BOX Studios Talks Office Culture and the Road to Success
I recently had the pleasure of meeting Ferdinand Dimailig, Principal of BOX Studios Chicago, at their new downtown office location. With close to 25 years of experience and as co-leader of a rapidly expanding studio, he knows a thing or two about office culture, great design and how to find success.
From the basement to Michigan Ave
The first five years was all about survival and getting involved in any type of project, no matter how big or small. Before forming an alliance with BOX Studio Denver, Mr. Dimailig and business partner, Dan Kraiss, started FUEL Design in the basement of Ferdinand’s home. In 2007, a design collaborative was established to formed BOX Studio Chicago with current Denver business partner, Jim Graczyk.
Despite the economic crash of 2008-2009, some luck and varied project experiences in government, health-care, technology and education, BOX was able persevere. Their eventual successful relationship with a high-tech client was the big break they needed to propel them into the industry spotlight and firmly establish their talents. A strong foundation in Chicago allowed them to continue to grow their staff, expand their client list and strategically forecast their increasing workload. This year marks their 15th year as BOX Studios.
People are bigger than the company
The inception of the firm name started with the idea that a “BOX” is what makes up a space or a structure in architecture, and as part of the creative industry, we are hired to come up of with innovative, “out-of-the-box” ideas. But the deeper meaning behind the firm name comes when Ferdinand decided against naming the firm after himself. It’s the idea that the company is more important than a single name or a single designer. People make the firm. People make the company. And without all the pieces working together, success would be much more difficult to achieve.
Trial and error
To Ferdinand, fostering great culture means promoting work-life balance with flex hours and half-day Fridays in the summer. These perks make the team feel appreciated and help attract and retain talent. But their culture doesn’t stop there! Taking someone out for ice cream or coffee in the middle of the work day or gathering everyone for an in-house office game strengthen business and personal relationships from the inside out. The leadership at BOX is agile and able to move along as trends change, which is a huge benefit in keeping the culture fresh. “We are always open to exploring new things,” he notes.
Fair, open and honest
Formal and informal staff meetings are good ways to stay in touch with your team. This is also a great time to update each other on a project’s status, discuss workload distribution and determine whether extra help is needed. Ferdinand understands that overworked and under-appreciated staff members breed negativity and contribute to burn-out, as is common in the design industry. Being aware of team stress levels allows leadership to react positively during demanding times. Acknowledging one’s effort or giving someone the day off after a completed deliverable are just two simple approaches BOX uses to recognize a strong work ethic and celebrate commitment to the company.
Being fair, open and honest matters more than ever when long work days makes coworkers feel almost like family. Each member is just as important as the other—no matter where you are on the food chain. Leadership strives to make work a career instead of a job. At BOX, leadership and team members alike work hard to cultivate an inclusive culture where everyone is treated equally. “To me, you are not a number, I want to know you because you are family,” Ferdinand said.
The common thread
Hiring talented, like-minded people help envision the future while cultivating great culture. When thinking about the workplace culture Ferdinand wanted to create, he and his partners reflected on a shared experience at another firm where hierarchy and business suites were non-existent. This Google-like environment (sometimes called “startup culture”) proved to be productive and successful. As BOX continues to rapidly expand, hiring the right people is critical to preserving their culture. Ferdinand believes the cultural fit of the candidate is just as important as one’s abilities.
To find that perfect fit, their interview process involves at least two BOX employees to evaluate skills and experiences, but to analyze the candidate’s cultural fit. Mentorship in the organization also plays a very important role in fostering the company’s philosophy. Sharing ideals and experiences enhance the company culture and passion for their work.
Keep learning or lose the edge
“You have to want to stay ahead of the competition. You have to be driven and have the energy to keep exploring different approaches and ideals. Be open to change and always think, ‘What do I need to do to get to the next level?” Ferdinand said. Just like technology, it changes quickly, and one has to adapt and remain agile to keep up-to-date and ahead of the competition. To get to the next level, risks are analyzed through a lens of best-fit for the organization holistically.
Hard work, passion and some luck led BOX through the crucial first five years in the field of architecture and interior design. However understanding, protecting and cultivating their culture has solidified their place in the profession today. They truly believe that there is still a lot of work to be done, but fifteen years later, they’re still willing to grow professionally and meet the challenges ahead.