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An architect’s primary responsibility is communication. As the conduit through which all information about a building project must pass, their role as facilitator is so pervasive it’s often taken for granted. Frequently regarded as background, this function is carried out through a patchwork of email, site visits and red-lined drawings.
Almost equally understated has been the rise of the virtual workspace. Productivity tools such as Slack have grown so popular in the digital world, it’s surprising they have yet to catch on among architects.
Focused on simplifying collaborative work, Slack can be understood as a virtual table around which people talk and pass things back and forth in endless configurations of different groups. For architects, this means bringing project management under a single, digital umbrella, providing a previously unattainable capacity over their work’s communication, organization, assets and operations.
The concept of a virtual workspace is relatively new. An acronym for “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge”, Slack’s most obvious function is instant messaging. At the most basic level it stands to replace email as the standard form of business communications due to the way its configured: automatically indexed and searchable by anyone who has access, Slack’s virtual workspace can contain all communications pertaining to a particular project or topic in a single place.
The key to this format is openness. Unlike email, where project knowledge is fragmented across many different people’s inboxes, communications in Slack are open for anyone involved to view and search. This format eliminates extraneous meetings and emails, as well as the need to even keep track of a mailbox. In Slack, any message can be marked as a task, occupying a special list with its own dedicated message thread until it’s completed, speeding up the process needed to move a project forward.
A step up from email attachments, a single message in Slack’s virtual workspace can accommodate up to a gigabyte of attached files. Any type of file can be transmitted, and since everyone in a Slack workspace is using the same program, there’s no need to worry about inbox limits or whether or not someone received a file.
By itself this is useful function, but where Slack has gained significant regard is in its integration with other programs. Slack’s virtual workspace accommodates plug-ins for over 1,500 programs. For file sharing, this means linking to popular cloud storage programs like Dropbox or Google Drive, which makes the contents of their shared files searchable in Slack as well. If you’re using Adobe Creative Cloud, this means you can send Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign files to someone in Slack, where they can preview and notate the file, or simply click on it to open and make live edits.
The most powerful aspect of using a virtual workspace is its organizational capacity. Slack, for example, has a simple, tiered system for grouping communications. The highest level, referred to as “channels”, are intended to be organized by project or topic, though they can be adapted any way an organization sees fit. Users are invited to join channels or they can start their own, creating as many as needed.
If topics digress within channels, that discussion can be made into its own channel or splintered into a thread, which is a sub-channel focused on a particular message or item, like an attachment, without derailing the subject of that channel. Finally, direct messaging is available to focus on specific issues between groups of two to eight people.
In an architectural project, where different configurations of staff and consultants are needed for different tasks, a virtual workspace could significantly reduce time spent on logistics, allowing the actual work of a project to take center stage.
A less obvious way virtual workspaces can be used by architects is in organizing institutional knowledge. Even across a small firm, the value of things like technical standards and project workflows can be difficult to communicate. Consider all the time that’s spent answering a new hire’s repeated inquiries about “where do I find this?” and the usefulness of keeping all those answers in a single, easily searchable place become obvious.
This is especially useful considering all the training and specialization that goes into an architect’s job. Each person in a firm could easily be their own encyclopedia, but their unique knowledge does little to help an organization if it’s not recorded somewhere for everyone’s use.
The development of the virtual workspace offers a huge opportunity for a complex, project-based profession. Architects using a tool like Slack could help push this fairly new area of technological development forward, realizing the potential of networked communication in ways that have yet to be conceived.
Top image via pxhere