Foosball, video games and openness: creating a great work environment

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They go around the room every Monday and talk about their weekends — with some sharing, maybe a little too much.

By Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., the open conference space at Design Collaborative might be filled with foosball and ping pong tables, or it may be teeming with people jostling for position while in the middle of an intense video game being played out on one of the big flat screens.

Sometimes there’s a keg; other times there might be a margarita machine.

This is how it goes for the 52 employees at the architecture firm, located on the sixth floor of the First Source Building and ranked by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce as one of the 100 best places to work in the entire state.

According to its founders, the mix of millennials and veterans enjoys an atmosphere where new ideas are encouraged, where transparency and openness are key and where hard work is rewarded with some hard play come the weekend. 

“Culture is a big deal to us,” says one of the trio of founders, Patrick W. Pasterick.

Here in Indiana, and especially the Fort, we enjoy relatively short commutes, decent income levels, low unemployment and good job security.

That’s what Wallethub, an online ranking service that analyzes communities across the nation with a focus on personal finance, found in its 2016 Happiest States in America survey. Indiana ranked 12th in the country when it came to work environment, well above Midwest neighbors Michigan (24th), Ohio (25th) and Illinois (41st).

The survey looked at commutes, short-term and long-term employment rates, income and job security to come to its findings.

Beyond that, though, there are a splash of local companies like Design Collaborative which are embracing a more open office concept where everyone’s input is valued — no matter whether you’ve worked there for 30 years or six months.

When the company first started more than 20 years ago, the idea was that the veterans would be able to teach the younger employees, Pasterick said. But what he and others found were that many times the veterans were taking cues from the younger generation.

“Learning goes both ways,” he said. “That is very, very important.”

The company did not land on the “Best 100 Places to Work” list by accident, according to Pasterick. When starting out, the company was in the Perfection Bakery building and soon grew from the first floor to two floors, creating a minor schism consisting of the first-floor team and the second-floor team.

About a decade ago, they took their first opportunity to be on the Best Places to Work list, which required employees to fill out anonymous questionnaires about the company and submit them to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber of Commerce tallies scores, gives them to the company and shows how they did compared to other companies around the state.

That first year, Design Collaborative did not make the list.

“There were definitely some things that made us go, ‘hmmmmm,'” Pasterick says.

Now, with the all-inclusive concept, the company is a regular on the list. Pasterick calls the chamber program “a great tool” in measuring how happy employees are and how well management is providing them with a productive work environment.

“More companies in Northeast Indiana should definitely use it,” he said.

While commutes and job security are important aspects of a work environment, the job itself is vital. In essence, you have to like what you do and feel like what you’re doing is important.

“The key ingredient to a happy life is the ability to make meaning out of one’s circumstances,” said Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center in the Media Psychology Program at Fielding Graduate University and one of the experts who weighed in on the Wallethub survey.

Design Collaborative is involved in several high-profile projects throughout Fort Wayne, including development downtown and along the Riverfront. That in and of itself helps employees feel like they’re making an impact on the city, Pasterick said.

And Fort Wayne, he feels, is perfect for someone looking to make an impact — a place known to be supportive of locals.

“I don’t care who you are, whether you’re 24 or 74, if you can bring something to the table, I don’t think there’s another place in the state where you can make a difference like the difference you can make in Fort Wayne,” Pasterick said.

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