Posted on Wednesday April 17, 2024 by

Share to:

Connect & Share 2024: Block by Block in San Francisco

At the end of March, we brought our managers from across the country together in San Francisco for a week of extended learning, development and networking at our biannual Connect & Share Conference. It is a unique opportunity for our managers to meet people who do what they do in other cities across the country, build camaraderie and learn from one another.

Over the last few years, Block by Block has experienced immense growth, including a company-wide development of 29.9% since our last Connect & Share in Houston, TX, in 2022. In that time, we have added 26 new programs across the United States, bringing the highest standard of clean and safe services to more and more places nationwide. We’ve added 742 employees to the Block by Block family, including nine new corporate field positions who help our programs run more efficiently by supplementing and supporting the Operations Manager’s administrative work so they can stay focused on street-level operations.

As we reflected on this growth over the last two years and how far we’ve come since we started serving our first downtown district in 1995, we felt this meeting was the perfect time and place to set new standards and re-establish best practices for our local operations. The conference theme “Forward: It Starts with Us” helped capture that sentiment and emphasizes our collective responsibility to spearhead the next phase of our company’s evolution and the evolution of service delivery industry standards.

San Francisco provided the perfect backdrop for our event, not only for its reputation as a premiere tourism destination, but also because of the city’s forward-thinking approach to placemaking and activations, the number of high-profile districts and community benefit districts located in such close proximity and the diversity of programming Block by Block offers in the area.

Connect & Share 2024 was a blend of structured learning sessions, panel discussions and hands-on exploration.

Learning Sessions

New Processes Unveiled

During the conference, we unveiled new standardized operational guidelines, improvements to our STOP. THINK. ACT. safety program, Key Performance Indicators to track performance of our teams and new tools to help centralize communication and information sharing using Microsoft Teams and a revamped, optimized Block by Block SharePoint Site. These tools will provide guidance for our local managers and create streamlined processes to improve day-to-day operations.


Operating Guidelines: Carin Cardone, Derreck Hughes

Carin, East Division Vice President, and Derreck, Vice President of Operations, discussed a new standard for Block by Block operations. While administrative content has always been available in the company-wide SharePoint site, operations details have not been readily available in an accessible format. That’s why Block by Block took the time to compile all standard operating basics into one location. The guidelines are presented in a binder format that allows managers the ability to flip through sections dedicated to specific topics on operating best practice. This guidebook clarifies the standards by which all Block by Block programs are run and can be referred to on a regular basis by managers, effecting more consistency in our programs across the country. While it does not address every possible scenario, it covers topics from Standards of Professionalism to Building and Retaining a Team, Ambassador safety to Equipment and so much more! It is a much needed asset for managers to have on standby.

A man stands at the front of a room presenting a powerpoint to a room of people sitting at tables.

Dereck presents the new Operation Guidelines to a group of conference attendees.

Microsoft Teams and SharePoint: Kori Parvin

Any company that has been in operation for nearly 30 years is going to have its fair share of old paperwork, files and data. Until now, much of this has been stored in our SharePoint, a web-based service for sharing and storing information that multiple users can access. Over time, the files became cluttered and difficult to search, with many unneeded or redundant documents being stored. Kori, Vice President of Field Support, spearheaded a restructuring of Sharepoint dedicated countless hours sifting through these files organizing, archiving, deleting and rewriting. The result of these efforts is a flawless, easily accessible and — most importantly — organized SharePoint site. Managers can quickly navigate the site for documents they’re looking for, search and find with ease and upload their own content as needed.

On theme with this newly organized file-access system is Block by Block’s widespread rollout of Microsoft Teams to managers across the country. Managers will be able to use Teams to communicate with their Ambassador Teams, corporate staff and community partners. They will be able to create file sharing within groups to make work easier and more efficient. Teams will connect Block by Block staff and mangers from coast to coast for both platforms and all man>agers will have access to these tools by the end of 2024.

A woman is speaking to a room full o f people sitting at tables.

Kori speaks to a group of conference attendees about the new SharePoint and Teams systems.

Building Ideal Teams: Angela Grether, Jay Jones

Angela, Director of Talent Acquisition and Culture, and Jay, Conference Keynote Speaker from Quantico Coaching, both session offered invaluable insights on ways managers can craft teams that thrive on collaboration, synergy and shared purpose. Block by Block utilizes Patrick Lencioni’s team-building philosophy outlined in his book The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize and Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues. It suggests three virtues that define exemplary team players: humility, hunger and people smarts. Conference attendees were given Patrick’s book to take home, read and begin putting the principals into practice to continue building great teams at their home programs.

A wall of pictures and Ambassadors of the Month Headshots.

SF Travel spends a lot of time building their Ambassador Team’s culture and serves as a great example for other programs.

Key Performance Indicators: Blair McBride, Derreck Hughes

This year, Block by Block set a new company-wide standard process for determining the performance of employees and programs across the board by establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs give a broader snapshot of overall performance that goes beyond just seeing things individually, instead offering a complete picture of how a program is operating as a whole. Some KPIs introduced by Blair and Derreck included: revenue, risk/safety, human resources, customer satisfaction, the SMART System and more.

Blair, President, emphasized how KPIs allow us to look for patterns in outcomes and behavior to improve overall performance for Block by Block as a whole. KPIs will begin being used to assess programs nationwide in the coming months, guaranteeing that the services we provide our customers are up to par with the exemplary Block by Block standard we are known for.

Stop. Think. Act. Program: John Koch, Carin Cardone

Safety is a priority at Block by Block, and one of the ways we prioritize it is through our Stop. Think. Act. Program. Part of the program is tracking the frequency of unsafe incidents. Traditionally, we have used wristbands for this program that indicate either 2+ years (green), 1+ year (yellow) or >1 year (black) without incident by their color. Now, however, as John, Central Division Vice President, and Carin revealed, a flag will be hung in every operations center that is either green, yellow or black, corresponding to time without incident.

While we want all of our programs to strive for green flags, we understand that some incidents will occur and we do our best to train and prepare our teams to react appropriately or work to prevent them in the first place. For this reason, there are new additions to this program, including updated Safety Talks and Clarified Reporting Tools. There will be Safety Summits four times annually, beyond just our traditional Safety Day, that are fun and engaging gatherings where safety and recent incidents are discussed. New Safety Captains and Safety Committee Members will disperse safety responsibilities across every team. Further safety standards will be enforced by regular Site Safety Inspections that are a part of new KPIs.

A group of uniformed Ambassadors stand by a framed Green flag.

Since getting home, our Ambassador Teams have been sending us photos with their new flags. Here, Downtown Greensboro Ambassadors proudly show off their green Stop. Think. Act. flag, representing 2+ years with no incidents!

SMART 2.0: Tina Durbin, Manny Singh

Connect & Share also featured the first live demo of SMART 2.0, which is set to begin rolling out to our customers this summer. Tina, Customer Success Manager-SMART, and Manny, Lead Product Owner from SMS Holdings, have been working tirelessly at revitalizing the SMAT System. SMART 2.0 will set a new global standard for data collection and reporting software for public spaces. This was a process nearly two years in the making with developers Cube84, who are well-known in the placemaking industry for their work with District360. The revamped SMART System will feature an enhanced user experience for mobile and desktop, a highly intuitive command center, bilingual integration and real-time notifications sent from the public to field Ambassadors. Essential naming conventions will also be added for ease of searchability and long-term data organization. It is set to roll out in June/July of this year and promises to improve usability and efficiency for logging and storing data.

Kate Robinson and Marisa Rodriguez discussed with Chip the dichotomy of their two neighborhoods.

Panel Discussions

The learning sessions were broken each day by a panel discussion led by Block by Block West Coast Division Vice President – and San Francisco enthusiast – Chip. Local industry experts discussed the challenges facing placemaking operations and how to plot solutions.


Defining San Francisco Challenges and Plotting Solutions

Steve Gibson (President of Urban Place Consulting), Paul Frentsos (Chief Operating Officer of San Francisco Travel) and Chris Corgas (Deputy Director of Economic Development for the City and County of San Francisco) discussed the city’s struggles with balancing a booming economy while struggling to provide basic needs to some of its most vulnerable residents.

A Tale of Two Neighborhoods

San Francisco neighborhoods can differ vastly, while only being a few blocks apart. This panel with Kate Robinson (Executive Director of Tenderloin Community Benefit District) and Marisa Rodriguez (Chief Executive Officer of Union Square Alliance) outlined some key differences between their respective neighborhoods – one experiencing widespread, open drug use and the other a bustling tourist district – and the challenges they each face. Managers would experience firsthand the neighborhood sights during the afternoon session walking tours.

Walking tours were led by local experts: the SF Travel Ambassadors.

Walking Tours

Seeing the City at the Street Level

We couldn’t bring our teams to San Francisco without letting them explore everything the city has to offer. Our Managers spent the afternoons on guided tours through Downtown San Francisco to see our operations in action and the impact Block by Block Ambassadors have on their public spaces. They also got an in-depth look at some of the challenges facing many of our public spaces from around the country and what some people are doing to find solutions. We saw firsthand the impact of urban placemaking in transforming public spaces to be more vibrant and inviting for those who live, work and visit downtown San Francisco.

A group of Managers prepare to take a walking tour.

Market Street Track: SF Travel, Moscone Center and The East Cut

SF Travel Director of Operations, Paulita Elliott, led a presentation on how she makes her SF Travel program unique through employee engagement, community programming and team building. SF Travel Ambassadors provide essential hospitality to tourists throughout San Francisco. Their welcoming, outgoing demeanor makes visitors feel comfortable and at ease asking for assistance. Managers learned from Paulita ways to improve Ambassador morale, create a strong team culture and  some of the ins and outs of SF Travel’s behind-the-scenes operations.

At the Moscone Center, managers were able to see some new equipment Block by Block has been rolling out to the field nationwide. Through a new partnership with Tenax International, Block by Block has begun delivering new, maneuverable electronic vehicles that pick-up litter and leaf debris. The machines are clean, green and – important for city neighborhoods – quiet.

While touring The East Cut, managers saw the impact developing unused space can have on a neighborhood. The Crossing at East Cut was formerly a bus depot, but had ceased being used. With much thanks to efforts of Block by Block’s Moe Tinoifili and James Laqui, The East Cut was developed into a community park with pickleball courts, a soccer field, an open-air gym and more. While this development was only meant to be temporary, the community rallied around it enough to make part of it permanent, even after development of a new building in the adjoining lot is complete. Managers learned a lot about how intentionally-developed placemaking can impact a community.

Two men stand next to a street cleaning machine called Tenax.

Bob Martins, Region 915 Maintenance Mechanic, and Clayton Ratledge, Regional Vice President, stand beside Union Square’s brand new Tenax Maxwind.

Tenderloin Track: Union Square Dispatch, Tenderloin Neighborhood and Outreach Support Services

Union Square Member Services, also known as Dispatch, operates out of the same building as SF Travel, so managers returned to the historic Flood Building to learn about how Ambassadors are dispatched to community requests. Calls come into the Dispatch Center and are dispersed based on need to appropriate Ambassadors or community partnership organizations.

As the group continued their tour to the Tenderloin Neighborhood, the scene changed drastically from the tourist-bustling neighborhood of Union Square. The Tenderloin is home to many small, single-room occupancy apartments that share a bathroom at the end of the hall, so many residents will hangout on the sidewalks during the day. The narrow sidewalks of the Tenderloin have become a mecca for people sitting and lying down. They were full of individuals experiencing homelessness, open-air drug use and even a tent here and there. During the tour of the neighborhood, the group had to step over people or squeeze past people and tents on the crowded sidewalks.

The group learned of an initiative begun by the community called “Safe Passage,” where community members ensure children get to and from school or daycare by leading them from place to place with a leader at the front and back. It has wide community backing and ensures children get where they need to be safely. They learned about the passion of community who call the Tenderloin home and take great pride in its history by making it a better place for all through community parks and other initiatives.

Local outreach in the neighborhood was also discussed that expanded on the panel session from Steve, Paul and Chris on Defining San Francisco Challenges and Plotting Solutions.

A man in a safety vest speaks to a group.

Tenderloin Community Benefit District Director of People and Culture spoke about community efforts in the district.

Closing Out the Conference

As Block by Block does, we had lots of fun. And, of course, we made sure to celebrate all the amazing individuals who make our organization so special.

Block by Block Regional Vice Presidents chose two outstanding managers from each region as Rookie ofthe Year and Frank Zammarelli MVP of the Year. These individuals represent the best of the best in Block by Block leadership for their dedication to their team and program. The overall winner of the Rookie of the Year went to Operations Manager (OM) Jason Stewart of Ybor City in Tampa, FL. Sonja Brunner, OM of Downtown Santa Cruz in CA received the award for MVP of the Year. We are so proud of these two and of all our nominees for the work they do each day in their districts! The other nominees included:

As a company, Block by Block has always set the standard for Ambassador services. We believe in our past success and we recognize the importance of our present to impact the future of public space service delivery. We take that responsibility very seriously and that’s why we always continue to train, excite and stimulate our managers with new and innovative ideas to make our industry better from the ground up.

We consider this Connect & Share one of our absolute best, and we look forward to seeing how the seeds we planted in our managers in San Francisco bloom into creative, energized outcomes in their  programs across the country.