Office environments are not just functional—they say a lot about an organization and can even impact work styles and culture. Two recent examples of new office designs that strongly convey a brand feeling to both employees and customers prove the point.
The Healthcare division of Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—an employee service union representing healthcare, child-care, home care and nursing home workers for more than 85,000 members in the Midwest—recently consolidated multiple offices into one headquarters after three unions merged.
The new headquarters, located at 2229 S. Halsted St. in Chicago, was renovated from an old industrial property. Its design was close to the brand identity that the union wanted to convey: approachability from both a union member and staff perspective.
From the first vision and culture workshop held at Wight & Company, this was evident when April Verrett, SEIU Healthcare executive vice president, said “members need to feel like it is theirs.”
Through the design of its office, SEIU Healthcare was trying to convey a culture of community and collaboration in fulfilling a mission to serve its members. The existing industrial building, with three intact floors after a fire destroyed the top four floors, was suitable from the standpoint that it had ample parking and was located near mass transit. The industrial legacy of the building was a good fit for a labor union, although interior columns spaced only 12 feet apart presented a challenge to the creation of an open work environment and large meeting rooms.
For the creation of a large member hall, critical to a union, the first floor’s back wall was removed and new structural beams were constructed to transfer the load. This made way for the major feature of the building: a 300-member-capacity space that subdivides into three meeting breakout rooms. Fully integrated with technology, video conferencing is used to connect to other locals in other states. This space is adjacent to a large 30-seat lunchroom, cafe style, with bright magenta stone topped islands that also can be used as breakout space.
These spaces are a major design priority because staff members spend at least as much time in meetings as they spend at their desks. In addition to formal conference rooms, casual meeting areas located throughout the office support collaboration with flat screen monitors and marker boards covering entire walls.
“The one big challenge with the existing building was that the column spacing was very close,” noted Elaine Torres Janus, chief financial officer with SEIU Healthcare. “Wight could see beyond that. The history of the building alone speaks of labor and we were looking for a home that our members would be comfortable with but also create a culture of collaboration and interaction.”
Over the course of about 18 months, Wight & Company’s design was implemented and the office opened in August 2012.
- The new space features an exposed deck with open ceilings and extensive natural daylight from tall industrial windows that flank the perimeter
- Vinyl flooring was installed to simulate industrial wood flooring
- Old metal doors from the industrial building were preserved and are used in small meeting areas as a combination of dry erase boards and magnetic surfaces for hanging flip charts
- A large baler used in the old industrial space was also preserved and relocated to a landscaped area in back to serve as historical labor sculpture.
- A “branding wall” located off of the reception area is populated with words that were chosen to depict the spirit and value of the union and an embedded flat screen TV conveys SEIU Healthcare’s mission audio-visually
- Bright purple that matches the SEIU logo accents the space throughout and brightly colored furniture enhances a lively environment that fuses traditional industriousness with modernity
Think about the steel industry and perhaps you think of a commodity product manufactured in a dirty, uncomfortable environment.
But Leeco Steel, LLC, a steel distributor, does not fit the industry mold.
“We’re distributors—we don’t make a product,” said Mark Krzmarzick, the company’s chief financial officer. “So the only thing we have to sell is our people.”
When company growth pushed Leeco’s existing headquarters in Darien, Ill., to its limits, Leeco looked for new office space and found it at the Arboretum Lakes complex in nearby Lisle.
For Leeco, this was an opportunity to create not only an improved work environment but also create a space that welcomed customers to their highly energetic and competitive culture. Its culture was not conveyed in the Darien office space, which was characterized by a typical single occupied workstation with high panels – in short, a cube farm.
Over the course of nearly a year, the office was redesigned to deliver Leeco’s culture and brand by its January 2012 move-in. The entry to the office features an anchoring reception area with a reception desk that simulates stacks of steel sheets like those found in a warehouse. Alongside the desk is a curved hallway inscribed with “Strength: You’ll find it in our products and in our people.”
The hallway from reception spills into a lounge area that includes a pool table, a video game console, beanbag chairs, brightly colored lounge furniture and a small eating area. This area serves two roles: customer relations and employee recreation. The area is well suited for the high-energy and collaborative nature of both uses.
“We push very hard to get our customers into our space with us—you want to get a sense of what makes Leeco tick,” Krzmarzick said. “Our space is representative of the high-energy, fun, and dedicated culture that we have.”
- Three contrasting carpet styles mixed with metallic porcelain tile, courses through the office in one long sweep to link work, play and collaboration zones
- A war room-in-the-round, aka “The Pit,” features furniture suitable for stand up meetings with surfaces for laptop computers and a dry-erase U.S. map that allows meeting attendees to track regional sales
- Flat screen TVs line the walls in several office locations as well, to track sales in nearly real time
- The workstation areas are designed for multiple employees to collaborate—built-in lounge seating further encourages collaboration when they are not performing heads down work
- The cubicle walls are low, which opens up the workstation area
- Sound masking allows lively interaction yet minimizes any disruption to neighboring workstations
Sustainable practices such as use of low-VOC paint and cradle to cradle manufactured furniture enhance the new office’s healthy environment. Their use is standard for Wight & Company.
Anecdotal feedback about Leeco’s new office environment strongly indicates higher employee morale and sales continue to rise. The new space could rightfully be described as a powerful marketing and employee relations tool.