photo by Christina Kiffney Photography
It can be a daunting task to initiate an expensive home project, much less during a global pandemic. How to keep safe? What rules to follow? The protocols can be confusing and a little uncomfortable. As long as the design team that you are speaking with is willing to listen to your safety concerns, then you are on the right track. It’s a good sign that if they are willing to agree on a safety program with you, then they will likely collaborate on the myriad of decisions that lie ahead.
There are a few general practices that we’ve added to our process. First off, we’ve become much more comfortable with Zoom, Google Meets, and MS Teams. Like anything new, it can be sad to see the “old ways” pass by the wayside and make way for the uncomfortable new way. For example, I really enjoyed meeting with our clients in person, especially when reviewing the initial design drawings. I would invite them into our office to meet in our conference room over coffee, where I would present the large format drawings mounted and displayed on easels. Now, we do this over a Zoom meeting, to mitigate the risks of meeting closely together in a confined space. This virtual meeting has evolved over the past months, with early stumblings and embarrassments due to my blossoming tech savvy, but now I’ve been able to give full 3-D tours of the concepts via the computer screen, from the comfort of our own separate spaces.
Backing up a step, we also use video conferencing for our initial consults. I find it is nice to see our prospective clients’ faces and watch their expressions as we talk through their vision. I am a very visual person, watching for cues and seeing reactions is a large part of my process for understanding something. Plus, if there is a difficult concept to explain over the phone, then the client can just pick up their camera and show me around so I can get a better picture of their goals.
Even with this magical ability to meet over the internet, at some point it will be important to meet in person. A final assessment of the project can not be fully realized until I walk through the project and see it for myself. With that said, I can share my standard practices so you can compare my process with others. Before a site meeting, I ask my clients if they are comfortable with an in person meeting for an hour. I gather their personal feedback on how they’d like to proceed and I incorporate this into my process. For example, I recently had a client request that we meet outside with our masks on. I did not mind this at all, I love being outside, even with the colder weather. Her family was outside in the yard gathering leaves when I arrived. They were wearing masks in anticipation of our meeting. I also had my mask on and sanitized my hands as I exited my car. She had the front door ajar and suggested that I walk through the house and take pictures and videos of the areas we discussed previously over our Zoom call. They had several windows open in order to guarantee fresh air and good circulation. After I finished my quick photo session, we finished our meeting on the front step. I think it worked rather well.
I have also had clients on the other end of the spectrum, where they do not have as many requests. I still follow some basic protocols that I have established with my team. I always wear a mask indoors. I sanitize my hands before entering. I ask my client’s permission before I touch anything, like opening a closet door or turning on a light switch. And I try to keep the length of our meetings under an hour, while maintaining that magical 6’ distance from each other.
Lastly, be prepared for timelines to stretch. The remodelling world is going bonkers right now because so many people are sitting at home, scheming about the improvements they need and want. (A common example: The “open floor plan” is being forced to mingle with the desire for some private spaces, like home offices and second family rooms.) We’re just advising to have a bit more patience. I’ve had to breathe deep and calm my mind as I try to navigate the City’s new process for answering questions and prepping for permit applications. Please do the same for your designers and builder.
As with anything, good communication is key. If you can’t establish good ground rules with your design build firm at the beginning, then it is a good sign that things may not work very smoothly on the future project. Be sure to let your team know when something makes you uncomfortable. That way we can all adapt and move forward, like the rest of the world is doing everyday. To sum up: Embrace technology and use it to your benefit, be patient, and look for a collaborative process with your team.
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