I have always carried in mind a picture of the “ideal work place” and unconsciously looking for it since I started working in environmental education 7 years ago. (Well who doesn’t ^^). Interestingly, the place closest to my imagination of such a working environment is located right here in Missoula and I am fortunate enough to be with them during my fellowship here. That place is called EPI – Ecology Project International.
Here are top 4 things that make EPI the “happy workplace” I am looking for, although it was really difficult for me to compress all what I like here into only 4 points.
1. A throughout, clear and strong vision leads the way
Currently running 6 locations (Belize, Costa Rica, Galapagos, Baja, Yellowstone and the newly opened Hawaii), you would think that it’s difficult to maintain a string connecting all the different sites and programs. However, the message I received from any staff from any office of EPI is very clear and coherent. Everyone shows a strong determination in empowering youth to take action in nature conservation.
After talking with many EPI members over meetings, coffee time and skype interview, I have a firm believe that this common will in their work all started from how the executive team keeps passionately reminding them of their vision and mission to the world. The scientific and practical approach to conservation is also a unique characteristic that all EPI staff are proud of.
As Scott Pankratz, EPI Co-founder said: “We want to give youth a mechanism to become active in conservation and be out in the field, making a difference on the ground, helping out habitats, ecosystems, and scientists.”
As a non-profit officer, I truly understand the importance of keeping your values and vision in everything that you do. It’s so easy to go off track when you are busy tracing achievements and funding sources, which I have fell into sometimes.
2. This is a learning organization
I would always remember what Kris Wright – EPI’s HR manager told me: “A learning organization is an organization where staff learn together”. Staff learning together is exactly what I have observed here in EPI. It’s not unusual if you overheard a conversation in EPI about how to do compost at home, which book one person recommends to another or what is a good healthy smoothies recipe.
More interestingly, members of executive team actually went to courses about learning organization and later implemented the knowledge and experience into practices and sharing sections in EPI. There are posters about reflective conversation, thoughtfulness or understanding around the office. These tools are actively being used in different activities involving all staff from online work to offline meeting or staff retreat.
This probably one of the reason while I always felt supported when working with any EPI staff from the co-founder to the manager or project assistant.
3. An open, interactive and flexible working environment
The working environment in EPI is designed to maximize work effectiveness by simply letting employee be themselves and at their best. There were no dress-code, people can bring their dogs to the office, working tables are designed to meet individuals’ need (some staff actually prefer to work standing).
Even though each department has their own room, they usually have mutual activities where all staff can join. I was particularly impressed by their “Gong moment” when a “happy” announcement will be made by calling everyone to a circle of sharing. These “community moment” are truly treasured hence everyone in the office will stop whatever they are doing to be present with each other.
In EPI – as in everywhere in Missoula – people are super friendly. They will welcome you with a smile and “hi how’s it going?” and offer you a helping hand anytime you need.
Keeping a strong yet flexible connection in a 30-staff office is certainly not easy. EPI has done this wonderfully and was voted as “top 100 best place to work at” in the US by the staff.
4. Eco-living practices are everywhere
I was lucky to be able to join the commune challenge with EPI when all staff tried to commune sustainably by carpooling, bicycling or walking to work. EPI was in a 2-week challenge competing between non-profit organizations in green transportation. Moreover, the most sustainable staff in the week even get awarded with ice-cream voucher (who wouldn’t want that!). Being a sustainable living educator, I always pay attention to the green incentives and was pleased to see so many of them are in place in EPI. Not just in terms of transportation, energy and water saving are highly encouraged and gently reminded in the office. Local products are always their first choice.
As a conservation organization, living the motto is really important and I’m happy to see it happening in EPI.
The fellowship exchange was not a long time, but the knowledge and experience I learned from EPI is even better than taking any management and sustainability course. I feel truly grateful to every EPI staff, especially Sydney and Krystin who coordinated us, to Mansfield Center and to YSEALI program for making this happen. Now I’m excited to think about how I will apply all the lesson learned into my work back in Vietnam.
Ngo Thi Phuong Thao – Vietnam