What’s on My Mind?

What is on my mind? That’s a good question. For anyone that follows this blog, you’ll know I haven’t written for some time. Seth Godin says there’s no such thing as “writer’s block” any more that there’s such a thing as “talker’s block.” But talking is easy, writing is hard. Talking feels less permanent; like standing by a stream watching the water flow by; it’s there and it’s gone. Not that the words we speak have no meaning; they do, but it feels less vulnerable, less permanent. What we write is fixed. It’s harder to take back. It’s permanent, or at least it’s memorialized in a more fixed manner, like a photo of the stream; a fixed point in time. No taking it back

Why so long between writing? I don’t know. I am busy running the company, Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc., and affiliates. I have been devoting more time outside of that to the Creating Structure Podcast, which is now producing Episode 23 and with two more scheduled coming up in August and early September. Those take time to produce; the show notes are like a mini-blog in themselves. I’ve been busy with The Garden (see Instagram posts and other articles in prior blog posts.) It’s summer and I spend less time inside. I’ve been really busy with family matters, friends, and adjusting to post-Covid19 lifestyle. Actually I don’t think there is yet a “post Covid19” reality since the pandemic rages on. It’s just a different state of another “normal,” a new adjustment. Actually it’s worse than prior to, and during Covid, from my point of view, since now there seems to be this expectation to live in both realities. I find it less sustainable, therefore, prioritization of choices is required more than ever. There’s just a tension in the air.

The above are all just excuses of course. Even as I write this, I am starting to FEEL better. Why? Well, I like to write actually. I spend most of my writing time crafting emails, drafting company briefings, writing memos, proposals, work products, and more. But putting this out to the public, and to the followers of the blog, feels different. It is different. I am crazy enough (call it what you will) to think that I might have something to say; that perhaps my experiences might positively impact one person. Even if that’s not the case, it impacts me. And writer’s write because they need to. They write for themselves. One writer said, “If you really want to make an impact, write something that would make your friends feel uncomfortable reading. If you want to make an even deeper impact, write something that will make yourself unconformable.” I’m not quite there yet. I’m able to be just vulnerable enough to do this; to share these thoughts in writing with the world.

What’s on my mind, though, you ask, since I still haven’t answered the question? There’s a lot on my mind. Organizing it and sharing it in a substantive way is the tough part.

What about REMOTE WORK. Well there is no such thing anymore as “REMOTE WORK.” There’s just contextual work; work from various locations. As a business owner I used to work “remotely” often since business ownership is more of a lifestyle than a job. Now I never use that term. First, working in different contexts now belongs to almost anyone that is in an office environment or working a traditional “office job.” It’s no longer in the realm of the business owner alone. I actually feel better about that. I never say “I am working remotely.” It doesn’t matter- not at all. I say things like, “I will be working from my home office this morning,” or “I will be working from my car, between appointments.” (Yes from my car.)

If I turn on “out of office” for auto-response to email it’s because I am on “personal time” or “handling matters that will not allow me to stay in top of email in real time.” There is no more “out of office.” Do I have a physical office? Yes. I am there sometimes five days per week, sometimes zero days per week. All that matters is whether I am engaged or not; whether I being productive or not. Never has it been more obvious to manage by results or outcomes than now. Manage to results and outcomes, not appearances.

What’s on my mind? I don’t know. Have I gotten to that part of the blog yet? “Hey John, what is your company doing about return-to-office vs. hybrid work vs. work from home? Which one are you guys doing?” My answer is yes. What? “Yes, I said.” We are doing ALL OF IT. Is there one better than the other? I don’t know. It’s all contextual. If we are not creative in our approach to people and work contexts, we will struggle with retention and recruiting for sure. Like I said, manage to results and outcomes. Not everyone will survive the change. Not everyone has at our firm. But many will like it more, and they will thrive, plus new people will come into a context they are familiar with if we hire within this paradigm.

What’s on my mind? A lot of things. How can there be so many “hiring now” and “help wanted” signs compared to the time prior to COVID19? Are there that many people that have bowed out, gone to gig economy, freelancing, or just decided not to work? I don’t believe the statistics from the labor department. I just believe what I see; a LOT of jobs available and not enough people available to do them, willing to do them, or that have been trained for them. What a shift. The shift is dynamic and continuing to play out. Take your 5-year plan and scrap it, unless your 5-year plan is “be nimble,” or “make cool stuff,” or “impact the world through clean drinking water,” and similar. I like the “be nimble” part. The job of my company, our “why,” is to “Create Structure” to the world, physically and operationally. Being nimble is required (that’s sound better right now than “pivoting” which is an overused word.)

What’s on my mind? I don’t know. I guess quite a bit. But I am coming to the end of my attention span and available time for this priority today. I’ve not touched on the spiritual, the garden, updates regarding the company, technical posts, discussions about project management, client relationship management, faith and work, the natural, supernatural, discussions about BIM, innovation, 3-D printers, point clouds, time sheet discipline, strategies behind billing report audits, leveraging of time, prioritization, game-changer tasks, the importance of relationships, implementing EOS at our firm and more. I guess those will have to wait for the future blogs; tomorrow, next week, as soon as I prioritize and choose to write more.

What’s on my mind? I guess there’s quite a bit. Let’s talk more later. See you in the next post. Have a great day.

The Flagship Office- The Office for the Now

Back in early December of 2020, one of my outside board of advisory members asked me this question, “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” My immediate answer was brilliant, “I don’t know.” Subsequently the board members, my partner, and I, engaged in a discussion about the pro’s and con’s of having a substantial office space that was equipped for doubling the size of our staff, assuming everyone was in the office. “What do you think the odds are that everyone will return to the office?” “Do you envision a reality where 100% of staff will be operating together 100% of the time, with no offsite remote work?” “How do we justify the overhead costs with empty space?” “What’s the value?” Many of us are asking these same questions.

I recently participated in a PSMJ (Professional Services Management Journal) webinar about current compensation strategies and the future of human resources (HR) in A/E firms (Architecture and Engineering.) Multiple surveys were taken from the 300+ participants during the 1-hour session. All were dealing with the questions of remote work, partial remote work, in-office, out-of-office, and so on. Interestingly, while multiple hybrid work models were the largest percentage of the sampling, a follow up analysis showed that only 5% of people wanted to remain remote and work at home 100% of the time. If you had gotten answers to the same question one year ago in February of 2020, prior to everyone actually doing remote work, you would have gotten a much higher percentage.

The debate is real. The questions are substantive. We’ve seen big companies choose to not occupy new headquarters buildings, to cancel new leases, and to stay in current spaces. We’ve seen some say “we’re going to be 100% remote now forever.” We’ve seen some still going ahead with buildings equipped to house all or part of their staff. But the reality is, everything has changed. What was once the norm is now disrupted. It was going this way, but the COVID19 pandemic reality accelerated the process; it created the cause-effect response available in a connected, internet-based, digital world. Response to the remote-based work environment, hybrid models, or 100% in-office, are going to vary by industry, company, and position. All I know is that it’s going to be different.

Once again, the question: “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” I’ve been thinking about this continually, monitoring our experience, getting input from others on an Executive forum thread with PSMJ, listening to staff, to podcasts, gathering information, talking to clients, related businesses, and more. I’ve been watching the realities hitting retail in the pandemic and digital environment as well. We all know that the future, and the “now”, of “brick and mortar” retail is quite different. Smart retailer’s have gone digital, while also showcasing some of their work and products in specific stores. Outlier stores have been closed, inventory in the remaining stores reduced, and more invested in online and warehoused inventory. So what about the future of the “office?” What about the future of it in the context of professional services? How about more specifically in A/E? Here’s how I envision it.

Think “flagship store.” The future of “the professional service office” is a multi-dimensional experience for all who enter, all who are affiliated with the company, including staff, clients, vendors, affiliates, referrers, advocates, collaborators, students, recruits, and more. Just as smart retailers have put in place digital infrastructure while creating a physical retail location that is experiential, showcasing products, services, and supporting their brand, such is the future of the professional services office. What does this multi-dimensional office look like? What is the envisioned experience? What is it? What is it not? It will depend on the location, industry, work type, and so much more.

It is no longer simply a place to go work for 8 hours a day and go home. It is no longer a static space to just do work and collaborate with clients and staff. It’s a “watering hole” a “community well” a “gathering place” for the industry, domain, practice segments. It is a representation of brand through physical placement of things representing the work, through digital experiences accessible in multiple areas throughout the facility, where clients can access and reference the showcased services, engage electronically, or personally. The 3-D printer is continually printing samples of products and goods supported by the service. Spaces are nimble and flexible for collaborative teams. Spaces are hybridized. Glass is more prevalent in creating separation and visibility at the same time. People can talk to a representative like they do at a bank. Services can be ordered and procured on the spot if desired. Clients, supporters, and other people connected to the company can come and use common spaces as a “third space” to use wireless, collaborate, take a coffee break. Staff members work productively whether from home or from office based on the need, the work typology, and tasks at hand. Projects are displayed physically, and electronically. The space is a shared work space, brand support, resting space, and more. It is a media center as well. The podcast (if you have one) is produced from a studio in the office such as the one I produce called “The Creating Structure Podcast.” When not accessible, staff, clients, and constituents can have a virtual experience.

Everything we do, including the facilities in which we work, are an opportunity to support and express brand; to express innovation, attract, retain, support and care. The facility, in my reality, has always been required to communicate as much as possible about who we are in the physical expression of the space.

I’m looking forward to creating more of a “flagship” office experience. That’s what we are going to do. That’s how we will use the space. Now let’s see how much we can make it a reality.

Authenticity

“Authenticity is the new apologetic.” I heard this quote from James Thomas Talbot, one of the brothers and pastors at our church, Citizen’s Akron. But this isn’t about church. This is about the quote; about the statement; about the truth portrayed in it. I’ve been seeing this and stewing on it for some time. I’m watching the reality of it unfold more and more.

“Apologetic” is about one’s ability to defend, justify, appropriately argue a belief, belief system, theory or religious doctrine; systematic argumentation and discourse.

But people are tired of words. I’m tired of words (as I type words). Actions and realities are the best defense. People and groups can sniff out a lie quickly these days. So many words, so little fruit. So many words, so many incongruencies.

Authenticity, the visible reality of the manifestations and consequences around our life, this is the new apologetic. Our life, the fruit of the life, what we do, how we act, these are the defenses. “Show me don’t tell me.” It’s not easy to argue against a life well lived, or against specific results surrounding our life. It isn’t about what we say, it’s about what we do.

Our actions, which flow from our identity, should support our words which support our thoughts. What’s visible on the outside of our life is a result of our choices, behaviors, thoughts. Rather than speaking and expecting people to believe us, we should be doing.

We may as well choose authenticity. We aren’t fooling anyone forever if we are saying one thing and doing another. The person that is typically most deceived in that way is ourselves, but that’s another topic for another day.

Authenticity is the new apologetic. In business, in spirituality, in life, in relationships. Thanks James.

Remote work: Time Give and Take

Our offices, our entire business, are presently working 100% remote (not working in physical Wheaton Sprague office locations) due to COVID19 considerations. Even when we returned to office from Mid-June through November 26th, we were probably 50% remote on any given day. Here’s some reflections on how I view my time thus far, associated with remote work.

I save 30-40 minutes per day not driving back and forth to work

I need an extra 30 minutes per day with slower technology, not having triple monitors, and less access to my best “gear” from home; plus a dozen other little I.T. issues.

I save 15 minutes per day not making my lunch (yes I make my lunch)

I need an extra 15 to 30 minutes per day in extra work of engaging with staff via remote means.

I save days and days not traveling to see clients across the country

I need days to connect remotely with clients and drive engagement, do virtual meetings, track people down. I lose the energy and connectivity that being with people face to face brings.

What’s the net? Is it a gain, or a loss? Is it equivalent in the time equation? I’d say it’s almost equal. We gain and we lose. There’s the PERCEPTION of having “way more time.” It’s all contextual. I like the convenience that some of it brings. I dislike the lack of community, in a place, building energy and momentum. I like not having to drive as much, but I miss the transition driving to and from another space; the demarcation. I like being in my own space, but I miss being able to go interact with people (in three dimensions not two.)

I know this; we were made to need each other; to work together; to be in community. We have a form of it now, but it’s not quite the same.

It’s not better or worse to be 100% remote. It’s just different.

Checking in

It’s been a while since I have blogged and checked in with everyone. I hope you all are well. Thank you readers and followers. I deeply appreciate the engagement. Below I will update you on what’s up.

  1. It’s been a busy time since COVID19 hit. Our company at Wheaton & Sprague Engineering went “100% remote” work, shuttering office locations, on April 7th and we were in that mode until mid-June. We now have about 30% of our staff in physical office locations, and it’s slowly increasing, with caution. It takes extra effort to manage to the necessary level of engagement and communication when people are scattered. We are adjusting.
  2. Speaking of COVID19; I believe we are in this until we aren’t. That may sound obvious, but if anyone is thinking “when this is over and I get back to normal……” you need to adjust your thinking. This is the reality now. It’s a time to figure it out and get stronger; to build more relevant infrastructure in your company; to pursue “best practices” in this environment. My best guess for the next transition with less or no COVID, which may be too optimistic, is September of 2021. Be in the moment, manage to the current reality personally and professionally. Stay engaged. Build your network
  3. More COVID19: We lead with “care 1st” in our mindset and resulting interactions with our clients and staff. This applies to personal life too. “How are you doing?” “I hope you are well.” “Is there anything else I can do to support or help you?” All are relevant lead-ins to conversations. Positive results are produced by healthy people in mind, body, soul, spirit. Results are the outcome. Lead with care
  4. I’ve seen a recent increase in relevant, legitimate, project opportunities. Tech and Medical markets are strong. Combine that with some college work and research facilities and that is a good market presently. There’s more but you can figure out some of those. On the other hand, some past projects were put on hold and will likely push out indefinitely or be cancelled. The longer we can sustain “the gap” and sell into the current reality, the better. Our backlog is steady (up actually) and estimated work is strong (up as well.) We just landed a great new project at LaGuardia Airport and are pursuing some other fantastic projects that are in motion.
  5. Key Relationships: Nurture and foster your key relationships. Build on what you have. Nurture key prospective client relationships as well, and seek referrals. People want to work with those they trust and know will be present in this time. Reduce doubt for people and clients

What else is up?

  1. I have been gardening. We started garden at a community garden and have been working to reclaim the plot and grow veggies and plants in raised beds. It’s a family affair. It’s a great way to refresh and take some measure of control over questionable supply chains, to build community, live in a sustainable manner
  2. I just started a PODCAST called “Creating Structure” Podcast. It’s in the business category and you can find it on BUZZSPROUT. We also are listed now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, Podchaser, Podcast Addict, and Listen Notes. The next Podcast will be recorded Wednesday 8/19/2020 and will be edited and uploaded probably by 8/25/2020. You can find the first episode here https://www.buzzsprout.com/1236827/episodes/4965362
  3. Speaking of the next podcast: It will be relevant to the GLAZING, Subcontracting, Architecture, and Delegated Design-Engineering category. This podcast will feature a discussion between my Branch Operations leader and I at the request of Katy Devlin, for Glass Magazine and their “Outlook Tuesdays”. Stay tuned for future uploads and postings from us and NGA.
  4. The Patio: I turned our patio at Wheaton & Sprague from looking like a prison yard to a workable, desirable, space. It is amazing what a couple patio umbrellas, flowers, and tables can do. “If you build it they will come.” Make spaces INVITATIONAL.

Well, that’s all for today. I’ve got 13 drafts in the blog queue and much more to share. I hope you all are well. Remember, identity drives behavior as my personal and business coach taught me, and reminds me still. What we manifest on the “outside” is produced from what is on our “inside.” Focus on internal health of soul, mind, and spirit, and the physical manifestation will come on the outside. Healthy inside=healthy outside. Life is tough. Look up, lean into God, count each day as a blessing. I do that through the Lord Jesus Christ and provision of His spirit in and through me. I’m “just passing through” this reality, trying to spread blessings while do so, and while on the way to an eternal home without end. For now, I am striving to give thanks in all circumstances. Let’s inform those in our lives rather than letting them dictate to us.

Be Blessed

John

The Garden

I wanted to start a garden this year. It was really a response to the shelter-at-home Covid-19 situation initially. I’d wanted to do it for a long time, but I drug my feet. Concerns about potential food supply chain issues downstream pushed me over the top. Now was the time. Even if I failed and bugs ate the entire garden, at least I was doing SOMETHING.

So my wife and I started the garden. She and I are 100%/100% partners in this. She’s the brains, I’m the brawn. She found the place; the context. God revealed to her that there was a plot at the community garden next to our daughter’s plot (hmmm..quite the “coincidence.”) I had never considered doing it offsite. I envisioned it here, at our home. But this context was perfect. Despite my heavy reluctance at first, I said yes, and we proceeded.

Fast forward. We are now deep into the garden work; still cultivating and reclaiming what had been a neglected plot; planting in raised beds, sowing seed, laying down mulch and more. It’s still a supply chain issue, but it’s become much more than that. There are other gardeners there. Other plots. There’s community. It’s a beautiful location. It’s gets me out of my home and to a neutral location. It’s people, air, breezes, birds, water, open space, resources.

As I muscled the wheelbarrow back and forth the other night, stepping through puddles, as the sun was in it’s advanced decline to the horizon for the day, as the breeze blew across my face, I realized it’s not about supply chain any longer. It’s about freedom. The garden is freedom. The garden is choice. That garden is earth, mind, muscle, and faith. The garden is community. The garden is mindset. I smiled and rested as I made my way to the car to head home.

What helps set you free?

The Parking Garage Health Facility

The Cleveland Clinic turned a parking garage into a makeshift medical facility. It looks like a M.A.S.H. unit. This is a great example of “pivoting” (yes I know that’s a buzzword.) Let me back up and take you to the start.

A family member needed a Covid-19 test at the Clinic due to a required medical procedure. I was asked to drive them. The instructions said “go to the Walker parking garage lower level.” “What? Testing in a parking garage?” “This should be interesting,” I thought.

Fast forward to the parking garage. It was brilliant. It’s run with military precision. Specific cars allowed at specific times. Signage, work stations, medical professionals gowned and masked, directing traffic, helping guide, doing testing. No one got out of their car. It’s all done through an open car window. Fifteen minutes. In and out.

Why did this impress me? There’s multiple reasons. The Cleveland Clinic is BIG but they flexed. It was creative, it was clean, it was efficient and it was in a parking deck.

Here’s some of my impressions and takeaways:

1. Big business doesn’t have to be rigid.

2. I’ll bet the nurses didn’t learn traffic flow directing in school. We’ve got to be nimble and self educated in whatever we do.

3. The Clinic got creative and we can be creative in this environment as well.

4. The use of a parking deck; an ordinary, bland, concrete, parking deck. Brilliant. It’s out of the way, efficient for moving cars, isolated from the hospital.

5. Flexibility. People were working from the lower level garage. Its exterior air. There were propane heaters and chairs in strategic locations. It’s not the best space to work from. Professionals have to be flexible. One never knows what to expect next or how they can drive new value in new paradigms.

6. “Can do” attitude. The Clinic figured out a way to test quickly, safely, politely and with test results delivered between 8 hrs and 24 hrs.

Questions:

How nimble are we? How creative are we? How quickly can our business and minds pivot? Can we rally people to deliver around a cause; around a problem, and above and beyond? Are we willing to go there as leaders?

Excuses are easy. Solutions aren’t hard once we eliminate the excuse, we stop looking for others to show the way, and we take responsibility to act, lead, move.

Even parking decks can be a place associated with healing. What have you got that is being overlooked?

Shifting

Interesting how things change. Just six weeks ago the values in the world economy were things like lean manufacturing, just in time delivery, low inventory, large single source supply chains, high profit, international travel, high connectivity.

That doesn’t play well during a pandemic- an unseen enemy that disrupts without any real warning. It just more fully exposes the vulnerabilities that existed and still exist. The world, each nation, each locality, weren’t prepared fully. We don’t like to plan for the “what if’s.” The values have been shifted 180 degrees almost overnight.

Now it would appear that the values are things like margin, appropriate inventory, local micro-economies, multiple supply chain sources, balance, less international connectivity (or perhaps more thoughtful connectivity).

I think many people may just be hunkered down “waiting for things to get back to normal.” You’ll be waiting a long time. The truth is, there is no “normal.” It’s the anticipation of the future being the same that we describe as “normal.” But the future is abstract. Normal is now; the present.

How then shall we respond, construct, and move forward? We need to inform and work within our reality; connect the dots; new dots; new ways.

The Escalator

I couldn’t get to the trade show floor until 10:00 am. That meant 15 or 20 minutes to kill. I looked around at the options and said to myself, “Why not stand at the bottom of the escalator? There’s no better place to see and meet people.”

In the sea of people there were two gentlemen standing near me with name tags that noted their business location; Nantucket, MA. I had just returned from a business trip to Boston the week prior, and then spent 4 days on Cape Cod. It wasn’t Nantucket, but it’s close enough. I started a conversation.

We talked about their work on the island, about the culture, what kind of support they needed, and how they managed logistics. They asked what I did. We shared business cards. I invited them to contact me anytime and they did the same. Then we both went on our way.

That was about 5 or 6 weeks ago. One of the guys, Lee, called me today. “Hi John, I don’t know if you remember me or not….” “Of course, I said. We met at the bottom of the escalator!” “Yep. That’s me.”

He said he needed some engineering support and asked about our availability at Wheaton Sprague. He asked what the next steps were. He said he’d email me the info. I said I’d assess it and get him a proposal. He said, great.

How do we “kill time” while waiting? Usually with our head in a phone or waiting in the wings. That particular day I chose to engage at the bottom of the escalator; to be where people were congregating. Who would have guessed? We never know when an interaction will lead to more. But most business is relational, whether B2B or B2C. How’s your engagement going?

Marketing

Today I received a purchase order from a new client. I received a purchase order because one of my colleagues had quoted a project and provided a proposal that met this new client’s needs and expectations.

The reason we were able to write the proposal, was that I had built a relationship with a decision maker, a millennial professional, in this generational business .

The reason I was able to build a relationship, all by phone and email, was because I’d had some conversations about his business, his markets, and his emerging needs.

The reason I was able to have some conversations is that I had posted a relevant Blog article through Glass Magazine to my LinkedIn social media feed. This Blog article on Delegated Design and Experience vs Inexperience, struck a chord with him and he sent me a well-thought response about his pain points, needs, observations. It resonated with him. It spoke to almost his exact experience.

When he sent me the message I replied instantly; within the hour. I used my mobile phone, while working remotely in Florida, to respond in writing to him, and then to call him. We arranged further discussion by phone prior to a strategic board meeting he had. He wanted to communicate the prospects of working together to his board and the “why” behind it; the value proposition; the idea prompted by he Blog. I couldn’t have posted the Blog, without this particular venue and platform being provided by Glass Magazine.

This is an example of marketing today. In telling a story. In making a real connection with someone. In provided relevant content and value. In giving more than is received. The purchase order was just the manifestation, the end result, of the process. It was as a result of the trust, knowledge, and good will built during the process.

I wasn’t interested in “the sale.” I was interested in the relationship.

This is one face of marketing. It is an example of inbound marketing; content marketing. It’s not what I do, it’s part of who I am. It’s the same for you, if you will allow it.