A new work environment

Jan 30, 2022

It’s important to examine how your company can maintain culture and continue strategic growth in a new work environment.

As companies transition back to the office (both physical and virtual) and adjust to a new normal, it’s important to examine the ways they can maintain culture and continue strategic growth in a new work environment.

At our firm, Modjeski and Masters, we decided it was critical to go back to the office while still providing employees the flexibility to work from home. Once we came to that decision, we knew we had to expand the office space at our Pennsylvania headquarters to accommodate a growing staff and address the changing workplace landscape.

Firms considering going back in person will find a favorable commercial market with opportunities to negotiate improvements to office space. As our lease renewed, we expanded our headquarters by 10 percent and reconfigured 20 percent of the existing space to enhance collaboration.

Throughout the pandemic, I held virtual town halls with employees across the country, providing them with a chance to voice their opinions and have a clear stake in the business. As an employee-owned firm, Modjeski and Masters takes ownership seriously and emphasizes giving people at all levels the ability to provide input and suggest direction.

We found that there were many benefits to working from home. Employees reported more flexibility, savings on gas, and a much better work-life balance. And in some ways, the pandemic caused our team to communicate more frequently and effectively. On the other hand, employees missed face-to-face interaction and found the lack of socialization with co-workers to be a serious challenge.

Overall, the hybrid work environment has changed how teams collaborate. Companies had to re-evaluate their methods of communication, and many – ourselves included – invested in technology to better support remote work. Technology like Microsoft Teams or Zoom has made inter-office communication faster than ever. However, the goal should not be to communicate more, but to communicate better.

As part of our office expansion and renovation efforts, we created conference rooms to take advantage of this technology and accommodate hybrid in-person and virtual meetings. Our so-called “Zoom rooms” have digital whiteboards, large screen TVs, and provide more space for ample social distancing.

We also developed more open, collaborative spaces to allow teams to better work together on complex projects. Through employee feedback, we found that both managers and employees feel it is easier to ask questions and get faster feedback in person to move projects along.

That being said, most of our employees wanted to come back to the office at least part-time specifically for the collaboration factor, the transfer of knowledge, and educational and growth opportunities.

When bringing on new employees, we find that it is especially important to provide training and opportunities to learn directly from our leading experts. There is a natural, unintentional exchange of information that happens in person. That exchange is so critical to a young engineers’ development, and unfortunately, much more difficult to replicate virtually.

This past year, we’ve seen the issue of staffing challenges ripple across industries. In response, we are constantly looking to hire new engineers as we continue to grow, and providing these opportunities for education and teamwork will attract those looking to start and move up in their own career.

There is no doubt the pandemic has changed how we approach work together. As the world gets back to a new normalcy, it will be critical for firms to not only ask for, but truly hear and consider employee feedback in their strategy. Employees have become much more comfortable stating their needs and expectations, and we will continue to see that as the younger generations move along in their careers. Employees are critical to any company’s success, and their feedback is important in developing a plan that will enable future growth and nurture passion and collaboration at every level. 

Michael Britt, CEO of Modjeski and Masters, one of the world’s leading bridge engineering firms responsible for the design and maintenance of some of the nation’s most recognizable structures. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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