Defining a Great Place to WorkT
hroughout our 14-year history, Interiors & Sources has had a long-standing policy to feature the professionals in our industry who are using their design talents and vision to improve people's lives. It is, after all, their extraordinary devotion and their creative efforts that define our great profession. Last year, though, we departed from that norm when we published our first annual Great Places to Work issue. Our premise was simple: How can architects and designers do their best work improving the lives of their clients if they are not happy with the culture in which they must do that work? We wanted to know what is it about a firm that makes it a place people want to go everyday to ply their skills and talents. We all know how the built work environment itself can contribute to job satisfaction, but what about benefits, leadership skills, co-workers and culture? Where do these elements fit in the equation?
We learned so much from that first survey, and had such a great response from our readers regarding it, that we decided to do it again this year to see if things have changed in the past 12 months.
Interestingly enough, the responses we received this year reinforced our conviction that our focus on people is a good one; when asked, "What do you like best about working for your firm?," the overwhelming majority emphatically stated it was their co-workers. Feedback indicated that good relationships with colleagues generally tended to foster teams that respected one another's talents and skills, thus eliminating the tendency toward political maneuvering that can easily be a prevailing force in some (most?) workplaces.
And while we received a straightforward and simple answer to that first question, other questions about leadership and a firm's integrity, for example, elicited much more in-depth responses. Our respondents had a lot to say and, to their credit, took the time to provide insightful and thoughtful replies to our questions. Here's some of the survey's highlights:
* Best leadership practices include constant communication and a willingness for honest dialogue—plus a formal mentoring program, which oftentimes requires managers to walk the fine line between helping out without taking over.
* A firm's integrity or fairness factor when dealing with employees is critical. Employees view this as evidence that leadership truly trusts and appreciates its employees. Without that sense of being treated fairly, work is simply a place you go to during the day and immediately start counting the hours until quitting time. Fair and honest treatment of employees pays big dividends: successful firms have learned that what they give to employees in terms of trust and respect often is paid back to the firm multi- fold in terms of loyalty and commitment.
* Even companies that have great leaders who demonstrate high levels of trust for their employees can find their firm at risk if they do not work diligently to keep employees connected to the firm's core values and mission. Many respondents commented that it's easier to stay focused on the firm's mission and values when they have had a chance to help create them.
* Across the board, practitioners cite an increasing desire for more time to enjoy personal pursuits. As a result, an increasing number of employers in the A & D field now offer flex time, four-day work weeks and/or telecommuting options. They also provide employees with the technological tools and assistance they need to do their best work whenever and wherever they want—or need—to do it. As one respondent said, "We work to live, not live to work."
* Of course, while all of the above plays significantly into employees' satisfaction with their own particular firms, the project work also must be both challenging and meaningful. At the end of the day, practitioners want to feel that their skills and talents are being utilized to improve their clients' personal well-being or professional success.
We hope you'll take some time to turn to page 32 and learn more about what architects and designers believe constitutes a great place to work. We also hope you'll take the time to let us know what you think about this special section. Our desire is to make this an annual issue that employers in the A & D field can learn from in order to create the corporate cultures that allow creative professionals to do their best work. Our profession has historically rewarded firms for the environments they create. We think it's time to acknowledge those practices and policies that reward and motivate design professionals to do the superior work by which our profession is judged—and, of course, encourage them to have a little fun in the process.