An interview with Clapham Landscape Architecture studio manager Renee Clarke on how cloud project management software is giving her more time for work-life-balance.
Renee Clarke joined Clapham Landscape Architecture six months ago as the studio manager. Her first task was to replace the existing project management software — a general project management system — with something designed to meet the needs of landscape architecture practice management.
Clapham Landscape Architecture is currently a firm of three — principal Jamie Clapham, another landscape architect, and Renee. She says they’re small scale in terms of staff but take on significant projects.
“CLA works on residential and commercial landscape design and architecture. We also do project management and contract administration, so there’s a lot to coordinate to ensure the designs are implemented correctly.
“The case for a new project and practice management system was that, as we’re growing the business, the applications we choose have to be able to grow with us. The system we had didn’t allow for this,” Renee said.
“We needed to have systems where everyone is on the same page, can quickly see what is going on in the business, and that streamline the project management processes.
“I used Synergy briefly at another architecture practice and it worked really well. I use it for the daily running of the practice, project financials, document management, reporting on where our jobs are up to, how much time we’ve used… I use it every day.
“Being a cloud product, Synergy saves us so much time and gives us flexibility in being able to work anywhere — home, office, on site, in a café…”
DESIGN PRACTICE CHALLENGES
“Because we’re a small firm, the benefit of a project and business management system like Synergy is that it feels like everything was created just for us,” she said.
“I do all the project financials through Synergy, documentation, reporting of where the jobs are up to, how much time we have used… The landscape architects primarily use it for timesheets, tasks and workflow, not necessarily the big back-end of it, which is what I do.
“The financial side of Synergy saves me the most time. I can see how much time we’ve used on projects immediately. The budget versus actuals view is an amazing snapshot to have. That saves everyone time — saves the business time.
“To work out budget versus actuals without Synergy would take hours and hours of going through invoices, charge out rates, timesheets… I can’t even imagine doing that. Before a system like Synergy we just wouldn’t have known very accurately how many hours we’d used on a job, it was an entirely manual process. For example, now I see that we’ve already spent 50 hours on a 70-hour project and can alter someone’s job in a couple of seconds and ensure the project team knows they have to work faster. Or charge more!”
WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE
“I love the reporting. I love it. It’s a little bit of work to get exactly the detail you want out of it, but I do love it.
“I also love the help. That I can have a question answered in ten minutes, and if it’s not the right one, it’s back and forth until it’s fixed or I have what I need, or I’ve been shown the right way to do something — that is a standout.
THE BEAUTIFUL SOFTWARE EFFECT
Clapham Landscape Architecture uses Xero for its accounting. They have connected it to Synergy as an add-on to sync invoices, contacts and financial information. This allows Renee to generate invoices in Synergy — with multiple fee types on the same invoice if required — and have them automatically sent to Xero with any expenses. Once payments are received, these are then sent back to Synergy for accurate financial reporting on project progress and profit.
Xero’s product tagline is ‘beautiful accounting software’. This is something that also appealed to Renee — a graphic designer — about Synergy.
“Among all the practical benefits I knew Synergy would bring, for me, Synergy is pretty to look at and easy to navigate because it appeals to my aesthetic senses. Whereas [the previous software] didn’t, so it was very hard for me to get onboard. It looks good, so it’s easier to use.”
“For our company, I’m looking forward to using the portal, so we can all communicate in the same place easily and add our clients to that conversation,” Renee said.
“To have everything in the cloud, and be communicating with clients in the app, so we can be remote and work from anywhere, is just an amazing future for us.
“I think eventually it’s going to allow us to work from wherever we want to work from. For us to be able to communicate, keep the office running, and not necessarily be in the same place… to me, that’s enabling work-life balance.
“You know, wake up, work for a couple of hours at home at your own leisure, go have lunch, go have a bit of a life, come back, do a couple more hours and then you’re done, rather than going to the office from 9-5 and then going home, spending an hour on transport, and an hour back… so I think the technology side of things is just allowing people to run a business better, but also to live life better because you have that freedom to be able to access what you need to access without physically having to be in the office.”
More time for work-life balance because of cloud business and project management software — what’s not to love about that?