Redesigning a networking practice in the post-pandemic era

Five surprising benefits from serving on the board of the AIA's Canada Chapter

Architects intuitively understand the importance of networking. However, it’s also a concept that often gets implemented only after dealing with our “putting out the fire” lists: meeting deadlines, working on one more design scheme, responding to clients and consultants in our daily practice.

I recently experienced the benefits of networking through serving on the newly established AIA Canada Society’s board—which was surprising to me, since my work with the Society took place almost entirely during the though the pandemic.

In the fall of 2019—before anyone knew how a virus was going to change our lives—I received an email from someone I met at an AIA Conference years ago. He invited me to get involved with the newly established AIA Canada Chapter, which consists of US-licensed architects practicing in Canada.

The lack of AIA presence here in Canada has always seemed peculiar to me, considering that I have met many Canadian architects who had studied and gotten licensed in the US. Perhaps due to our proximity to the US, it was felt that there was no need for a separate board presence in Canada. We could all attend the AIA conferences happening in the US.

But this is not practical or economical for many Canadian architects with AIA designations. Every year, I have to consider carefully whether the expense of renewing my AIA membership is worthwhile—as I am sure is the case for many other Canadian architects who trained in the States.

The newly established Canadian chapter made it much more relevant to retain my AIA connection. Serving on the board seemed like a logical next step.

This “logical next step” turned out to be something completely unexpected—and valuable—in the pandemic era.

 

  1. Connection between the AIA and AIA Canada chapter

Although there is name recognition with the AIA, I did not think there would be much of a connection between the AIA national organization, AIA international component of the association, and the newly established AIA Canada Society.

I was wrong. We received guidance on launching continuing education seminars, setting up sponsorships, and other initiatives—as well as significant financial support from the AIA’s national and international organization.

Now that I have been part of the Canadian board for some time, my initial thought that our board would have little connection with those organizations has proved to be unfounded. It also reflects how there are a considerable number of US-licensed architects practicing in Canada.

 

  1. Board operation gives insights into running an architecture practice

It turns out that my fear of having to take on extra work due to the board position was also unfounded.

Having monthly board meetings with directors who come from different parts of Canada—as well as different personal and practice backgrounds—has given me access to diverse perspectives. These enrich my professional experience as an architect, and also as a business owner running an architecture practice.

Recently at a board conference call, we discussed the topic of design award guidelines. This gave me insights into the marketing materials our office was planning at the time. Getting a glimpse of the “behind the scenes” logistics of design awards is an absolute-must for an architect’s marketing knowledge.

 

  1. Making personal connections

Networking is a well-known benefit of volunteer work on boards. It might be the single biggest reason why people are willing to spend their time serving on boards.

Although I have only mostly with my fellow board members through zoom so far, I recognize the relationships forming among us.

I knew that being part of a board would present professional networking opportunities, however, what I didn’t anticipate was making deeper personal connections with some board members. Before the pandemic, a chance meeting with one board member was followed with a dinner, and has led to a few other conversations since.

While discussing board work and also learning about our backgrounds, I realized that we were connecting on a deeper level rather than simply creating a networking relationship.

 

  1. AIA name recognition

While working on the sponsorship for a virtual conference last October, I sent out approximately 20 emails to potential sponsors. I heard back from almost all of them.

“Pitching” emails take time and effort to write, and it is often challenging to receive follow-ups. However, with the AIA’s name recognition attached to the emails, the response rate has been exceptional.

Reaching out to a well-known potential speaker in the construction industry—and receiving a response the next day—was another success which made the work rewarding.

 

  1. The chance to make a difference in our communities and profession

There are many changes that have been forced upon us due to the pandemic. Our only option is to respond to these changes with an attitude of flexibility.

Serving on a professional board during this strange time has been an unexpected and rewarding professional experience.

While working with other board members on building and developing the AIA’s presence for Canadian architects, we’ve engaged with topics such as climate change, sustainability, communities and resilience. My work has given me a tremendous education.

The single biggest shift in my perspective since joining the board has been that we can COLLECTIVELY make a difference in serving the Canadian architecture communities and the profession.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”

Serving on the AIA Canada Society has been one of those experiments—and one I will cherish for a long time to come.

Onah Jung (OAA, AIA, LEED AP) is a principal of Toronto-based architecture firm Studio Jonah. She has spent a decade working on diverse architectural projects both in the US and Canada. Onah serves as Treasurer for the AIA Canada Society and is the editor for the online platform Life Outside of Design Office.

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