Harry Foster and Lauren McInnes from White Ink Architects are presented with the ‘Employer for the Future’ Award by Sinead Cavanagh, group sales operations manager at The Irish News

For White Ink Architects, it’s all about thinking inside-out

SINCE its formation two decades ago, White Ink Architects has always approached buildings in a unique way – by thinking inside-out (it starts inside – it works outside).

The business operates as an ‘Employee-Owned Trust’, where it is proven that employees are more engaged and committed.

And White Ink certainly enhanced its already glowing reputation by walking off with two top gongs at the Irish News Workplace & Employment Awards – Best Place to Work (small) and the coveted Employer for the Future accolade.

Its application said: “We believe in growing the business from the inside out, ensuring that the White Ink staff are fulfilled watching out and learning from each other; listening and valuing.

“We’re a curious bunch. Continuous learning, personal development and wellbeing is an important part of our culture. We’re proud of our structured CPD program, structured wellbeing drive and our aim to help everybody become the best they can be to safeguard our future.

“We’re also a collaborative bunch. Working together to solve problems in our work extends from buildings we design and deliver to planning for the future of the company.”

White Ink began humbly in 2001 with a small but dedicated team of three, but today it has blossomed into a diverse and highly trained team of 35 – and counting!

Until 2020 the practice was fully owned by their founding directors. But at the 20-year milestone, it decided to take a bold new step for the company: to shape its future and reward the future of every staff member whose efforts continue to make it so successful.

The directors’ wanted a plan for the company’s future that would secure their eventual succession, while sustaining the special culture and community already nurtured during its lifetime.

After a lot of exploration, that this steadiness would be assured by becoming an EOT or ‘Employee-Owned Trust’. This would facilitate the rewards so desired for every member of staff. It means employees get the benefits of being an owner without individual risk; the EOT model means future directors of the practice will be determined by leadership skills and talent – not the ability to access funds to buy the owners out; the EOT model also benefits clients, because every employee has a vested interest in the success of the practice and therefore, their continued work ethos.

This is how working for the future should be done! Growing the business from the inside out, ensuring that staff are fulfilled, watching out and learning from each other, listening and valuing. And they’re also a curious bunch at this company!

Becoming at EOT has reinforced White Ink’s long-held belief that its success stems directly from its passionate team.

As the first consultancy company headquartered in Northern Ireland to become an EOT, White Ink sees itself as an exemplar for this type of business progression – mainly because this is no leap into the unknown within the industry (according to the Architects’ Journal over 25 per cent of the UK’s 100 largest architect practices are now employee owned).

White Ink take the technical aspect of its design work very seriously and is proud that it informs its early conceptual work, giving the client well designed, reliable, and buildable solutions from the outset.

All staff have been trained and received a profile with the HBDI Whole Brain Thinking Model. This model is used to understand each person’s thinking, communicating and decision-making preferences, both day to day and when under pressure.

As each staff member now has an understanding of themselves and their thinking styles, it has led to greater understanding and of others and has boosted wellbeing, connectivity and appreciation of the team.

The company consistently invests in new technologies to improve its business and services for the future and the new normal following the pandemic.

It has designed and implemented a fully customised management system called ‘INKtree’ using their new O365 infrastructure, replacing spreadsheets/documents which caused duplication and replication errors.

Indeed its investment in IT and technology continues to provide opportunities for staff to work remotely and seamlessly whilst travelling for work throughout the UK. Equally, some staff have been able to work seamlessly from as far away as Spain and Dubai.

Staff wellbeing is central to the values and success of White Ink Architects. And to ensure it targeted the correct areas it encouraged a staff-led initiative to form their wellbeing strategy.
A staff survey and subsequent workshops guided a collaborative and holistic approach to its wellbeing strategy – encompassing financial, social, physical and mental wellbeing to be addressed at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.

“By targeting wellbeing at three different levels of intervention, we aim to ensure topics are addressed at high-level strategy, secondary interventions and with light-hearted, spur of the moment touches that make staff feel appreciated and valued,” the company says.

Its efforts over the last year have seen White Ink achieve the following:

  • £217 million construction value delivered including 191 new homes and 642 new hotel rooms
  • £396 million construction value of projects still ‘on the drawing board’
  • Three associates promoted, five new full-time staff employed (39 per cent of its architects are female, well above the UK average of 29.6 per cent)
  • Over £2,000 raised in charitable donations and 500kg of food donated
  • 244 trees planted as part of their ‘28 Day Fitness Challenge’