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Go Home or Go Big – The Ampersand September 2023

September 1, 2023

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,


Several months ago, as our family sat amidst the construction zone that had become our home of 20+ years, several months into a home renovation that had several more months to go, our always-sensible 22-year-old daughter, not one known for embracing change, entirely fairly and with uncharacteristic annoyance remarked, “remind me again why you’re doing this?” “I mean,” she volunteered “isn’t it a bit weird that when most people your age are downsizing, you’re making the house bigger?”


The question put us on our heels. Gone are the days when parents can dismiss such queries with a flippant “Because.” Very much still here are the days when parents didn’t think they needed their kids’ consent to undertake such a project. And so, we explained.


Our 2002 Homes By Avi paint-by-numbers-cookie-cutter dwelling was tired. Three kids, two dogs, and one ongoing circus, doubling at times as a minimum-security correctional facility, for two plus decades had taken a toll. The explanation/justification continued: We’ll have a proper home office to replace a rarely-used front dining room, new appliances without old dents, and a fresh coat of paint, holes patched, dings and dents disappeared.


Longer term, we defended, an extension off the back to accommodate future family dinners with future grandkids so as to be the Gathering Place where they want to gather, rather than feel compelled to. Not to mention, which I didn’t, the reality of home prices and mortgage rates suggest the Questioner and her brothers will likely be living with us for a wee while longer. And, well, Because.


With the renovation now nearly complete, our near-term objectives have been met. It’s lovely. As for the longer-term pieces of the thesis, only time will tell.



And so it was, at about the same time this was all happening, my other family – my work children – were asking similar questions regarding our firm intentions, which were not firm at all, about our future living arrangement at work. Would we be renewing our soon-to-expire lease at the tired and dented Alberta Hotel Building, our home for these past 14 years? Or might we just work from home full time (for we all enjoy it), pocket the rent, and bank the profits? Working from home throughout much of the past three years certainly hadn’t hurt our bottom line. To the contrary. Our most recently completed fiscal year that ended on June 30th was our best year ever. And this in spite, not because, of having a downtown office.


But there’s more to running a firm that just being profitable (see? I never would have made it in a law firm). I remind you of what I wrote in this space 18 months ago, in the March 2022 edition of the Ampersand, in what would become the first installment of a three part miniseries on the subject of working from home:


“Beyond wine and jeans and foosball tables, there’s a more existential reason to suggest your people come back. And, no, it’s not about productivity. It has been well documented that productivity went up during the WFH era. And, no, it’s not about culture erosion, though that point is more debatable. An indisputable area of concern for both employer and employee is knowledge transfer. I fear there will be a knowledge clot that will work its way to the brain of many organizations; a sort of air-pocket of two plus years of institutional memory and mentorship that will impact this Covid cohort for the rest of its career.


The ‘coffee maker collisions’; those happenstance mentoring moments between a superior and subordinate simply aren’t happening. And those interactions are in the best interests of all involved. The young analyst who isn’t in the right place at the right time to meet that VP and be brought into the Big Project; that VP who isn’t able to ask the name of her young charge while riding the elevator, perhaps a future star who might just have turned into her successor. The inability to pass down, through office osmosis, the unwritten rules of the road, the Marauder’s Map of workplace politics, that’s where the rubber hits the road.”


While that dispatch has generally aged quite well, it was not entirely right. The culture concern is not debatable, rather it is very real. We have experienced it ourselves. There’s no doubt that despite our production, our culture has suffered by having the office rarely feel fully occupied. Our clients and candidates, our suppliers and staff, all form part of a tight-knit community that makes the office hum. So when, out of necessity or preference, pieces of that community cease to gather, it has an impact. One not entirely visible in the moment, but certainly apparent with the benefit of months, and now years, of hindsight.


Part two of the trilogy didn’t age quite so well, for when I picked up the WFH theme nine months later, in December 2022 — Is Working From Home Working at All? – I falsely placed the burden of keeping this community buzzing squarely on the shoulders of the young ones:


“If you’re on the ascent of your career, you can probably have a good one by working remotely, by not engaging in the new world office politics, and by hoping to catch a few good bounces while stationed at your kitchen table. But make no mistake: your career trajectory will be flatter. The bet-the-farm deal, the once-in-a-career file, the daily collisions, and mentoring moments will benefit those who are around to experience them. In other words, the likelihood of a great career increases if you make a few uncomfortable sacrifices as you’re starting out.”



Turns out, the junior folks have actually been the ones more consistently in the office, for they typically don’t have a choice. Not just at our firm, but at many organizations we know well. Hard for a junior to have a ‘coffee maker collision’ if there’s no one to run into. Let alone experience a mentoring moment if the mentor is in the mountains.


And so it was, that the third (and final) installment in our Work From Home Chronicles, the May 2023 Ampersand, The Space-Time Continuum, truly foreshadowed today’s events:


“In a city whose tagline is Be Part of the Energy, we need that too. And we may just get energized by a move. A new building in a new neighbourhood, with room for growth and a new era for the firm. One that energizes and inspires the team, feeds our culture, and benefits our clients. Nostalgia and history will only take you so far; sometimes a change of scenery is the best move to get the most out of a team.”


As with the decision to expand our home when we are “supposed to” be downsizing, our work fam not only made the decision to not go home, but we signed a seven-year lease and added 50% more square footage in a much shinier building. Our new digs, in the beautiful Le Germain building on 9th Ave, in the shadow of the Calgary Tower, become ours today! Well, sort of. While September 1st is our possession date, we won’t move in for a few months yet. Renovations are afoot as we bring the space up to a P&Co level spec. Not coincidentally, a primary feature of our expanded layout is an emphasis on collaboration space, a living room style hangout meant to foster partnership and teamwork. A Gathering Place, if you will.  Where they want to gather, rather than feel compelled to.



It’s not lost on us that this doubling down on downtown could all backfire spectacularly. We could be buying the last Blockbuster Video store. Going long on Kodak. Taking an equity position in an alarm clock company. By committing to downtown as downtowns around the world, including our own, are in decline, we are placing a bet. Not just on us but on the very value proposition in support of not working from home. Downtown’s value proposition isn’t what it used to be, where once you couldn’t afford not to be there. Today, it’s more like ask not what you can do for your downtown but what your downtown can do for you.


Alas, we are nothing if not contrarians and we believe that the values of collaboration, the irreplaceable energy that comes from in person meetings, the sense of worth that comes from having a place to be, to belong, to openly share ideas, to physically separate your work children from your actual ones, and, well, to gather, will win the day. And if our team feels that renewed sense of belonging, our clients will feel it too. We are in the experience business. Not only demonstrating we have it, but proving we can create it. Genuine, authentic, human experiences. Call me old fashioned, but those simply can’t be created without being together. Look, vinyl’s making a comeback and we believe that for those engaged in the service of people, people will make a comeback too. And they’ll come back to the office, as they’ve already started to do.


As for the longer-term pieces of the thesis, well, only time will tell.





All renderings courtesy of Laura Fenniak Design of future P&Co. ‘family room’ and client collaboration space.