Important questions

1. When does it need to be done by?

This is important because it tells me how fast I need to work, how much detail to go into and whether what I’m being asked to do is realistic.  It’s been particularly relevant when I’ve been given small tasks to help out on projects where the timeframes involved are less familiar.  I’ve been in the position relatively frequently of dipping into another project for a day or two, and being able to understand the scale and urgency of the tasks makes it much easier to grasp what’s going on.  It’s also helped me grasp the overall picture on larger, complex projects like the Reading Schools where we have multiple deadlines in quick succession and the work needs to be organised accordingly.

2. Which of these needs to be done first?

This is key to managing workload, and I find it prompts the person setting the work to consider their priorities and realise that not everything can happen at once.  I’m much less likely to feel panicked or under a lot of pressure if I have a clear way forward and know I’m getting the most urgent things out of the way, which is reassuring.

3. Is there anyone else working on this?

I find I need to know this because if there are other people involved they’ll also have ideas and preferences for how the work should be approached and it’s worth speaking to them to divide and plan the work effectively.  There’s also a difference between being briefed by a project architect and discussing it with an architectural assistant: the people doing more of the legwork tend to be able to offer a different perspective.  One of the challenges of working on live BIM projects is that each is set up somewhat differently, and has its own quirks and systems.  Whereas when I started here I would have gone straight into the project and tried to figure it out on my own, I’ve now learnt to collect more information before starting.

4. Where’s it filed?

Important for finding things! Also useful when it comes to organisation and understanding the office systems – while we have a standard folder structure, there are aspects which vary from project to project (as with their BIM).  This is becoming easier now, but was definitely necessary when I first started at HLM.  One of the things that has definitely changed for me since I started here is that I now have a much more solid grasp of the project structures and how information is broken down.  It’s one of the aspects in which HLM is very different from East: the filing structure of the latter was fairly self-explanatory because of the smaller-scale nature of the projects with no major contractors involved.

5. Will you check this for me?

A vital one; I’ve found it’s very hard to catch mistakes in work in which I’ve been immersed for hours or days.  A lot of commercial architectural work comes down to accuracy and the failure to deliver polished, error-free work can have a big impact on the firm’s reputation, especially within the construction business.  It’s not hard to see that there are often established relationships between firms and contractors, and maintaining and strengthening those relationships is important when it comes to bidding for projects or winning future work.  I’m aware that I tend towards working in quite an independent way, so getting used to relying on other people has been a critical part of adjusting to the kind of teamwork I’m involved in here.  Now I’ve shifted my mindset I’m able to contribute to producing more polished work, and the whole process is smoother.

6. 2D or 3D?

A perennial BIM question: working over drawings in 2D can give smoother results and is one way of dealing with modelling issues, but it can also cause problems in the long run as the model evolves and the drawings change.  Working out which is more effective is partly experience, and depends on things like how advanced the project is, how many people are likely to work on it, how complex the changes are and how accurate the model is as it stands.  At the same time I recognise that there are some things that just aren’t supported by the software, and then we inevitably rely on workarounds.  It’s taken me more than three or four months to get to the point where I know the ins and outs of the software well enough to be able to judge which is best when, but I think I’m most of the way there now.

7. Shall I call them and ask?

Whether it’s getting CAD support or calling a supplier for product details, being willing to get answers, or to ask people to make changes, generally makes things run much more smoothly.  I’ve heard the new technologist who sits opposite me being urged to “Just call them already!” a few times.  One of the things I like about HLM is that there is very much a phone-based culture; peole are much more likely to dial up a member of staff from another office than send an email, and when you have a team from across three or four offices working on the same BIM model and making decisions which impact on the project then that’s crucial.  (On Reading schools, for example, we have an architectural team from Cardiff and Plymouth; interior designers in Sheffield and Belfast, landscape architects in Sheffield, and a CAD manager in Glasgow.)  To me it’s easier to read someone’s tone on the phone than from an email.  It’s easier to be friendly and helpful and build rapport, and it’s easier to make shared decisions.  Picking up the phone isn’t something it really occurred to me to do much when I started here, but I’ve picked up the idea from experience and from hearing all the phone conversations other people in the office have.

8. How did you do that?

I know now that whether it’s as complex as changing the model view options of the Archicad renovation filter or as simple as putting a phone call on hold, chances are that if I ask someone they’ll be happy to show me.  Asking (and being willing to ask again if I’ve forgotten or am still not sure) has definitely helped me find out how everything in the office works.  Here I have the impression that everyone remembers what it’s like to be figuring everything out, and constantly asking questions is a big part of how knowledge and expertise is shared around the office.  I’ve also found that I don’t ever mind showing other people (often newer staff) how things work or answering questions.  I already knew I like to teach, explain why things work a certain way and look at possible approaches, and this confirms that.  On top of that, it’s encouraging to find how many of these questions I can answer now: it shows me how much I’ve already picked up.

9. Can you help me?

I’m confused. It’s broken. I don’t know what I’m doing. This isn’t making sense. If I’m stuck it’s worth asking the best way to become unstuck.  Chances are there’s either an easy fix or there’s a bigger problem which needs to be addressed.  Either way, speaking up helps.  At East, and when I started at HLM, I was typically reluctant to ask for help when I was out of the ability to think and brain-fog set in.  More recently I’ve been coaxing myself into reaching out when it feels like things are crashing down around me and I’ve found my colleagues always try to be helpful and supportive – to give me a way of breaking the work down so that it feels approachable or to shift the workload around, or even to let me call it a day and take some time out.

10. How was your weekend?

Casual conversations which build up familiarity beyond just working relationships are incredibly important and that’s something I’ve really started to appreciate since I started at HLM.  Being comfortable with my colleagues and knowing a bit of what’s going on in their lives makes it much easier to work together – it helps people come together to form good teams and makes being in the office more relaxed and enjoyable.