Let’s talk a little about workplace culture.
As the COO and CFO of Architech, workplace culture is something I think about a lot—more, even than the operational targets that are a key part of my job. I believe that if you strive to create a positive workplace culture those targets become a lot easier to accomplish. And I’m seeing more and more people adopting this approach.
In fact, workplace culture has taken on a new focus among both employees and their employers. It’s had to, with the shift to remote work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic blurring the lines between work and home like we’ve never seen before. As we’ve moved to Zoom calls and virtual meet-ups, we’ve been invited into our colleagues’ homes—to see their dirty dishes and unmade beds, meet their pets, and hear their children calling out for help with their homework. And we’ve shared the considerable stress of living and working during a pandemic, experiencing together everything that entails.
With workers striving to keep their families healthy, their kids educated and taken care of, and their own mental health in balance, it’s become more obvious than ever that work is just one part of every employee’s life—and not the most important part. Employees have other things to worry about, and good employers need to help them thrive beyond the workplace. Life-work integration has become the new buzzword, and that starts by looking at employees’ lives as a whole—and the community at large.
It’s something we’ve always tried to focus on at Architech. But in the past couple of years the need to build on that principle, and to make it part of everything we do has become even more important.
That’s where our Build a Better Future program comes in.
Putting People First
“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Those are the words of South African activist and theologian Desmond Tutu, one of several greats we sadly lost in 2021. And I think they perfectly capture the intention and spirit of our Build a Better Future (BaBF) program. Introduced in July 2021, BaBF embodies the ideal—and our belief—that by contributing small bits of good to the world the workplace can be more than just a place to make a living, but a centre of transformation and a source of positivity in people’s lives and the community as a whole.
To achieve this in our own workplace, we wanted to add purpose that was transcending. We did that by first looking at the 17 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, deciding to focus on the five that best fit Architech’s own vision and the space where we exist: namely, an innovative and progressive technology company. These five goals became the core of the Build a Better Future program:
- Reduced inequalities: The tech sector has a long way to go in reaching true equality across race, sexual orientation, gender, and abilities. As of 2014, just 9% of computer science grads were Black and just 10% Latinx. And recent studies show that LGBTQ+ tech employees feel left behind in terms of the professional development opportunities they’re offered compared to non-LGBTQ+ coworkers. We want to be on the forefront of changing that.
- Gender equality: Women make up only 44% of post-secondary STEM students in Canada, and as of 2018 only 9% of software developers were female. In fact, the percentage of women in the tech sector had stayed steady between 23 and 25% for over a decade by then. Creating an equal playing field for women has long been a focus at Architech—now it’s one of our key goals.
- Quality education: Research shows that opportunities for development are the second most important component to workplace happiness (after the type of work itself). At Architech, our people are our most valuable asset, and we want to do everything we can to help them flourish, with opportunities that will empower our team to learn and develop—both in their careers and as human beings in general.
- Good health and well-being: We want our team to be healthy, both in terms of their physical health and their mental health—and we all know that many workplaces can contribute negatively to both (especially during a pandemic). Our goal is to make Architech the exception—to make our workplace a healthy place to work, with the necessary tools and support available to our employees to help accomplish that.
- Partnership for the goals: No person (or workplace!) is an island, and we aim to seek out the best partnerships to help us accomplish all of our BaBF goals. This means working with experts in their fields and businesses that are further ahead than we are on the issues we’ve prioritized. We want to provide assistance and mentorship wherever we can, but we’re also not afraid to look for guidance when there’s an organization that can help us build on our goals.
With our goals in place, we went straight into action—embracing the objective of giving back in our small way to the world at large. And we started by changing how we did things from the top.
Leading the Way
With our leadership team fully on board, we’ve made sustainability and purpose a pillar and guiding light of our corporate strategy. These are some of the initiatives we’ve introduced as a result:
- We’ve built our management team exceeding 50% women, implemented pay equity and promotion equity across the company and set a goal to hire more women and employees that come from the global majority by recruiting intentionally. So far, we’re making amazing progress: in 2021 our Technology team exceeded 28% women—higher than many leaders in the tech industry and overshadowing the Canadian average of 11%.
- We’ve increased our learning budget spends by 20% and the number of annual paid training days per employee from an average of 11 to 13. We also recognize that education goes further than building career skills, so we’ve brought learning to every aspect of the workplace, initiating issue-focused theme months, starting a book club with a focus on social issues, and inviting speakers to share their perspectives and lived experience on key issues.
- We’ve increased our employee mental health benefits coverage by 150% and introduced an employee assistance program that offers a wide range of the counselling services that have become increasingly needed during the pandemic. We’ve also brought in speakers on mental health and implemented yoga and meditation events, as well as voluntary fitness challenges that inspire our employees to be active and do so in a fun way—something our employees have fully embraced.
- Finally, we’ve initiated partnerships with organizations such as Pride at Work Canada, to support existing and future LGBTQ+ employees; the Black Professionals in Tech Network, mentoring future tech-industry Black leaders; and the Women in Technology Society, sponsoring, mentoring, and judging their SheHacks+ Hackathon. We've also initiated corporate partnerships with award-winning sustainability companies like TELUS, working with their Spectrum ERG to help us shape and accelerate our own success.
The last 5 days of Architech's 2021 15 Days of Giving initiative.
We’ve continued to share all of these initiatives on social media, putting them out into the world to hopefully build on our bit of good. But more importantly, we’ve partnered with our own employees—to build a ripple effect of engagement.
Making a Difference
Another person I greatly admire, who also left us in the final days of 2021, was the actress Betty White, who wrote in her memoir: “Everybody needs a passion. That’s what keeps life interesting. If you live life without passion, you can go through life without leaving any footprints.”
At Architech, we want all of our employees to find their passion and to leave a footprint—both in their jobs and outside of them. Which is where the second part of the Build a Better Future program comes in.
BaBF isn’t just a top-down endeavor. Rather, we invite all of our employees to get involved. It’s their choice, of course—but we also try to make the program enticing and easy to participate in, and many of them have jumped on board as a result. Our original goal was to see 65% employee participation within the initial five months of the program in 2021—one I’m proud to say we exceeded. Our new goal, for 2022, is 80% participation.
Because we know people have other things going on in their lives, the employees who choose to participate can do so in whatever way they want, and are encouraged to align this work with their own priorities and charitable work. And big or small, their involvement has been inspiring—from giving back to their neighbours and donating to charities, to spearheading events and learning initiatives for their fellow team members.
We’ve kept track of each action, sharing them with the rest of the team and getting everyone excited about giving back. It’s allowed us to learn about each other and different causes, and create strong friendships between coworkers, cementing the type of culture we’re building at Architech: one made up of good people doing their part for the world around us.
That is one of the most heartwarming effects I’ve seen from the Build a Better Future program so far. It makes me proud of my colleagues and proud to say that I work at Architech. By making sustainability personal for each participant, we can channel those bits of good towards meaningful impact and positive change.