Heading into week 7 of the lockdown I am sure you all have stories to share about the frustrations of trying to maintain some measure of normalcy in a situation that is far from normal. Many of our members have home offices, so things may seem unchanged at first glance. That is until your printer cartridges run dry because your kids have been using it to print reams of school work, which seem to consist of really dark scans of handwritten notes, or everyone in your Zoom meeting is treated to the sounds of some household mayhem.
I think the biggest problem for me, aside from the obvious concern about when we can start earning again, has been to find a routine that would distinguish days of the week from one another. There is something grounding about going to the office every day, about coming home and busying oneself with different tasks than those in the office. It divides your days, allowing you to compartmentalise your home and work life.
The question on everyone’s mind now is whether we can start resume working from the office in line with level 4 lockdown status. The answer is far from clear cut. Communication received from SACAP Level 4 Business Services indicates that architectural services fall under Part H (9) of Risk Adjusted Strategy Regulations . I understand this to indicate that the resumption of architectural services is conditional on the level 4 status of the project that is being worked on. I would suppose these projects to be related to essential public infrastructure and maintenance, or alternatively COVID-related hospital works, homeless shelters or similar. Companies should check this status with their clients to determine whether it is appropriate to resume work from office, with the onus being on the client to confirm, in writing, whether the project in question is essential and to provide the necessary documents to verify this. Companies which qualify on this would then apply for the required CIPC certificate via https://www.bizportal.gov.za/essential_service.aspx . Please note that obtaining the certificate does not equate approval of in terms of level 4 status, and the liability still lies with the practitioner.
Once (and if) you have determined that you are working on an essential project, you need to establish whether this work can be done from home. The burden of responsibility placed on employers is onerous and preference remains, where possible, to work from home as far as possible, with perhaps only occasional trips to the office for server backups, plots, etc.
Before returning to the office (even for those intermittent trips contemplated above) there are numerous requirements that need to be fulfilled to ensure Labour as well as Health and Safety compliance. These include preparing a COVID-ready Workplace plan, getting the office and any staff COVID-ready, travel permits and assigning a COVID compliance officer. Requirements are slightly more relaxed for firms with less than 10 staff members, but my advice would be that the principals of companies should familiarise themselves with the details. The conditions are quite complex, and it may be a good idea to start getting things ready even if return to work is only to lake place at future stages. See attached link which may be helpful https://neasa.co.za/covid-19-return-to-work-toolkit/ . Please bear in mind that things seem to be changing back and forth all the time and what is accepted procedure today may be out of the window tomorrow, together with the 60% alcohol sanitiser which you purchased at great expense just before the lockdown!
Having said this, we have been updated by the SAIA President, Luyanda Mpahlwa, that the Construction COVID-19 Rapid Response Task Team, which includes SAIA, has issued documents to the Department of Labour at the beginning of last week. This was requested by COGTA and included a submission on behalf of all As-built Environment and Design Professionals, motivating for opening of the construction sector. This same Task team has also been keeping tabs on Government proposals issued for comment and responding on behalf of the industry. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the submission will be successful, we are just one industry among many. Also, opening the industry can only be of short-term benefit if Municipalities and government departments remain on lockdown. For more detail please refer to SAIA mail sent 1 May 2020 on Phasing in of Professional Services as per Risk Adjusted Strategy.
As hard as it is, it is important to maintain goals and start new initiatives at this time. At the PIA we are continuing to do this, with the assistance of our staff and Committee members.
We have added to our selection of online CPD courses. We should also have the workshops, specifically those which were meant to be part of the PPP, available to our delegates. We are looking forward to having this available to not only to our delegates who registered for the Professional Practice Programme, but also to all members and non-members. ONLINE CPD
We have also started on a new initiative. As you may have gathered, there have been 4 of our senior architects who have passed away in past 6 weeks, in Pretoria and Johannesburg alone. We are saddened at losing people whose long years of experience have been a valuable contribution to the profession. Any time an older person is lost, their experiences, memories and anecdotes are irretrievably gone. For this reason, we have started a new and exciting project called “Coffee with my Mentor” and we would like to encourage all of you to participate. We would like to record the experiences and anecdotes of our older architects in a series of informal and fun interviews. Please refer to link to see how you can contribute to this. Come on all you millennials, get your hold of your mentor and start interviewing. This is a chance for you to shine!
And to end off, we have learned about working from wherever we may find ourselves, we have become more innovative and creative in doing our work, but we have missed our people. Now, we are slowly starting to prepare to move back to the offices, to trust that we’ll reach level 3, 2 and 1 soon and that we can resume life as we used to know it.
PS. The PIA Staff are still working from home until we have more clarity. It is business as usual and you can reach them any time, Monday to Friday between 08:00 – 15:30.