There’s no doubt COVID-19 has affected every aspect of what we once considered to be a normal life.

While many businesses have been closed during the pandemic and lockdown, we have been adapting to the “new normal” and working with our clients and partners to create beautiful homes.

We haven’t stopped working since the pandemic arrived. But we have had to make a lot of changes to make sure we carry on looking after our clients, regardless of the stage they are at in the construction process. These changes have involved a significant shift to working remotely and catering for the new social distancing guidance.

Thankfully we have plenty of experience delivering projects remotely. We have already looked after clients refurbishing and building homes from all over the world; from Rio de Janeiro to Dubai, Italy and France. We have renovated entire homes in London and internationally for our clients working this way!

Here are some guidelines for how we are working around COVID-19 and social distancing that might be useful if you’re considering a home renovation or self-build project.

Step 1: Getting Started

The first phase in any project is an initial consultation.

Usually, we would come and meet at your property, walk around, take some photos, sketch out some ideas on your agent’s floor plans. It’s an excellent opportunity for us all to get to know each other.

We can now meet with you virtually and still keep that critical face to face element using technologies such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Meets.

How do you prepare for remote consultation?

We’re running our entire office remotely and have become quite the experts at Zoom (and all manner of other video conferencing platforms). Video calling is straightforward, although you often have to install an app on your computer or phone.

Once you get used to it, you may never go back to simple voice calls.

If you prefer to use another app, that’s no problem. Let us know in advance, and we’ll get set up to talk. We’ve been using WhatsApp, Google Meets, Skype and Microsoft Teams already. We’re sure there are others.

Our main office telephone line is still fully operational and is the first port of call for any enquiry and to organise an initial consultation.

What do you cover in the initial meeting?

A virtual meeting will allow us the opportunity to discuss your goals and aspirations, your likes and dislikes, the scale of your project and of course, your budget.

To get the most out of this session, you should provide plenty of details in advance, such as:

  • Basic household or ‘estate agent’ information, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms and the size of the rooms
  • Floor plans are always helpful, even if they are from an estate agent or not to scale
  • It’s also helpful if you can take photographs or a video of the property, to give us a virtual tour.

Architects and interior designers are visual creatures, so the more images you provide, the easier it will be for us to start imagining what’s possible with your space.

You could also prepare an Ideas Book.

We like to know what ideas you have to transform your home or property. How you like to live and what unique features you might want in your home. An excellent way to do this is to produce a simple ‘Ideas Book’.

We also love to know how you would like to use a space, even if you don’t quite know what features it could have. Let us know if you love cooking or hosting guests, if you want more natural light, or you have hobbies or collections to accommodate.

We can work with a list of ideas, but if you have photographs or magazine clippings from similar properties, that’s even better. One of our top tips is to find inspirational images on Pinterest; it helps!

What about measurements?

We will need detailed measurements to prepare drawings for a planning application and construction drawings for your builders. However, we can work from a few critical measures at the feasibility stage.

If you don’t have any plans, there could be a similar property next door, and the owners might be happy to provide you with their drawings. We may also be able to find some from a previous planning application that would be helpful for the initial consultation.

You will eventually need to commission a surveyor to visit and measure up, which is easy to do even with social distancing.

Step 2: Formulating a Plan and Budget

The more information we have from you at the outset, the more accurate a vision we can formulate for what’s possible with your property.

We will also offer you some guidance on a budget for construction costs and professional fees. Architects generally work out a charge based on a percentage of the total construction costs. We generally calculate fees based on similar projects in scope, scale and overall budget.

We’ll present these ideas to you in the form of a feasibility report, which we will email to you and discuss via another video call.

So far, everything can have been achieved remotely and at a very social distance.

If you are happy with the initial concepts, we will then go onto the planning stage.

Step 3: Getting Ready for Planning

Planning departments had started the move to online platforms before COVID-19, and for this reason, they are very much working as usual.

We will prepare a full planning application (where required) and submit this electronically on your behalf.

We will guide you through this process. Mistakes here can be time-consuming and costly, but we’ve completed an awful lot of planning applications so you can rely on our experience. We have had several applications approved during the lockdown, so the wheels of planning are still turning.

You will now have a long wait to hear if your planning application is approved, or not. It’s typically around 12 weeks or so.

How far can we take the process remotely?

Of course, you’ll be wondering how far we can take the design process without meeting in person. That answer relies on how much information you provide and the clarity in the brief.

For a successful project, we would expect lots of online meetings to make sure everything is clear and understood on both sides. The key is to keep the dialogue going.

We are comfortable using imagery and visuals to design and plan, and we can effectively portray our ideas to you in person or via video call. We regularly prepare 3D visuals and photo renders to help clients understand our concepts. We can also live sketch on drawings and floor plans so you can see our ideas coming to life on your screen during a call.

working with lockdown and social distancing

You could walk through the home we have designed for you with some VR goggles. It’s expensive, but it’s as close as you will get to be in the space before building. We often do this using BIMx models, which is more like what you see on Grand Designs and less costly than VR.

We are confident that we can take your design or refurbishment project to the planning stage, without ever having to meet in person.

Working with Other Consultants

We have been in practice for more than 30 years, and in that time, we have established a supply chain of excellent partners. With modern design software, we can share plans and work collaboratively with our partners, whether they are engineers, surveyors, landscape designers, or others. All of this is remote, and we’re very experienced at it.

As with every other stage of the process, we make sure things are done visually, with image-heavy, virtual consultations that help everyone to get the right picture and the best designs.

Step 4: Detailed Design

After your planning application, the next stage is to think about the details that go into your property. Our interior design team often joins at this stage as we have both architects and interiors working together under the same socially distanced roof.

We regularly send product and material samples to our clients through the post, or for those local to our office we’ve been dropping samples at the door. Many suppliers are also happy to send out samples directly. If you can’t decide which flooring to choose, or tiles for your master suite, or curtains for the living room, it helps to get some samples into your hands.

There’s no doubt the construction and interiors supply chain has been disrupted by the lockdown.

You will likely need to try a broader range of suppliers and check their stability before placing an order. We can guide you in this process to help minimise your risk as we have a wide range of supplier relationships.

You will not be surprised to hear we are very comfortable guiding our clients remotely via video calling for the detailed design stage too. We can present our ideas online and discuss this with you, just as we will have done with the initial designs prepared for your planning application.

Step 5: Getting the Building Work Started

The building industry is now well practised at working in a COVID safe way. It has emerged from lockdown, and all builders have simple systems in place to keep their teams and you safe, including social distancing measures and proper hygiene practices.

We can always quiz any contractors about their preparation for social distancing during the tendering process. This questioning will help to satisfy us all they are a professionally run team.

We will also work carefully to get all the necessary contracts for appointing your builders signed and countersigned. This contractual stage is a crucial part of any building project, and the agreement needs to be the correct one for your circumstances.

If you plan to live on-site during the works, it is going to be more challenging.

We always recommend our clients move out for the duration, which seems particularly sensible while there are social distancing measures in place.

Step 6: Managing Your Project On-Site

It is inevitable you will spend some time-on-site, and for these times we will advise you on suitable personal protective equipment.

Ordinarily, this includes a hard hat, high visibility jacket and some sturdy boots or shoes. At the moment, you should also consider a face covering and some plastic gloves too.

Over the years, we have been able to conduct many virtual site visits to keep on top of progress. We used this set up extensively for our Yew Tree Cottage project, which completed in 2017.

You can hear from our clients on this project here if you want to find out about their experience.

The added advantage of working remotely is there are likely to be fewer travel costs and time involved in getting to site for us to pass on.

Of course, there will be instances where we must get on to a building site. We’re prepared for this with the appropriate PPE and will continue to conduct site visits in-person to keep projects on course.

We hope this has shown just how much of the process can be delivered remotely and from a very social distance.

We are confident we can achieve a great deal without endangering our staff, our clients or our partners. We’ve settled in well to running a socially distanced architecture practice and plan to continue working this way with a skeleton crew in our offices until the COVID-19 situation is entirely under control.

Please get in touch if you are considering doing some works during these most unusual of times and we’ll do our best to guide you through the process.

You might also enjoy our free ebook – Granit’s Guide to Employing an Architect, which lays out in more detail what happens at every stage of the RIBA’s plan of work. This plan of work is something well worth your time to get familiar with as it is a standard roadmap for all construction projects.