BWBR Welcomes New 2021 Associates

BWBR recently named eight new associates within the employee-owned firm. The employees recognized in 2021 represent a cross section of office roles and committees, from marketing support and administration to designers with diverse experience and perspectives.

Each year, BWBR recognizes employees who are engaged in making BWBR a better place, often going above and beyond their core role in the company. Associates demonstrate BWBR’s mission and core values in their work, and are informed, active, and respectful members of the BWBR community. 

The eight new associates include:

Established in 1922, BWBR is owned by approximately 45% of its employees. With offices in Saint Paul, Minn., Madison, Wis., and Omaha, Neb., BWBR offers services in architecture, interior design, and planning throughout the U.S. Recently expanded service capabilities include strategic facility advising, scenario planning, operational planning, and WELL/performance design strategies.

What Do Post-Pandemic Employees Need to be Successful? – Part One

For organizations that pivoted to remote work in 2020, the disruption forced a very quick transition to a work from home model. Now, looking ahead to fall 2021, they are taking a variety of approaches to returning employees and operations to the physical office, with many organizations embracing a hybrid working model. Unlike the abrupt pivot to remote working, returning to an office or launching a hybrid work model is done best with thorough intention and planning.

Jennifer Stukenberg, NCIDQ, LEED AP, WELL AP, a BWBR principal and workplace strategist with more than 25 years of experience, is a workplace design thought leader who helps organizations and companies use workplace strategy to improve worker experience, productivity, and wellbeing. In this two-part podcast, she details some approaches that organizations need to consider as they’re planning their future of work strategy.

Control, Flexibility, and Purpose

A recent Labor Department report stated that 4 million Americans quit their jobs in April. For Stukenberg, the pandemic has uncovered that compensation with benefits is not the only “carrot” that people want from their employers.

“When people are asked in the past year and a half what they really wanted and needed, many of them said time and flexibility to care for parents, for kids, and even just themselves with mental health issues,” said Stukenberg. Entry level workers took the time to reskill. Other workers decided to quit and follow a new passion. In the last year, burnout and its associated effects have become recurring topics of conversation.

Interestingly, another study from a company found that 5% of their workers had relocated since the start of the pandemic, and an additional 7% were thinking about it. This likely means that companies are going to have to offer more than just compensation to retain and to recruit workers.

Beyond the flexibility of relocating while continuing to work remotely, there is evidence to suggest that people are working remotely while traveling for extended periods of time, or even rethinking what they want out of their jobs – especially women and people with families, who represent some of the groups that were most impacted by the pandemic. People who used to work well over 40 hours every week are re-evaluating and finding that, despite earning a decent salary or good benefits, it’s not the work style they want to do anymore.

“People are making a choice about how and where they want to live, and that really is a benefit to us as a society as a whole, rather than just a problem that we need to fix as employers and companies… in the end it’s going to make for better employees.”

Jennifer Stukenberg

In general, though, people seem to want what they’ve always wanted: the feeling of belonging to something greater; to have meaning and purpose come out of their daily actions; and to feel successful, trusted, and valued, wherever they are.


On nearly the opposite side of the spectrum, employees are requesting routine. Studies show that routines reduce stress and help with sleep patterns. Stukenberg said, “Obviously, in a routine, you use the best use of your time, you are more effective. Even creativity is increased with routine.”

Stukenberg referenced how many creative professions like writers and artists are examples of people who benefit from routine, explaining that, “that routine, that practice – that leads to creativity. It also allows your unconscious mind to…work on other things other than just managing the stress of making decisions.”

Employers can help their employees succeed through the power of routines. Some employees may benefit from set hours in a physical office, while others may do better by simply knowing when a manager is available for questions. The key is to work with and empower each employee to set their own purposeful routine, rather than forcing an assigned plan.

Connections (Without the Water Cooler)

One thing Stukenberg hears a lot of people talk about is that they miss the “water cooler moments.” Her response is usually to ask, “Who said that was the best way to develop staff and to connect?”

The proverbial water cooler moment is an informal, casual interaction that leads to connections between coworkers, and sometimes even generates breakthroughs and inspiration. However, this idea only works if all employees have equal access to the same water cooler. In the new hybrid work model, that most likely isn’t the case.

“We need to look beyond recreating just some of the past habits that we had, because that’s the way we did them, and really get to what are we trying to do? How are we trying to develop staff, and not only be intentional, but to be equitable, so that the systems that we create work for everybody?”

Jennifer Stukenberg

Since remote working started, many employees note that their work conversations have become very planned and intentional, which is good for time management but lacks serendipitous discoveries. They miss their personal connections and relationships, bumping into coworkers in the hallway, and asking about plans outside of the office – all of which help people collaborate more and work better as a team.

“This last year has reinforced the importance of social spaces, and the collaboration spaces that were frankly unheard of 10-20 years ago,” said Stukenberg. “When we see people returning back to the office, not only are we seeing CEOs…bringing technology and upgrading video capabilities, but then they’re looking at those social spaces, because that’s what is going to bring people back.

“[Employees] will come into the office and they want to recharge by connecting with people and collaborating. We’re going to see the shift to emphasis of the space being more on collaborative social spaces, and see a decrease in the overall percentage of those individual spaces. We’ll still have [the individual spaces]…there’ll just be fewer of them, and they will look different.”

Meanwhile, individual work has gotten more private – one reason why people across the board agree they love working at home. In more enclosed spaces, some employees can focus for hours without distraction, often due to a greater sense of control over their environment.

“Going back to the office is going to be somewhat of a shock to people,” said Stukenberg. “Many CEOs are predicting that virtual communication is going to be the new norm. It will be a rare occasion when you just pick up the phone and call. We need to plan our offices around not only visual distractions, but increasing the acoustical properties of the spaces. We’re spending a lot of time evaluating acoustical properties that used to be good, but no longer are going to work.”

Less Burnout

Burnout is a topic that seems to be repeated in every return to work conversation. Some have attributed it to struggling with work-life balance, others think that Zoom fatigue may be a factor. It’s important to ask each individual what they feel is causing their burnout, and then make a plan for change.

“Burnout is when you become so overwhelmed that you start not to care and have an inability to actually complete tasks. What’s interesting about burnout is many times it has nothing to do with the amount of hours that you work,” said Stukenberg. She likes to ask questions like, “Do you feel your purpose? Do you feel you are contributing, and you feel like you’re having those small wins? You’re getting reinforcement and recognition for what you do?”

Whether in the physical office or working remotely, employers will need to reinforce the organization’s purpose with what people do. Making sure that daily tasks have meaning in the workplace can be a powerful tool to remind people that they matter and bring purpose and belonging back to their lives.

What Do Post-Pandemic Employees Need to be Successful? is part one of a two-part podcast series. Part two dives deeper into how a hybrid work model can prevent burnout and better support the workers and workplace of the future. To talk to Jennifer Stukenberg about workplace strategy, email her at

Why Equity in Design Matters – Equity by Design

A few years ago, BWBR started on the path of tackling equity through extensive staff training and tough conversations. We focused on developing a culture of curiosity, empathy, and humility. We started with a focus on gender equity, created a dedicated equity task force, and examined our policies and internal practices.

We accelerated this work throughout 2020 – not solely because of the events that inspired a national movement, but because the urgency was greater than ever before to confront the inequities in our world on the topics of race, class, age, physical ability, sexual orientation, family status, or gender.

BWBR started this next phase of our journey with intensive education programming, giving our employees the context and language for complex equity conversations. We host equity discussion cafes, a monthly equity book club, and staggered intranet education campaigns on cultural diversity and why language matters when talking about equity.

There are many compelling business cases for making these moves (to yield more innovation, to more accurately reflect our clients, to better recruit and retain clients and staff, and to make sure that every person feels heard, safe, and valued – to name a few), but we also need to acknowledge the impact equity has on what we do. How does equity, diversity, and inclusion specifically relate to architecture and design?

Architects and designers know the power of the built environment – it is the stated purpose of BWBR to transform lives through exceptional environments. If the built environment can inspire and calm and heal, isn’t it possible that it can also unintentionally harm or discourage?

Women may feel vulnerable when walking near a dark corner in a building or parking garage and think, “This wasn’t designed with my safety in mind.” LGBTQ+ folks are often the target of sexual harassment or assault in gender-segregated spaces. People of Color, who are statistically more at risk of violence, may feel trapped or unsafe in certain types of spaces. Low-income neighborhoods have often been forced to accommodate infrastructure that pollutes and disrupts. Neurodivergent folks may be overstimulated or made anxious by certain patterns or design elements. Folks with mobility or vision impairment encounter obstacles in the built environment every day.

In order to design environments to be used and enjoyed by as many people as possible, we have to understand not just our own perspective, but the perspectives of those who have different lived experiences than we do, who have different cultural values, traumas, and small or large things that help them feel safe and welcome in a space. Whether it’s thermal comfort, lighting, sightlines, anthropometrics that affect cabinet height or seat width, gendered spaces like locker rooms or bathrooms, mother’s rooms, ablution spaces, modesty panels, artwork, location of a site, or a see-through staircase, equity in design affects everyone. This isn’t a question of belief or political affiliation, it’s a question of humanity and respect.

To truly transform lives through design, BWBR must first identify and understand ways that barriers are present in the design process, the built environment, and in our own organization. Only then can we actively work to dismantle those barriers. This is a process – driven by aspiration and intention to contribute to meaningful, lasting change.

As we go forward, we realize that we don’t have all the answers. These issues are incredibly complex. However, we do know that we need to continue to advance as a firm and as a profession, and to do that, we need to design the built environment for all of us.