Recent relocation to free-address space reduces need to restack

By Michelle Ervin, reposted with permission from REMI Network.

The recent relocation of LoyaltyOne’s Toronto-based head office was a move to end all moves.

At the end of its lease, the company behind the Air Miles rewards program relocated from a dated space outfitted with assigned cubicles and personal storage to a new space outfitted with free-address workstations and standardized equipment. It’s a shift that has shaved hundreds of thousands of dollars off of the organization’s operating costs, because it no longer has to restack its space every time it undergoes restructuring, said Adam Gallant, workplace advisor, LoyaltyOne.

“Moves are almost non-existent for us now,” said Gallant.

Now when a business unit calls looking for project space, in most cases all that has to be done is locate unoccupied space, added Stacey Barbosa, who, at the time of site tour this summer, was workplace project manager at LoyaltyOne. She said the most that might be involved in a bigger move, which is rare, might be the reassignment of work neighbourhoods.

“It used to take us weeks to turn around a move, depending on the complexity or what was required,” said Barbosa. “Now they’ll come to us if they need something specific — for example, a white board.”

For employees, a move involves little more than picking up their laptop and sitting down at a new workstation.

This has been the new normal for LoyaltyOne since it relocated its Toronto-based head office last year. The Gensler-designed, Scandinavian-inspired space occupies six floors and 200,000 square feet in the Globe and Mail Centre.

Before design work began on the space, which is characterized by bright whites, light woods and pops of royal blue, Gensler provided strategy services. Change management, observational and occupancy studies helped inform the sharing ratio for workstations, equipment and furniture selection, and the sizes and types of spaces.

In the year-and-a-half before the relocation, employees were rotated through a pilot space set up in their former head office. The exercise gave employees an opportunity to experience what it was like to share workstations at a ratio of 1.25 to one.

“Most people were very apprehensive about going into the pilot space the first time,” said Annie Bergeron, design director and principal in Gensler’s Toronto office. “After their six allocated weeks there, [they] typically did not want to come back to their old workstation.”

The exercise also gave employees an opportunity to test different equipment and furniture options. The Herman Miller sit-to-stand workstations that were ultimately selected for the new space are designed to accommodate 95 per cent of the population.

Barbosa said ergonomic requests have gone down as employees have been encouraged to move away from using specialized equipment, such as foot rests, toward taking advantage of the adjustability of the new furniture.

Gallant said the level of agility achieved in the LoyaltyOne head office would not have been possible without sweeping standardization. More central filing space for finance is one of few examples of customization that is particular to business units. Frosting was also added to two rooms per floor post-move to address privacy concerns around scenarios such as the sharing of confidential information on computer screens, Barbosa noted.

The tools and equipment that haven’t been provided in the workplace may be just as important as the ones that have. For example, there are no storage pedestals at workstations, which helps support the clean desk policy in the free-address environment.

Employees are expected to leave work surfaces clear at the end of the day, instead stowing any personal belongings in lockers. Gallant said this makes it much easier for the building cleaners to effectively sanitize these surfaces.

“We also provide wipes, so it’s almost like a gym model: If you have made some kind of mess, the assumption is that you would clean up after yourself for the next person,” he said. “Or, if you come to a desk and you’re not 100 per cent confident, you have the ability to wipe.”

The range of spaces provided in LoyaltyOne’s new head office reflects Gensler’s research as to what makes for a great experience. As Bergeron explained, workplaces are multi-modal and should therefore support a range of modes: task, social, discovery, entertainment and aspiration.

The space complements formal and informal work areas with a variety of amenities. The public-facing second floor notably features an atrium with stadium-style seating that accommodates up to 200 people for special events and town halls. There is also an in-house restaurant run by Compass and more than 8,000 square feet of outdoor patio space, which is used to host everything from beer socials to fitness boot camps to shuffleboard games.

The integration of technology was vital to the success of LoyaltyOne’s new head office. Bergeron said the company’s goal was to ensure a consistent interface as employees transitioned between coffee hubs and soft seating, high-top tables and workstations, focus and meeting rooms.

“If you make it frustrating for them, and if you make it difficult, or if you make it daunting, to take your laptop and go work somewhere else and be collaborative, people won’t do it,” she observed.

LoyaltyOne ultimately selected Cisco technology after testing a few solutions in the pilot space, and employees were set up on their new devices before the move, trading desktop computers and phones for cell phones and laptops.

As with any project, there have been some minor adjustments made post-occupancy.

“We planned for this and we knew: you can never have enough power,” said Barbosa. “We thought we had enough and we still don’t have enough.”

More outlets are now being added to the space to encourage more people to untether from the more traditional work spaces.

“We would like to see more of people working just anywhere, coffee hubs, soft seating — by putting power in those places, that will help us strive to that,” said Gallant. “The ones where you see power, that’s where you see people camping out for the entire day.”

Perhaps more importantly than simplifying the restacking process, LoyaltyOne’s new head office has resulted in happier, more productive employees. Post-occupancy statistics show a 40-per-cent increase in collaboration and 90 per cent satisfaction with the new space — up 30 per cent.

Michelle Ervin is editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.