Top 10 Things That Surprised Me About Office Life
Hi, I'm Stephanie, an intern architect at HoyStarkHagan. I've worked in architecture firms in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Florida over the past six years and have learned a thing or two (or ten) about working in the professional world.
1. EVERY office is COMPLETELY different.
When I first started working I figured, it's architecture. There's a specific way to get a project done so every office must be the same. The reality was that every firm has a different way of operating. Some are go-go-go, others are relaxed. Some are quiet, some are loud. An office's vibe is a representation of everyone who makes it up - the extroverts and the introverts, the clowns and the serious ones, the early birds and the night owls - and when you mix them all together, every firm comes out different.
2. Personality and attitude are weighted heavily.
As I began to interview with firms for a job, family and friends told me not to underestimate my personality (I'm an INFP if you're curious). I didn't understand what they meant at the time - I thought that I would be hired on my skills, experience, and GPA. And while all of those things certainly helped, I didn't realize how important my personality would play into the hiring process. Likewise, I didn't realize how important the office's personality would play into me choosing a firm I wanted to work with. Since we can’t be friends with everyone in the world, you can not work just anywhere. Imagine interviews are like going on a first date - sometimes you and the office just click. And because every firm is different, every personality is beneficial in some way.
3. Listening to music and/or podcasts can be helpful...and hurtful.
When I put on my headphones, I'm putting on blinders - I'm focused! I'm in the zone! What I didn't expect was the amount of important information that would constantly be around me, especially in an open office.
I naively thought that because I am a perfectionist, have high GPA, and went to college for this profession that no mistakes would be tolerated in the real world. What I didn't realize was that not only would I make a mistake, but just how many mistakes I would actually make in the beginning. I mean, my cabinet drawings were allllllll over the place. Sometimes the only way to learn is to wobble and possibly face-plant. Not to say you should make them all the time, but they are unavoidable.
5. The value of “owning it”
This was a phrase I often heard in a previous firm, that you needed to "own" the project you were working on. This was hard to understand when I was working with a group of people - I valued collaboration and teamwork, why would I take it for myself? From mistakes to project management, I learned that owning things is what makes a good employee - admitting when you're wrong, taking responsibility, treating the project like it's yours.
6. You are not expected to know everything - you are expected to be smart enough to figure it out.
Upon graduation, I thought that school prepared me for every part of working in the professional world. But as one of our principals says, "There's school and then there's work." I knew how to manage my time, how to use the most creative option, and how to think about the user in the space, but I didn't know anything about ASIs and addendums. I had to learn how to ask the right questions, research my options, and learn from mentors.
7. Personal space heaters might save your life.
Okay, so a space heater might not save your life, but it will definitely make you more comfortable, which makes you more productive. We aren't Pixar, but my desk is my own personal space that I can decorate with pictures, gizmos, and gadgets. Even setting up your desktop is a very personal thing - do you have icons scattered across the space, or is everything arranged alphabetically? Just like owning a project, owning your workspace is important to feel like you're a part of the team and invested in the work you're doing.
8. Office dogs are the single greatest thing of office life.
Sometimes you just need a break. I'm not talking about a coffee break or your lunch break; I'm talking about the joy that comes from petting an office dog. I've been lucky enough to work in firms that have them (or I was allowed to bring in my dog). Not only are they fun and caring, but studies have shown them to reduce stress, nurture productivity, and even can improve your health (we all enjoy taking Henri for a walk). '
9. It’s rewarding, but not every day is a magical experience.
I'll admit that I am an optimist; when I left college, I was certain that everyone would be so full of excitement and passion for architecture that we couldn't contain ourselves. The truth is, you don't love everything. Some days you might not feel great about it. Some days are really stressful. But in the end, you always feel great that it has been accomplished.
10. Consultants are your new best friends.
Consultants are an extension of your office. They do a lot of work and have a wealth of knowledge. I talk to consultants almost every day! No project can be complete without them.