CEO Ammar Al Assam spoke at Index Design Talks about how Dewan Architects + Engineers sets about creating a work environment where employees are able to flourish
How do you create a great learning environment that fosters growth and development?
Our people, or Dewanees as we call them, are our greatest asset. The environment we try to create here is one where they are happy, they feel safe, and they are able to learn and grow professionally. Dewan 20 years ago was a different company to what it was 15 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago and so on. We have around 30 different nationalities, and I believe this is a key strength as it creates a place of curiosity, diversity of thought and perspective. You also have to understand and adapt your working environment to the cultural nuances of different offices. Our UAE office might be different to our Manila office, or our Egypt office might be different to our UAE office for instance; so it is about creating an environment across the business that takes into account those different cultures.
Are there any specific measures you have adopted?
We have invested in a technology, an app, where we are able to measure employee engagement; whether it’s related to happiness when it comes to projects people are involved in, learning, career growth, etcetera. We started this over a year ago and it’s proving to be a great learning tool for us to understand what’s happening across our offices and adapt our approach where necessary to become a better organization. At the same time, you have to be transparent. We have a relatively flat organization structure where employees are able to speak with myself, able to speak with their line manager or HR, and I believe this allows for higher staff retention.
Is there still a gap between education and the workplace?
I believe that nothing beats practical experience, but that gap between education and the workplace is lessening. If you go back 20 years ago it was a much wider gap. You left university and went into the workplace and you were in a completely alien environment. But now the schools, colleges and universities have much better interaction with the corporate world. Students today have better and easier access to information. We’re actually finding that graduates are coming to us from the at a much higher level of technical knowhow than before as they are already designing with software such as BIM or Revit. We also have several initiatives to support young designers such as leadership programmes and the Dewan Award of Architecture where students can earn a six-month internship with us. But learning doesn’t stop after university, it’s about constant learning. And the way the industry is progressing with design, technology and the metaverse, it’s becoming so experientially driven that we’re constantly having to evolve in order to stay ahead.