5in4: HAT Projects /// on flexible working

We are delighted to introduce our first guest post, by HAT Projects

Intrigued by their tweet in response to us announcing our 3-months trial of a 5in4 working week, we contacted Hana Loftus, co-director of HAT Projects, interested in knowing more about their experience of flexible working.

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 16.22.20


The HAT Projects team!

                                                                      The HAT Projects team!

We were intrigued by Bauman Lyons’ recent announcement that the whole office was trialling a 5-in-4 day week, as a way to allow their team more time for family and other interests.  As a smaller practice, we’ve taken a flexible approach to our work patterns from the start – and would hope never to enforce a conventional working week.

The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, my co-director Tom and myself started a family at the same time as our practice. We were committed to real equality in childcare without having a nanny, so this meant a big change in the way we worked. From when our first child was three weeks old we split childcare 50/50, which was a tough mental shift for two naturally hard workers, but has paid huge dividends. We now work a more conventional week, but each of us still has a half-day off to spend with the girls. We never told our clients or collaborators how we managed – we did everything we could to maintain the quality and intensity of our work, and if this meant Tom getting up crazily early so that he could still pick up the girls from nursery at 5.15, so be it.

The second reason derives from our experience as employers. We started working with freelancers and part-time assistants as a way to limit our financial outlay while filling our needs. We realised that we would rather have several people working for us part-time, than packing those hours into full time roles. Partly this has been about using people’s skills appropriately – we need admin and architectural support but one person is unlikely to cover both. But also, as a small practice, the office dynamic is much healthier with more people coming in and out each week, and an early experience having a full-time employee also made us uncomfortable that she spent more time in the office than our 4.5 days a week. We made a decision that our employees should not work longer, or less flexible, hours than us.

We like having a team who have other projects on the go, bringing varied experiences to us – whether it’s running markets, studying, teaching or work for other practices. For the same reason, Tom and I also volunteer time as trustees to charities. We currently have a graduate working with us and although she would (naturally) like to be paid for five rather than the four days we employ her for, when we asked her about this for the piece, she commented that her ideal would be the 5-in-4 that Bauman Lyons are doing – full pay and Fridays off. Our other employed team member has just come back from maternity leave for a day and half a week, and will increase her hours over the next year. We have a wonderful freelancer who works with us when we need his skills in model-making or prototyping.

Of course Tom and I work far more than a ‘conventional’ work week when you include the evenings working late from home or in the office, but that’s no different from anyone else who owns their own business. I will confess to spending far too much time on my Blackberry. But we are both proud of the equality in our family and interested to see whether, as our practice continues to develop, we can keep having a team who work unusual hours. For us, it’s about getting the job done well, not watching the clock: trying not to set unreasonable expectations for what can be achieved in a certain number of hours, but also hoping our team takes seriously the responsibilities we give them. We’re ambitious and want hard workers, but we want people to have a life outside the practice too – and we hope that we lead by example.

                                          Jerwood Gallery by HAT Projects. ©HATProjects


Thanks again Hana for your contribution, a great insight into how flexible working can be a viable model for architecture practice. 

If you want to find out more about HAT Projects and their work, we highly recommend their website and blog. You can also follow them on Twitter.