From the SA Executive Director

Earlier in September the Designers for Diversity group held a lunch to meet with participating practices.  The aim was to share experiences and to prepare for the second stage of the survey, which focuses on flexible work practices and their role in supporting diversity.

We also had the opportunity to hear from Nicole Halsey, a founding director of planning consultancy URPS.  She commenced in the role as a new mother on a part time basis and remains part time to this day.  Both Nicole and URPS are role models for what can be achieved when we are open to a work culture that recognises that the best people exist at all stages throughout life and that staff contribute to the work place in different ways throughout this journey.  Providing people meet their KPIs – and that these are reasonable in the first place – then their work hours/location/start finish times are of little import.

Key points raised during the discussion were:

  • It is important not only to have a clearly defined office mission statement but to live that statement and to measure organisational priorities and performance against it.  Management should lead by example to ensure that it’s not just a statement for inclusion in the marketing brochure but a real driver of office culture.
  • Keeping good people makes great business sense.  If this means offering them some flexibility and rewarding length of tenure (for example, offering additional leave to long term staff members) then this pays for itself in expertise, corporate knowledge and HR costs.
  • Flexibility is different for each organisation and staff member.  What works for one situation may not be suitable for others and may change over time. 
  • Flexibility in work arrangements is generally more acceptable for women with young children. However, flexibility may be required/valued by any staff member regardless of relationship status, age, family situation or culture.  Extending this opportunity to all staff members is likely to make you an employer of choice and to build a positive work culture.
  • Part time staff tend to be highly focused and very productive while they are at work.  Research has shown that workplaces that work to a four-day week achieve as much as those working a five-day week.
  • All staff members – regardless of their work regimen – need to meet their project targets and other deliverables, such as professional development.  Expectations should be scaled to suit relative work hours, but part time staff should not be exempted/excluded from opportunities and expectations applied to full time staff.
  • Being part time or working remotely should not come at the cost of participating in work culture and project opportunities.  Being part time should not exclude you from working on interesting projects or being an active member within the workplace.
  • Flexible work arrangements require organisation and communication by management and staff.  Like any system it needs to be well designed and structured to be successful.
  • A good work culture drives a desire in staff to meet targets and be a valued member of the team. If you value where you work and who you work with, why would you want to let them down?

It was affirming to be part of this stimulating conversation.  Workplaces are changing and providing staff with opportunities and options that did not exist previously.  This is a direct response to evolution in social structures and expectations.  

However, there is still work to be done, with long hours and first in/last home work practices still being seen as common and even desirable within the profession.  We believe that these conversations are an important driver for change to a more balanced and healthy culture for all architects.

Nicolette Di Lernia
SA Chapter Executive Director