COVID-19 Response: Mark Hutker, Principal, Hutker Architects

We check in with twelve architects, builders, designers, and suppliers to see how they are managing their staff and their businesses during this incredibly challenging time.

With the coronavirus currently taking over our personal and professional lives, the measures that have been instituted to stop its spread have had a major impact on most businesses, including those of us serving the New England design industry. In times of crisis, we turn to people who have withstood similar circumstances in the past and persevered. We reached out to twelve industry leaders who have led their firms through past crises to share what actions they are taking now, how they will measure the success of their firms over the next twelve months, and how they’re moving forward.

Award-winning architect Mark Hutker, principal of Hutker Architects shares how his firm is successfully doing business during the COVID-19 crisis.

Home is going to be more important than ever before. How do we keep consumers engaged now?
The homes we have designed for our clients over three decades have become their refuge in this period of Covid-19. Clients are experiencing an unexpected stretch of time with their families and have taken the time to let us know their dwellings are energizing, comfortable, supportive, secure, and uplifting: “That window bay where you guys suggested a puzzle table with the view is perfect.” “My work desk is filled with inspiring morning light when I get most of my work done.” Lifetime memories are being made.

For Hutker Architects, it is always about the client narrative. Where do they come from? Why choose to dwell here and now? What dreams do they hold for perfect days ahead? When these themes are engaged through design, only then can personal, joyful places be created with deep-set meaning.

How are you communicating with your in-house teams and outside vendors?
Internally, we are utilizing 9 a.m. scrum meetings. Project managers hold twenty-minute team meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. Team members report what they did yesterday, what they will do today, and reveal anything that may keep them from moving forward. Longer conversations are dosed out to other calls with key persons. We’re using Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and GoToMeeting.

How will you be defining success in three months, six months, a year?
HA Partners intentions throughout Covid-19 is to:

  • keep everyone as engaged, efficient, and employed as we are able
  • facilitate all team members’ ability to work where they feel safe
  • serve all of our clients as well as we are able
  • support each of you and your families as we are able
  • maintain an attitude of optimism and empathy

Is there something you implemented at your firm in 2008 that worked that you are executing again? 
We also pledged in ‘08 to keep everyone employed as the firm was able. And we did so by using some staff to create presentation drawings that led to the creation of our first book, Heirlooms to Live In. We have another book in us.

Hutker Architects is sponsoring eight team members to design and then construct an outdoor shower that will be auctioned off for a Habitat for Humanity fundraiser this summer.

How are you thinking about cash flow management differently now than in more normal times?
We have always held a conservative “‘rainy-day” business plan that includes no debt plus three times our monthly burn rate in cash or equivalents. Well, it is a hell of a storm and this strategy has really helped.

Are there different cost-saving strategies you are leaning on regarding staff, overhead, and discretionary spending?
We aim to be prudent, optimistically. And yet we want the firm to progress if we are able. It happens to be an opportunistic time, and we have made two hires in this period. We have made two promotions for deserving team members.

How do you ensure your “all of a sudden” remote workforce remains motivated and productive?
I have never been prouder to be involved with the design business. It has been totally inspiring to experience our team’s resourcefulness, creativity, resiliency, adaptability, and technical acumen. And they have demonstrated a lot of gumption.

I have written a Status Report every Monday and Friday communicating what we know about Covid-19, CARES Act, and school closings, mostly to support our fifty team members through all this. I have used the report to celebrate promotions and share inspirations. We understand that this is difficult for those with kids and without daycare. Their worlds are upside down. And there are those who are alone in social distancing. We have encouraged them to “work how and when you are able and where you feel safe.”

We celebrate “Beer-Thirty” on Friday afternoons at 4:30 p.m. on Zoom. It’s highly entertaining. This week we reviewed the outside shower proposals. Inspirational.

We are so fortunate to be in an industry that is able to use available technology to stay productive. I have deep empathy for perfectly wonderful companies and willing workers who do not share this opportunity.

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