‘We always hire staff based on attitude, outlook, sensibility and diversity,’ starts Adele Winteridge, founder and director of Foolscap Studio, an independent cross-disciplinary design practice responsible for the interior architecture, industrial design, identity and cultural programming behind a host of iconic and respected global brands (think Noma, LVMH, Dentsu, St Ali, Chandon and Clemenger BBDO). ‘You don‘t want an office full of people who share very similar perspectives at every turn, you want a rich conversation.’
It’s this rich conversation that has led Adele and her team to win numerous design awards (including Best Installation Design (2017 Eat Drink Design Awards), Best Workplace Design (Belle Interior Design Awards 2013) and Small Bar of the Year (Time Out Sydney 2010)). Foolscap has become the go-to for local and international clients seeking to create spaces that encourage human interaction and connection.
Enabling diverse conversations is also central to the internal workplace culture Adele has crafted since launching Foolscap Studio back in 2009. ‘We have a non-hierarchical office environment, whereby everyone is encouraged to take part in the conversation and speak their mind. Staff are of course assigned projects, but they will be involved across a number of projects in order to share ideas and input.’
While many businesses tout the idea of open communication, at Foolscap Studio it’s become a reality, by creating regular processes that encourage conversation and connection. ‘We have ideas sessions over morning tea every single Monday, Wednesday and Thursday – Monday is a general catch up, Wednesday we will sometimes do a walking chat out or have coffee and alternate between baked treats and fruit delivered to the studio,’ says Adele. ‘Fridays we will have staff members team up and do a presentation to the group – we currently have ongoing research into various sectors, and these interactions up-skill the entire Foolscap Studio team.’
The team also catch up once a week to work on their “travel guide”, an internal procedures manual that’s kept alive and is constantly evolving through staff input. ‘We catch up once a week to stay on top of practical office procedures and protocol… but [the travel guide] also talks to the culture and approach that we hold high. It’s not a boring document that sits on a shelf, it is always evolving.’
On the cusp of celebrating a decade in business, Adele admits processes and people management haven’t always been smooth sailing. ‘Finding the right staff for the job is really tricky, we spend a lot of time trying to communicate who we are, so that when we need someone new they already know deep down if they are a fit. It’s important to make sure you understand the role and the responsibilities really well before advertising for the position. Make sure the person is the right fit for the job, but also for the greater team, for the clients you work with and your style. Above all try to ensure they have a great attitude.’ Even with the greatest planning in the world, sometimes people need different levels of managing or, in cases, they just don’t work out. ‘Being a good manager is challenging; I have had to learn how to work with different personalities and work styles,’ admits Adele. ‘I find as a designer we have honed our communication with our clients, however within our own studio great communication can be harder to achieve.’
In addition to taking on lessons learned from previous roles working at larger practices, and teaching design students, Adele has sought out advice from experts in HR and business to help her source and retain good staff. ‘It sounds obvious, but it’s very easy to get caught up in the immediacy of running a business, this is something I continually work on’ the designer admits. ‘I have had a business coach/mentor for some time and we work through HR issues and complexities together. I also have an accountant, bookkeeper, lawyer and practice manager whom I work with to make sure we are on top of contracts, reviews, new business and recruiting. I firmly believe in getting the right people for the task and not trying to do everything yourself. It is liberating once this becomes possible.’
Most of all, says Adele, creating engaged staff comes down to respecting people and their skill set, being open to hearing (and implementing) their ideas, and understanding that attitude can often be the deciding factor between a business failing or flourishing. ‘For me, someone with the right attitude will succeed over someone who has the (mainly) technical abilities; these skills can be taught and learned but attitude is a little harder.’