The COVID-19 pandemic has changed various aspects of our personal and professional lives. The black swan event has motivated us to rethink and reinvent methods and processes of work.

The advent of the viral contagion, which began showing its effects from the end of March 2020, led to unprecedented effects on India’s economy, its various businesses and citizens. Speaking about real estate, most companies have had to evolve towards remote working and change how products and services are marketed and sold.

Team communication, project management and several other essential concepts needed a drastic rethink in the light of several challenges thrown at real estate companies by the COVID-19 pandemic. To understand how professionals underwent this period, we have spoken with many. On this Women’s Day 2021, we talk to Anuprita Dixit, Design Director, IMK Architects.

The year gone by has been a challenging year. What strategies did you adopt to tide over the crisis, and how has the year been for your company?

While the majority of businesses and government offices in Mumbai, India, are gradually attempting to restore normalcy by going back to their workplaces, our team at IMK Architects has opted to continue working from home. Throughout the pandemic, our constant innovation and determination have helped us stay on track and empowered us to prioritise our health and well-being without compromising our work.

We made a conscious decision quite early to embrace the work-from-home model in March 2020, before the lockdown was imposed. Doing so allowed us to explore the new work arrangement and address all the issues faced before shutting down the office entirely, albeit with the uncertainty of how long the situation would persist.

Besides technical issues that needed to be solved on the work front, we actually had a fairly smooth transition into the work-from-home arrangement. This was possible due to the agile SCRUM process of work that is an integral part of our workflow – one that IMK Architects successfully continues to follow.

The idea behind this agile approach is to implement any project, step by step, within defined time intervals (referred to as sprints), with a self-organised team. All tasks are prioritised, which helps in taking up those tasks and completing them efficiently. Additionally, it allows the team to react flexibly to changing requirements in every project phase.

Within the teams, this small-scale, self-organised way of working leads to flat hierarchies and transparent goals, promotes communication and increases productivity. This makes the agile method particularly suitable for the “new normal” and the remote, work-from-home arrangement.

We have been working well with this system now for the past ten months. For projects during the construction stage, we have successfully conducted site inspections and participated in review meetings online through video conferencing and calls. This would not have been possible without the constant support and cooperation from our clients and contractors.

On the other hand, achieving a work-life balance has been an even more significant challenge for some while working remotely. In many ways, work-life balance and its integration in our daily lives are fundamental as we all play multiple roles within different social contexts. Pre-pandemic, our work realms were distinctly separate from our personal life realms; hence, it was relatively easier to manage these separately. Although interdependent, each could be addressed individually and managed independently. However, in the current situation, the lines between being a wife and a mother, to being an architect and a team leader, are becoming increasingly blurred.

How do you maintain a work-life balance?

The past years’ experience has made me realise that there is never really a true balance between work and personal responsibilities. There is always something new that develops which cannot be predicted. This is even more challenging to deal with since now both the realms of work and home are intermingled, and both demand attention, often at the same time. Hence, we have to adopt new methods to increase efficiency, improve our time management skills, streamline our work and find new ways to cooperate with others. One needs to be flexible, agile and proactive.

I feel relatively privileged that I did not have to face many difficulties at home since I have always had the support of my family and domestic help to lend a helping hand at home. My children, who are out of their teenage years and fairly independent, are, in fact, more than willing to contribute and help in any way they can. However, here I would like to give due credit to some of my younger colleagues. They managed to continue working equally productively, overcoming the many challenges they have faced over these past months.

In the Indian context, or more aptly, in the context of life in the metropolitan city of Mumbai, the challenges posed are unique. Houses in Mumbai usually are compact, and an average middle-class family lives sufficiently well in a 1 BHK with makeshift arrangements to suit daytime and nighttime needs. With the work-from-home arrangement, it has been difficult for many people to carve out an exclusive working space during the day, especially with all the family members present at home. Further, with 2-3 adults working from home, this has been an even more challenging task.

With middle-class families unable to afford living in central Mumbai or closer to their workplaces due to high property values, the daily commute to work is time-consuming and tiring. An average working individual spends almost double her waking hours at the workplace rather than at home, and almost half of the balance in travelling to and from work. With the onset of the pandemic, remote working conditions have nullified travel time and allowed people to relocate to affordable and spacious residences, albeit in the distant suburbs. It has also freed up time and energy for activities that could be taken up only over the weekends or on holidays, such as exercise, recreation, reading etc. – those that are essential for rejuvenation.

Household help in India is relatively inexpensive compared to many other countries. Hence, we have always depended on them for many simple daily chores/activities like cooking and cleaning. The lockdown encouraged family members to collectively work as a team and do the daily household chores, a lesson well learnt in being self-reliant.

In families with young children, the parents, and more so the mother, have the additional responsibility of looking after the children’ needs. With schools moving to an online instruction system, overlapping hours and juggling responsibilities are sometimes overwhelming. A cooperative and collaborative team is critical in such circumstances, and the SCRUM system of self-organised teams offers sufficient flexibility within home environments.

Finally, being in a profession like Architecture, we had never imagined that work-from-home would be possible because there is a constant requirement of coordination meetings, discussions for designs and drawings, site visits and inspections etc. While last year had its fair share of challenges, it only encouraged us to reinvent our methods and processes of work. It made us realise that it is possible to work from any part of the country, with any organisation on projects across the world.

We look back at 2020 with positivity and seek to carry forward all our learnings in the future with renewed zeal and determination.