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Managing Remote Teams During a Pandemic

Posted By Administration, Thursday, September 24, 2020
Updated: Thursday, September 24, 2020

Prior to COVID-19, my firm was already using Zoom as a communication tool for our phone system and for videoconference calls across our six locations. We had administrative staff in every location, so we were used to seeing each other on a screen when we came together as a large group for our monthly team meetings. As our firm’s administration team manager, I was flying to our various locations to meet with our administrative staff face-to-face when possible. However, managing a team during a pandemic, where everything changed for everyone, created new challenges. In an instant, I needed to change how I managed the team including how we communicated with each other, how we partnered together to best serve our firm, and how I needed to advocate for them in new ways.

 

It quickly became evident that our administration team was going to be at the core of how our firm quickly moved to a work-from-home model effectively and efficiently. Our leadership was meeting daily, and I was in those meetings to take minutes, so I had access to pieces of information that could be shared with our administration team. I started by sending daily emails to the team about “what’s new for the day” as leadership was trying to figure out all the nuances of working from home. I wanted to make sure our team had as much information as possible because I knew their offices and teams were going to go first to them looking for answers. To help lift morale through all the multiple changes, I made sure to thank them for their hard work and perseverance through it all, as well including a funny meme or video at the end of each email.

 

We also knew that because decisions were being made daily, and that there was a lot of information to take in, we needed a single place to put all of it and communicate about it in one place. We began using Microsoft Teams immediately, sharing posts to the whole group (eliminating back and forth emails), posting files for all to see and edit in one place, and developed a Wiki of resources, instructions, and information for quick reference. We continue to use our Teams site today, adding new content and sharing best practices with each other outside of our meetings.


Now that we were even more physically distanced from each other it became even more critical to meet more often. We went from meeting as a large group on a monthly basis to meeting weekly. During these meetings we focus on what we have going on that week, who needs assistance, news from leadership, changes in policy, and any new software tips. We also started meeting weekly as small groups by office location. Our small group meetings are more informal where we focus on getting to know each other better and learning how we can support each other not only with work tasks and responsibilities, but also through the emotions of working in a pandemic.

 

I have found that by meeting more often, our team feels more connected and stronger. The challenges have not gone away and are often the same challenges we would still face if we were back in our offices, but we have had an opportunity to connect on a more personal level which has helped increase the level of trust we share, and our collective positive spirit works to lift each other up even when things in our world appear so negative at times.

 

By connecting and meeting more, I have learned more about our individual team members – what they like, don’t like, what is hard for them, what they are great at, what do they value, where do they want to go in their career, and much more. While I knew some of these things prior to COVID-19, gathering this information has been more critical as we are working to move away from a location-based support model to a strengths-based model. I want to be able to assign our team members to tasks and projects based on their knowledge, skills and passions. While this isn’t always possible due to availability and workloads, this enables our team to be more flexible and offer the best service possible for the task or project at hand.

Working from home and knowing our team members abilities also opens doors for our team members to work with other staff in other locations, including other leaders that they don’t regularly support. It provides them with opportunities to develop new skills, work on different project types, and most importantly, shine bright.

 

We recently needed to update a spreadsheet that contained over 2,000 line items by reviewing the corresponding changes on several floor plans. Over the course of a week, we had about seven team members working on it to finish it up. Not only were we able to finish the task much faster than if one person had been assigned to complete it, but we were able to share our tips and even bond over the mutual frustration with a difficult task. It proved to us and other staff that we are a strong team that is willing to work hard together to get the job done well, all while doing it virtually from six different offices at the same time.

 

I have also noticed the increased need in my abilities to advocate for our team and individual team members. I am asking myself the following questions on a regular basis now:

  • Are they being asked to do something they shouldn’t be doing?
  • Are they burned out?
  • Are they struggling with a task or assignment?

 

As their manager, I have needed to learn how to read the signs of an employee struggling or in distress, and then follow up with them to see how I can be a resource, advocate or sounding board to support them. Sometimes, employees are fearful to speak up about concerns and need someone to simply ask them how they are doing or express concern in a sincere way. Our teams are tired, stressed and overwhelmed more than ever now. While we cannot solve all problems, we can make sure our team members know we can be trusted to listen to them, care about them as a person, and if needed speak on their behalf and in their best interest to make it better wherever possible.

 

Managing a remote team is no easy task, but implementing some key practices for communication, partnering with other team members, and advocacy will enable your team to work well and positively even in a pandemic. What are some of the successful ways you are managing your remote team during this time? Share them in the comment box below.

 

 

Danika Larson, CDFA is the Administration Team Manager at Cuningham Architecture Group in Minneapolis, MN.

She currently serves as the National Education Services Committee Chair for the 2020-2021 term.

Tags:  Managing Remote Teams  Managing Teams  SDA  SDA National  Work from Home 

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Word Nerd - FANBOYS

Posted By Administration, Monday, May 4, 2020
Updated: Monday, May 4, 2020

Do you know Cherie Tucker? She’s a grammarian whose claim to fame (one of them, at least) is getting Seattle’s Nordstrom stores to correct all of their signs from “Childrens shoes” to “Childrens’ shoes.”

The Seattle Chapter has hosted Cherie as a speaker a few times, and she’s also presented for SDA National (we love the grammar/writing knowledge she shares!).

One of the things that Cherie helped me remember was the use of commas in independent clauses. An independent clause is one that can stand on its own. Like this: This sentence is an independent clause, and you should insert a comma after clause. That’s a two-part sentence that contains the conjunction “and.” The second part of the sentence (you should insert a comma after clause) is a full sentence on its own. If both parts of the clause — joined by a conjunction — can stand on its own . . . it’s an independent clause.

What a lot of people do though, is not insert a comma before the conjunction in their independent clauses. Did you know that you should add a comma before each conjunction in that case?* (Note: It depends on the context; you might consider a semicolon instead.)

Here’s where Cherie came in and helped me remember all of the conjunctions, and thus the use of commas in my independent clauses. She calls the conjunctions “FANBOYS.”

For

And

Nor

But

Or

Yes

So

If I have a FANBOY in a sentence, I know to stop and test whether I have any independent clauses. If I do, I know to insert a comma (or a semicolon) before the FANBOY. Will you?

 

*Tons of sites that back this up. For example:

https://depts.washington.edu/engl/askbetty/sentence_structure.php

 https://www.grammarly.com/blog/comma-before-and/

http://guidetogrammar.org/grammar/commas.htm

https://getitwriteonline.com/articles/when-to-use-comma-before-and/

 

 

 

Judy Beebe, FSDA is our resident Word Nerd.

She currently serves as the SDA Seattle Chapter President

 

Tags:  SDA  Society for Design Administration  Word Nerd 

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Return to Work Strategies

Posted By Stephanie Kirschner, FSDA, Thursday, April 30, 2020
Updated: Thursday, April 30, 2020

The last weeks for the country have created a new brand of normal that is anything but for most of us.  Most of the country is currently still under some form of a shutdown order due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  At the onset, essential businesses scrambled to establish protocols to allow their employees to continue to work, and nonessential businesses have had to shut down and either transition employees to remote work, or place employees on leave, furlough or layoff. 

The CDC guidance as well as a myriad of state and local orders continue to change.  For example, Colorado’s State-wide Stay at Home order transitioned as of April 27th to a “Safer at Home” recommendation while Denver’s Stay at Home order was extended to remain in place until May 8th.  This poses significant challenges for employers looking to keep businesses afloat, remain in compliance, and keep employees and customers safe. 

With that in mind, many companies are strategizing how to return employees to the workplace—no small task.  Any return to work plans will require flexibility, creativity, and consideration of complicated legal, logistical, and practical issues.  

When to Return Employees back to the Workplace

  •  Determining when to return employees and whether to implement a phased return. How will employees be notified, and with how much notice?
  • Selection of employees to return to work. Decisions regarding furloughed and recently laid off employees.
  • What will the job look like when employees return (full-time, part-time, in-person, remote).
  • Process for determining if individual employees are safe to return. Protocol for returning employees who have tested positive or may have been exposed.
  • Protocols to address employee logistical challenges, such as lack of child/senior care, limited public transportation, and employees who may fear returning to work.
  • Process to handle return and inventory of all employer-owned or leased equipment

Development and Implementation of Social Distancing

  •  Changes to open workspace configuration.
  • Repurposing of conference rooms, lunch rooms, and other communal spaces to allow for more distance.
  • Installation of physical barriers.
  • Reconfiguration of work schedules and/or shifts to limit the number of employees physically present in a specific office, facility, plant, or other work location at any one time.
  • Implementation of full-time and/or part-time work-from-home arrangements for positions where it is feasible.

Development and Implementation of Additional Workplace Health/Safety Protocols

  • Daily temperature checks and other screening protocols.
  • Periodic employer-provided COVID-19 testing when such testing is more widely available for all employees.
  • Development of an action plan in the event an employee tests positive for COVID-19, such as to whom does the employee provide notice if he or she tests positive, what information is the employee required to disclose, how is the information provided and with whom is it shared.
  • Personal protective equipment and other safety equipment (employer-provided face masks, gloves).
  • Handwashing protocols.
  • Periodic deep cleaning of office, facility, plant, and/or other work locations by a professional cleaning service.

 Development of Additional Policies

  • Updating COVID-19 related policies, such as COVID-19 related paid sick/paid leave, travel policies, social distancing protocols and safety-related policies.
  • Confirm accuracy of sick, vacation and PTO banks and ensure compliance with COVID-19 related leave laws.

 Considerations for a “New Normal” Workplace

  • Employees’ increased expectations for flexibility in work location and time, following significant changes to many businesses in moving to remote and flexible work.
  • Increased focus on a contact-free workplace and economy.
  • Desire for changed / different benefits, including in areas of health and wellness.

Considerations for Other Workers and Visitors in the Workplace

  • Determine how, if at all, the above health and safety, social distancing, and other protocols above for employees will apply to vendors, customers, contractors, delivery workers or staffing agency workers when they are in the workplace.

There is not a single one-size-fits-all solution but the items above are issues that should be considered when developing a return to work strategy.

What tips/areas are your firms considering as part of your return-to-work strategy? Share them in the comment box below.

 

 

 

Anne McNeely, CDFA, is the  Project Administration Manager for Fentress Architects in Denver, CO.

She currently serves as the 2019-2020 SDA National Secretary. 

Tags:  COVID19  Return to Work  SDA  SDA National 

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Client Relations in the Era of COVID-19

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 28, 2020

As COVID-19 turns business as we know it—and our global communities—upside down, there are no easy answers or sure projections. While some AEC and environmental consulting firms have not experienced a disruption to projects, others are seeing warning signs and are increasingly nervous about what’s next and some are already slashing costs to contain the bleeding.

 Multiple industry surveys reveal that the business impacts, like the virus itself, could vary widely and may well get worse before they get better. I’m hearing from many firm leaders who are doing their best to balance the day-to-day pandemic response with planning for project delays and revenue declines.

 None of us knows when our business life will return to any sense of normalcy, but we do know this: firms must prioritize their relationships with current and prospective clients now so that those relationships come out stronger on the other side.

 Effective client relations in the era of COVID-19 means demonstrating that you’re nimble, you’re focused on solutions and service—and that you care. As I often say, your clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Now’s the time to demonstrate that as much as possible.

 Don’t disappear. It can be tempting to focus all your efforts on getting your own ducks in a row as you cope with practice and project management during a pandemic. Many firms are dealing with uncertainties and serious challenges right now, and passively putting BD and client outreach on the back burner may even seem like a necessity. Do not make this mistake: your visibility and leadership matter—to your current clients and your future bottom line.

 Lead with empathy. In times of crisis, it is even more important to remember that your B2B marketing and business development strategies are really H2H, or human to human. And as humans, we are all swimming in new territory, personally and professionally. Be empathetic and responsive to where your clients and prospective clients are right now. What are you doing to help? To take care of your people? In addition to telling them in individual conversations, put this information on your web site. (Microsoft offers a great example.)

 Provide useful information. You may want to think twice, though, about sending out that mass email that assures your clients that you’re taking safety precautions and transitioning to remote project management. Everyone’s inbox has been stuffed with these messages, and most of them amount to stating the obvious – we all need to be doing those things. Instead, use your space in their inbox wisely: reach out individually to your key client contacts, or have practice leaders send out practical, client-focused information to individual market sectors.

 If you are emailing your clients en masse, make it about them, not about you. Give them news they can use – specifics such as whether you’ve curtailed site visits, what you’re doing instead, and how they can best access your people. Give them helpful resources for running their business such as engineering and environmental consulting firm AE2S (Grand Forks, ND) did with their guidelines for protection of water utilities and appearing on client-focused podcasts.

 If you’re already managing a remote workforce, remind clients and instill confidence that their work continues as planned, such as 60-person structural engineering firm LeMessurier (Boston, MA) did by including this message in its response to inquiring clients: This approach will not have an effect on our design and construction community because LeMessurier is a telecommuting company. Our infrastructure and team-based collaboration enables our client services to be performed from outside the office walls… Our firm is focused on service, and we will continue to provide our consulting services from beyond our office walls, without interruption. 

 Focus on being of service versus selling your next project. Be proactive in reaching out to your clients, and not just in relation to current and upcoming projects. Be the partner that you’ve positioned your firm to be. Call or email all of your current and recent clients to find out how they are faring, what challenges they’re facing in this new landscape—and then add value by offering them something that could help. Perhaps you can share resources, gather valuable data or research, or provide the additional flexibility and creative thinking they may now need, such as architecture firm tvsdesign (Atlanta, GA) did with their checklist for hotel-to-hospital conversions.

 Lean into your thought leadership and market position. Your firm has plenty of specialist knowledge that your clients want, and if you’ve been doing your positioning work, you should already have demonstrated a good understanding of their business. Continue to put that knowledge out there. But don’t assume that you know what they need right now. That may have changed. Get out your best probing questions. Survey your clients. ASK.

 For example, the healthcare practice at 1,100-person Cannon Design (Buffalo, NY) moved quickly to set up a web page of practical information for its client organizations, and sent out a guidance email advising clients that they’re working on creative solutions and inviting those clients to connect and ask questions or brainstorm.

 Stay in communication. In the current climate, that may mean more cell phone calls, more texting, more video. If you’ve been tracking leads or upcoming RFPs/RFQs, get in touch and follow up. Has this been delayed, or is it still a go? Will the process change? How can you be of service to them right now? Share resources, relevant updates and practical tools on your social media channels.

 As we all navigate the impacts that COVID-19 will have in the near and long-term, it’s a good time to ask ourselves a few questions, too:

  • What lessons have we learned from past business interruptions that we can leverage?
  •  What can we do differently right now that would have a strong impact for our clients?
  •  What creative solutions can we come up with for our clients’ “new normal”?
  •  What can we put in place now that we’ll carry with us out of this crisis?

 What’s happening on the ground in your firm and in your markets? Share in the comment box below.

 

 

 

Rich Friedman is a partner with Friedman Partners and is a guest blogger for SDA.

Email Rich at rich@friedmanpartners.com

Tags:  Client Relations  Marketing during COVID-19  SDA 

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Why It Is Important to be a Role Model

Posted By Administration, Monday, April 20, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Role models are important because they help guide us in the right direction as we make life decisions, they provide inspiration and support when we need it, and they offer their experiences with similar obstacles or struggles.  Throughout our lives, we will have several different role models, from our parents and coaches to peers and bosses.  These people are integral influences in our lives and our careers.  So how do you know if you are a role model?  And why is it important?

There is no ceremony commemorating one’s transition into a “role model.”  Often times, this is a gradual transition that seamlessly happens throughout the years.  A Canstruction team member who becomes a team captain, who then joins the event planning committee and eventually chairs the event.  Another example could be someone who participates regularly with local Habitat for Humanity events and then steps up to serve as leader with a local build event like Carter Work Project.  Both of these examples allow for one-on-one connections between those in leadership positions and others, but also the connection between that individual and the organization as a whole.  Have you found yourself serving on a public or community service organization board?  Have you helped make significant sustained contributions to that organization?  Then you are a role model.

A role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.[1]    When we are younger, we look up to our role models for inspiration and use this as a blueprint for how to achieve success and happiness.  It’s important for SDA members to serve as role models because it will help each member continue their personal and professional growth, continue to practice model behavior, and guide future generations of leaders.  Role models are not perfect, they are human, and they make mistakes.  Don’t be afraid to step up and explore the benefits you gain from serving others.  You may be surprised how much you get back in return. 

One of the criteria to become an SDA Fellow is to be a role model.  Have you discovered that you already are a role model and didn’t even know it?  If so, you may be eligible to submit for the 2021 Fellows Class.  If you haven’t taken that step to serve as a role model yet, evaluate your opportunities to do so in order to continue your leadership path and maximize your growth potential.

 

 

 

Sarah Wallace, FSDA is the Chair of the SDA Fellows and is a member of the SDA Atlanta Chapter. 

 

Tags:  Role Model  SDA  Society for Design Administration 

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