RIBA publishes a monthly survey report—Future Trends Survey—and the survey participants give predictions about their overall workload and staffing levels for the next three months. They are also asked to give predictions about their workload in the sectors of private housing, commercial, community and the public sector. In addition, they are asked quarterly to provide information about their current workload and staffing levels. Participants are representative of different firm sizes.
For future workload, participants were asked about their expectations for workload over the next three months. Eighteen percent responded that their organization’s workload would decrease; 53 percent responded that it would remain the same; and 29 percent predicted their workload to increase.
Practices in London were most cautious about future workloads, while practices in the north, the Midlands and East Anglia were more optimistic about workload prospects in the medium term. Medium-sized practices (11-50 staff) and small practices (1-10 staff) are less positive than large practices (over 50 staff) about workload prospects for the near- and medium-term.
In sector performance, private housing is predicted to be strong over the next quarter, driving modest growth in overall workload. The commercial, community and public sectors did not fare as well, with practices anticipating a decline in the workload for these areas.
When asked about how the number of permanent architectural employees in their firms might change over the next three months, only 14 percent predicted an increase. Seventy-seven percent predicted that staffing levels would remain the same, with 9 percent forecasting a decrease in hiring over the next three months. Large practices and medium-sized practices are more confident about hiring additional staff or keeping staff levels the same vs. the staffing plans and predictions by smaller firms.
Overall, participants expressed that the outlook for the medium term is steady. But the outlook for the longer-term seems unpredictable. Currently, the housing sector is the area that has the most growth. And many reported intense fee competition.
In addition, construction output has slowly contracted over 2017, with its peak in January.
Practices are worried about the current and potential effects of Brexit. The cost of products and materials is rising, while workloads are fluctuating due to uncertainty. Another concern is about staffing: the experience and outlook that international (including EU) staff members bring to practices only strengthens those practices and improves design. If EU staff members—who are already feeling unwelcome—decide to go elsewhere or face restricted freedoms, practices will be hard hit.
It’s going to create a skills shortage, which is going to be problematic both on site and in architecture practices as well.
During these challenging and uncertain times, RIBA is engaging with and supporting its members, helping them to not only survive, but thrive. Resilient practices are about more than just great design; they are business focused and people focused, they have a clear vision with strong leadership, and they are adaptable and innovative. And transparency is key—sharing strategy, financials and overall firm vision with staff, as well as allowing them to provide ideas and feedback, are hallmarks of resilient practices. The key issue is always being open and honest with everyone in the practice.
Despite the challenges of Brexit, firms are demonstrating their ability to be nimble and flexible, to adapt to change and innovate.
Sources: RIBA Future Trends Survey; RIBA s Practice Resilience
Excerpted from DesignIntelligence Quarterly.