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Recognizing a Changing Workplace: Expectations and Culture
Publication Date
July 14th 2020

For nearly a year as we approach our 60th anniversary, we have celebrated Urban Engineers’ culture, people, and projects. In honor of our anniversary in August, we asked staff to reflect on changes in our workplace, diversity, expectations, and passions. Read on for staff responses.


Changing Expectations 

Employee benefits have expanded over time. Priorities of a staff of seven in 1960 are much different than those of a staff of hundreds in 2020. Our Human Resources department answered questions on the topic:



What benefits have been added or altered to adapt to changing expectations and interests from staff?

HR: Families come in all shapes and sizes. Our policies reflect our employees needs today and help them support their family. We expanded parental leave and added leave for parents who adopt children. We also expanded our bereavement policy. 


We provide programs and incentives to support increasing employee focus on wellness. We introduced Fitness Force in 2009, which allows employees to create teams and challenge each other in fitness competitions. In 2015, we began providing online wellness platforms to staff to encourage them to record daily exercise routines and learn about healthy habits. Using the platforms, employee earn points that can be redeemed for cash rewards at the end of the year. In addition, we added more in-person and virtual lunchtime seminars featuring experts discussing topics such as wellness challenges, proper stretching, proper diet, and healthy cooking. 


What other changes in employee habits have you seen?

HR: Many employees prefer to bike to work. This goes along with the increased focus on fitness, as well as sustainability. Urban supports these employees in offices where biking is popular by making amenities available to cyclists, such as onsite bike racks and shower facilities. Our Philadelphia office has a share bike that can be borrowed by employees for quick trips around the city. 


Where do employees at Urban turn for support? 

HR: Urban supports many employee-run advocacy groups. The Urban Women’s Professional Network aims to support women in the firm, provide mentorship opportunities, and encourage leadership. The Urban Younger Members Forum advocates for the needs of younger employees, and provides opportunities for volunteering and camaraderie, as well as professional growth. We also have a parents group which meets quarterly. The group shares parenting experiences and hosts expert speakers. 


workplace culture HR

Changes in Culture 

We spoke with Bill Thomsen, senior vice president and chief operating officer for national services and Edward M. D’Alba, the immediate past president and CEO about how the firm has grown and evolved:


What are some of the major changes in the day-to-day operations since you joined Urban?

Bill Thomsen: Many things have changed. We were a much smaller firm early on. We had offices in Center City Philadelphia; Camden, New Jersey; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Buffalo, New York. The major projects were mostly transit projects in Philadelphia and Buffalo, as well as at the Philadelphia International Airport. Our administrative staff consisted of only a few folks in the main office. Our firm’s reputation grew nationally through our work with the Federal Transit Administration’s Project Management Oversight program.

Edward M. D’Alba: Practice leaders have been given significant autonomy in pursuing work that they and their staff are interested in, which is a change from the early days. Career choice and personal and professional fulfilment are now a significant part of the Urban culture. Transfers between departments and offices are now routine. Urban employees are encouraged to partake and lead so many of the critically important organizations that support our industry and communities. That helps us retain the best staff and attract others who appreciate a company that understands the importance of giving back to the profession and community.


What are some words that come to mind when defining Urban’s culture?

Bill Thomsen: ‘Great people,’ are two words that come to mind. Urban focuses on taking care of its employees. ‘Very professional,’ are two more. Urban is always concerned about the community and the industry.

Edward M. D’Alba: There are many words. Urban’s culture is reflected in caring and a commitment to being the best in everything we do. It is reflected in how we respect our co-workers, the needs of our families, our clients, our profession, and the communities we serve.


Urban has grown to almost 500 people. How has that growth changed the company? 

Bill Thomsen: Growth has given Urban the ability to take on larger and more complex and challenging projects, like the World Trade Center, East Side Access, the Los Angeles Metro expansion, and LaGuardia and LAWA airport expansions, as well as diversify our client base. We are refining policies and procedures to manage our larger and more diverse company. 

Edward M. D’Alba: When I first started at Urban, a firm of 500 would be considered very large. Today, with the ongoing consolidation of the industry, we are much smaller than the mega firms. But our size still allows us to be nimble and responsive to internal and external client needs. This trait appears to be waning throughout the industry. 


Urban started as a small office in Center City Philadelphia. How has our increased presence throughout the country changed the culture at Urban?

Bill Thomsen: With our expansion nationally, we have new and more diverse employees. Our culture has changed in response to new staff with varying experience. We take advantage of staff experience providing professional management in small and large companies. 

Edward M. D’Alba: Serving multiple regional offices across the country has altered our culture and presents abundant challenges and opportunities. Challenges for leaders include supporting staff in offices that are now a flight away. Opportunities exist for those willing to support geographic growth by relocating to our new locations. Staff are no longer limited by looking solely at supervisors for the next promotion opportunity. 


What parts of Urban’s culture have stayed the same over the past 60 years? 

Bill Thomsen: Urban still has a supportive, encouraging culture related to our employees. We care about our people first. People have always been a theme in our mission statements. “Clients, People, Projects,” and “Live, Work, Play” are people-centered themes.

Edward M. D’Alba: Our commitment to provide a quality product is Urban’s bedrock. Embracing ISO-driven services allows veterans and those new to the company to understand what composes a quality product that will stand the test of time. There are no shortcuts to doing things right. The Urban Training Institute stands as testimony to that commitment. Today, the institute is a go-to venue for many of our clients who understand the importance of doing things right. The numerous clients that choose Urban to review and oversee the work of other firms is further testament to the industry's pursuit of building a quality product, not by luck, but by design and process.


What are some of challenges for Urban’s culture over the next 60 years?

Bill Thomsen: The challenge will be to not lose sight of our strengths, such as maintaining the Urban family. When we focus only on the numbers – which engineers are very good at doing – we can lose sight of this. Caring for our people first is the most important thing our firm can do to stay a great company.

Edward M. D’Alba: As everything in our industry becomes more and more automated, it is easy to forget that relationships are the foundation of good engineering, environmental services, and construction management. In pursuit of expedience – or a better bottom line – it may be easy to offer or accept a compromise that may not be in our clients’ best interest. Good relationships with those we serve, both internally and externally, are built on trust and confidence. They show that we are always committed to doing what is right, and not just what might be convenient or expeditious. 


bill thompson