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Resilience Amid Uncertainty


This December, taking a moment to pause and reflect is about more than top-ten lists and resolutions. It’s been an unbelievably tough year for so many, filled with loss and grief, and it seems timely to focus on strengthening our resilience.

Resilience is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and the ability to spring back.” Resilience challenges us to draw on lessons learned, inspires us to reimagine the future and compels us to support one another so we may all emerge stronger together.

At TBG, we are humbled and abundantly grateful to have not only sustained but enriched our firm’s culture over the past nine months and, in many ways, we feel closer now than ever before. Please allow us to offer a few reflections on how we managed to foster a resilient culture amid times of uncertainty – in hopes that this might help or inspire others.

Establishing a Foundation of Safety, Stability and Security

In early March, our Board of Directors acted with speed and clarity of purpose, as we transitioned the firm to work remotely. Once the decision was made, our technology systems were tested within 24-hours, our staff was fully remote within 48-hours and the entire firm was firing on all cylinders within one week. This was uncharted territory; although in hindsight, we had been preparing for this moment for years. Everyone knew the role they were to play, and we worked in concert with one another – dedicated, determined and unwavering in our commitment to keep our people safe.

About 11-weeks in (back when we were still measuring the passage of time in weeks) case counts began to decline, and we opened our offices to a limited 25% occupancy. Returning in-person was completely voluntary, and we began to reimagine the office as a ‘hub’ for meetings and creative collaboration.

We trusted our instincts that remote work was here to stay and invested heavily in technology. We were fortunate to have recently implemented a best-in-class intranet, Microsoft Teams and RingCentral/Zoom. To further enhance our capabilities, we set up every TBGer with a remote connection, increased bandwidth and fortified cybersecurity.

Strengthening our infrastructure instilled a sense of confidence across the firm and has been critical to our success in weathering the storm. It sent a message that we were prepared to act swiftly, while bracing for the long-haul and putting our people first at every turn.

Fostering Optimism and Connection

We have also been intentional about setting a tone of optimism; choosing hope over fear.

Our communication has, and will continue to be, frequent and transparent. Much like a family, we celebrate our wins together and talk openly about potential blind spots. We have gathered input from every member of the firm through surveys and town halls – making sure all voices are heard. Our firm’s President, Bill Odle, has made a point of sending weekly updates, closing each with a reminder to spend time with those we love – even if at distance.

To lift spirits and stay connected, we have hosted happy hours, game nights, costume parties, a Thanksgiving potluck, and an upcoming White Elephant gift exchange – all virtual. We’ve found creative ways to gather in small groups – picnics in front yards, firepits in back yards and on socially distanced bikes and kayaks.

We also launched an employee spotlight campaign, called One Firm, Many Voices featuring emerging leaders. We’ve celebrated career milestones, like licensure and promotion, and Bill has continued his tradition of sending hand-written thank you notes to every TBGer on their work anniversary to stay connected.

Caring for the Individual

As so many can relate, practicing self-care has never been more important. For this reason, we took several steps to make sure the needs of each TBGer were met.

In mid-April we launched quarterly 1:1s, providing individuals an opportunity to check-in with mentors and gather feedback. What started as a new approach to performance reviews, became a lifeline of sorts, setting aside time for leaders to touch base with remote staff.

We kicked off a wellness web series, provided an extra day-off to support mental wellbeing, and offered personal leave for individuals in need of an extended break. We’ve ensured the availability of virtual healthcare visits for both physical and mental fitness and transitioned our gym memberships to an incentive program for at-home workouts. We also offered time management courses to help individuals get back into the swing of a routine and empowered all TBGers to embrace flexibility, creating routines that work.

Investing in the Profession

Having experienced the downturns of 2001 and 2008, we remember the pain felt by the A/E/C industry and resulting gaps in talent. Because of this, we understand the importance of investing in the profession, even during difficult times.

In April, one month after lockdown began, we stood by our commitment to the incoming class of student interns. We re-focused our internship program to include a 9-week learning intensive, providing a well-rounded perspective on the inner-workings of a professional practice, as well as interactive design sprints and studios.

Along the way, we have discovered socially distanced ways to grow through virtual recruiting and onboarding, our Idea Lab R&D cohort continues to meet through virtual means, and we recently organized three virtual retreats on sustainability – all in the name of investing in our people and the profession.

Cultivating Community and Belonging

We’ve also made an intentional effort to care for communities both in and outside the firm.

The most significant of these efforts was our focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). The senseless killing of George Floyd and countless others served as a wakeup call to act. We formed a task force charged with creating a plan to advance DEI at TBG, solidifying our commitment to equity and justice. We launched a firmwide survey and held a series of small group discussions intended to support our ability to listen, learn and enact meaningful change. We are excited to move forward with these initiatives beginning in early 2021.

We also launched a “Women of TBG” community, fueled by virtual Power Walks once a week. We gave every woman in the firm an opportunity to attend the Texas Conference for Women, and we were thrilled to announce that 77% of promotions were awarded to outstanding women this year at TBG.

Acknowledging that mothers and fathers have experienced additional stress during this time, we created a community specifically for the parents of the firm. We introduced paid parental leave, brought in an outside consultant to help parents prep for the school year, and provided grace and flexibility – knowing each family has a unique approach to finding balance between work and life.

One of our greatest joys this year was continuing our annual day-of-service, which we affectionately refer to as The Big Give. To keep our staff and neighbors safe, we opted for activities well-suited to social distance. With a focus on our Planet, Community and Fellow Humans, our reach extended from the Pacific Northwest to the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

Moving Forward with Resilience

Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that our capacity for resilience is directly tied to the empathy and dedication of our people. Compassion begets compassion.

Our hope for the new year is that we can build on what we’ve learned, continue to adapt to an ever-changing world, and do our part in shaping a healthier, more just and sustainable future for our family, friends and communities.

“If you come together with a mission, and its grounded with love and a sense of community you can make the impossible possible.” – John Lewis

Jennifer Stanley is a Principal and Director of People Operations at TBG Partners, where she and her team focus on making work, work for designers. Whether it’s supporting career growth or nurturing the interconnected potential of people – Jennifer is a co-creator of the human experience at TBG. She joined the firm in 2017 and brings with her 20 years of experience in strategic HR and business operations within the architecture and design industry. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from Texas A&M University and recently relocated back to Austin with her husband and two children.