How We Work Now: Shelter Architecture

How We Work Now: Shelter Architecture

Hybrid is hard in an apprenticeship-driven business.

Despite the hands-on nature of their work, Shelter Architecture in Minneapolis adapted remarkably well to remote collaboration in the early days of pandemic lockdowns. “We showed our work on Zoom and were able to direct attention to drawings,” says architect and founder Jackie Millea. But as remote work dragged on, Millea began to worry about the firm’s employee pipeline.

“Architecture is an apprentice-based business. We wanted to make sure less experienced team members were hearing the conversations.”

This past summer, Shelter asked junior employees to return to the office Monday through Thursday. Leaders are expected to be in one to two days a week, with a shared calendar to ensure at least one senior staffer is present. “There was some grumbling, but now some are coming in even more than expected. It’s building camaraderie,” Millea says. Shelter recently relocated from Northeast Minneapolis to International Market Square near downtown. 

Here are some key culture shifts:

  • Group activities. Wednesday is often a “lunch and learn” day with guest speakers or a project. In December, everyone made gingerbread houses; one week it was yard signs with outside judges invited to pick a winner.
  • Shared space. Dedicated desks have been replaced by community tables. “I try to move around, get different experiences,” Millea says. “But we are working through where to put our personal things with no desk of your own.” The firm added lockers for those who log the most office time.
  • Client growth. Virtual work made it easier to take on projects that are farther away. “We know we have a good way to deliver a shared design experience that doesn’t feel remote.”

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