trade tales | Aug 12, 2022 |
5 ways to strengthen your firm’s culture

There is a lot of talk about the ingredients that make up a healthy workplace. But what do they look like in practice? We asked five designers—Melinda James, Lucy O’Brien, Karen Pulaski, Christopher Sanders and Leah Atkins—how they build a strong culture at their firm.

5 ways to strengthen your firm’s culture
Melinda JamesJhane Huang

In It to win it

“I like to include every member of the team in each facet of the design process, as well as every other component of the business. I’ve found that it’s so valuable to everyone at the firm to have a deeper appreciation for the way a successful business is built. And this helps to build loyalty as well as a strong sense of community.” —Melinda James, M. James Design Group, Houston

5 ways to strengthen your firm’s culture
Lucy O’BrienCourtesy of Tartan & Toile

Burnout Prevention

“In a previous life, I operated in the hospital ICU, a very burnout-filled culture. So when I switched careers and eventually launched my own firm, creating a burnout-free culture was a top priority. This has not always been easy. There is a lot of urgency in our industry, and clients can be demanding. As the designer, you are the middleman in a lot of situations, and it can be exhausting—even with the best systems and clients. And I have found that the creative process at the core of interior design requires a relatively low-stress environment and [an overall] sense of well-being. In our firm, I prioritize this over anything else. I also prioritize doing things that lead to creative inspiration. To make this happen, we have abandoned a lot of the conventional workplace practices of the corporate world. I usually do not work a traditional nine-to-five schedule, and most often my employees don’t either. I know if my employees are running on fumes, they will not be working to their full potential. This doesn’t mean our work schedule is easy, it just means that we work in shorter, more intense bursts. Corporate culture that demands that you must be 100 percent ‘on’ for eight to 10 consecutive hours is not natural to productivity. I give my employees a large amount of flexibility, and I know if I hire the right people they will produce the results the firm needs.” —Lucy O’Brien, Tartan & Toile, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania

5 ways to strengthen your firm’s culture
Karen PulaskiJulie Soefer

Fair Play

“Everything starts at the top. If there are any issues within my team or my business, I try to look within myself first. I don’t delegate anything I wouldn’t do myself. I stay in the mode of open communication and praise good work often. I research industry standards for compensation and try to be on the generous side of that. Another thing I like to do is to share meals with my team; that’s super important to me. With my employees, I always try to be attentive enough to know when I need to train more—I share as much information as possible but give space to let people do their best on their own. It’s a delicate balance.” —Karen Pulaski, Tribute Goods Fine Linens, Houston

5 ways to strengthen your firm’s culture
Christopher SandersCourtesy of Sanders Architecture

Room to Grow

“From project management to delivery, our team curates the entire client experience to prioritize team building and a positive, collaborative work culture. We ensure that everyone has a voice and can share their ideas in a variety of ways, [leveraging] their own unique talents and areas of expertise. It’s important to allow room for not only growth, but also fun and enjoyment throughout the entire process. When you’re able to provide flexibility for your employees to do all of these things while feeling safe and valued, it creates unparalleled end results in the firm’s work.” —Christopher Sanders, Sanders Architecture, Austin

5 ways to strengthen your firm’s culture
Leah AtkinsCourtesy of Leah Atkins Design

Mind for Design

“Building a great work culture is all about making sure everyone feels valued. The employees should all feel like a team, and like everyone has a say and their opinion matters. Making sure that mental health is a priority is also important in creating a safe work culture. Plenty of vacation time, daylight in the office, breaks throughout the day and employee check-ins are all important aspects of maintaining a happy environment.” —Leah Atkins, Leah Atkins Design, Atlanta

Homepage image: Courtesy of Leah Atkins Design

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