2020-04-24

COVID-19 Lessons from our Woods Bagot China Studios

As our global studio responds to the escalating events of the coronavirus pandemic, Woods Bagot has drawn on the experience of our studios in China—which are some months ahead of the outbreak in North America and Europe—as a valuable resource. The following is from our China Regional Chair, Stephen Jones. We share it with you in the hope it provides insight valuable to your business, as it has for ours:

In China, we see another level of unwinding Covid-related restrictions every day. For example, the quarantining of Beijing was loosened a month ago. While most of us are back to working in the studio, 90 percent of our meetings are still via video conference. The good news: business is strong. Many of our projects that were still in design were unaffected and clients who had lost a few weeks are enthusiastic about picking up the work again. Aviation and hospitality clients, who were looking to reposition themselves before the outbreak, are taking advantage of the empty terminals and hotels to push ahead with construction. The only brake on all this optimism has been the shortage of construction workers – it’s hard to assemble a robust team when public gathering is restricted to four people.

Funan, Singapore

Our can-do attitude, coupled with a strong commitment to the collectivity, has served us well. Everyone wears a face mask, even on Zoom calls. These masks, which we wear to protect others more than ourselves, have become part of the social norm. You are just as unlikely to leave home without your mask than without your phone.

Still, the recovery here and everywhere, is a gentle venturing out of the shadows – tentatively looking for the light around the edges rather than fireworks. For instance, Hong Kong just saw a spike in infections after opening its borders – a reminder that there is no recovery for us without recovery for everyone. Now, more than ever, we are all in this together.

Tencent Headquarter, Beijing

Here are some of the actions and attitudes that helped us through. We hope they will help you too.

Don’t Panic

Keep yourself, and the studio, as calm-minded as you can.

Get Organised

We established a COVID-19 committee which included representatives from People + Culture and Legal to oversee procedures in all China studios. Areas covered included status of the pandemic, sanitation, IT, overseas staff and communications.

Not everything will get done. That’s OK.

Our priorities were to continue providing excellent service to you, our clients, while supporting the safety and personal well-being of our staff. This unplanned activity takes an enormous amount of time – eating into ‘business as usual’. Senior team members put in long hours, which caused stress levels to rise. Not everything gets done and safety comes first.

Over-Communicate

We informed our clients through multiple channels, including social media, that we are safe, active and ‘open for business’. After the first month, the situation started to normalize. We increased staff engagement, showing extra care through regular check-ins, and asking our people if they had any difficulties. We encouraged staff to join online classes and to meditate to manage their mood and stress levels.

Meetings with Clients

We are now starting to have a few F2F meetings. We found we needed to be flexible to client’s needs, so many of us learned new skills and tools like Skype, Zoom, and MS Teams.

Coming Back to the Studio

We’ve found that generally staff prefer to work from the studio. Working in a cramped apartment shared with family and children is challenging. The social aspects of working together at a time of great social stress were highly valued. Some staff still pulled all-nighters while dealing with family issues, difficult conditions and social stress. This depth of commitment makes your jaw drop.

A Silver Lining

Battling hardship brings out the best in great people, and this period has built good relations among many colleagues. Our great IT support and global studio model gave us a leg up and helped us win work. This has been a good time to reconnect with clients who have more time to discuss their challenges and plans for after the pandemic.

Fosun Xi’an Dahua·1935
 

“Thank you to Stephen and the Woods Bagot team in China.” said Nik Karalis, Chief Executive Officer of Woods Bagot.

We wish to assure you that Woods Bagot global studio is in a very stable and capable position to deliver your work to the same level of quality as ever. We are already thinking of and researching the long term impacts that COVID-19 will have on our buildings and cities in the long term, and will be sharing this with you over our social media and web channels in the coming days.

As always we’re here to assist in any way we can – please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you have any queries.

Nik Karalis
Chief Executive Officer
Woods Bagot