Aspect Structural Engineers: Building Employee Trust and Respect

When Gina Sheppard, Partner at Aspect Structural Engineers, told us that her firm had recently introduced policies allowing
employees to take unlimited vacation and set their own work hours, we were intrigued. As a B Corp and strong proponents of sustainable employment – workplace practices built on transparency, collaboration, respect and fairness – we are always on the lookout for companies striving to “do good” for their employees.

Wanting to learn more and to share ASPECT’s successes with other forward-thinking employers, we asked Gina if she would be willing to fill us in on the inspiration for and implementation of their progressive workplace approach. Luckily, she agreed.

Here’s what she had to say:

What sparked you and your partners to start your own firm?

We wanted to combine our collective experience as associates and employees elsewhere, both good and bad, to create a new, modern engineering firm that focuses on employee growth and development.

How do you motivate your employees?

By challenging them personally & professionally while providing them with a fun working environment free of “red-tape” and bureaucracy.

We constantly ask for, and actually act on, the advice and input of our employees in regards to many aspects of the business – we recognize that good ideas come from all over. Listening to everyone on the team and valuing their opinions is paramount. We try to provide challenges and learning opportunities and allow them to make mistakes, while still maintaining strong support and easily accessible mentorship. Constant communication and feedback.

What inspired you to introduce your innovative unlimited vacation and flexible working hours policies?

A few reasons:

  1. We found it incredulous that workplaces will hire people to fill positions that require a high degree of professionalism, organization, attention to detail, and time/project management skills, and then treat them like little kids when it comes to something as basic as an arbitrary start time.
  2. We feel that these policies attract and retain the types of individuals that we want to work with. Namely: individuals who use good judgement and common sense, and who recognize the importance of maintaining the health of the team and themselves. We see these policies as an extension of our mentorship program – giving employees another avenue to develop their own professional growth and maturity.
  3. Trust is something we see as integral to our company’s culture – both of these policies naturally contribute to that.

How does your unlimited vacation policy work?

Basically: sick days, personal days, “I need a day to go skiing” days, and normal vacation days are all paid and there is no maximum that an employee can take throughout the year. There is, however, a minimum – which is enforced: everyone has to take vacation every year.

There is a lot of communication with the team of what is appropriate for time off and it is explicit that this policy is not intended to get people to work overtime, but to make sure they are taking the time off they need and deserve to have a real life/work balance. It also gives the company the ability to be flexible when it comes to a team full of very diverse individuals.

What about your flexible working hours policy?

Start and end times for the working day are not monitored or enforced. The entire team is aware that most of our clients work a standard 9-5 day, in many different time zones, and they are responsible for meeting the needs of the clients and the operational needs of the company. We’ve left it up to the employees to set their hours to suit their individual needs in regards to commute, childcare scheduling, productive working time, while not disrupting the efficiency of the company.

How are you seeing these policies work in practice?

There was always the danger of us saying we don’t care what time people come in and how much time off they take, but then secretly monitoring it closely and being upset. In practice, currently the only thing we have to monitor and enforce is making sure people are taking time off and are not working too much. It is an entire part of traditional management that we don’t even worry about, although today I had to issue a threat that we would soon be forcing people to take a day off if they didn’t voluntarily schedule it themselves.

Not surprisingly, we’ve noticed everyone taking advantage of the ability to flex their hours, but being extremely respectful and diligent in maintaining an above average performance.

What have your employees had to say about these policies?

The policies have only been in place for approximately 5 months, but the feedback we’ve gotten is that everyone loves not feeling/being policed, and as employers we love not having to run an office like a kindergarten. The major comment is for us to have better communication as to when people will be in or out of the office.

What is your long-term vision with respect to employee engagement?

We want to create an environment that fosters personal and professional growth. If we achieve that, most other business metrics will likely be achieved along the way.

About Aspect

Based out of Vancouver BC and working with clients throughout Canada, the USA and parts of Europe, Aspect Structural Engineers provides state-of-the-art structural engineering service with the personalized attention that comes from being a small, young firm. They aim to innovate, while always staying mindful of project schedules and budgets. In addition to general structural design, they perform feasibility studies as well as condition and seismic assessments for projects ranging from small renovations to complex new builds. They work with owners, architects, builders and other engineers to bring creativity and efficiency throughout the building design and construction process. To learn more about Aspect and the work they do, visit their website here.

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