podcast | Apr 27, 2020 |
How one design firm is navigating the pandemic

At first, like most of us, Andrew Kotchen brushed off worries about the coronavirus. Then, almost overnight, it completely changed everything for his New York–based design firm, Workshop/APD. Six weeks in, the staff is still working from home, and new challenges are still emerging, but Kotchen and his partners have found a new rhythm, and are leaning into the adversity.

How one design firm is navigating the pandemic
Andrew KotchenCourtesy of Workshop/APD

“We’re learning something new every day about this and where this is going to go,” he says. “From a planning standpoint, that’s a little unnerving, but from somebody ... who’s constantly searching for better ways to be a leader and run a business, I find it exciting in some ways to be able to navigate this and come out successful on the other side.”

On the latest episode of the Business of Home podcast, Kotchen walks host Dennis Scully through his firm’s reaction to the spread of COVID-19. One of the very first moves they made was a small round of layoffs, combined with executive pay cuts. Getting lean was a move the firm learned from the 2008 Recession, when Kotchen and his partners cut their salaries in order to make it through a difficult period intact. Another lesson from that challenging time? The importance of diversifying the revenue stream, taking on hospitality and development products so the firm isn’t solely dependent on high-end residential jobs.

Being open to new kinds of work (while not getting locked into any problem projects) is definitely on Kotchen’s mind at the moment. “We continually evaluate the potential opportunity in any inbound call. … Everything isn’t going to be an A+ project with the best budget and great fees, but that doesn’t mean it’s the wrong fit. … It’s really about being nimble enough and being able to look towards the future enough. … In this profession, projects last years. You make a decision in this downturn—well, in two years you’re in a very different spot but you’re still tied to that decision from two years ago.”

Also on Kotchen’s mind? The various ways this pandemic will change his firm. The first is the most obvious: the revelation that working from home actually works. “[Before], I hated it. ... [But] it’s really, really incredible how well people have adapted to this,” he says. “So much so that I actually think work-from-home should be a really big part of our culture coming out of this. … [Before], there were a little bit of some trust issues there at the top. But I think this has really proved us wrong. You need to give people the opportunity to show what they can do.”

Another is the nature of opportunity that might emerge from this period. Kotchen predicts an exodus from dense urban environments as the affluent seek more space and isolation—and as working from home becomes more and more acceptable. “The single-family home market outside of metropolitan areas will blow up in the next five years. This is going to force people to really rethink the urban lifestyle,” he says. … “The Greenwich market, which has been terrible the past few years, has really picked up over the past six weeks. People are just moving out.”

This episode was sponsored by Rebecca Atwood Design and Universal Furniture. Below, listen to the episode. If you like what you heard, subscribe to the podcast (free of charge!) to get a new episode every week.

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