What excites you most about your appointment to the Dallas office leader?
What excites me most is the ability to re-visit the culture in our office and really build that back up. One of those initiatives is to “go local,” where we intend to focus on the community of our own city and build in our own backyard. The pandemic obviously brought challenges in both design and morale so, now that we’ve had a chance to catch our breath, we can get back to the foundation. When working remotely, it’s easy to stay in touch with your team, but harder to stay in touch with people in your office. We have a very rich and diverse group of people in Dallas and I can’t wait to see that culture thrive again.
How does your industry knowledge contribute to your abilities as an office leader?
I think since I have worked in so many different sectors already that it allows me to have a more holistic approach to the office. It’s my responsibility to check in on every studio and monitor their financials—so it’s important that we all collaborate and work together. One studio can’t survive without the rest of the ecosystem in place.
I also think it allows me to know more people and therefore invest in their growth—especially in the next generation of our practice. It’s exciting for me to see how our industry continues to evolve and how we evolve alongside it. I pride myself on my focus on mentorship and leading with compassion. I’ve started this practice I call “coffee talk” where I just reach out to at least three people per week and just have a conversation with them—about their work, their life, their vision—anything! I think it’s vital to get to know the people you work with and build that community to understand all the unique talents we have to offer before we can go out and offer that to the community. While the present is obviously essential, I think succession planning and future leadership is incredibly important to focus on.
How has working remotely influenced your leadership style?
One of the biggest challenges for me is balancing finding time to work with being on the phone a lot [laughs]. It takes a lot more effort to reach out to people now—in the office, you can just stop by their desk and say hello. We’re all in this together, and it’s important that we all help each other.
We recently went through this disastrous snowstorm in Dallas. That was really stressful and difficult for many people, especially on top of trying to juggle remote work. I really encouraged everyone to help each other as much as possible—I was lucky enough to be able to evacuate for a bit, but my home has a generator, so I offered it up to anyone who needed a place to stay. I think that’s how you build an authentic sense of culture. I just ask myself: “what would help me most if I was in their position?” and try to do what I can to help. You can’t forget where you once were: I want to be the resource I needed the most. There’s no need to make things difficult for others just because they were difficult for you.
What do you miss most about going into the physical office?
I really just miss the people. I’m naturally an introvert, so when lockdown first started and we thought this might last for just a couple weeks, I thought it might be sort of nice! I can stay at home, I can work at my own pace and not have to worry about interruptions. As it turns out, though, I really miss it. I miss seeing and talking to people and collaborating. I miss seeing the smiles on their face.
For example, I randomly ran into a team member at the Home Depot about three months into lockdown. We were both surprised by how excited we were to see each other! The human connection element is so important, and it helps you see all the fulfilling interactions you were taking for granted before.
People are more fragile than they think, and I think the psychological effects of isolation have more of an impact than they might assume. I hope, once we do come back to the office, we’ve all learned a valuable lesson about flexibility, balance, and – bare minimum – no longer coming to work when you feel sick.
At the end of the day, the success of a business, and my role in particular, is about the people and how you work together—not what you do.
Dallas Branch LEED AP, AIA Dallas serves as a Principal and Office Leader in CallisonRTKL’s Dallas office. He has honed his skills in client collaboration and has pushed the envelope in his contributions to some of the world’s most memorable commercial environments. Dallas specializes in large-scale, mixed-use projects combining retail, residential, office, hotel and entertainment components to create a successful, synergistic environment for the owner and the end-user. As industry trends and market demographics shift and change, presenting new and unique challenges, he remains focused on forward-looking design solutions that create long-term value.