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    Aerial view of a highway interchange in Frisco. - photo by Daniel Lee via unsplash.com

Driving is something I really dislike, and anyone who knows me can attest to that. I grew up in a rural area of America, where I had access to the basic necessities and a few luxuries. To get quality healthcare, entertainment, and education beyond K-12, we had to drive for at least an hour from our remote location. Nowadays, in Texas and other parts of the country, being remote is more of a choice. Urban sprawl has increased our fossil fuel consumption through our dependence on cars and our attraction to the Texas-sized version of the double-cab pickup.

The worldwide pandemic rocked our world and gave us a new way of thinking about distance. Before, we mostly associated the word “remote” with a small gadget that allowed us to use a machine that linked us with people and places around the world through copper wires, fiber strands, and radio signals. What we discovered through the pandemic was that even though we were physically separated, we as humans have the innate capacity to adapt and create connections through creativity and innovation. The transformation however was not instantaneous. The pandemic has forced us to innovate and create new standards. A few years ago, it would have been impossible to let an employee work from a different city, state, or even country. Our offices have adjusted to hybrid models with employees working part time or not at all in the physical office setting. A new scenario has arisen in which an employee may be in one region of the States and their main team in another. This has posed a challenge for some employers in terms of compliance with labor laws and adds an extra level of complexity to the operations of our businesses if we want to attract and keep the best talent. In addition, some of our very inventive colleagues have relocated to different countries and cities without informing their employers. This has forced companies to review and reinforce their policies for remote work and job abandonment. Remote work has many advantages. It lets us work with the employers we like and live the way we want. For people like me who have aging parents and relatives, it helps us take care of them while doing our challenging jobs. But it also comes with costs. For example, your boss may not be fully aware of the effort that goes into finishing a certain project or satisfying a client. It is essential to realize that remote work requires ongoing, genuine, and supportive relationships to be successful. The internet, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, cloud services, and virtual desktops have given us the tools to overcome the physical distance. But they are not sufficient on their own. Just like a vine needs vital nutrients from its branches, it also needs support to grow and flourish. You will often see a vine attach itself to a tree to lift itself up and reach higher levels. In the same way, employers and teams must provide the necessary support to avoid employee isolation and to foster unity among the group.

The Texas Society of Architects deals with comparable issues with our membership. Texas covers a large area, so we have developed goals derived from our strategic plan to encourage member involvement and leadership growth for all our members— from north to south and east to west. Our society has made strides in this area over the last few years and keeps working to overcome the challenges of being distant.

Derwin Broughton, AIA, NOMA, is a vice president at KAI Enterprises in Dallas and the 2024 TxA president.

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