All Work and No Play Makes Matt a Dull Boy

Previously, we looked at a typical day at the office for a Planner. If the thought of sitting at your desk all day makes you shudder, you’re in luck… As a Planner, you’ll have lots of opportunities to get out and about.

Here’s a few:

  • Meetings – Meetings are the most common respite from the office, and include client meetings, meetings with stakeholders, and meetings with other members of a consultant team. During more complicated studies, these meetings are a good opportunity to learn from professionals in different fields (i.e. engineering, shoreline specialists, sustainability experts), so listen up! While these meetings are generally pretty subdued (i.e. sit around a table and discuss things), they’re occasionally much more interesting. I’ve had meetings in someone’s living room, in a house nestled in the woods, while their dog ran around my feet. Other people in my office have participated in smudge ceremonies and drumming demonstrations with First Nations groups to kick off a meeting.
  • Site Visits – One of the greatest things about Planning is that you get to visit and think about all types of places, from Downtowns and university campuses, to waterfronts and pristine greenfield sites. On more than one occasion, I’ve spent entire work days on the beach in beautiful Summer weather (though this goes both ways, and I’ve spent some pretty cold and rainy Fall days there as well). Site visits are generally done on foot, but for a larger study area, a bus tour (with key stops) is not uncommon. Sometimes for a proposal, site tours are mandatory. All teams bidding will meet and tour the site with the client. Once a project is awarded, the first meeting with the client will often involve a site tour where the team can discuss issues in context.
  • Flying in Tiny Airplanes – Like a site visit on steroids. Occasionally we’ll book a flyover of a site in order to take aerial photos. If you’ve never been on a two-man plane, take the opportunity if it presents itself. This is really an amazing way to see a site, and understand how all of it’s systems work together. Word of advice – wear gloves! Even in the summer it’s surprisingly cold to put your hands out the window of an airplane. Recently, we’ve purchased a drone! This may make these trips obsolete, but is an equally cool way to experience a site (and double exciting for a tech junkie like myself).
  • Workshops/Charrettes – Like meetings, but funner (and longer). Workshops are an opportunity for the consultants to work directly with the client, stakeholder groups, and/or the public, to create plans, solve problems, etc. Workshops with the client (and key stakeholders) have the benefit of engaging all relevant parties, ensuring important decisions can be made to keep things moving smoothly. Likewise, public workshops (we’ll touch on these more in future posts) encourage valuable input from those who live, work and play in the study area and inevitably understand it better than you (despite all your research and site visits). Workshops can have many formats, but are generally very hands-on, encouraging participants to sketch ideas, build models, rank images, etc.
  • Conferences – As a Planner, there are lots of opportunities to attend conferences, as a speaker and/or an attendee. There are a number of big conferences every year, such as the CIP conference and the OPPI (or your equivalent) Conference. Because these are multi-day events, you may find that they’re generally reserved for more senior staff. However, I strongly recommend keeping an eye out for smaller, local conferences which will typically focus on specific issues (i.e. cycling, sustainability, etc.). These are a great opportunity to get experience presenting (if possible), and also to meet and learn from your peers.
  • Coffee Shop Sessions – Not for everyone, but if you have pretty flexible bosses, and need a change of scenery, skip out to a coffee shop for the afternoon and get some ‘work’ done.
  • Office Outings – My favourite, of course! To maintain high morale, and ensure that employees get to know each other outside of work, it’s important to provide lots of opportunities to get out of the office together. Most companies understand this and will book seasonal outings, office parties, birthday lunches, etc. However, don’t wait for a formal event to socialize outside of the office. If it’s a nice summer day, send an office-wide email to see if anyone wants to join you on a patio for lunch, or at a nearby park. These informal outings will allow you to get out of the office anytime you need a break.

I’m sure I’m missing some, but the key here is that you’re not doomed to sit in computer hell all day. In fact, as you gain more experience, and move into more senior positions, you may find that there are entire weeks when you’re barely in the office – which is both a blessing and a curse, depending on your workload at the time.

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