Common Threads: Messages From Our Industry

Cuningham Group

Welcome back to our weekly column where we check in with different colleagues and friends in the industry and how they are approaching business differently in this time of great change. The “common thread” for sure is that most of us are making the time to connect on a personal level while expressing vulnerability and compassion through one of the toughest economic times we’ve seen in our lifetimes.

This week we checked in with Ellie Hirschfeld, Business Development Leader for the Cuningham Group. This architectural firm has pulled out all the stops to make sure that they are doing everything they can to keep on schedule and on budget for their clients. Ellie shares below how the entire office crew (320 employees!) have transitioned to work at home, by already having a remote service plan in place. Here’s what Ellie had to share:

We are meeting virtually in each other’s homes, hearing and seeing one another’s children, meeting pets, and recognizing the gift of these shared circumstances.

“Cuningham Group has enjoyed a strong business identity and supportive, inclusive culture for more than 50 years. We take inspiration from our firm’s mission of uplifting the human experience – both internally and externally. Teams collaborate multiple times a day and everyone is encouraged to share ideas. There is even a weekly team happy hour, meant, partly, to remind all of us that it’s okay to take a mental break. With six offices and more than 320 employees, how would we transition to a Work from Home (WFH) environment? Could we maintain our project schedules and client communication? How would we ensure that each employee, regardless of how isolated their location, continued to feel supported as a valuable team member? Could there possibly be a plan that would address a never-before-seen crisis?

“For Cuningham Group, the answer is ‘yes.’ Over the years, the firm took great care to develop a variety of short and long term strategies to identify opportunities and challenges, along with clear action plans and contingencies, including a comprehensive Remote Service Plan. Because of this strategic pre-planning, our IT team was able to immediately respond to nationwide Stay-at-Home orders. They had 320 team members connected and working virtually within just a couple hours into our WFH transition. It was seamless for our team and we were able to quickly communicate this to our clients. Through emails, phone calls, text messages and web-based conferencing, we have been reaching out to check-in with, and work on, our clients’ project needs. Projects remain on-time and in-budget. But something else happened, as well. We are connecting with clients, consultants and contractors on a very personal, and likely unexpected, level. We are meeting virtually in a far more relaxed atmosphere, unencumbered by such formalities as business suits and makeup. We are successfully conducting business in a professional manner while in yoga pants. And, together, we are recognizing the importance of acknowledging our shared responsibilities as we strive to move forward.

“And what of our 320 Cuningham Group team members? We are thriving, as well. We are well-connected in the truest sense. Work continues just as though we are all under one roof. But we are enjoying the secondary benefits of WFH perhaps even more. Our web-conferencing platform, Zoom, is getting an exceptional work-out. We are meeting virtually in each other’s homes, hearing and seeing one another’s children, meeting pets, and recognizing the gift of these shared circumstances. Often, the conversations have little to do with ‘work’ and more to do with what we are all experiencing … together.  Our happy hours continue – on Zoom – with a few hundred of us laughing and sharing stories about successful, masked trips to the grocery store. Perhaps one of the most welcome outcomes of WFH are the daily musings from our Principals. A different principal each day sends an all-company email about anything they wish to share. Some are lighthearted, some are work-related, some are beautifully moving, and some go so deep into the center of who we are and what we are experiencing that one must simply sit back and appreciate the beautiful, unplanned consequences triggered by Work from Home.”

Christine Faria
Christine Faria 25 Articles