EXCELLENCE is a beginning point
INTEGRITY is at the core of our decision making and actions
EMPOWERMENT with accountability makes better decisions
COLLABORATION leverages the best in everyone
BALANCE gives us fuel to do our best
STEWARDSHIP ensures a future
CARING for each other is what holds us together

In a firm of 370 people, we strive to make the best decisions possible for our teams, our clients, and our business. We talk in the corporate world about making data-driven decisions; an admirable goal, but only when we remember that each data point represents a real person. The people we work with are diverse, talented, joyful, and endlessly fascinating. They come to our team with expertise and enthusiasm, and the rest of their lives, too: families and friends, human bodies requiring care and rest, goals and worries that have nothing to do with their job titles. These people are the foundation of our firm and are the reason we enjoy doing the jobs we do; taking care of them is fundamental to everything else we achieve together.

How do we, as leaders or colleagues, care for the people around us? The strategies are rooted in showing up for each other, taking time to get to know our coworkers and clients and design partners, and focusing on the small things that make a big difference in our day-to-day lives.

Paying Attention

Caring starts with paying attention. It’s about remembering the little (or big) things that we learn as we work alongside each other – birthdays, a kid’s recital, a medical test or a big exam – and asking later, “How did that go?” When we remember someone’s favorite team, their go-to 3 PM snack, their hobby, or their recent vacation plans, we let them know that we care enough to follow up. Everyone bonds over talking about things that bring us joy, and it’s nice to be able to “bring your whole self to work.” We are all more than the jobs we do during the work week.

Being thoughtful can be as simple as a nod or a smile in a meeting that says, “I see you and I know what’s on your mind.” When we really pay attention, we notice when people are feeling great about something, or when they’re feeling subpar. Something as simple as dropping a mason jar full of flowers from the yard or the grocery store on someone’s desk can make all the difference between feeling like we’re dealing with a problem alone, and feeling like we’re part of a supportive team.

Realizing that the “Small Things” Aren’t Small at All

A little kindness generates outsized impacts. We remember the thoughtful words and gestures that make us feel appreciated and supported. A moment of shared conversation by the coffee maker, a quick chat on the way out of a meeting, or a Teams message saying, “hi, just thinking about you!” are all great opportunities to check in and connect authentically with our colleagues.

The small things feel even bigger when we’re in a tough spot. When colleagues are working hard to hit a deadline, or it feels like things are a slog, a handwritten note of appreciation means a lot. (This should be a real letter with a real stamp on it- everyone loves to get surprise mail in the mailbox). Better yet, thanking their families for sharing their loved one with us when we know their time together is precious conveys sincere gratitude. (Surprises like gift cards for a coffee run for the team who’s working hard never go amiss, either.) It’s not costly to show appreciation, but people will remember it.

Listening, Even When (Maybe Especially When) People Aren’t Talking

Listening is one of the most important tools in our toolbox when it comes to caring for the people around us. When someone needs to sit down and pour their heart out, carve out the time and space to be present and fully hear them. It’s good to ask, “What would you like me to do with this information?” before racing to fix the issue; often, people just need to vent and feel heard. We can empathize without having to share a similar story. Though that can feel like a helpful strategy in the moment, it can also read as one-upmanship, and takes the focus off of what our colleagues are trying to tell us.

Some people aren’t natural “sharers” in terms of personal details and emotions, and that’s okay. Architects, in particular, have a reputation for introversion. With people who are hesitant to open up, sometimes having the courage to be vulnerable first creates a safe space for conversation. Sometimes when something seems awry, we learn that what looks like a bad mood or inattentiveness is something else entirely- a tough anniversary, or a medical diagnosis, or a family issue that has nothing to do with the task at hand. When we care enough to ask, “Are you ok?” sometimes we can offer better support and avoid misplaced assumptions. Occasionally, of course, someone will meet us with ugliness; responding back with kindness helps to disarm and deescalate emotional situations from a place of sincerity and caring.

Making Sure People Have What They Need to Thrive

The last two years have been wearing for us all. Our situations vary greatly, but the impacts of long-term stress are real and visible. It helps to acknowledge that many of us are feeling stress, burnout, and decision fatigue. Proactive, positive mental health is critical to everything else we do in life, and it’s important to make sure our team members feel encouraged and empowered to take the time they need to be as healthy as possible. We offer paid sick leave, and trust that employees will use this time when they need to spend time in nature or find a way to recharge when our emotional resources are at a low ebb. We want people to find a work flow- and a work location- that allows them to take care of their whole selves. We love being together physically in the office, but we know that everyone has different needs, so we provide as much flexibility as possible.

When someone appears to be struggling, whatever the cause, the fundamental question is “how can we help?” We always want to provide team members with everything they need to be successful, then lock arms with them and walk with them out of the struggle. We want to make sure everyone learns and grows in the work they do, and realize that difficult times are an opportunity to build resilience. We can’t necessarily “fix” everything, but we can make sure people aren’t alone in their struggles.

The most effective people around us are often the ones with a “servant leadership” mindset. We have to prioritize caring for the people around us in order to accomplish anything worth doing; our people make us who we are as a firm and a community. Caring is not a one-size-fits-all recipe. We have to be present, pay attention, really listen, and take the time to notice what’s going on around you. Share as much joy as you can, and be careful not to steal anyone else’s joy by accident. It doesn’t take much effort to make a big impact.

About Kristie

Senior Associate Kristie Nicoloff, an award-winning, nationally accredited designer with over 26 years of healthcare experience in interior design and facility project management, serves as Operations and Finance Manager Healthcare Sector Leader for the Greenville office.  Kristie’s previous professional experience includes project management and design while working as a Senior Project Manager and Space Planner at major healthcare systems in Asheville, NC and Greenville, SC; she has also worked as an interior designer at firms in North Carolina and Illinois.


Kristie earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Architecture with emphasis in Design from Northern Illinois University. She is actively engaged in community and professional service as a member of CREW serving on the Events Committee, the ASID IMPACT Review Task Force, the South Carolina Chapter of Women in Healthcare as Membership Chair, and the IIDA Carolinas Chapter. She has served on the Board of Directors in various roles at the Vice President level for 10 years and volunteered with multiple Upstate universities as an adviser for program accreditation review and in student reviews. Kristie has been active in promoting licensure for her profession through legislation at the state level, in both North and South Carolina, and is an avid supporter of the Girl Scouts of America, having served at the local troop level and the Service Unit level for the past decade.