Heads in the cloud: Work-life balance and better collaboration for architects

See how cloud collaboration helped Newman Architects create partnerships with out-of-town firms and improve the work-life balance for its architects.

Composite image cloud technology work-life balance for architects business man working on laptop, clouds, house model

Taz Khatri

March 13, 2020

min read
  • Newman Architects, based in New Haven, CT, uses cloud-based technology to partner with architects specializing in different building types, expanding the types of projects they can take on.

  • Cloud-based collaboration has transformed the firm‘s internal work dynamics, improving work-life balance.

  • The technology also streamlines the transition between design and construction-administration phases.

During the Great Recession of 2008, work dried up for New Haven, CT–based firm Newman Architects. To survive and stay resilient through the downturn, it had to secure work by partnering with firms in other cities.

“Local projects were pretty scarce, so we teamed up with a firm in Oklahoma to do a university residential project there,” says BIM Manager Leo Gonzales. “The firm contacted ours because we have a lot of experience doing college residential dormitories. And in general, firms are partnering with other firms with specializations to get and win projects that require it.”

This strategy proved fruitful, and partnering with out-of-state firms has remained a major strategy for Newman—even now that the recession is over. “Since 2008, there have been fewer projects and more architects going after the same projects,” says Newman Director of IT Jeff Cap. “Teaming is critical.”

Work-life balance for architects Newman Architects collaboration meeting
Collaboration meeting about the Yale University Center for Teaching and Learning project, led by project manager Howard Hebel. Image courtesy of Newman Architects.

Partnering with other firms isn’t possible without a technical solution for sharing the work. At first, Newman would keep the project until the design-development phase was over and then hand it off to the partner firm for the construction-document and construction-administration phases. But that collaboration method was disjointed.

Newman then tried using virtual workstations that could access a remote server, but that method wasn’t scalable. “We were working with another architect in Connecticut through a virtual workstation,” Cap says. “We wanted to add two more people to the project, but the partnering firm balked because it would cost them too much to add two more virtual workstations. As a result, one individual had to work a lot of overtime to avoid the extra costs of hardware.”

So what does a firm do when it needs partnerships to get the work but can’t afford the hardware upgrades? Enter cloud-based technology: a scalable solution that doesn’t require expensive, limiting hardware and enables more seamless connections between project phases. “During the course of a project, your team expands,” Gonzales says. “It can go from five people in one firm to 30 across many different firms and disciplines by the end. So we used Autodesk BIM Collaborate Pro [formerly Collaboration for Revit], which allows your team to contract or expand as your project develops.”

The software also helped Newman expand the types of projects it does and land big jobs it couldn’t win alone as a midsize firm. “We’ll team up with architects who specialize in building types like stadiums or something as specific as nursing schools to compete on those projects,” Gonzales says.

Rendering of Fairfield School of Nursing ground view work-life balance for architects
Rendering of the Fairfield School of Nursing in Fairfield, CT. Image courtesy of Newman Architects.

The advent of cloud-based software tools not only made it easier for Newman to partner with other architecture firms but also transformed the way the firm works internally and with consultants. The technology allows different people to access the same file stored in the cloud and make changes in real time. “We’re not wasting time sending drawing files back and forth,” Gonzales says. “This cuts down on excuses, improves communication, and saves money.”

Gonzales recalls an incident in which a design architect changed the column layout on a project, and an hour later, the structural engineer called because he noticed it right away. “If we weren’t working with BIM 360 Design, it would have taken several weeks to work that out,” he says. But because the structural engineer was working on the same file as the architect and could see live updates, there wasn’t a time lag in communicating the change. “Synchronizing the files is no problem,” Gonzales says. “It actively syncs and is almost seamless.”

Cloud-based collaboration even changed the culture of the firm, improving the work-life balance for architects and employees. “It allows you to work from anywhere you have a high-speed Internet connection, whether that be the job trailer or your home,” Cap says. This flexibility prompted the firm to replace desktop computers with laptops for all their employees so they can work from anywhere. It also eliminates the need for colocation.

3D drawing of exterior of Hotchkiss School Newman Architects work-life balance for architects
3D drawing of the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT. Image courtesy of Newman Architects.

“Being able to work from home helps with the morale of our firm,” Cap says. “Having the flexibility to work from home after dinner, for example, is great. A lot of people like to do work after the kids are in bed, and with the technology we have, they don’t have to come into the office to be able to do that.” In addition, many of the firm’s projects are out-of-state, so cloud-based collaboration also cuts down on travel costs.

It has even had a positive impact in the continuity between design and construction-administration phases because it’s easier to issue revisions to the drawings as changes come up during construction. “If you have high-speed Internet on the job site, and you go out there with a notebook, you can access the model from there and issue new sketches,” Gonzales says.

Cloud-based technology helped Newman with business development during and after a recession—giving the firm access to bigger and more varied projects across the country—and also helped retain employees and made it easier to work with consultants. As a result, Cap said Newman acquired a BIM 360 Design license for almost every employee: “We can’t imagine how we lived without it now.”

This article has been updated. It was originally published in July 2016.

Taz Khatri

About Taz Khatri

Taz Khatri is a licensed architect and she has her own firm, Taz Khatri Studios. The firm specializes in small multifamily, historic preservation, and small commercial work. Taz is passionate about equity, urban design, and sustainability. She lives and works in Phoenix, AZ.

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