By Drew Allen, AIA, project architect at Perkins + Will and chair of the AIA Colorado Member Voice Committee
What does it mean to create and maintain an office culture? For that matter, what even is an office culture? Is it defined differently from workplace to workplace? What about from generation to generation? ERC defines culture as “the character and personality of your organization.” I would posit to take this definition one step further: office culture is the tangible manifestation of your organization’s core values. In other words, it’s where you live out the things that you say are important to you.
It’s great to put something on a website or social media or even push our clients in a certain direction, but if we aren’t doing those things ourselves in real life, then it’s not actually our office culture; it’s just a thing we say because we think people want to hear it. If your firm purports to be a sustainable firm that pushes green projects, what are you doing within your office to create a more carbon friendly workplace? If you brand yourself as a collaborative group, are you pushing your youngest staff to have a seat at the table and come with ideas?
This all may sound confrontational and, as anyone that knows me can attest, I hate confrontation, so that is not the intent. Having been part of several different architecture firms of very different sizes, I know that this conversation is constantly happening at various points, scales, and with all groups of people. So, for what it’s worth, I’ll offer up some personal insight.
I am fully part of the millennial generation, which is defined by the Pew Research Center as being born between 1981 and 1996, which would put their ages between 22 and 38. Although this sounds like a broad range, it’s roughly similar to all other generational groups (Baby Boomers, Gen X, etc.). However, if you were to look around your office this week, you will more than likely notice that many, if not most, of your coworkers fall into the Millennial category. In fact, as of 2016, Millennials have become the largest group within the labor force, according to Pew. So, if I may be so bold as to speak for my fellow millennials, one thing has become abundantly clear to me in the last seven years since I left college: office culture matters.
Our generation has grown up in an age where information is everywhere, and every workplace and person are a quick Google search away. We read up on the things that people say and how they market themselves. We understand the value of having an online presence. We also understand that it’s very easy to purport something online and then live a completely different real life. This sort of thing rings especially true for people my age and, really, for just about anyone who thinks critically.
We also care about more than brunch*, avocado toast and memes. We grew up in a hyper-political age where you are almost required to have an opinion on current events and global issues. We have opinions (and take action) on more issues than ever, from the climate crisis, to fair and equitable pay, to diversity and inclusion, and this has translated into what we look for in a work environment.
This is all to say that office culture, in whatever form it takes, must go beyond the superficial. It must go beyond lip service or a catchy tag line on a website. It must be lived everyday in our work environments for employees to truly believe that a company means what they say. The groundswell of younger employees in the labor force is shifting the values needle and is forcing tangible action in the office where they’ll spend hundreds of hours a year. By having an organizational culture that is fully bought into and lived everyday by all employees, from the CEO to the summer intern, we can help create more holistic, thoughtful workplaces, and subsequently, better architecture and design.
*I will not apologize for liking brunch. It allows me to have breakfast food, which is objectively the best food, sleep in, and consume alcohol in a socially acceptable setting. It is the ideal meal.