Cross-Office Collaboration: Establishing trust and creating a collaborative culture across the miles
Establishing trust and building collaborative relationships is an essential part of architectural practice and is sometimes a challenging thing to get right; especially so in cross-office environments. Complex projects and demanding deadlines can often strain these relationships so it’s important to establish roles clearly and trust one another to get things done and have them done well. As for the design of the project, the best results are the ones that undergo a series of iterative developments where everyone has an opportunity to contribute an idea or offer a critique that helps advance the project forward. This requires structure to avoid potential chaos, our studio environment at Strada helps navigate that road.
Since joining Strada in early 2012, I’ve had the pleasure of working at both of our design offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This experience has given me a little insight into our studio process and how we collaborate, as well as what works and what doesn’t. I will do my best to shed light on how we work well together, not only with each other, but with the larger project team and most importantly our clients.
The Studio Approach to Design
Part of the challenge with a cross-office approach, is for the team to reach a consensus and have confidence that the design we are to present or build is the best that it can be. What the studio model does well is that it forces us, as designers, to pin-up our work and see what sticks. Projects benefit the most from a combination of formal peer reviews as well as impromptu conversations that result from casually observing work that has been pinned up as you walk by; whether digital or physical.
The cross-office approach often requires technology as the medium for collaboration. Some of our favorite resources include Google Hangouts, Airtable, FaceTime and GoToMeeting. Of course email is always a great vehicle for sending sketches to get the project team’s feedback.
After a series of pin-ups and formal crits, a smaller team will refine the approach, receive more feedback, refine some more, and so on. This tried and true studio approach to design ensures that the best ideas see the light of day and that the team is confident that the design solution is the best one to pursue.
At an early stage in some of our larger projects, the project brief as well as a few initial concepts are shared firm-wide. And just like any good design studio, we collectively voice ideas and case studies to consider. At Strada, we have a diverse group of talented writers, graphic designers, illustrators, and landscape architects and otherwise highly creative people that provide their unique insights in this format which ultimately enriches our projects.
Technology is key to making all of this work. The Building Information Modeling (BIM) software that we use to develop projects is highly team-oriented, allowing us to communicate within the software, assign tasks, identify critical areas, etc. We also have built-in chatting systems that allow us to share files easily and have video chats to discuss projects.
Communication & Culture
Communication is vital to the success of cross-office collaboration. Fortunately at Strada, I can confidently say, we enjoy working with each other and have fun doing so. In part, this is due to the non-hierarchical way in which our office is structured. We believe strongly that we are each other’s peers. This peer environment encourages mutual respect, shared responsibility and accountability. Additionally, it helps to know what you’re doing. When working through complex challenges, we often seek the advice of our peers. In this way, we truly work as team which, speaking for myself, keeps me engaged and always looking forward to the next challenge.
Although we work out of two separate offices, we are one team. We regularly share status updates and highlight major accomplishments every First Friday. This is a great opportunity to learn about the exciting things happening at Strada across the miles. During this meeting, a mix of personal achievements, exciting project updates, company updates and whatever else we feel like talking about is shared.
Building strong relationships is important to us, so every Friday, we end work a little early for “Beer:30,” our office happy hour. This is a great opportunity to unwind with an adult beverage over a game of pool or casual conversation.
In short, collaboration is vitally important to the success of a project and ultimately the success of our clients and end-users. Consistent communication is necessary and having fun while working with each-other simply encourages more communication and keeps us all coming back for more.
As we continue to grow as a firm with multiple office locations, I’m confident that our studio culture will flourish and we will have more opportunities to create amazing places for our clients and the people that use them.