Farnsworth Group: Forward-Focused Collaboration

Secrets of the Great Workplace
by Jonathan Wright
Photos by Kelli Drake

In the summer of 2016, Farnsworth Group relocated its Peoria office to the second floor of the Murray Building near the Peoria riverfront—one of the first corporate entities to take up residence in the Warehouse District following a renewed focus on developing the area. It was a fitting move for the century-old architectural and engineering firm, for reasons both symbolic and pragmatic—demonstrating its commitment to the community, to the downtown and to historic preservation.

“It's really important that we embrace that history… and continue to let that live on,” notes Karen Jensen, company president and CEO. “It’s an important part of what we do—especially for a revitalized building—to pull in that history so it's a reflection of the past as you go into the future. Those really need to be tied together.”

Both Old and New
“Our Peoria team has wanted to be in the downtown/Warehouse District for many years,” says Gary Davis, Farnsworth Group principal and manager of the Peoria office. “When the opportunity presented itself to design the entire historic building renovation and improvements—plus occupy an entire floor—we realized that longtime dream.”

Old buildings tend to be well-made with lots of character, and the Murray Building is certainly no exception. Built in the 1920s, the four-story, brick-and-concrete landmark had been a fixture of Peoria’s downtown for over eight decades, housing dozens of businesses over the years, and most recently serving as a hub for local artists.

“They don’t build them like this anymore,” declares Kayse Doering, architect and project manager. The building’s rich history is celebrated in the exterior signage retained from its past lives—the painted Murray catalog store signs and Stuber Building lettering—as well as the original passenger elevator, main stairway and walls of one of the freight elevators, now repurposed as a breakout meeting room. “It still has the steel structure and pulleys visible,” she notes, adding that the firm’s conference rooms are named for previous tenants: Murray, Boss, Stuber and Federal.

The second-floor workspace was designed with an open-floor plan—offering great benefits in an industry that thrives on collaboration. “Our design teams work closely together on client projects, and the open working environment enhances this process,” Davis explains. That includes collaboration areas for groups ranging from two to 70 people, while several private rooms are available for confidential calls and conversations.

For Doering, the building’s location and aesthetics have made for a perfect office space. “With the way the space is laid out and the workspaces closer to the large windows, it allows more daylight to penetrate further into the office,” she explains. In addition, the rooftop patio—where “you get a great view in every direction”—is a highlight for staff, clients and visitors alike.

“We enjoy the location along the river and the views we are able to provide,” adds Davis. “The rustic features of the building, combined with modern design elements… give us the best of both old and new within one space.”

A Great Place to Work
In 2017, Farnsworth Group was certified as a great workplace by the independent analysts at Great Place to Work for the second year in a row. The certification is based on comprehensive, anonymous employee surveys—a deep dive into workplace culture that allows the firm to obtain valuable feedback from the people closest to them.

“[It] is one of the most recognized designations in the U.S. business community—and a real testament to the culture that has been built by our employees,” Jensen says. “The survey indicated that more than 95 percent of our employees take great pride in working at Farnsworth Group… which ultimately serves to the benefit of our clients.” Nearly 300 employees completed the survey, offering high ratings for work/life balance, ethical business practices, workplace pride and special-event celebrations. Among the programs singled out for praise:

  • Mentorship program: Potential leaders are partnered with a senior staff member for one year, giving them an internal advocate for their career growth.
  • Service awards: Employees are recognized for their dedication to the company, with awards for every five years of service.
  • Wellness program: A robust wellness and fitness program is available to all employees, including reimbursement for fitness equipment or health club memberships and on-site wellness screenings for employees and spouses.
  • Employee recognition: Employees can recognize other employees who go above and beyond their duties with coupons which can be redeemed for prizes.
  • Community support: Whether serving on a board or volunteering for a nonprofit organization, Farnsworth employees take pride in giving back.
  • Sustainability programs: Several events encourage personal and corporate sustainability, including the Green Business Challenge and bike-to-work initiatives.
  • FGInstitute: Farnsworth Group’s corporate institute provides employee training on a variety of topics.
  • Onboarding program: A companywide program welcomes and integrates new employees into the firm, training them on the tools, systems and processes available to them.

For Justin Reeise, project engineer, the firm has offered a fulfilling career path. “Farnsworth Group is a great place to work because it provides the opportunity to work on wide variety of projects with great clients,” he says. “What makes Farnsworth Group a great place to work is the people,” adds Mike Pollock, project designer. “We have expert staff in every aspect of our business, providing opportunities for us all to grow in our abilities. When we are united in our efforts, I am confident there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.” iBi

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