Despite the unusual times we find ourselves in due to the pandemic, building projects like JRA’s new- build headquarters for retail company TJX continue to progress. We spoke to the project team to find out how they are working and get a first-hand insight into the challenges and successes of a new build staying on schedule in lockdown.
TJX is a 12- storey office building based in Watford, designed by Sheppard Robson architects as the European headquarters for TJX. JRA was appointed by ISG to carry out a full Stage Four design validation and development, producing Stage Five construction information and delivering the £70m scheme on site.
To maintain its completion date of December 2020, technical staff continue to work on the project while based at home. The JRA team is split between London and Lodz, Poland. Since opening the Poland office in 2013, our teams have collaborated digitally, but the new situation has fast tracked this approach across entire project teams, both internal and external, making for a more efficient and inclusive virtual environment.
Time consuming travel to Watford for site visits that only a few could attend have been replaced with photos and videos provided by on-site supervisors which can be viewed by everyone instantly. Video meetings, screen-sharing and instant messaging have also seen widespread uptake, allowing the Poland office, for example, to be more active participants than previously, where project meetings were held on site. Pawel Karczmarczyk, an architect based in Poland said that ‘all meetings are organized online so it is easier to get important information first-hand,’ sharing the sentiment of Piotr Walerysiak, another Poland based architect on the team, that sometimes, emails just aren’t the same!
In fact, improved communication was a key benefit every member of the team mentioned. Since there is a drive to move online and maintain contact through new means, everyone has prioritised connection. This has translated to social aspects too – Pawel said that the team has ‘more fun working together’ now. The increased digital connection and focus on wellbeing has led to creative ways of bringing colleagues together, from the practice pub quiz to sharing fun photos within the team, something most want to maintain, once office working starts up again.
This is lucky, as Project Director Kerri Cooke stressed the project remains full steam ahead and ‘for JRA there has been no difference in the quantity of drawings to review, meetings to attend (virtually) and site queries to respond to.’ As a parent, remote working has also offered increased flexibility for Kerri, with rushing back for children’s pick up and drop off, a thing of the past. This has not been the case for all parents, Piotr noted the challenges of working with a curious toddler jumping up to his workstation, a situation many parents can relate to at the moment.
At a project level, the pandemic situation is not without its challenges, despite remaining in progress. The team has had to be adaptable, and as Associate Tien Vu points out, although JRA is operational, some sub-contractors and suppliers have needed to furlough staff, which can hold up information gathering, decision making and supply chains. To navigate this, the team has been stringent in finding suitable alternatives for product specification, for instance, where materials are no longer available.
Overall, the pandemic has not slowed momentum at TJX HQ, but it has required adaptation and embracing new ways of working to maintain the high standards set for the office development and the collaboration required to create it.
We were pleased to hear what some of the TJX team had to say about the new normal, and want to end by sharing their tips for working under lockdown:
Kerri Cooke, Project Director: “Without the usual travel time to decompress between meetings, take the opportunity for small breaks between virtual meetings to stretch your legs or look at the clouds”.
Tien Vu, Associate: “Getting out of the house for short walks with my daughter helps her burn off the excess energy which would otherwise be directed at me while I try and work!”
Pawel Karczmarczyk, Architect: “Try not to work and live in the same room, separating the space for work from where you sleep and eat”.