Sophie Guneratne's guide to working from home for students

ABS Ambassador Sophie Guneratne shares her advice for students working from home during this period of social isolation.

Like many architecture students, I have struggled with anxiety on and off throughout my studies. I am now in my 4th year of education, the first year of Part 2, and I have learnt to manage my anxiety however the uncertainty and drastic changes to normal life as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have triggered it over the last month. My stress levels peaked as the Prime Minister announced lockdown in the same week as several of our deadlines. All teaching and submissions moved online and I rushed to get out of London and moved back in with my parents. Together with a few of my peers, I have compiled this guide for coping with the demands of an architecture degree during lockdown to provide some reassurance to any students that are struggling during this unprecedented time.

FIND YOUR COMMUNITY

STUDIO

Loneliness can be very intense during the lockdown and many people are struggling with the feeling of disconnect from the friends and family members that would normally populate their life. This disconnect can be particularly distracting for architecture students as the nature of the course means that we are regularly working together on group projects or in a busy studio environment. Although it is lonely working from home rather than in the studio, remember that everyone is in the same boat. Online chat platforms like Skype and Zoom make it possible to organise regular group chats with your peers or studio group to keep you motivated. I have found that I am most productive and inspired when I am working while listening to others discuss their work in a group call. I am lucky that most members of my studio also feel the same way and we have therefore been having regular chats (two or three times a week) to replicate the studio environment.

SPORT

There are also many sports communities to get involved with. Maintaining regular exercise during isolation is extremely important for wellbeing. Whilst social distancing guidelines prohibit us from meeting others for group exercise many people are connecting online in Strava clubs or live streamed workouts to maintain a sense of community and motivation. ABS has a Strava running club as do many architecture practices and universities. You can also create your own sports clubs on Strava as a way of staying connected with friends and family that you aren’t able to see during isolation. There is a leaderboard for the number of kilometres you have run or cycled during the week and the friendly competition this creates is great motivation to get out and exercise. ABS are also running a virtual sports and wellbeing week from the 4th – 10th of March which you can donate towards to take part in or if you are in a difficult financial situation take part in for free. There are prizes for the different events and all the proceeds go towards supporting those in need within the architectural community. Please sign up here.

LOCAL

Another way to connect with your local community is by joining a mutual aid group. As long as you are in the low-risk category for the virus and adhere to the governments’ social distancing guidelines, you can dedicate your time to helping the more vulnerable members of your local community.  One of my course mates, Anna, has been volunteering by shopping for her neighbours who are unable to leave the house. She didn’t know her neighbours before the pandemic but after joining the mutual aid group she feels a huge sense of community and has even arranged a neighbourhood party for when the pandemic is over. For a full list of mutual aid groups, click here: www.covidmutualaid.org

FOCUS ON THE PRESENT & THE POSITIVES

It is easy in these times to stress about what is to come after university especially as the economic implications of COVID-19 are being regularly discussed on the news. It can feel like everything is negative and can be hard to see a way out.

However, try to remember that this situation is temporary as will the economic situations that follow and there will always be opportunities for architecture students. Remember how important the work that you are producing now will be in the future and focus on making it the best you can. Stressing about the future won't change it. Instead try to direct your efforts towards creating a beautiful and creative portfolio to wow your future employers. 

It is also important to see the positives of online workstreams. Although working digitally can be restrictive, as physical models and large scale drawings are limited to space and supplies you have at home, this is the case for all students submitting work this summer. Make the most of this new way of working by focusing your model making energy and time to developing your computer skills. Learning 3D modelling software such as Rhino or Revit or developing animation or other computer graphic skills will be invaluable for your future career and will make your digital portfolio impressive.

ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS

Most architecture students are perfectionists by nature. This trait can be great for achieving amazing work but often causes an unhealthy attitude towards university work, leading to all-nighters and not knowing when to stop and have a rest. The last month has been extremely stressful and therefore it is completely normal to be a bit behind or distracted. Many students are also coping with isolation from less than ideal living situations, e.g. small student flats with no outdoor space or adjusting to being back living with their families. Be kind to yourself, it is normal to find all this uncertainty and change stressful and it takes everyone a different amount of time to process this situation.

Hopefully, your university has responded to COVID-19 with extensions or the opportunity to apply for mitigating circumstances. If not, see if you or your year representative can put an argument together for this as most universities have provided at least 5 extra days for summer deadlines. Take time out of your day to understand when your deadlines are and plan your time accordingly.

Tutors and moderators will have adjusted the marking criteria and will understand that physical models and large scale drawings are unlikely to be possible in the current situation. Adjust your own expectations as well, stay motivated and do as much as you can. Don’t beat yourself up if you are not able to produce the amount of work that you expected before the pandemic began. You won’t be the only one!

TAKE BREAKS FROM ARCHITECTURE

The architecture course is all-consuming. I often find myself having ideas for my project late at night or during other activities. Home has become the studio and there can be a temptation to go back into work mode when this happens.

Isolation makes it difficult to maintain a normal routine but try to separate university from your home life as much as possible. I have been managing this by having an exercise break at the end of the working day. I work until 5/6 pm and then go out for a run or walk before cooking and eating dinner. This provides a clean break between studio work and my evening and allows me to sleep a lot better! Find what works for you and stick to a routine as much as you can!

(Below: photos taken during my hour of exercise.)

GETTING HELP

If you are struggling with anxiety or completing your university work during isolation and need some additional help there are many resources out there for you. You could contact your head of year, personal tutor or a call a friend or colleague to talk it through. Alternatively, you can contact ABS to discuss what help they can offer. Email them at help@absnet.org.uk or give them a call on 020 3918 8588.

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