December 9, 2013

What Makes a Top Workplace?

What Makes a Top Workplace?

According to Steve Jobs, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Here at GWWO, we feel that loving what you do goes beyond just the job description. It encompasses the environment and the people around you. People come to GWWO and stay.

Even with growth in recent years, average tenure with the firm is more than six years and members of our management team average more than fourteen years here. Co-workers become friends and confidants, working and playing together inside and outside of the office (on softball and sailing teams, on the golf course and at community events). We know the names and ages of each other’s children and donate to each other’s causes. All of this leads to a productive environment where everyone cares about the work we are doing each day. This year, it’s also led to GWWO being named a Top Workplace by the Baltimore Sun—ranked third amongst 65 small companies that were selected based on employee feedback. So I’m sure you’re thinking all this is great, but really, how do they do it?

1. Happy Hours – At the end of each week, the staff gather together to share a brew and hear an update on projects the firm is working on. According to President Alan Reed, “Friday happy hours have been a staple at the firm since its inception 23 years ago. They’re a great vehicle for the staff to bond in a social context. As the size of the firm has increased over the years, they have become even more critical to maintain the familiar, small firm feel of the office.” During happy hour, all employees are welcome and encouraged to ask questions and offer suggestions to facilitate a social and learning environment.

2. Giving Back – GWWO fosters our own sense of community by supporting the greater community. Yearly, the firm as a whole commits to supporting a local organization with an annual day of service, two smaller service projects and two donation drives. Members of the firm also participate in the Green Apple Day of Service presented by the Center for Green Schools and the U.S. Green Building Council. The firm also sponsors team participation in Kennedy Krieger’s annual Festival of Trees by submitting a creation to the Gingerbread Village to raise money for the institute. Yearly, employees gather to brainstorm ideas for the gingerbread creation, followed by the in-house design.

3. Cool Space – Nothing drains creativity and excitement faster than drab décor, a monotone color palate and the absence of natural light. Our office, which is located in the historic Stieff Silver building, celebrates the building’s history through the exposed brick walls, yet is modern by design through the incorporation of translucent paneling housed in steel. Our space reflects who we are as a design firm and as people. In fact, our employees participated in the original design and construction of our space and continue to do so as we expand, so everyone takes extra pride in our office and its aesthetics. Employees are free to decorate their spaces however they wish, demonstrating a reflection of their own unique personalities. We love to show it off and appreciate the positive comments we receive from guests.

4. Door Free – Mentoring is an important part of our philosophy at GWWO. We encourage our staff to ask questions and challenge the status quo. When an employee joins the firm, they are assigned a team leader who acts as their immediate mentor, however, all of our senior staff make themselves available. We’ve found that when the senior staff is readily accessible, ideas can flow. Therefore, it’s important that our office philosophically and physically be free of barriers and doors. Management is interspersed throughout the office, rather than isolated and everyone has a similar amount of space.

While the list could certainly continue, what matters most are the people. Good people will do good work given the correct tools. By considering them first, we strive to offer a range of educational, rewarding, and fulfilling experiences and to allow our staff the flexibility to pursue their own areas of interest, which ultimately results in well-rounded people and architects…and a Top Workplace as named by the Baltimore Sun.