Guide to Virtual Practice
Ann Casso, Hon. AIA; Executive Director, AIA Trust
Kevin J. Collins, RPLU, Assoc. AIA, Senior Vice President, Schinnerer & Co
Jessyca Henderson, J.D., AIA; Associate General Counsel, AIA
Charles R. Heuer, FAIA, Esq.; Principal, Heuer Law & AIA Trust LegaLine
Lira Luis, AIA; Principal, Atelier Lira Luis Limited
Peter S. Macrae, AIA; Principal, Macrae ARCHitecture, LLC
Kirsten R. Murray, FAIA; Principal, Olson Kundig Architects
Jason C. Winters, AIA; Principal, Kezlo Group, LLC; AIA Strategic Council
What Is Virtual Practice?
Today, a new reality in architectural practice is that most architects are no longer interacting across their workstations. Instead, they are ‘virtually’ sharing ideas and drawings across digital platforms. Nearly every practicing architect engages in some form of “virtual practice” because the pace and practicalities of life demand it—employees travel or relocate, must limit work time for family responsibilities, or want to take on other enterprises as consultants. The virtual architectural practice model is far more flexible than traditional practice—and may be all but recession-proof since it can grow and shrink with market fluctuations.
The benefits of virtual practice may include near zero fixed overhead expenses—in contrast to substantial costs associated with traditional brick-and-mortar firms such as rent, computer hardware, infrastructure and more. In some cases, employee payroll and benefits become a thing of the past when the firm limits workers to consultants or independent contractors; however, there are important regulations in this area, discussed later, that must be followed. A “cloud-based” practice, where files are stored and managed online, means no servers and likely no expensive software or equipment to purchase or maintain.
Peter Macrae, now a seven-year veteran of virtual practice with 38 years of experience in architectural design, project management, and business development, sees his virtual practice as an “incubator of solopreneurs” who manage themselves. He started practicing virtually at age 58 and particularly enjoys the opportunity to mentor aspiring architects, such as college students using their unique software skills at a relatively lucrative hourly rate, and developing the skill-sets of younger architects who can take on new projects and learn how a virtual practice works without leaving their full-time jobs.
Jason Winters, AIA, principal and founder of Kezlo Group, a small firm in the mid-Atlantic region but working throughout the US, started his own practice to create a flexible work environment for himself and others, especially for the flexibility to be active in his new son's life. Kezlo now has ten people, eight of whom are full-time employees who work remotely but meet regularly for lunch, with project teams meeting in coffee shops or each other’s homes. Employees perform on a results-oriented schedule so that everyone can choose how they want to structure their work day. Timesheets are used simply to allocate hours to projects for bookkeeping purposes.
As a new start-up, the Kezlo Group couldn’t afford office space initially – and later found that they didn’t need it. Without an office, firm employees meet with clients on the clients’ own turf, providing better service and engagement, and underscoring how nonessential office space would be. Ultimately, it was advantageous for both client and employees, allowing for better work-life balance and flexibility for employees and greater responsiveness to clients.
For Lira Luis, AIA, principal and founder of Atelier Lira Luis Limited (ALLL), her firm’s work is more than fifty percent carried out “in the cloud” through the internet or a global technological network, tempered by both online and offline networking. Luis’ staff are not located in one office, nor in one city, and include both employees and contractors.
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