Correction: Moseley Architects has reduced its total workforce by 7 percent since the pandemic started. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that the company had avoided any layoffs, but the company clarified that layoffs were included in its total staff reduction that also involved leaving vacant positions unfilled.
As design firms around town continue to adapt to changing workloads amid the pandemic, one of Richmond’s architecture heavyweights is making further adjustments to its workforce in an effort to balance out its bottom line.
Earlier this month, downtown-based Baskervill initiated 90-day furloughs for 23 positions companywide, representing about 10 percent of its total workforce. The bulk of the positions are based in Richmond, while others affected are in its D.C. and Florida offices.
The furloughs come about eight months after the company laid off 25 employees in the early weeks of the pandemic. Whereas those positions were eliminated, the 23 furloughed remain in place but dormant, with affected employees remaining eligible for company benefits, President Bob Clark said.
“We put people on 90-day furlough, hoping to bring them all back,” Clark said, adding that the positions could be restored sooner if conditions improve. He said the furloughs were necessary as funding the firm received from the federal Paycheck Protection Program ran out.
“Since the CARES Act PPP, we’ve carried more people than we need, intentionally,” he said. “We stretched out 60 days’ worth of PPP to last from April to November, and there was no sign of any further federal intervention coming. We had to adjust to the reality we have now.”
He added, “We’ve had stable revenue all year, but at a level below where we’re staffed. So, now we’ve matched the staffing to the revenue level.”
Clark said that Baskervill is not alone in the industry in having to make such adjustments. The firm, which had more than 120 employees in Richmond as of June, has been particularly affected by the pandemic’s impacts on the hotel and hospitality industry, which accounted for nearly half of its design output last year.
“When we made the first round of adjustments, we didn’t know how deep and far this was going to go,” Clark said. “We knew it was going to be pretty bad, and we adjusted accordingly, and the hospitality world continued to fall off after that.”
He added, “We held onto everyone because of the PPP, thinking that, hopefully, by the time we got to the fourth quarter, we’d start seeing the uptick that was predicted, and it hasn’t come.”
Other comparably sized architecture firms that call Richmond home have had to make their own adjustments to staffing and expenses.
Earlier in the pandemic, Glavé & Holmes laid off five of its employees and partially furloughed its workforce with across-the-board cutbacks, with employees working about 20 percent fewer hours per week for three months.
Lori Garrett, a senior principal with the Shockoe Bottom-based firm, said those furloughs were rescinded over the summer and its 61 employees are now back to working full schedules.
“We have done better than we had hoped for. It’s still not back to what it was, but the PPP loan obviously did its intended work of helping to tide us over for a while,” Garrett said.
While larger design projects remain hard to come by, Garrett said, the firm is getting by with smaller projects that keep it busy over four- or six-week stints. She said government sector and high-end multifamily development work remains strong, while higher education and institutional/cultural clients remain in a holding pattern as the pandemic plays out.
As far as hospitality work goes, Garrett said the firm recently had its first interview for a project, in North Carolina, since the pandemic started.
“That’s sort of an example of how hard-hit that’s been,” she said. “There haven’t been many leads for hospitality projects.”
In Scott’s Addition, Moseley Architects has laid off 7 percent of its total workforce since the pandemic started in mid-March, said Stewart Roberson, the firm’s chairman. The 50-year-old firm has 110 employees in Richmond and 300 companywide across offices in 11 cities.
Roberson said six positions in Richmond were among those eliminated over the course of the pandemic. He described the adjustments as mirroring the company’s change in business this year compared to last year. The company also has instituted a hiring freeze since the pandemic started, with some reductions made as projects have ended.
“We have had some clients, largely public clients, needing to postpone their work and to push it further out, and obviously then we have to adjust our planning as that happens,” Roberson said. “We’re fortunate that we have a diverse portfolio with a wide range of clients and project types, so that when there’s a slight downward trend, we can count on one or two of our different sectors always leading the way through a down economic cycle.”
Roberson said Moseley has worked to reduce expenses and benefited from a decrease in travel and marketing costs. He said positions that have become vacant through attrition or as staff is moved around to different sectors have been left unfilled.
Of the staff reductions, Roberson said, “That’s one of the last things we want to do each time, because we know that human resources make a difference in all that we do. We don’t want to lead with those kinds of decisions because people and their families are impacted.
“The architecture and engineering industry naturally adjusts to the ebb and flow of the economy,” Roberson said. “Ideally, the pandemic year, 2020, will be a blip on the screen in terms of impact and recovery, when we look back on it years from now.”
While hospitality work has been hard to come by, Clark said Baskervill is working on some hotel projects across the country that are moving forward. The firm also landed a sizable project last month when it was named co-designer, along with HKS Architects, on the Pamunkey Indian Tribe’s planned casino in Norfolk.
Clark said he expects such momentum to continue for Baskervill, and the industry as a whole, with the arrival of coronavirus vaccines in coming months.
“The anticipation of the vaccines is, hopefully, the catalyst to get consumer confidence up again and get people moving and out and about. I think that’s the key for a lot of our work,” Clark said. “Being a service-based business, we need to see the pandemic subside so the consumers feel confident again. So that then, industries and institutions will start investing in capital projects.”