David Haresign, FAIA, on how his firm is grappling with COVID-19

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David Haresign, FAIA (right) with partner Bill Bonstra, FAIA.

AIA Voices of COVID-19 highlights how firms and firm leaders are dealing with this unprecedented crisis. This is the first in a series.

Bonstra | Haresign is a 32-person firm in Washington, D.C., which focuses on what principal and co-founder David Haresign, FAIA, calls “contextual modernism” and fosters a highly collaborative studio approach to design. He laments the affect that Coronavirus has had on not just social cohesion, but the studio culture that drives his business. "The creative work environment of the studio? It’s like someone shot a hole through it," he says. "The fundamental value of our firm is collaboration, and it's been lonesome over the last couple of weeks."

The greatest concern for the profession is that we’ll lose another generation of designers. Before I read the summary of the CARES Act today, I was thinking that the good news is that we have a lot of work, and we’re hopeful that they’ll pay us for the work we’re doing. Older folks in the industry are going to remember 1989, 1991, 1992, and again the 2001 downturn, and the 2008-2009 downturn. Clients horde cash, which is fine, but there’s a velocity of payment that’s much slower than in good times. Get great work, do really great work, and get paid well is my mantra usual, but it’s inverted now for me, and getting cash in the door now is the first priority. We’ve got to be on top of our receivables.

We have 32 people, and fortunately we are doing predominantly remote working. Bill [Bonstra] and I come in every day. Our business manager comes in every day. A couple of our folks come in to work, because they prefer it. But, the large majority are working remotely. This notion of the “home office” for a lot of our designers is the dining room table. We have a couple of folks self-quarantining because they’re in multi-family buildings, and they’re doing the best they can with the space they have. We responsibly asked folks to go remote if they could, and here’s where we landed. We’re doing all the normal sanitary stuff, but I have never seen our office as clean as it is right now. We have heavy-duty, top-to-bottom office cleaning twice a week now, which we used to do only quarterly.

We haven’t specifically spoken to our team about expectations around work/life balance as it pertains to kids, but we only really have four team members who have children younger than college-age. So, they have been coping, but our firm has never been a work-’til-you-drop place. We have always been interested in balance. Some people will say that work-life balance is a myth that people chase, since it’s really about acknowledging that sometimes work takes priority, and sometimes personal lives take priority. So, we have been trying to understand where everyone is with that debate, and help them figure it out.

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