeting: EVERYONE showed up at the meeting, and then the more surprising part was that they were all ON TIME!

Not only the “bosses” of different consulting companies showed up, but also the employees of those bosses (aka people who actually do the project work) did.

Unless you are an artist or writer who can work on your own, most work requires working with OTHER PEOPLE. Especially in my industry (architecture and construction), completing an architecture project requires the ongoing coordination of many people’s work.

image credit: Strategia Conseil

Typically in the old days (a.k.a. pre-COVID-19 time), initial project meetings consist of a few people: client, architect (me), project manager, and some consultants who are familiar with the city approvals such as zoning, and building permit process.

Although design/ construction industries have been talking about the importance of collaboration and early planning, in reality, that ideal(and hopeful) setting rarely presents.   

While recognizing the benefits of early collaboration and participation from everyone involved in the project, the execution of those lofty goals rarely happens in real life. Rather, the actual process works in a linear, sequential process, in other words, slow.  

The integrated approach to building design has been always the goal. Having all the related parties involved in the project come together from the beginning to the end of project has been the ultimate objective for designers and builders.

We have a name for the approach: IDP (integrated design process).

The initial reason for implementing IDP was for creating energy-efficient buildings. The process was advocated by US and Canadian architects 20 some odd years ago, and now it is an expected process for many commercial and institutional projects. 

With the introduction (?) of WFH due to the pandemic, I am beginning to think the IDP would move into a new territory: smaller scaled projects.

It is easier to have everyone in one place (albeit, a digital one)

The cost associated with physical meetings is the main reason for not having everyone at the meetings. Spending a good chunk of working hours in meetings or worse, commuting and getting stuck in the traffic are the expenses companies would like to avoid.  

For example, instead of the project engineer attending the meetings, the company principal (the boss) would attend the meeting to save time and money for the company.

Since the project manager is getting the summary version of the meetings, oftentimes, he/she has to contact other meeting attendees to get additional information.   

However with available technologies now, trying to limit the number of people to attend meetings to save time and money seems unnecessary. Everyone can get on the online meetings. (unless your boss does not want you to…that would be a bigger issue than time wasting on meetings)

With that, no one will miss the relevant information about the project due to time and money constraints we faced in the past.

With these constraints removed from physical meetings, all of them can focus on the work they need to understand and complete.  

Effective and open communication with an amazing record-keeping method

As I am getting used to being in front of a screen to have meetings, I’m also becoming somewhat of an expert(?) in utilizing all the benefits from online meetings.

Having the freedom to record meetings (with everyone’s permission) or seeing questions and issues being transcribed on the side of the computer screen was the new freedom I did not know I needed it.  

Not having to take meeting notes or trying to make sense of my handwritten notes after the meeting has been a bonus bi-product of online meetings.   

With so much built-in information available from online meetings, my proficiency in EDITING skills surfaces as the next thing to improve!

IDP for small projects

Both financial and time constraints removed, the benefits of IDP can be applied also to smaller-scaled projects: small office buildings, individual houses etc.

In other words, we all can benefit from working with IDP…not just for the clients with big budget!

Photo by Maria Orlova on Pexels.com

With more frequent project meetings and the involvement from everyone (not just bosses), the IDP’s goal of achieving comprehensive project management can occur.

Instead of letting the linear progressions takes over the project management , the process truly become an integrated one: all of us can shape the success of the project outcomes.

Final Thoughts

IDP and its benefits in design/construction have been well documented over the years. 

However, implementing the IDP has been slow due to the costs involved with the process. With smaller scaled projects (and even smaller budgets), implementing the IDP has been slow in coming.  

With the online meetings, those constraints have been lifted.

As we are debating the merits of WFH or online meetings, one thing is certain; we are not going back to work as we had done in the past.  

Being the pen and paper kind of person, I find myself in an unfamiliar but enjoyable(?) meeting settings; with iPad and iPad Pencil in my hand, I am ready to push the zoom meeting button!

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