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Bespoke Careers

22 March 2024

22 March 2024

Working patterns in Interior Design Studios

When we speak to candidates, one of the most common reasons they give us for wanting to change jobs is the lack of flexibility in their current role. 

Here is an all-too-common scenario: A senior designer is working for a highly regarded studio, engaged in prestigious and satisfying projects that receive awards and positive write-ups in the industry press. And yet, the designer is disillusioned with the role because it lacks the flexibility they need for real work-life balance.  

Regardless of which side you’re on in the work-from-home vs. the return-to-the-office debate, it’s important not to discount the impact that flexibility and WFH policies have on the career decisions of your employees and candidates. 

As Gallup noted in its global study, “Given that hybrid work has become the norm for remote-capable workers and people have largely settled into their new routines, it’s time for leaders to optimize their hybrid workplace”, with measures such as supporting more team collaboration and creating a compelling workplace value proposition.

Flexibility and WFH are complex issues for studios, but many out there are making it work – and building great teams because of this commitment. I’ll delve into the present currents of workplace flexibility and what to consider for improving talent attraction and employee retention. 

The core concerns around workplace flexibility
  1. Flexible hours throughout the week: Allowing a bit of leeway in start and/or end times can significantly reduce stress levels for designers. Considering that many people have long commutes nowadays, having the option to adjust their schedules on different days can make a big difference. Architecture and interior design jobs that are advertised with this benefit are likely to garner a better response than those that don’t. 
  2. Probationary periods: We see candidates are concerned about how they can manage a three-to-six-month probation period in a new role without a hybrid working arrangement. Studios that can offer hybrid working for new employees will have a significant recruitment advantage. 
  3. Part-time or compressed work weeks: The number of roles that are part-time or have compressed work weeks is very low in the interior design sector. Many senior designers tell us they could comfortably compress a five-day work week into four days on a pro-rata basis, a proposal which is often rejected by studios. There is much more scope to allow for non-traditional working arrangements for these highly skilled designers – but few organisations are willing to make this happen. 
The challenges studios face 

A few of the pressures surrounding workplace flexibility in the interior design industry are owed to factors like company size and culture.

Some studios can be more accommodating and offer a broader range of hybrid and flexible work arrangements, which allows them to stand apart from their competitors when bidding for talent. 

For smaller studios, a high level of in-person collaboration is vital for getting work done but presents a challenge for flexibility. In these environments, having a fully remote team can take a toll on the working atmosphere. Likewise, providing work-from-home arrangements without a fixed schedule proves tricky for studios. Varying employee presence in the office on different days can hinder the collaborative spirit.

In any case, WFH days are likely to prevail in employees’ career decisions, particularly senior designers. This has profound implications for firms that are looking to grow their teams and hire the best people for long-term success. 

Reframing flexibility for junior employees

Many studios regard job flexibility as a privilege that professionals must earn over time, not something automatically available to junior employees who have yet to prove their mettle. The popular perception among younger employees is that they’re asked to come into the office because they’re not trusted to do the work. 

The need to have junior designers in the office full-time can be reframed in positive ways, however. A more positive message could be: Our expectation for junior designers to be present in the office full-time is an affirmation that we want to develop our younger employees. 

Working up close with senior staff is the best way junior designers can absorb essential knowledge at speed. Being involved in client meetings and interactions along each stage of a project is an invaluable learning experience for them. It is these experiences that encourage younger team members to challenge themselves and expand their skills. 

Balanced out with other rewards and benefits, including a strong social culture, can make the prospect of five days in the office more attractive than a typical hybrid work arrangement for junior talent if studios are able to sell the career development angle. 

From a talent attraction perspective, it’s about portraying your work environment as a place where junior designers will be able to excel.

Giving space for personal development

In a rapidly evolving industry, personal development is understandably a key concern for designers at all experience levels. To keep up with suppliers, stay informed about materials and research, and continually expand their knowledge base, designers need time for personal development – but can’t always find it. 

Acknowledging that designers may need to switch gears between intense project work and periods of rejuvenation is important. For instance, after completing a project, taking a few days to attend a design festival can help recharge their creativity. Some studios organise what they call "design safaris," where the team explores design inspirations in their city or attends various events every quarter. It’s an approach that is shaping up to be great for employee engagement. 

Giving employees time for development and recharging their creative batteries may not always seem immediately relevant to ongoing projects, but it's crucial for studios’ future growth and innovation. Adding a bit of play into a high-pressure environment can do wonders for team morale. 

Get help from architecture and interior design recruitment experts

Workplace flexibility is unlikely to diminish in importance for designers any time soon. Aiming for a balance between cultivating healthy collaboration at work, and preventing employees from burning out, is key. Policies that aim to meet employees halfway whilst preserving a strong working culture will continue to be powerful drawcards for future talent. 

Here at Bespoke Careers, our practical experience as architects, designers and recruiters for the industry attunes us to the evolving needs of top talent. For advice and help with building engaged teams in your firm, please don’t hesitate to reach out and tap into our architecture and design recruitment expertise. 

Author: Lindsay Urquhart, Bespoke Careers

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