1994 and 2020- A Parallel

In 1994 I started the business of www.wheatonsprague.com working out of my home in a 12′ x 13′ bedroom that had been temporarily converted into an office. There were two of us in the office (my business partner and I.) I had a computer, a land line phone, an inkjet printer and some software. No email. No internet. We didn’t have an office until after 5 or 6 weeks, at which time we were able to move. The home office wasn’t a “remote office. “It was just an office. There was no such thing as a “remote work” label back then.

In April and May of 2020, and now in December, I find myself working once again full time from a home office. This one is a basement office of about 8′ x 10′. It’s all mine. I don’t have to share it, and it’s too small to do so anyway. I have a computer, software (mostly cloud based), a copier that I don’t use (everything is electronically done) and a phone. The phone happens to be a mobile phone and is more powerful than the computer from 1994. I could work in our business’s office but it’s closed temporarily due to COVID19. Everyone in the company is working from their home office.

Isn’t it a bit ironic? I mean, I started in 1994 with a computer, a phone and a home office. Now in 2020 I am working in the same context. Of course there’s more connectivity, and the internet gives almost unlimited options in the ability to do work and communicate with staff.

Microchips, a screen, a phone, and a home office. Sometimes the more things change the more they stay the same.

What’s your experience?

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.

Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th, November, 2020, was one of the best days of the year at our company. It was an increasingly positive end to one of the best weeks of the year as well. We had six specific outcomes that manifested themselves in one day after many months of ongoing work, engagement and investment (time, energy, etc.) Those six outcomes included three new hires, one client-initiated interaction around additional monies due to extended project costs, and two contract extensions.

I don’t ever think about Friday the 13th and the superstition around that date. In fact, I didn’t even remember it was “Friday the 13th” when I went to the office. It just was a Friday in November. I brought the best Friday version of myself to that particular day, along with the best Friday version of our people. I engaged in the work, responded to clients, and took care of the business of the day.

Positive, thoughtful, caring, innovative, connected, collaborative, actions and stewardship over an extended period of time, day after day, week after week, month after month, eventually produce in-kind; in like manner. When we are on a really good path as well, assessing what’s working by monitoring results and running with it further, these actions can produce multiplied, positively-leveraged outcomes.

Superstition about a numbered day, or a specific number, like “13” is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not showing up due to a doubt or worry is just a self-created setback. It helps to bring about the very outcome one may fear.

Keep standing, keep showing up. Trust in the provision of God as truth is acted upon and deployed in actionable behavior and energy.

Communication- Alignment

We should have all heard it by now. Communication is the number one predictor of project success, client retention, risk minimization, sales capture rate, and more. It is the differentiator in so many ways.

One tangible activity and expression of communication is “alignment” and it is a big-impact activity. Anyone can seek to align with clients and to understand their reality, the reality of the work, and to seek mutuality.

Aligning with clients is about working to share the same realities. It’s improves by working in a concurrent manner. Do things like scheduling project kickoff meetings, creating “real-time” dialogue through appropriate platforms like phone, virtual meetings, email, text, frequent check-in’s, and more.

We often work in a “box” and assume everyone knows what each other is doing. It doesn’t work that way. Life and work are too dynamic. Be the initiator. Passivity leads to more opportunity for failure.

Adapt a mentality of fluid conversation, relationship building, and listening. Share work products. Begin with the end in mind. “Work backwards” from the client’s goal definition in order to build a project plan, assess the value proposition, find the unique selling propositions, to build a schedule, and more.

I find alignment to be one of the single biggest predictors of success with clients. It’s just one manifestation of communication.

How’s your alignment today?

That Look

His eyes are often closed. He enjoys his sleep, and needs much of it with all his body is going through. When he opens those eyes, it’s such a pleasure to see.

Yesterday evening he opened them for an extended time when I held him. He didn’t really look me directly in the eye as it might have just been too much stimulation, but that’s alright, it was great to see his eyes as I held him.

After a while I handed him back to his mother to hold. His eyes were still open, wide open, and what a sight it was. As he laid in her lap, looking up, his eyes locked onto hers. He couldn’t take his eyes off of her. It was the first time I had seen his eyes that open, that intense, for 2 1/2 weeks. I couldn’t take my own eyes off of the sight. He just stared into her eyes, without wavering, looking as if into a deep well. The connection was moving to me. The little boy, staring into his mama’s eyes; the look of love; the look of connection; processing of mystery and spiritual connection; a look that could not be duplicated, defined, analyzed, or measured. It’s the deep look of human to human connection. Consciousness recognized; something that could not be articulated; it was just a look. A long look.

I am referring to my 2 1/2 week-old grandson. He’s beautiful. He sleeps a lot. But when he opens his eyes it’s a sight to behold.

The look of love; a 2-week old son to a mother, and a mother to her son. They’ve been together for 42.5 weeks, not 2.5. He knows her, she knows him. He can’t talk about it yet, and if he could, it would still be tough to define. Not much needs to be said. Just a look. Soul. Spirit. Love.

The eyes tell it.

Coach

I have a personal coach; you know, a life coach. He helps me with life and business things. Part of this is because life and business is all mixed up together when you found and own a business or businesses. It’s hard to sort out sometimes, at least for me.

Part of this is because I need a voice other than mine to listen to. I get plenty of other inputs, but it’s not the same as that 1-1 meeting with a trained coach and counselor. There’s skin in that game; paying someone to provide accountability, tools, and inputs to help advance. My coach is the best of both – a trained counselor and a committed coach; a business owner himself and one who has been coached.

Part of this is because I also know that the best athletes, musicians, actors, vocalists, and business leaders, typically have coaches; often multiple ones. Who am I to think that I can thrive the best without someone pushing me to my peak?

It’s party because I tried the counseling route as well. I wasn’t quite ready for that. It helped expose some things for sure, but that counselor said he thought I might be better off with this other counselor-coach who helped business owners and guys like me. He was right

Part of it is because I have ADD, even though I never knew it. I typically manifest that in one of two ways. One is a short attention span and moving to and from many things, which can create familial and organizational “head turns” (like, “what’s he doing now?”). The other is “hyper-focus” where I can grind at depth to great detail on certain tasks or directions. It produces a high ROI but can lead to burnout or losing sight of priorities.

Part of it is because people depend on me and I want to be a good leader, a good steward, steady, growing, setting a good example. No one has all the answers individually.

Part of it is that with some problems involving relationships, emotional IQ, people skills, the “grey areas,” it really helps to have perspective from someone that can look in from outside and provide inputs.

There’s a lot of “parts of it.” Those parts help define the whole. I highly recommend a coach to you if you’re reading, and if you can afford one. If you can’t, look for alternatives like reading programs, business groups, peer to peer groups, and the like.

Oh yeah, and my partner and I have a board or directors/advisors as well. That’s a big help too, but that’s another story for another blog.

It takes a village…..

Outlier

“For out on the edge of darkness, there rides the peace train.” Cat Stevens

That’s where the peace train rides; out on the edge of darkness. If it rode in the middle of light, the place where peace already resides, there would be no need for it. It gathers people from the edges and expands those boundaries. The peace train is an outlier to unrest and darkness.

Doctors ride into the midst of sickness, on the edges of disease. They do the most good when they are in those places of deep need, saving lives, doing surgical repairs, handing emergency room issues. Doctors are outliers to sickness.

Broken things, or things needing to be built, need architects, engineers and contractors. That train rides on the edge of development, expansion, rehabilitation. The deeper the need, the more value that is provided. Engineers and builders are outliers to disorder and decaying infrastructure.

“It’s is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not called the righteous but sin sick people to repentance.” Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t just ride on the edge of a fallen world, he entered right into the middle of it; he engaged as the God-man and flipped the value system on it’s head. Jesus was an outlier. In this case it went so far as to let the religious order think they had won the day by putting him to death, when they actually accomplished His purpose to offer salvation to the world. Resurrection doesn’t happen without death. A seed doesn’t grow unless planted in the ground.

The broader the gap, the bigger the need, the greater the outlier impact. The deeper the outlier is engaged in the mess, the more impact, disruption, and sometimes hatred from status quo.

Where’s the edges to our outlier space? What’s our outlier gap? Where are we spending our time and energy to make impact?

Happy Saturday

Curtain Wall Engineering

Curtain Wall engineering, a subset of the delegated design and engineering field, is a worthy craft and endeavor. Here’s some principles I practice and promote, personally and organizationally, to bring successful outcomes and value to clients.

Collaboration: Good engineering is collaborative engineering. It engages the client. This includes their project manager, designer, fabrication manager, field installer, and other vested constituents.

Construct-able: Solutions must be practical, able to be constructed with available materials, sequenced properly.

Client Centered: Collaboration starts with the client. It’s about mutual solutions, not the engineer’s solution alone. Start with the end goal and work backwards. This is simple on some projects, more complex on others. And most tradespeople are not used to engineering professionals talking to them, respecting their opinion, valuing their input. Win over the installers and project managers, and win the client long-term (and learn something in the process.)

Code Compliant: Our solutions must be compliant with the building code, which is the minimum standard for buildings and structures. Mastery over the code and applications of AISC, AA, AAMA, ACI, ASTM and other reference standards is critical. We’ve got to have “the right tools in the tool chest.”

Communicative: Communicate regularly. The number one predictor of successful outcomes, client retention, good solutions, and lowering of risk, is communication; no question. And just because a direction was established at the start of the project doesn’t mean it’s going to bear itself out at the end. Keep the client engaged in communication and be consistent.

Correct: We’ve got to be technically solid, technically correct, make proper judgements and support it with the math and physics. The “numbers” have to be right to protect the client, the project, the public and the PE in charge.

Creative: All projects are not created equal. All installers do not practice the same techniques. All architects want their project to bear the unique “signature” of their firm. Owners want a product that is attractive to tenants. Every problem has a solution. Be creative, both in engineering approach and in the elegance of the solution. Say “yes” as often as possible. Find a way. Back it up with the numbers, or develop a blended solution.

There’s much more, but let’s stop here for today. Of course, we need to make use of the most effective use of the tools of the trade; software, hardware, templates, allowable stress rules, product information, vendor support, 3-D analysis programs, and more. Those are support elements, not the value propositions. It’s what we “do with the tool” that provides the difference in the outcomes.

Master your craft, and deliver value in increasing measure.

Friday No Post

I didn’t get a blog written and posted this morning, so I am writing now. That’s really unusual for me, but I have to admit, 7 days in a row of writing the blog is too enticing. It will be my 1st one-week streak. Sometimes motivation is shallow!

Why no post earlier you ask? I had a very large proposal with a hard deadline to complete today or the company would lose the opportunity. I invested my writing and creativity time in the proposal alone. I was tired and had limited energy to invest. It was the biggest thing to get done so I did it 1st, right after catching up on critical email business (yes, email can be a priority if it’s OUR choice.)

I had three other critical deadlines to get done as well that involved using my PE stamp to sign and seal documents. I didn’t expect I’d even get them done, but once the proposal was completed, thirty minutes earlier than I expected, those tasks fell right in line. No problem. I even checked financials, backlog, estimated work, worked in some follow-ups on four other pending proposals, and more. Bonus time. Some things are now scratched off my list for early Monday.

It supports the claim all the heavy thinking business coaches emphasize, “to work on the biggest, nastiest priority first and then the rest will get handled easily when that burden is done.”

But let’s face it, if you’re like me it can be unnerving most of the time to be working on the large, deep, intense, time sucking project or task, and putting all the secondary, smaller, and easier tasks aside. It is so much easier to do the latter first. If we focus on the former first, we feel the stress of the moment, and alleviate it when done. It’s a decreasing stress. If we focus on the latter first, we feel the growing stress of procrastinating on the big task. I prefer to make that trade – to do the big nasty first, then feel the relief later. I just have to ignore the impulse when I am in the moment, and desiring to escape.

So there we go. I even was able to get in a blog. The tables were flipped. The work was done. The blog is posted. All bonus time.

How was your day?

Be well and enjoy the weekend

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