Bjarke Ingels Group has grown to four offices and more than 600 employees in the last 15 years, which is a huge undertaking even under the best economic circumstances. Here, BIG partner Kai-Uwe Bergmann, FAIA, and CEO Sheela Maini Søgaard talk about what the current public health crisis means for a creative and business enterprise, and the value of creating a support network for designers and architects who have moved through the firm over the years. “We have a saying at BIG,” Bergmann says: “Once a BIGster, always a BIGster.”
Søgaard: The uncertainties that affect global markets also affect our clients, and therefore us, and the need to plan for several scenarios is stronger now than ever. We are learning a new way of working not only with each other, but also with our clients and external collaborators.
Perhaps the learnings accumulated now will reduce our need for frequent travel in the future. We are learning new styles of management that depend on the ability to disperse assignments efficiently across team members and rely on their deliverables without as much supervision or guidance as normal.
Bergmann: Google is one of our current clients, and we have already been integrating a lot of their digital tools for remote working and conferencing over the past years, so our staff is very adept at this already. As such, we have maintained our productivity in these challenging times. At BIG, we are currently sharing conceptual PDFs within our design teams and learning how to interact and sketch within a group of 5-10 designers, one on top of another, to further the design interactively. I feel that this will quickly be adopted into the studio environment if it has not already.
Søgaard: In many regions, the immediate future is somewhat less predictable than usual, and that has increased our tolerance for risk in the short term. As an employer we are doing our best to ensure that we inform our BIGsters transparently about market and business developments, how BIG is affected, and how this may in turn affect them in the short and medium term.
Bergmann: BIG was founded 15 years ago and we currently number more than 600 BIGsters in our four offices around the globe. [This number is] complemented by the 1,000 or more BIGsters who have left BIG for new horizons—returning to school to finish their studies, or starting their own offices. Over the years we have mentored many of these entrepreneurial spirits as they started their own design practices, visualization studios, or, in some cases, their own restaurants. We see former employees as our family, and provide a helping hand when we can through our “Big Resources for Small Businesses” network, so that in these challenging times, they all can fall back upon our incredible network and ask their most pressing questions to see if anyone else may have dealt with a similar issue. We can allow our collective experience to provide a helping hand.
Søgaard: We acknowledge that 2020 will be a year marked by risk and less growth than in recent years. Whenever the immediate future is unpredictable, it is natural to experience some concern—and rightly so. Focus on those things you can control. Plan the possible scenarios and remedies for each, as well as which triggers will alert you to the development of one scenario over others. Plan. Evaluate. Act. Re-evaluate. — As told to William Richards