A Week in The Life: Designing During COVID
Architecture is a profession that has long had a reputation for a skewed work-life balance, throughout academia and practice. Previously I studied the schedules of six students I worked with during my time at the University of Pennsylvania’s Master of Architecture program. Now, the widespread shift to working from home due to the pandemic provides a unique opportunity to revisit this study and see how our lives have changed one year after graduating. As working from home to some degree has been adopted across architecture firms of all scales, we hoped to see how our experiences of working from home differed from one another, and to see how our hours compared to those we worked as students.
We focused on five categories, the same as the previous study: time spent working, time spent commuting, time spent on architecture outside of one’s job, time spent on leisure, and time spent sleeping. The participants for this study came from a wide range of firms — some from large three-letter firms and others working at smaller studios — but we are all roughly the same age and at the same point in our careers.
To be able to see patterns in our daily activity, each week is rolled up into a continuous spiral around a 24-hour clock, and the different activities are color-coded. At the center of each spiral is a pie chart that shows the balance of each participant’s week. What follows are the schedules from Monday morning to Sunday night for all of our participants.
These spirals exemplify the range in levels of volatility in our schedules from person to person. While some schedules neatly line up from day to day, working from home has enabled many to flip back and forth from working to leisure during the weekday much more frequently. Cutting out commutes, which can consume anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half of ones’ day, has made a large impact on the amount of leisure time we have. While some jump back and forth between work and leisure more frequently now that there isn’t any physical separation between the two, the length of the workday has stayed manageable, and some report that they prefer a work from home situation as they don’t feel pressured to “act busy”. However, the need to keep one’s green check “on” in Skype or Teams has replaced this to a degree.
While the spirals work to exemplify the relative volatility or lack thereof in our schedules, they do not easily allow us to compare the overall balance of work, leisure, and sleep from day to day and person to person. The pie charts below help show a different dimension of our weeks, averaging up the time we have spent on each activity so one can see how the days and weeks differ.
Looking through the pie charts obscures some of the volatility evident in the spirals, but doing so allows us to draw a new conclusion: the majority of our weeks are actually quite well balanced between work, sleep, and leisure. Certainly some days still show a heavy workload, but they are often offset by shorter workdays and weekends completely free of work. Looking back on the pie charts below that show our schedules during graduate school tells a much different story.
You can dive more deeply into graduate school schedules here, and my time in graduate school here. Just by comparing the pie charts, you can see the difference is stark. Work taking up more than half of the day is common, and the line between weekday and weekend is hardly evident in anyone’s schedules. In contrast to our schedules now, the totals are all dominated by the work portion of the pie, and leisure time is minimal and highly variable from day to day. In the sleep section of the pie, eight hours was a rarity in grad school while it is now the standard for nearly every participant. Sleep is more consistent as well, with much less variation in the length of sleep between days.
Looking at each of our days plotted out on a grid differentiating each task further emphasizes the degree to which each of us has found our rhythms in this new world brought on by COVID. Lines, each representing a day of the week, often flow together at points throughout the day, showing where schedules are consistent and where they diverge.
While life in New York City has yet to return to its pre-COVID rhythm, by the time we gathered the data, we were well into an entirely new rhythm. This was, incidentally, a more preferable schedule for many of the participants compared to working in an office. Across the board, commuting times have been virtually eliminated largely to the benefit of leisure time, although anecdotally the ”on-call” nature of work now has been a source of frustration for some. Compared to the pie charts from our student days, our increase in leisure time and drastically reduced volatility in our schedules have made life in the studio almost unrecognizable. While a return to the office at some point seems inevitable, many in our position have found unexpected benefits in working from home that are reflected in the data we collected.