Common Denominators

June 1, 2003
Common Denominators
This issue of IS magazine is a departure from the norm for us. While it focuses on a subject near and dear to everyone's heart—the workplace—we chose not to explore how the physical workplace functions (like we usually do), but instead decided to look at the culture that surrounds the work environment. We wanted to know what makes a firm perform for its employees; we especially wanted to learn how it works for the architects and designers who spend their time and talents designing the physical environments that companies call home.Some readers wondered why we chose this subject. Wrote one: "This magazine is devoted to design and how it relates to the betterment of the lives of people using (design) and affected by those designs. While the survey is interesting and may help administrators to establish criteria to improve the lives of workers, it hardly promotes design as a tool to help achieve that goal."Our justification is simple: How in the world 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?And so, this issue contains the summary of our first annual Great Places to Work feature—the result of a comprehensive survey of A & D firms that examines what it is about a firm that makes it a place architects and designers want to go everyday to ply their skills. We all know how the actual work environment itself can contribute to job satisfaction, but what about benefits, compensation, co-workers and culture? Where do these elements fit in?

Here's how it worked:

Companies that wanted to be considered "a great place to work" were required to complete a comprehensive survey regarding business structure and activities, employee demographics, salary/compensation and benefits programs. The next step necessitated firm personnel to tell us—anonymously—about their own personal experiences with the firm, its leadership, its culture, its treatment of employees, its integrity factor and its role within the industry and the community.

On paper, many of the firms appeared fairly similar to one another when we first compared responses to part one of the survey. Then the employees' responses started pouring in—and suddenly we began to see firms in a different light. To their credit, employees took their responsibility seriously. It was evident that everyone took the time to thoughtfully and fairly portray what it was like to work for their firm day in and day out.

Here's what we found out:

Many firms shared a number of positive management initiatives that made them stand out above the rest. But two common denominators, in particular, seemed to make or break the deal.

Item No. One: Employees desire a sense of esprit de corps, that feeling you get when you are proud to be associated with a group and when you identity with your fellow workers.

Item No. Two, which is directly related to Item No. One: All work and no play makes for a very unhappy design professional.

Architects and designers need to connect with their firm and its leadership on a personal level. Without that sense of belonging, work is simply a place you go to during the day and immediately start counting the hours to quitin' time. Design professionals value weekly meetings where they know senior executives will attend; one-on-one time with management where input is solicited and considered; company-sponsored field trips where professional and personal interests intertwine; impromptu snowball fights or ping-pong games where everyone can let down their hair and let off a little steam. Taken individually, these may seem rather insignificant; combined they make a profound impact on career satisfaction.

We hope you'll take some time to turn to page 27 and read about the eight firms we selected that offer architects and designers a great place to work. We also hope you'll take the time to let us know what you think about this special issue. Our desire is to make this an annual feature that design professionals look forward to, and a list that firms aspire to. Our profession has historically rewarded firms that create environments that allow their clients to do their very best work. We think it's time to acknowledge those firms 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.

Katie Sosnowchik
Editorial Director

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