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.

Checking in: News and Updates

It’s been quite a while since I’ve checked in and provided some updates about our businesses, the Podcast, perspectives, and other matters. These are posted at random in no particular order.

New Staff: We’ve been blessed at Wheaton Sprague (www.wheatonsprague.com) to add three new staff members in our Design, Drafting and Modeling Department (DDM). There are some really solid people available with the changes in the marketplace, the shifts, the ebbs and flows. We’ve added some high quality additional capacity, new capabilities, and experience. Each person is from the industry side of our work, and brings experience in custom fabrication, custom curtain wall design, drafting, building information modeling, gasket design, problem solving, and more. We’ve added two more architects with deep technical experience in delegated design and engineering and one 25 year industry veteran.

BIM2020: (#BIM2020) Our building information modeling initiative, growth and advancement continues, working with primary modeling software platforms like Inventor, RHINO and REVIT. This will bring continual improved value, intelligence, data, and expanded options to clients using a variety of platforms, applications, algorithms, code, and data to solve enterprise and project level problems. Engage with us in this space.

The Podcast: My Creating Structure Podcast https://creatingstructure.buzzsprout.com/ (#creatingstructure) has seven episodes uploaded. The eighth episode is about to post this week. Our podcasts all run about an hour, and we’ve gotten 522 downloads as of today. I’m please with the engagement so far, and thankful for everyone listening. I subscribe to the Seth Godin “Smallest Viable Audience” mentality (https://seths.blog/2017/07/in-search-of-the-minimum-viable-audience/) so I am happy with the results so far. I’m grateful for all who listen. Plus the seven episodes offer a “who’s who” list of business and technical professionals, all influencers in their own spaces, and all of whom have great stories bringing unique perspectives to the discussions. The next guest is Max Perilstein, Communications Strategist focused on the Glass and Glazing world, but our conversation covers sports production, broadcasting, marketing, glass, glazing, people, advocacy, energy issues, and so much more. It will be uploaded this week. Other guests on the prior seven episodes can be viewed from the Podcast site or via all other major Podcast platforms hosting the show. I hope you’ll subscribe and join the conversation.

Shifts: There’s quite a bit of shifting going on in the market right now. There are businesses making preemptive moves and cutting some of their technical staff. There are others moving locations, consolidating offices, or making decisions to buy out more services and reduce personnel expense. This has created a bust-to-boom environment in availability of quality people. I predicted this from the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic cycle. We’ve seen the market go from having almost no one available to having a multiple choices of quality people. Backlog is currency in this regard to inform decisions on hiring. Cash flow certainly helps as well, but backlog is a key driver informing near range or long range decisions.

Staying Close to Clients: In this economy, people want to work in a B2B environment with known entities with people they can trust; businesses with staying power, remote work capabilities, well funded, a strong network of people within, and a proven track record. We’ve doubled and tripled down on client support and client management, especially in the fundamentals of schedule adherence, quality of work product, communication, and client-centered solutions. Get these things correct and it will keep a business busy, and growing. There’s also longer term aspects on which to to plan and align with clients, but if we don’t get the fundamentals right, there’s no need to talk about broader vision or long term strategies. Double down on commitments and communications to clients and key prospects, and win.

Thanks for reading. I’ll provide more updates in the near future.

Checking In

Welcome to September. Hard to believe that it’s already “that time of year” where we are looking at the end of summer coming soon, the end of Q3 2020, and the planning for 2021 business. Crazy how time flies, even in a COVID19 environment (or perhaps ESPECIALLY.) I thought I’d take the time to catch up again for a minute on a variety of topics

The Creating Structure Podcast: We have posted two podcasts, and the next one will record tomorrow, September 2, 2020. The first two sessions have a total of exactly 100 downloads as of today. Thank you for the support. Spread the word! We will continue to interview people around topics of business, architecture, facade, construction, and more. We record and upload every other week, so the next post will be around 9/8/2020. You can subscribe through Buzzsprout, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many other major platforms. You can find us here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1236827/episodes

Glass Build: The last Podcast session was centered around relevant topics for #GlassBuildConnect which is happening through September. NGA/Glass Magazine will post our session the week of 9/7/2020. I think many in the field of curtain wall, glass, glazing, delegated design, and construction will enjoy the content.

Expansion: We have other affiliate company entities associated with Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc. One of them is Wheaton Engineering & Consulting of NY, LLC. This is our New York State entity. We provide engineering, design, and consulting services for all types of facade, exterior cladding, curtain wall, in many forms and functions, to the entire State of New York. If you have any questions or needs in NYC, or other NY State metropolitan areas, please go to the “contact us” section of our website at http://www.wheatonsprague.com and you can send an email to the “info” email address.

Calling all Curtain Wall Engineers: We have job openings right now for positions centered around our Minnesota office and our Ohio Office. I say “centered around” because of the manager to whom the recruiting effort is attached. We prefer “in-or-near-office” candidates, but remote are considered as well, based on the times we live in. There’s a Senior Engineer opening for our Ohio office, and an Assistant Engineer opening in our Minnesota Office.

Focus: A quick word about focus. There’s thousands of “things” that we can do or get into, but we need to prioritize. “What are the most important items?” “What are the ‘game-changers’ (urgent and important)?” “Which ones offer the highest ROI or ROT (return on time)?” “What will have the most profound positive ‘stewardship’ impact for the business, staff, clients?” Once we sort this out, and this should be done with inputs from others to help clarify the goal, then define it clearly, put a timeline to it, and execute. It’s easy to always respond to the tyranny of the urgent, but we’ve got to make time for the important as well. Seek to SIMPLIFY. Growth and new initiatives fundamentally create more COMPLEXITY. Part of our job in leading, managing, and stewarding, is to seek to simplify and create order. Prune the branches. This is particularly hard for me as a visionary person with a growth and multiplying mindset. Having a great team of integrators, operators, and implementors is key. They are the “glue” in the “growth” process.

Again, welcome to September 1st. Hang in there. Focus on today, look ahead to the anticipation of tomorrow. Take care of family, friends, and the neighborhood. Control what you can control. Focus on mindset improvement. It’s up to all of us to help make it a better tomorrow by bring a better us to the table. Make it a great day.

Start with Zero

When my partner and I created the business, we started on day one with zero; zero dollars, two computers, some software, two clients and two projects; one project for him and one for me. We had zero revenue but we had purchase orders. That’s what we worked with. We built systems, tools, applications, and engineered work products that brought value to clients.

Fast forward to now; 25 years later. I’m getting back to this approach; to recommitting to creating new things, new services, practices, and applications, from zero. I mean, being an entrepreneur and business builder, that’s how I started; I took an idea, made it a reality, and built something that never existed prior. That’s what happens in all new businesses in some way; something comes from nothing; from simply an idea.

So we start with zero. We start with our time, our tools, and our existing infrastructure, which is way deeper than it was 25 years ago, and we build. If you want money, you’re going to have to really give me a good reason. How about selling the service and idea to the client first and coming to me with a purchase order? That’s the ultimate litmus test; the ultimate positive ROI.

Starting with zero doesn’t mean we don’t need money. It doesn’t mean we don’t get funding at some point if there’s good reason. But it does provide better accountability around creating new things and it puts everyone in the organization on a level field.

Start with zero and validate from that point forward.

New stuff

This morning I got an email informing me that I received my Texas Professional engineering license (PE.) It’s one of 9 or 10 states that I never really pursued or needed. Previously at our company we had another TX PE, but he moved on to another firm a few months ago. I decided it would be best to maintain it myself, and get another staff member registered as well.

The timing was great. We have a Texas client now with 3 new projects. It’s interesting to me how when we pursue certain activities, as a company and as a person, when we take action, expend energy, invest, and build, that stuff happens; stuff we expect and stuff we don’t. Activity produces more activity. It’s action-reaction. And there’s collateral benefit that happens as well. People talk, things happen, lives are touched and results are produced.

It’s good to act, to invest, and to see the results. How’s that going for you? Do something new today and await the results.

Workflow and Development

There are two basic forms of “workflow” or “new practice” development:

  • That which we create (innovation and new category.) This needs to bring value to clients and they become part “creative partner” with us (from a “what if” and testing scenario).
  • That which our clients require (get competent and optimize)
    • They define
    • We build/design to spec
    • We execute
  • The Truth moving into the future
    • We all need in our businesses to develop one or both of these.
    • It needs to be done while being connected to the market; with the user/client

The details, the building, the success of the service or product, is up to the builders and operators

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy

Dichotomy; a contrast between two things

The Entrepreneurial Dichotomy is that our energy, ideas, our vision, are deeply needed, yet our businesses are worth much more without dependence on us; without us having to be present to do transactional things; to not have to handle the day-to-day. We are supposed to be building an enterprise rather than doing a specific job.

Being free to devote our attention to the places where we provide the most value to clients, and to our business, is what creates the best opportunity for everyone to benefit; being unencumbered by everything else to the fullest extent possible

This takes constant effort and intention.

I recommend a “not to do list.” The list facilitates what we are supposed to be doing, and provides a reminder to delegate everything else.

Dynamic change should happen in perpetuity in order to keep this process advancing.

What’s on your not to do list? What’s your focus?

It’s a constant battle and effort to make it happen.

Post Project Meetings – Defining Experience

Post project review meetings are arguably the most important project and team meetings in an organization (and a required SOP now at my company) since it defines lessons learned; what we did well, what we did not, how we can improve. It helps identify “the experience” of the team and the client. It’s ALL about the client’s “experience.” The team’s experience is equally important  (client experience is only as good as the team experience and service to each other)

There’s many hotels, restaurants, auto dealers, contractors, engineering firms, professional services corps, ALL TOUTING the SAME THING.

Which one’s do you like to frequent and write checks to? Those with whom you have a positive experience or a negative experience ? Positive experience (gratitude, smiles, fair price, great value, delivering on what has been promised) means repeat business and growth.

Post project reviews are necessary for company and professional advancement.

All progress starts by telling the truth. These meetings are great truth revealers and tellers. We learn and grow through doing, celebrating wins, and fixing problems.

Hats

When we started our company in 1994 my partner and I were the employees, technicians, marketers, officers, and owners. We both wore all of the sales, marketing, administration, and operational “hats.” At one time I was a project engineer, engineer of record, marketing VP, building envelope engineering VP, and President. If we liken roles and job description to hats, I wore five different hats depending on the day or hour of the week.  I actually did this for quite some time. It’s necessary for most of us in business start-up, boot-strap, entrepreneurial mode. I can be exciting and fun for a short time, but the problem is that it’s unsustainable for the long-term. It works well only if we want to kill ourselves and go to an early grave, or as a minimum, become disenchanted with owning a business and not make it. The goal for all of us as business owners should be to wear only one hat, the one that fits the best according to our most unique ability, to shed the extra hats, and hire others to wear them.

Educated and trained as an engineer, in the early days, I was a classic micro-manager and control freak. This works well when everything is dependent on  me alone. However, I recognized quickly that we needed to write job descriptions, build and organizational chart, and structure the company so that others could wear the additional hats we had to take on and off daily. I remember writing job descriptions (defining hats) on planes, at my kid’s piano lessons, and during the work day between urgent project work. Slowly, each role and realm began to take shape.

As the business has grown to five offices, two divisions, and many times the initial number of employees, I’ve worked myself slowly out of wearing all but one or two hats, mostly. I wear one primary hat as the leader and President of the organization, and then put on specific operational, developmental or sales hats depending on a project need, a unique ability I can apply in a specific realm or issue, or to support my colleagues. I say emphatically that if you are a business owner and are growing a business, it a disservice to yourself and your colleagues to not work yourself out of multiple roles and to find other hat wearers as quickly as possible. Our role is to be the owner, leader, facilitator, supporter. People are counting on us. You and I have a primary unique ability or two that we do really well. So do others working for us. They wear many hats better than we do. Our businesses will benefit the most by applying our unique ability, while also letting others do what they do best around us. If we do anything less, we are eroding the future stability and sustainability of our organization. We’ve got to build strategically all the time while working on the urgent matters of the day and still moving forward. Otherwise things stay status quo and can remain that way for a long time. This is not of any value in building and growing a business.

Often times what we experience in a business and life is due to our own lack of awareness of these issues. The more I’ve learned and the more I’ve grown and gotten inputs, the more the business has improved. While it may be a big challenge as a small business owner to have a 100% sustainable business without our presence 100% of the time other than for financing, leading, and providing strategic direction, that should be the goal. The people who work for us, our staff, our colleagues, all the clients, constituents and collaborators that are attached to and support the business, will all benefit.

Do yourself a favor and build in this manner. Give colleagues, and all those in your charge, the confidence that we are charting a course to allow for long-term growth with as little necessary input as possible from us as an owners. The less an owner has to be involved in day-to-day decisions, the more valuable the business. The more and owner can stay out while having their staff executing the sales and operations of the business, the more valuable the business to the staff, the world, and future acquirers. It may look good on the outside that we are involved all the time and working mega-hours, but in the end it’s counter-productive. Visualize yourself not in the business and reverse-engineer it. Figure out how to put others in the right positions and build something of value. Build the business. Build up the people. Share hats. Give away hats. See how good others look in them. The picture will look much better and the future will be much brighter.

The Triangle

I bought a TRIANGLE for the office. You know, the musical kind. The type you play (ding) in an orchestra. It’s a percussion instrument. This one’s more like a “dinner call Triangle,” but I think you get the picture. Its got that bright sound.

In the office we “ring it” every time we win a new project, or a new phase is added to an existing project. Tami does it at the front desk. Everyone can hear it.

Sure people can check the joblist if they want, and it gives a live report of everything that’s active. But it’s boring. There’s something tangible about the triangle. It’s audible evidence that something good just happened. It reminds people who don’t always get to see the big picture, that cool things are happening; that new business is coming in. Now I’m looking for a GONG to ring. It’ll be for really big projects over a certain dollar value, or for new work with new clients. That’ll get people talking.
The reaction is fun and it creates a festive atmosphere. It gets people talking. It reminds me of being called for dinner when I was a kid.

 Isn’t that what new work is like anyway? Like dinner time for the business?