How we engage with each other as colleagues and friends is paramount to the success of our work. Our office environment and the culture we’ve created directly influences how effectively we work together. In developing this culture, we have held our beliefs and values at the center – the commitment of our leadership to support the ‘whole person’ is visible every day. This results in a ‘cool place’ to work, but that in turn fuels our own growth mindset, striving always to do better as individuals, as a team and as a firm.
A Sense of Place
At the core of our story is our desire to build a stronger community. Taking that thought to heart, in 2014 we embarked on a transformation of our own internal community – the one within our firm. As a start to this process, we relocated our offices to the newly renovated Esther Short Building, directly facing Esther Short Park and City Hall in the center of downtown Vancouver.
At the entrance to our office is the LSW Café, an informal gathering space where we invite our staff, our clients and friends to grab an espresso in a relaxing atmosphere. Designed with reclaimed wood, dark colors, and dramatic lighting, the space serves many purposes – on any given day it can be found being used as a comfortable space for lunch, a setting for product presentations, a ‘touch-down’ place for clients when they are downtown, an art gallery, or an informal meeting space.
The Lab is a multi-purpose space that at once serves as our product library, an active collaboration area, and large meeting space. This space serves as a banquet hall when we gather together for an all-staff lunch; it also is used as a design studio for high school students participating in Design CoMission.
The open, airy feeling of the Design Studio allows our staff to easily collaborate on projects, as well as learn from each other. Each work station is outfitted with a motorized sit-to-stand desk, allowing flexibility to decide what arrangement is most comfortable. Adjacent to our Studio, is a corner space that we call the Porch. Outfitted with reclaimed wood flooring, ample glazing and writeable walls, this room faces City Hall, the Interstate Bridge and Vancouver’s waterfront development. Used for weekly staff meetings and as a favorite conference room, this unique space transforms in a snap – into an inspiring venue for ping-pong.
The wide expanse of floor-to-ceiling glazing lining our Studio allows it to feel like it lies inside Esther Short Park – the oldest public square in the state of Washington. While we enjoy the view, this proximity has connected us to the fabric of our own community in ways that we never expected. Being in the center of it all helps us to get out into the community – either to enjoy nearby amenities, to connect easily with clients and agencies, or to volunteer our time and talents. We’ve been a part of Vancouver for over 60 years, but now more than ever, we really feel like we are HOME.
Listening to Each Other
We approach our work best when we collaborate effectively with each other. As we transformed our physical work environment in 2014, we also evaluated our own practices and processes. To foster a naturally collaborative atmosphere, we understood that we needed to bring everyone together, to hear and understand each other.
One effort made was the formation of a small group that meets monthly over lunch to discuss making LSW the best place to work. At first started to address the lengthy to-do list of physical items that needed to be taken care of as a part of our move, the institution of the BPTW group has turned into a healthy brainstorming session discussing topics that range from planning office outings, to creating an architectural book library, to discussing how we run staff meetings. Comprised of diverse staff from all stages of their career, this group has improved our work environment and how we interact with each other.
One result of the BPTW group was the establishment of AoT, a twice-monthly social gathering at the end of the work day to informally share a beverage and snacks – either at a nearby eatery, or around the fire pit located on the shared patio at our office building. AoT typically includes a brief program that gives staff members to share something – such as images of project they are working on, photos from a vacation they took, or details about the architecture school they attended. Other times, we do a walking tour together, to see great architecture or learn more about our local Vancouver history. This informal time gives us a chance to talk, listen and laugh together.
Learning From One Another
We are a community of learners – we actively seek further knowledge and understanding about our rapidly-changing profession from outside sources; but we also leverage the incredible expertise that lies within our own staff to mentor each other. Realizing that each of us brings something unique to our firm, we purposefully create chances for that knowledge to be shared. Mentorship can take on many forms, whether it be more senior staff sharing how to properly detail a roof, or younger staff sharing how the wonders of virtual reality can help a client visualize a project before it is built. While mentorship often happens informally, we’ve created more formal opportunities to further our expertise.
With ever-changing technology and software, it is a challenge to keep up to date. In order to stay current, we hold regular sessions to develop best practices and share lessons learned. Similarly, our Green Team holds routine meetings – one focus of these sessions is to share knowledge about what tools we have to implement responsible, sustainable design, and how to utilize them.
To fuel a growth mindset, we must be life-long learners. In support of our staff always learning more, our leadership supports opportunities for continuing education in and out of the office, including attendance at industry-related events and conferences. We often take the end of our weekly staff meetings to have someone share what they learned from a building tour or conference session, so that all may benefit from gained knowledge.
While we are always learning from each other, we also are growing as individuals and as a team. We are willing to put in the time to look within and examine how we interact with our teammates, with our families and others. The commitment of our leadership to support the ‘whole person’ takes many forms, but we strive to take the message of ‘healthy body, healthy mind’ to heart.
One way that we nurture our minds is through the LSW Book Club. Periodically, we participate as a staff to read a selected book a few chapters at a time. Meeting over an all-staff lunch every couple of weeks, we take the opportunity to discuss a portion of the book in depth – often taking on insightful questions of ourselves.
Opportunities to have a brain break during the work day abound, whether that is visiting a nearby restaurant for lunch, sitting for a quiet moment in the park, or taking a walk. Many of our staff enjoy more active pursuits – such as working out at the fitness gym next door or taking a lunch-time run on the Waterfront Trail along the Columbia River. Some of our staff regularly use their lunch hour to climb together at the nearby rock climbing gym several times a week.
In effort to really encourage each other to be healthy, in 2016 a group of staff started a regular lunchtime ‘LSW Bootcamp’. Most Tuesdays, a group of LSW staff can be seen running together to the waterfront. In addition to a run, they often add fitness circuits to their regimen.
Working hard also means we like to play hard. In addition to periodical informal get-togethers outside of the office, the twice-monthly AoT events and the occasional pick-up game of ping-pong, we do like to plan special events and outings that give us a chance to have fun, do something different and enjoy the comradery of the group.
Every summer, we bring our families and gather for a potluck dinner at Lake Merwin for our annual staff picnic. In addition to a great meal and visiting together, we enjoy activities such as volleyball, paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming and waterskiing.
At least once a year, a group of us take a Friday hike – this past year we undertook a 4.8-mile hike at Angel’s Rest. After the 1450-ft elevation gain, the view at the top was a welcome reward for our efforts, and for some, an ideal vantage point for playing Pokemon Go.
This past summer, our leadership opted for a little adventure – yep, they took us white-water rafting. The brave among us enjoyed a Class 3 and 4 trip down beautiful White River. Our favorite part was watching team members “ride the bull” on the front of the raft down Rattlesnake Rapid and get engulfed by the river for their daring.