Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Lessons from the Field

Over the years I have been astonished anew to discover some things I thought could go unsaid need saying. Here are just a few  of those nuggets of wisdom.

Vendor information in your materials library should not be old enough to vote, or worse, run for office.

  •  Don't correspond with a subcontractor without copying the general contractor. Better yet, only correspond through the general contractor to subs.
  • Never change existing drawings without saving an old copy first.
  • Never leave a sketch, drawing, note, meeting minutes, field report, or any other piece of documentation undated.
  •  Document everything, except things that could be legally dicey if documented. Learn to differentiate this quickly, and ask if unsure.

 Never put secret (or obvious!) swastikas in your drawings. For fuck's sake.

  • Don't let unopened mail accumulate on your desk like geologic strata.
  • Don't have working lunches if you can possibly help it.
  • Don't put off lunch until after site meetings, because you'll end up eating at 4pm, or not at all.
  • When building in Chicago, go through the building code VERY CAREFULLY. The CBC is a labyrinthine tome that has illogical and bizarre omissions and information in multiple places. The index is laughable.
  • Resist the urge to completely mirror a powder room. Or any room, really.
  • Requirements for RFPs, RFQs, and other applications for competitions, projects, and awards are not to be discarded lightly.
  • Don't get upset when someone hasn't prepared material for line items on an agenda they haven't seen.
  • Don't let the inconvenience of redrawing details get in the way of improvement in a design. However, significant added costs and time should be carefully weighed.
  • Don't keep commonly used details only in the project files where they originated - create a centralized library of "parts".

Never say "I know I signed it, but I didn't know what I was signing."

  • Opinions are great, but try to avoid being the "wacky pundit".
  • Don't fall so in love with a detail that you can't see when it no longer works.

The doorways in your office should not be narrower than your office chairs.

  • Don't only rely on a fancy website to bring in work. Marketing, social media, and schmoozing are not optional and not "selling out". They're part of running the business.
  • Never decide not to give positive feedback to employees under the misapprehension that "no news is good news," particularly in the middle of a recession.
  • Never accuse employees of stealing office samples. Have you seen your office library?
  • Don't force employees to come in sick - it's bad for morale and bad for business. Also, ick.
  • Don't decide to fight the Department of Buildings or the building inspector - it's unlikely you'll win.
  • Not every hill is the one to die on.

Never use the phrase "one of her minions" on company stationery.

  • Don't dress down employees in front of other people, especially contractors and consultants.
  • Don't expect a travel guide to Spain from 1975 will still be reliable today. For heaven's sake, Franco was still in power.
  • Don't try to cram in meetings right before Christmas and expect to get any favorable responses.
  • Don't go five years between employee reviews, particularly if your office handbook says they are to occur every six months.
  • Don't send correspondence that hasn't been proofread. The phrase "commiserate fees" is more than an unfortunate double-entendre.
  • If the Chicago Public Schools have closed due to weather, that is the wrong day to have a Chicago project site meeting.

Don't fight the IRS. 

  • Don't specify more door types than rooms in a building.
  • A detail used 50 years ago, even if it was used by a well-known firm, is likely no longer relevant, usable, efficient, or legal.
  • Don't fight with your business partner at the office (especially if your partner is also your spouse). Fight elsewhere and present a united front to your employees, consultants, and clients.

Don't foster an office culture of "the quacking duck gets shot."

  • Your employees are not doctors, and are not on call. Don't call them with business when they are on vacation.
  • Don't be surprised when multiple employees schedule vacation the week of Christmas.
  • Some clients just aren't worth the trouble. Learn to tell the difference between difficult-but-rewarding clients, and raging-asshole clients.

If your employees feel the need to unionize, you're doing it wrong.

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