Architects and COVID-19 – Practical Advice on complying with your Professional Standards
Since the UK Government announced its lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses have asked their employees to work remotely and that has affected many businesses where physical attendance of clients and sites is important. A recent RIBA survey reported that as many as 81% of architects are now working from home.
Both the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Architects Registration Board have published guidance to assist architects in continuing to comply with their professional obligations these unprecedented times. The weeks and months to come will prove particularly taxing for those who are struggling with managing employees and outstanding work that needs to be secured before it can be paused. Hopefully, these tips can assist in finding a way that works for both clients and professionals.
Based on the guidance provided by both RIBA and ARB, Architects should consider the following points in both their professional and private lives over the coming weeks and months:
- Integrity - Standard 1 of the ARB Code of Conduct (and Standard 1 of the RIBA Code of Conduct) require an architect to act with integrity. The ARB has clarified that it considers this includes architects complying with Government guidance. For Principals this involves looking at ways in which the 2-metre distance can be maintained and how employees can be supported to work from home. The ARB is clear that financial and contractual pressures do not override an Architect's obligation to practise in an ethical way.
- Business Continuity - Standard 2.2 of the ARB Code of Conduct (and Standard 1.6 of the RIBA Code of Conduct) require you to have arrangements in place to manage your practice in the event of incapacity or death. This is clearly relevant and important during the current COVID-19 crisis. It is recommended that all architects review their current arrangements, ensuring that work is up to date to be handed over in their absence. For sole practitioners they should consider whether to arrange for another appropriately authorised person to have access to files and documents to ensure business continuity.
- Confidentiality - Standard 4.3 of the ARB Code of Conduct (and Standard 4 of the RIBA Code of Conduct) require client information to be kept confidential. Architects will need to ensure that the home working arrangements that they put in place for their employees ensure that client information is kept confidential. They should also ensure that if they conduct meetings to discuss client work over video-conference that they use suitably encrypted software to do so.
Contractual Obligations - Standard 6 of the ARB Code of Conduct (and 4.1 of RIBA Code of Conduct) mean that an architect is not able to simply abandon their contractual obligations. In the event that Architects are required to undertake site visits for projects that cannot be closed down for Health and Safety reasons, they should be mindful of the social distancing guidelines as well as the Site Operating Procedures which have been issued by the Construction Leadership Council. Equally, architects should be mindful of any contractual obligations which require them to notify clients (and others) of any circumstances which will cause a delay to your service or a project more generally.
Supervision - Standards 4.1 and 4.2 of the ARB Code of Conduct (and Standard 1.2 of RIBA Code of Conduct) requires that Architects make sure that projects are properly supervised and monitored and that they can provide adequate technical, professional and financial resources when entering into a contract. We would advise that Architects keep an eye on their cashflow as well as staffing so that they can comply with the relevant standards.
You can find a copy of the ARB and RIBA guidance on their respective websites. The ARB has advised Architects to contact its Professional Standards Team in the event they are unclear on the requirements or need further guidance.