In this latest installment in our #RVAFlex series, Mark Bruder, RVA’s Structural Engineer, tells us how you can truly do it all as a full-time working parent with flexible working arrangements. From getting your kids to preschool to mentoring the next generation of leaders, Mark talks about how flexibility holds the key to creating a progressive firm culture that is inclusive of changing family dynamics and the evolving needs that emerge at different phases in life and career.
- What does a flexible working culture mean to you?
It’s a sign that the firm’s management has a strong sense of trust and respect for the individuals working here. It doesn’t really matter what time we start or finish our day, or which days we work. We’re all professionals who will take the time needed to get the job done when it’s due. I believe that this trust has always been there, but formalizing a global policy of flexible work simply reinforces the trust we have in each other and our teams. It’s important to me that it’s not just a policy, but it’s enshrined into our culture. The need for flexible work became more apparent during COVID, and we’re lucky to be in the type of business where we can pivot and then capitalize on all the benefits that come from this reinforced trust in our culture.
I have differing opinions on industries that thrive on moving fast and breaking things. The academic fundamentals of civil and structural engineering tend to shift slow, while the technical tools we use can change quite fast. We’ve evolved from pencils to 2D CAD to 3D/BIM, so who knows where we’ll pivot next. There’s no reason we can’t also consider changing the way we run the company. Whether you’re interested in simply cranking out solid designs each day, or have ambitions to run the whole show, our flexible working culture can benefit everyone at every level. And we should be helping everyone, regardless of their current role.
- Which aspects of RVA’s flexible working arrangements do you enjoy the most, and why?
I really enjoy the 4-day summer work week. Just being able to do a bit of weekend work on a Friday is key. It means I can spend that much more time with my family and friends. As a dad with two young kids, it can be hard to find time on the weekends to do the things that are needed around the house, or to chip away at personal projects. Having a day to catch up on all those things while my daughters are at preschool is a huge de-stressor. On the weekend, we can play outside, visit the grandparents, bounce at the trampoline park – all things I’d rather be doing than folding laundry or tidying things that have piled up over the week!
The reality is that in this industry, our priorities can switch so quickly. But my number one priority in my life is to provide stability and safety to my family. This means doing good work at RVA for the financial support side, but also putting in the work of maintaining my mental health. I can’t do that if I’m letting the routine stuff get away from me. On Fridays, I still monitor for emails, and I’m on standby for calls when some construction projects need quick answers. It’s a balance.
- Tell us about a time when flexible working arrangements were helpful to you.
I have a four-year-old and a one-and-a-half-year-old, and boy, do they have appointments! My wife is also in night school, so it’s a busy household. It’s important to know that it’s okay to take time to attend to my kids, as I can just pick up the hours later. With flexible hours, I can drop my kids off at preschool, work a solid day at the office, close my laptop at 4 pm, pick them up, cook them dinner, and make sure everything is taken care of until their heads hit the pillow at 6:30 pm. If need be, I get some work done later in the evening when no one is expected to respond to an email. This can be just to complete a menial task to save 10 minutes the following day. I’ve changed thousands of poopy diapers in my life, so I know what it’s like to be fully immersed in parenting duties. It’s absolutely not a sign of being uncommitted to this job. With flexible work, you can have your cake and eat it too.
- How has flexible working enhanced the way you engage and collaborate with your teams?
I think flexible working has shown that there are more efficient ways to collaborate than just through physical presence.
In September of 2019, I moved back to my hometown of London, Ontario after working in RVA’s Toronto office for over a decade. I wanted to be closer to my parents and needed more space for my growing family. At the time, I was managing a large quantity of projects in Toronto. Some of these had capital budgets of many hundreds of millions of dollars. I moved before RVA and our clients had fully embraced and integrated a functioning digital collaboration environment for meetings, like Microsoft Teams. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to manage the work without maintaining a regular presence with my clients, contractors, and work colleagues. But after everything shut down in March of 2020 due to COVID, everyone else also had to figure out how to keep their projects afloat. So, it was good timing for me, as I was lucky to have had a 6-month head start.
Pivoting and quickly becoming efficient with new modes of digital collaboration was a game-changer for our firm. Previously, I’d often spend many hours each week driving into downtown Toronto (always an adventure) for meetings in person. Leaving RVA’s Toronto office, paying $30 for parking, walk up flights of stairs and taking escalators, having the meeting, and then driving back to the office was horribly inefficient. I always felt that I could have been doing necessary work instead of simply waiting in traffic all the time. With the adoption of these online collaboration systems, a physical presence isn’t really needed as much. A quick call over Teams, turning on the camera, and sharing documents saves so much time and energy. From a business perspective, we get things done faster, in greater quantity and quality, and we’ve maintained control of our projects.
Flexible working has enhanced the way I’ve engaged with my colleagues now that we’re all on the same page and we understand the same benefits. I’ve never felt like I’ve gotten more work done than when at home, with fewer distractions, and with everyone on the same platform – first out of necessity during the pandemic, but now often out of choice from the many options we’ve been given through flexible work. In my view, this was a forced technological acceleration for our industry that has paid off.
- What would you tell your friends and colleagues about flexible working at RVA?
It’s great – you should come work here!
Every time I tell people about our flexible work policy, specifically the 4-day work week, their eyes widen and they say, “I wish we were doing that.” Sometimes it’s hard for us wrap our heads around it, as clients and contractors still work on Fridays. But I want to encourage everyone – especially to young professionals – that this can be a legitimate way to work.
You can be an entrepreneur inside this company, seeking new clients or opportunities, finding and managing a new project, and know that you don’t just have flexibility in your schedule but also in your career. We want to attract, grow, and retain the people we see as next-level superstars. The flexible work policy is one way to help accomplish this goal. Fact is, we’re not going to be issuing good deliverables if we don’t attract and develop the next generation’s leaders. I’m focusing on learning and helping to address the wants and needs of the next generation. I remember what it was like to be a young Engineer in Training, struggling to learn quickly and adapt to a changing environment, taking on additional responsibilities, and working to make fewer mistakes. We’re committed to finding and developing new methods and working styles to retain this talent, to make their lives seamless, and to make their evolving responsibilities more manageable.
- What role does flexible working play in your professional development?
Outside of RVA project work, I love to volunteer. I’m frequently giving presentations to technical groups, going to universities to engage students, and writing technical papers. I do these things because I like giving back to the industry, and I hope my efforts are a benefit to the profession. RVA has a great system to incentivize these activities, including financial assistance.
I’m also the head judge for the Canadian National Steel Bridge Competition. I spend a lot of time organizing the event, preparing the rules, recruiting and training judges, and ensuring the competition is fair for all university students, so any extra time I have to make these events a success for everyone is welcomed. The Bridge Competition is a major highlight of my year, and the students have a tremendous amount of infectious energy for structural engineering.
This post is part of a social media series on Flexible Work Arrangements, which features firsthand accounts from RVA’ers on how our culture of flexibility has empowered them to work better, live healthier, and perform stronger. If you’re interested in learning more about RVA’s firm culture, make sure to follow #RVAFlex on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
We think we’ve built a pretty special place to be and to work, and we’re always on the lookout for people to join our driven and dynamic team. If what we do excites you, we encourage you to explore our open positions on our Careers page!