One Question Series: Part 2, Breaking Down Barriers

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the second installment of the new monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“We can always improve our ability to empathize with people from different backgrounds. A passion for architecture can begin at any time with any one person, and it is critical to value that perspective. It is also necessary to recognize that architecture is an important humanistic undertaking that affects the destiny of all.

Architecture often feels elitist whereas the quality of a designer is determined by their schooling and their professional network. Not every person has the resources and guidance to make it all the way to the finish line and often this disadvantage falls onto minorities. Meeting people where they are and fostering encouraging environments is hugely important. This country has a strong foothold in systematic segregation practices which has major impacts on access to education. Developing robust institutional partnerships within minority communities can help bridge this gap. We can improve the accessibility of our profession by tailoring support to include reducing inequalities of participation, bolstering scholarships, and establishing visibility of equal representation. Mentorship can be as simple as a conversation and there is a strong need for access/investment. Volunteering our time and knowledge to these communities can change the demographics of the architecture profession profoundly.

Recruitment incentives and bias practices have also had an overwhelming impact on architecture. The unpaid or non-livable wage internship can be a barrier of access for minority communities without the appropriate support systems. Poor advising has also affected who can and who cannot be a part of this occupation. A diverse profession requires professionals to become more aware of how attitudes and beliefs may stigmatize others and impact recruitment. Being intentional and conscious about the words and phrases used on the daily are also an important factor for fostering a diverse environment.

Another obstacle to overcome is avoiding the glass cliff, but first we must lay the groundwork for success. We are approaching a moment beyond the glass ceiling where more diverse and minority candidates are entering the field. The glass cliff is when these candidates are more likely to be pressed into leadership roles with high risks for failure without a secure support system or foundation. Strategic hiring of minorities during a firm’s crisis can be interpreted as exploitation. High expectations can induce an exaggeration of error which places significantly underrepresented minorities at a larger disadvantage compared to their peers. A lack of achievement may manifest into further bias in the future hiring of minorities and could create —or exacerbate— a toxic culture. It is important to build equitable relationships to promote an inclusive workplace from within so that the strategy for positioning is well thought out and genuine.

I understand that there is no one solution to the complicated problem of integration within our profession. We can approach diversity improvement by examining the tiers of education, recruitment, and professional advancement. Improving representation in the industry will ultimately yield better access to design with a rise in innovative and unique perspectives.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“I believe that in order to start breaking down barriers for minorities in architecture we need to focus on education.

The first step in breaking down barriers for minorities in architecture is the acknowledgment and conversation of how systemic racism is present in the built environment and the profession. This step should be taken in the early phases of education and must be acknowledged throughout our architectural post-secondary education. Acknowledging how this issue is apparent in our industry helps provide some clarity on how systemic racism throughout architecture has affected minorities in the past and present. What this approach also accomplishes is a step towards combating the unconscious bias that transpires throughout professional practice towards minorities.

The issue of systemic racism and how it is apparent throughout architecture is not analyzed enough to make any progress towards a more inclusive profession. For that same reason it is the primary cause for why minorities in this profession continue to face the same barriers generation after generation. Having these difficult and uncomfortable conversations should not be looked over but be conducted in order to make any significant progress for minorities.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“It is my opinion that diversity of experiences and perspectives contributes to better design. As a profession we must encourage and support more diversity to help us all address and respond in meaningful and effective ways to the unique challenges we are facing with regard to climate action and societal inequities that persist. I believe for all of us who care about our profession and its ongoing legacy, the future we will continue to define must consciously think about how to break down barriers wherever and however possible. We need a movement of change, where we all recognize the problem, commit to actions we can control, and affect measurable improvement. I also recognize the challenges and ambiguity of this statement. I believe this will need to happen on many different levels and scales.

We need to continue to recognize and celebrate the achievements of minority architects and expose minority youth to these achievements. We need to tell the stories of minority architects like Paul Revere Williams, Loise Harris Brown, Philip Freelon, and many others who persevered to achieve success in our profession, despite the many obstacles and challenges they faced. We must inspire more youth to follow in these footsteps, while seeking out ways to instill from a young age that the pursuit of architecture is an achievable path for them. For me, along with many others in the Denver architecture community, this has included volunteer work with elementary school aged kids where we introduce them to the profession of architecture and help them realize that this is an achievable aspiration for them.

As I discussed in my response to last month’s question, I was inspired to pursue architecture from a young age due to exposure, and I never wavered in my own focus to achieve that goal. How can we collectively help inspire younger people who otherwise might not have the exposure to our profession from a young age? How do we create these opportunities for inspiration? I believe the answer (or at least a significant part of the answer) to this month’s question must include a broader discussion of how we as professionals can connect with minority youth to inspire, challenge, and support them from an early age. I also believe this is a responsibility of all of us who are passionate about our profession and who have the opportunity to open doors for others within our practices.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“As a profession, we break down barriers for minorities in architecture when we all, individually, engage in doing so. We as designers of the built environment need to stand up for what we believe is right, especially in the workplace where it is easy to hide behind company decisions. It takes consistent, persistent change to break down the barriers that have defined our practice and have held back minorities for so long. Yes, many barriers still exist and are being created, from systemic to targeted levels, and the individual can make those types of barriers thrive. We all have a voice, whether it is for this mission or inadvertently for something else, and we should employ it for the sake of others. We need allies who can remain honest to their dedication to change and to practicing the change that will allow minorities to overcome. We cannot waiver when our commitment to making equitable spaces is tested. We cannot waiver when a new policy in our office only works for the majority, when a POC interviewing for a new position does not make “the culture fit,” or when we forget our colleague’s pronouns again. If we all follow through with the subtle, delicate parts of breaking these barriers down, we will change the profession of architecture for everyone.

On a firm level, there are many things we can do. We can commit to creating transparent promotion processes, sponsor minorities financially for career-building opportunities outside of our minority networks, and actually pay our employees for the time needed to participate in initiatives being put in place to change this profession. When it comes time to support your community through outreach, like NOMA’s Project Pipeline, play an active role in organizing, and be there to patch the holes in the pipeline. As a profession, we can be accountable to our organizations when we are following through or not, no matter what level of leadership or years of experience.

We will break down barriers when we stop putting them up. It is easy to be complacent and comfortable continuing the way we practice and accepting the current conditions challenging our minorities within the profession. We should continue to question the structure of this industry and the motivations around our traditional work cultures. The profession should not seek to forget the past; it should remain woke to what it has learned from listening to and believing our BIPOC community. To continue breaking down barriers, we should remember that everyone has a place in architecture. We must never forget architecture is for everyone; we all have a relationship with the built environment, and there are barriers architects should never design to build.”

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“Barriers for minorities in architecture can be broken down by increasing exposure to what architecture is starting very early. Our firm is involved with the CAL Program (Cleworth Architectural Legacy Project) in Denver that exposes diverse dual language and minority K-8 classrooms to architecture education, inspiring learners to think critically about our built environment. This early hands-on experience fosters possibilities and dreams. The exposure must continue and the curtain be pulled back, casting a wide net into our communities and populations. I remember as a senior in high school, I approached my calculus teacher with a list of professions. He took the time to listen to me and understand my aptitudes and suggested that architecture was a good fit. How can we partner with high schools to make architecture well known and a profession that is viable and meaningful to their students? How do we partner with community programs to embrace diversity and expose the greater population to architecture? One example is the work my firm does with the Aspen Art Museum on a series of workshops on architecture that are open to all community members and give visibility to our profession.

A huge barrier to our profession is the cost of education. We need to continue to hire and write our job descriptions to allow for bachelor’s degrees and on the job training as the prerequisite for advancement. Too often, I speak with emerging professionals who think that the path to licensing and a career in architecture is through more education (and often suffocating debt). We need to be open to various paths, openly discuss them, and provide multiple examples of how to achieve success as an architect.

We as a profession need to continue to be open and collaborative. Architecture is about people and problem solving. By increasing visibility of what we do and how we do it, it will inspire dreams and continue to encourage architects to remain in the profession. We need to give permission to participate and ask questions. We need to refrain from preaching what it was like when we started in the profession (times have changed, that is inevitable). We need to encourage multiple viewpoints and paths to a fulfilling architectural career. We need to be generous with our mentoring and telling our story, because our journeys are diverse and hopefully your journey inspires the next architect to jump in!”

We invite you to read or revisit Question #1 of the series: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the next four months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

One Question Series: Part 1, Diversity Exposure

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ perspectives. It’s a new monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“Curiosity is the root of creativity. I have always been curious and ask a lot of questions. This allows me to listen to everyone around me and to seek out opinions. It also adds in lots of observations! College was a huge exposure to the world of design. Upon graduation, I won a design competition and was awarded an internship with EDAW (now AECOM) in their Sydney, Australia, office under the helm of a great female leader, Jacinta McCann. Jacinta took me to meetings and gave me responsibility. She showed me how to be an equal design partner. 

After Australia, I moved to New York City. I landed a job with Kliment Halsband Architects. I immediately started working with Frances Halsband, FAIA, who at the time, had already been New York’s first female AIA President and was continuing to trailblaze women in architecture. Frances taught me how to dig deep and be a comprehensive designer. Through more practice and understanding, my contributions became more valuable. My interest was met with openness and knowledge sharing.

I continue to draw on the lessons these great women leaders gave to me and am thankful for their mentorship and patience to train me. Through living in great, diverse metropolitan cities to being an avid traveler meeting new people and cultures, my career continues to be enhanced. I remain curious, ask a lot of questions, and seek multiple viewpoints and experiences—always with the intention of being more open and contributing.”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“Diversity is not a matter of opinion for me—it is my entire life and my cultural outlook. My experience as a Black woman in this industry has exposed me to many different opportunities where I’ve needed to acclimate to foreign environments. I’ve always interpreted these instances as a positive in my growth and molding in my career. My studies at Auburn were the catalyst and most impactful to this exposure.

I recall participating in an interdisciplinary charrette with landscape designer Walter Hood for a Birmingham farmers market. This was the first time I had worked with designers who looked like me. I most remember the passion and explorative creative thought in the question: ‘What if?’ A light came on in my head, and the energy of the work was finally palpable. I had become accustomed to believing in my ideas or myself as the garnish or side dish to the main event. Yet in a single moment, I realized that there is validity in my thought process and how depriving sharing these expressions is only a detriment to the creative problem solving required. This is one example where my only wish was that I was more insightful, more involved, and more confident. I came away from it with the idea to ‘leave it all on the table.’

Currently, I don’t have as many opportunities to get that kind of exposure, but I realize I can be that experience or person for others. It brings me to a position as a contributor, which is incredibly important and necessary. My diverse experiences have empowered me in that while my place at the table revolves, the importance of contributing my thoughts remains just as important.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“Experiencing diverse people, places, and experiences have allowed me to not only escape from my comfort zone, but also explore how unique and different perspectives can enhance the world.

In relation to architecture, oftentimes, there is a high level of comfort in staying within what is taught in American, post-secondary architecture education. Unfortunately, this does not allow us to see beyond what other cultures have done with the built environment to enhance the human experience. I think that, as a practice, there still needs to be a level of exposure to this.

Oftentimes being a minority in the profession of architecture has allowed me to tap into my own identity and cultural background. Being Mexican, I often think about how my identity can be reflected throughout my work. The practice of architecture stems from an architectural education that is primarily focused on American and Eurocentric examples, and this foundation fails to bring in other enriching examples that are non-western.

Throughout my college education, I found myself bringing influence into my studio projects from the Aztec and Mayan people. These civilizations brought about significant architectural achievements that were rarely taught about in my college education. Whenever I would explain this inspiration behind my projects my peers would be fascinated and shocked that they had not heard about these architectural feats before and even ask for resources where they could possibly learn more. What I learned from this experience was that although I was many times the only minority in the room, my cultural background, perspectives, and experiences would contribute so much to those around me. To me, this experience demonstrated that diversity is a contribution in itself, and it has the potential to contribute to an environment.

As I have now kicked off my professional career, I hope that I can continue to share my cultural experiences with my colleagues.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“My father led a retail store planning design firm, where he worked on projects throughout North America. When I was young, I would spend a lot of time in his office, where my interest and passion for architecture started. My father was my greatest inspiration when I was young, and because of his affinity for design, our home was full of many mid-century classic furniture pieces and books related to design and architecture. This exposure allowed me, in some ways, to start the pursuit of education toward the architectural career I was so focused to achieve before I reached the age of 10. However, my father’s inspiration upon me, in retrospect, was devoid of much diversity. I mention this background, because today, we are discussing critically how to enhance diversity and equity in our profession, and it is not lost on me that the road I followed to become an architect was a much easier path to navigate than it has been for so many others. 

International travel and time spent studying abroad during college and in the years since continue to have an immense impact on my career, due to the immersion in different cultures it provided. A broad global perspective is something so important to us as architects. With that said, it really wasn’t until I moved to Chicago for work that I was exposed to widely diverse people who truly enhanced my career so significantly. Almost immediately upon starting my position with SOM I experienced immense humility. The rigor, intensity, and talent of those I found myself working with caused me to realize how limited my experiences and exposure to diversity had been in the developmental years of my career.  I was so fortunate to work with talented men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities, including Korea, Serbia, China, the Netherlands, the list goes on. These were some of the hardest working people I had ever interacted with professionally, and I learned so very much from them—lessons I reflect on regularly to this day. In some ways, I think I knew my path to the desk in that office was a bit smoother than the path many of my friends and colleagues at that firm had to follow to get to that same place, and this weighed on me, but in a way that made me a better architect and person. Because of this, I was inspired to work harder to earn their appreciation and respect, aside from their friendship I valued so much, while also gaining a greater appreciation for the struggles they had to overcome to achieve their professional goals. These experiences continue to push me harder today and to never take anything for granted. We have an immense responsibility as architects—and the profession demands that we all seek our highest potential—for the betterment of others and the planet.”

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Project Designer at Cuningham
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

My career has been enhanced most recently by exposure to diverse people within the profession. I know distinctively how my career has flourished during times when I had high exposure to diverse professionals within the architecture community. Those diverse experiences have exposed my career to new opportunities and events I would likely not have considered or taken. Spending time with those who are different than I am is a diverse experience each time, most often happening in diverse places.

When I attended grad school at SCI-Arc for my master’s degree, I had the best time in my life, and I was in love with architecture. My colleagues and I would speak different languages and we shared our cultural dishes, sometimes right in studio. By being different individuals, we all leaned into our uniqueness, allowing us to learn architecture in our own ways without shame or denial. While I excelled, I was surrounded by diversity, I was also being taught by the most diverse group of educators in my life. My professors spoke multiple languages, and they were women, too. Experiencing architecture through this diverse lens elevated my thoughts on education and who can be an educator. I am a lecturer at the College of Architecture and Planning at University of Colorado Denver, because of the example I was shown where the value of one’s ideas and understandings around architectural education were not linked to one’s outward identifiers.

Another season of tremendous growth happened most recently when I obtained licensure while I was co-founding the NOMA Colorado Chapter. At a time where I should have no extra time or energy for other things outside of work, I found myself constantly inspired by the growing number of diverse professionals I was becoming acquainted with. Gathering so many diverse individuals who believed in the mission was motivation to get through the architectural registration exams. I have been thriving in the company of those who have diverse experiences to share and who have been enhanced by those experiences themselves. Now, we are dreaming and planning events around growing the next generation of architects. My career in architecture involves thinking about diverse experiences to jumpstart someone else’s career in architecture with Project Pipeline Summer Camps. I know how much my career has been enhanced by being in diverse places and I want that for the next Black woman architect, too.

Constant exposure to someone, somewhere, or something different lends us to constant reminders to be open minded, to think differently, to design differently—that’s the enhancement. And as architects—that’s the career.

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. You can expect to hear more from them over the course of the next four months as we continue this monthly series, culminating with a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

Webinar Recap: Magic in the Middle

AIA Colorado resumed its online webinar series with the recent webinar, “Magic in the Middle: Fostering Mid-Career Talent,” covering: 1) architectural leadership development, 2) emerging talent retention, and 3) tips on how to navigate one’s architectural career. 

The AIA Colorado Business of Architecture Knowledge Community fostered the conversation about engaging the talent in mid-career architects and how firms benefit from transparent firm goal setting and career mapping.

No matter where one is at in their career, this information is invaluable. Every firm is most likely having these conversations—for the past several years. The workforce template became very fluid after COVID, with expanded virtual work-from-home or work digitally from another region in our state, nation, or world.  

All options are on the table. The Great Resignation could be something else—a realignment or recommitment in a firm. Leadership, communication, and opportunities unpack the way ahead, and AIA Colorado is with you every step of the way to ensure you and your firm have the resources to advance your leadership goals.

The webinar featured insights from the following panelists:

  • Joy Spatz, AIA, Director of Interiors, MOA Architecture, Denver
  • Sarah Broughton, FAIA, Principal, Rowland + Broughton Architecture / Urban Design / Interior Design, and AIA Colorado President-Elect
  • Adam Harding, AIA, Partner, Roth Sheppard Architects, 2021 AIA Young Architects Award Recipient
  • Host: Amanda Christianson, AIA, Chair of the AIA Colorado Business of Architecture Knowledge Committee and Director of Architecture with Work Shop – Colorado.
  • Moderator: Francesca Zucchi, AIA, member of the AIA Colorado Business of Architecture Knowledge Committee, 2022 CKLDP Scholar, and architect with Semple Brown Design

Following are takeaways by topic from the Magic in the Middle webinar:

Leadership Development 

Panelists recommended using internal and external assets to provide a diversified approach to leadership development. PSMJ A/E/C Training was highly recommended as an external source, while in-house training should focus on mentorship and the business of architecture (marketing, law, insurance, and communications, etc.). Vary the dynamics with group and 1-to-1 discussions, both informal and formal. Level up your team! These training tactics will change the way a new architect designer approaches architecture.  

Be a Mid-Career Firm Leader

As Broughton said, “Get curious! Ask questions of leaders who make decisions.” Map out a career based on these conversations and remember that there’s no one correct approach. Lean on your firm’s values and legacy, while embracing authenticity. Be yourself! Do not expect to be fast-tracked by leadership or tapped on the shoulder. Show initiative and be patient, yet persistent. Share short- and long-term career goals with leadership. Serve in others’ organizations, as well.” AIA Colorado is a wonderful place to start serving and building a network to assist in career understanding and mapping.

Professional Traits that Stand Out

Sage advice according to Spatz: “Look out for others. Give your time to help one another’s achievements. Celebrate the success of another individuals.” Understand the me vs. we principle. The long road is the collective, i.e., “we!” brings people together. Foster community and culture in your firm. Develop the knowledge of who you are. Understand who others are, as well. This confidence of understanding oneself and others will help down the road.     

Checking on Growth

“Set goals that are measurable on a quarterly and yearly basis,” said Harding. “Check these metrics often, and have smaller goals to reach big, audacious goals.” Share your goal with leaders. Don’t rely on your firm to track your goals. And bring those goals into reviews. Broughton echoed, “We all need each other right now. It is perfect timing for this conversation. The world is moving really fast.” In this environment, consider what two items need to be removed from someone’s plate.

Balance Career and Talent Retention

AIA Colorado CEO Mike Waldinger started this conversation, “The move up or move out mentality begins early in the career of architects.” Said Harding, “Leaders: Have conversations with employees and discuss goals and needs. Be your advocate.” 

Most businesses are changing, but leadership will carry your firm through its ups and downs. Is your baton ready to pass?

As Waldinger closed, “Anyone who has an interest or current role in organizational leadership needs to be an organizational anthropologist. A firm’s identity is made up of two matched pairs of attributes: market presence and production capability. These are the table stakes.” He continued, “What separates the really great firms is pairing with cultural ethos and architect models. Whether you intend to set those architect models or not, they will be there in a firm.”

AIA Colorado shares your purpose and continues to educate and inform its members to build a better community, membership and firm.

Webinar Recap: Small Firm Exchange: AIA Resources to Advance Local Firms

Being part of a small architecture firm can be exciting and overwhelming—all at the same time. However, the AIA Small Firm Exchange (SFx) provides support to small firms, allowing a sense of community, leveraging resources, and a creating a more level playing field in architecture.

Our most recent AIA webinar featured Matthew Clapper, AIA, who is the 2021 Small Firm Exchange Chair and Founding Principal of Modern Architecture & Development in Wisconsin. Clapper discussed the SFx overview, repositioning, new workflows, and converting to a state-based structure. Highlights from the webinar follow.

The core functions of the SFx are to: 1) curate and disseminate resources and information from the AIA and other organizations to small firms; 2) inform the AIA of current issues facing small firms and resource/information gaps; and 3) advocate the value of small firms and the national and local SFx groups. Educational resources such as branding guidelines, crisis management tools, and business plan formats provide small firms with a competitive and operational boost.

A major upcoming goal is a sustainable framework of communication. To achieve this goal, both SFx and AIA are creating better integration with a more fluid organizational structure between both organizations. Communications and resource silos in the past have caused duplication of efforts and wasted energy. This organizational change with active liaisons will allow for small firms to gain big benefits.

SFx Workflow Management is undergoing a major renovation, as well. Leveraging social media and work applications, SFx is breaking down informational barriers while encouraging conversations and wide audience reach. Apps such as Flipboard, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter will create channels of discussion and opportunity. This marketplace of small firm information is open. 

Finally, representation at AIA may look different as regions convert to a state-representation methodology. SFx is considering this change, as well. Currently, one representative may serve three to four years in a region of six to seven states. This current model is not efficient or effective for individualized needs for states. Equity for all is a far reach. 

Potential changes for the new SFx Board include a board of 30, eight permanent states, and 22 additional reps from rotational states. Additionally, board members will make an ongoing effort to identify a representative from every state/territory, totaling 55 representatives. The board will increase its communications from a more diverse standpoint, which will bring about better inclusiveness and equitable opportunities.

AIA Colorado will keep you informed of the latest changes in the SFx as we help small firms achieve their design and business goals.

Webinar Recap: Building and Running a Successful Hybrid Practice

Hybrid. Work from Home. In Office. COVID-19. Epidemic. Pandemic. Endemic. Fully Vaccinated. Booster. Delta Variant. And now the Omicrom Variant.

The year 2022 is nearing, and these words have dominated our discussion, lifestyle, and firms since early 2020. As we live in a steady state of safety, how are we connecting as a workplace?  Life continues. Work moves forward. Design continues. Our community and the built environment need our attention. People require structure—both physically with our buildings and mentally as we seek to adjust to what seems as a new normal. These are just a few takeaways from the recent AIA Colorado webinar with Evelyn Lee, FAIA, “Building and Running a Successful Hybrid Practice.”

“Firms need to reflect, rethink, and revise.”

Evelyn lee, faia

Lee is a nationwide thought leader and shared her insights into how your firm can overcome and work in a hybrid scenario. She is the first Senior Experience Designer at Slack Technologies, Founder of the Practice of Architecture, and Co-Host on the Podcast, “Practice Disrupted.” She received the 2014 AIA National Young Architects Award and currently serves as Treasurer on the AIA National Board. Following are takeaways from Lee’s presentation on successful hybrid firms.

A hybrid practice is a resilient practice. Aim to build a more agile and adaptable environment. As Lee said, “Firms need to reflect, rethink, and revise.”  She framed these concepts in six different areas: 1) culture, 2) people and policies, 3) team management and productivity, 4) security and support, 5) tools, and 6) the hybrid employee. 

  • Culture.  Cultivate a workplace that is values-based in which every decision is rooted in this culture. Flex your behavior and response to address how values may manifest in different ways.  Revisit your firm’s “why.” Conduct an annual employee survey. How many employees would recommend your firm to others? Remember, culture is the sole differentiator for your firm.
  • People and Policies. Empower your employees with a shared definition of trust that enables their best work. She indicates that 95 percent of workers considering changing jobs in what is called, “The Great Resignation,” and 92 percent of workers are considering changing industries.  Lee recommends building a framework that supports each employee’s career. Transform hiring outcomes to yield first-day productivity and continue onboarding for an entire year. 
  • Team Management and Productivity. Stand up a digital headquarters that is relevant and essential. The digital HQ centralizes information and efforts. Ensure your firm distributes decisions made in-person onto the digital HQ platform. Too, adjust the firm’s mindset to that of remote even if just one person is working from home. Create time for deep work without distractions and brain-write for innovation / creativity. Establish balance with a burst of activity and slower simmer modes. 
  • Security and Support. Build a virtual cloud of data warehousing that enables anywhere access for employees. Invest financial and personnel resources toward information technology in order to provide timely and effective data management.
  • Tools. Ideally, software or hardware tools create an ease of operation and design. But first, know the capabilities of these tools and what your firm needs these tool’s functions to perform.  Understand who requires what tools to assist your team and client. Know each category of tools and how to operationalize these IT assets to enhance workflow and communications procedures. 
  • The Hybrid Employee. Work From Home (WFH) does not mean anything goes. Set work boundaries and routines. Optimize your workspace to fit your work needs. Over communicate with your team. Be a thoughtful teammate and take care of yourself. Back-to-back virtual meetings can be detrimental; manage your calendar well to manage yourself even better.

Lee concluded her presentation with a few overall tips: Your firm’s people are your greatest assets. Manage expectations and learn. Be patient and trust the process. 

AIA Colorado seeks to foster your firm’s best path forward during this challenging time. We are providing innovative speakers and solutions that will enable your firm and employees to be successful for your clients, community, and company. To learn more about hybrid working hybrid, you can view Lee’s full presentation on YouTube.  Let’s collaborate and learn together as we stay safe. 

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