Hire motivational speakers.
At the beginning of 2020, designer Pam Shamshiri tapped writer and designer Mallery Roberts Morgan to give her studio a “State of the Union of Design” address. “When you are part of a design team, working hard in the trenches, it can sometimes be difficult to see the wood for the trees,” says Morgan. “The purpose of the talk was to help the team take a step back—and a deep breath—and give themselves a pat on the back for all the amazing work they accomplished the previous year.”
Host team happy hours or group meals.
A small, but often welcome, gesture to hardworking employees is offering them a free drink or a meal after hours. “As cocktail bar and restaurant designers, we have our fair share of locations to grab an after-work happy hour, which we try to do weekly!” says Paul Basile, founder of San Diego–based Basile Studio. “It’s always a kick to see our designs playing out in real life and enjoying the atmosphere we all had a hand in creating.”
Or you can even socialize while on the clock. “We strategically located the office in the very heart of downtown in a super sociable setting of restaurants and bars that we can regularly use for breakout meetings,” says Morten Jensen, president of architecture firm JRDV Urban International in Oakland, California. “And every Friday we host a two-hour ‘pub lunch’ characterized by lively discussions of culture, politics, urban design, and, of course, architecture. Beer is included.”
Keep a casual dress code.
While there’s a time to dress up—say, for client meetings—some creatives work best when comfortable, which means a casual dress code could be a simple way to keep employees feeling relaxed. “Dressing casually has made a huge impact on our productivity,” says Shayla Copas, owner of Shayla Copas Interiors in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Offer work-from-home policies and plenty of PTO.
Burnout is a problem plaguing offices across industries, and one way to mitigate it is to be flexible with schedules in order to promote a healthy work-life balance. “I keep my team motivated by offering flexible schedules that allow time for self-care, travel, or family time.” says designer Julie Couch, whose studio is based in Nashville, Tennessee. “I also give our team two weeks of time off during the holidays to recharge and celebrate the season with friends and family.”
On the same lines, don’t push your staff too hard. “We don’t encourage our colleagues to work late or on weekends unless they need to do so to meet a deadline,” says Joel Villalon, president and principal at BraytonHughes Design Studios in San Francisco. It sounds straightforward, but it’s a point lost on many offices who promote hustling over well-being, either subconsciously or overtly.
Encourage your staff to pursue other interests with financial incentives.
While paying full tuition for employees to get a master’s degree might not be a feasible option for many firms, even a small gift that can go toward an educational experience can be meaningful. “We give each team member a yearly stipend to take extracurricular classes of their choosing, as long as it’s at least adjacent to the design world,” says W. Brian Smith, founding partner of Studio Tack in Brooklyn. “We’ve had folks take courses in photography, furniture design, or prep courses for licensing exams, for example.”
Leave room for employees to grow their own creative voice.
Core company culture is perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping staff inspired. If a designer isn’t feeling fulfilled on a daily basis, morale and creativity could suffer. “Keep in mind that designers and architects got into these fields because they wanted their creativity to be recognized and to have the joy of seeing their idea turned into reality,” says artist and designer Pablo Solomon. “You must show your staff respect, and you must find a way to put their creative ideas into your projects. Nothing stifles enthusiasm and creativity more than constantly being relegated to mundane design work that basically is little more than bringing someone else’s visions into life.”
Compliment your staff.
“It may sound simple, but we tell our staff when they do a good job,” says Paul Murdoch, president of L.A.-based Paul Murdoch Architects. “We are always pushing to excel, which usually involves critiques for improvement, so acknowledging a job well done inspires staff to keep up the good work.”