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May 15, 2020 kicked off our annual collaboration event at Ayers Saint Gross. Each year, our firm comes together to celebrate our people, our practice, and our accomplishments. 2020 looked very different.

Last year we gathered in-person for a day-long summit, and while this year was always intended to be a virtual week-long celebration of our firm, virtual was taken to new extents.

Look back at what 2019 Collaboration Day looked like.

What is Collaboration Week?

Collaboration Week brings Ayers Saint Gross’s three offices, six disciplines, and 180 employee-owners together to connect with each other, learn about ongoing and recently completed work, discuss trends in our marketplace, and hear from senior leaders about what’s ahead. In addition, we celebrate the reveal of our annual stock price and recognize leaders in our firm with the Lex Schwartz Collaboration Awards.

In 2020 we had a new challenge, as all of us were working from home and dealing with the stress of balancing our new normal, the unknown state of the world and this new health crisis, in addition to serving our clients and continuing to win work to sustain our firm.

The Look of 2020

When designing collaboration week 2020’s brand, we wanted to embrace the digital nature. With everyone in front of a screen, a rich gradient of color was an obvious win. The firm’s three offices were represented through three primary brand colors – green, blue, and orange – coming together to build the iconic gradient used throughout all event collateral.

The gradient was then exploded to create a multicolored palette for use in the week-long event. The brand, representative of the entire firm and the individuals of whom it is made, was used to guide participants through presentations, starting with one end of a gradient and moving to the other.

A bespoke surprise package was sent to every employee’s home. Each package included a set of three pre-stamped postcards and a wellness bingo challenge card. The postcards encourage reconnection with people during COVID-19 isolation. Employees shared stories of sending the cards to other employees, friends who had run solo marathons, loved ones who were going without graduation celebrations, and parents that had been in isolation without visitors for weeks. These stories were shared on our firm’s intranet and truly connected us during a challenging time.

Ayers Saint Gross sponsored a Wellness Bingo to help our employees prioritize their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing during Collaboration Week. A series of wellness-focused challenges started a friendly competition among employee-owners to complete over the week. We encouraged everyone to complete an activity per day to fill the week with health, mindfulness, and relaxation.

Sharing Big Ideas

Everyone is looking to the future, now more than ever. What will it become? What can we do now to shape it? During Collaboration Week, our firm President Luanne Greene discussed some big topics that we focused on at our #ONEFIRM meeting, where 180 of our Ayers Saint Gross employees gathered virtually to interact and respond to each other in a large group forum.

2020’s big themes were: Design, Carbon, and Data.

Design: It’s a broad topic, especially at a multidisciplinary firm like ours. When we think about design excellence, we think about beautiful and inspirational designs–long-lasting, sustainable, resilient investments in the built and natural environment. Our design ethos has always been rooted in capturing the spirit of our clients and the spirit of place. Of course, our designs support the users and programs housed there. With spaces that are flexible and accommodate change over time. We think about the process of engagement that enhances their experience over many years. Design excellence is about curiosity and exploration. We engage people and places to create designs that enrich our world.

Carbon: This crisis has given us a heightened awareness of the natural environment. There aren’t many positive things you can say about the COVID crisis, except we do have cleaner air now than we did at the beginning of March. That should encourage us all to believe in the power of combating climate change. There are a couple of key ideas now as we address climate change and carbon. Our industry is responsible for a very large quantity of the carbon released in the atmosphere. We can have a huge impact on climate change. In its early years, the 2030 Challenge focused on carbon emissions due to the operations of buildings.

Now, we are also turning our attention to the carbon that is embodied in the buildings and landscapes themselves. Our focus is now shifting to questions to solve with our structural engineers. Why concrete? Why steel? Is timber an option? How can our landscapes sequester more carbon continuously? These are the questions we must ask more frequently and more aggressively. How can we work with our clients to create beautiful, functional, low-carbon, high-performance buildings and landscapes? We strive to answer these questions each day.

Data: This pandemic has severely heightened challenges that already exist across all areas of our culture and economy. For instance, higher education has been struggling with enrollment demographics and financial paradigms for a long time. This crisis has heightened both of those concerns. Our clients come to us asking for help with their facilities. They are making huge investments in their physical environment. As with any big and long-lasting investments, they want to be confident in their decision making. They want to lower their risk and they need to explain their decisions to their own stakeholders. Data is one of the key ways that we can help them with this. Data can support and accelerate their decision-making. 

Data weaves through each discipline and across all business areas at Ayers Saint Gross. We work daily with data to connect the dots for our clients, as well as ourselves, to make informed decisions to improve the future.

If you have ever had a brainstorming session and seen how many ideas have come out of it, imagine 180 smart, creative, driven people coming together in a virtual chat to share their thoughts, opinions, and ideas. We are all virtual employees now, and we are connecting across boundaries better than ever. There are no limits for how far our firm can go to achieve great things.

Making it Happen

Have you ever coordinated a week-long virtual event in the middle of a global pandemic for a firm of 180 people that are in the middle of an unprecedented work from home arrangement? You haven’t? Well we have! Here are the five need-to-knows on pulling off a successful virtual event for your company.

  1. Communicate early and often. Get your event invitations out there with details on what people should expect from attendance to participation during the event. Think about getting feedback pre-event and hear from your employees on what they want. Communicate the big picture in a simple graphic way.
  2. Know your Platform and get IT on your side. We are Zoom powerusers, but you still need to know the ins and outs of your platform and understand how you are going to use it. You also need to know that the best laid plans can go awry – so just make an IT joke, have fun and keep going. Everyone has experienced an IT glitch.
  3. Offer a variety of content. Try to offer something for everyone. Send a survey beforehand and see what your firm employees want to get out an event, plan around interests, strategic plan themes or current events. We suggest having a balance of lecture and interactive so that it breaks up the formal and causal style – don’t forget to throw in a few happy hours!
  4. Practice, Practice, Practice. When presenting digitally and hosting / moderating events for large groups online, its imperative to practice. Know your transitions, who’s running the show and always have a backup plan in case IT issues arise.
  5. Incorporate Fun. Fun is key. People need to be able to unwind during these strange times. Incorporate an icebreaker – tell a joke, share a funny story, use breakout rooms for smaller group interaction where people can loosen up – most importantly – keep it light!

All in all, there were rave reviews across the nation from our employee owners around Collaboration Week.

It was a time for us to reflect on what’s happening but also take time to appreciate each other for who we are as people and what we have together at Ayers Saint Gross.

Based on a post-event survey the top 3 actions that our employe owners plan to take as a result of CWEEK 20:

  1. Attend a future Behind the Design presentation
  2. Encourage a culture of sharing
  3. Prioritize their physical and mental health

Take a look at the experience of #CWEEK20 at Ayers Saint Gross.