Maintaining Privacy in Open Spaces

SRA was ready for a radical change.

In 2012, they launched a program to find the best way to make their space as innovative as their services.  Led by SRA’s Director of Workplace Services, Steve Dunn, SRA embraced organizational change as they planned the renovation of their Arlington, VA facility. They found that this change would not only empower their workers, but would provide considerable cost savings over the course of the lease.

“SRA has always been known as ‘a best place to work’,” said Dunn. “Our facilities try to reinforce and support that ethos. Our research suggested that we could improve our effectiveness if we thought about and developed our space to support a more collaborative way of working.”

“We had a business unit that focused on environmental issues that was also interested in experimenting with space to enhance their productivity,” he added. “So a corporate interest in being the ‘best’ and a business interest in a pilot program made for a perfect opportunity.”

SRA employed Interior Architects (IA) in Washington, DC to help them come up with a new way of working.  More than new furniture or space planning, the project needed to focus on how the new space would be accepted by the staff.

The second floor floor plan, before the initiative. Then, SRA only had 151 seats, with 237 square feet per seat; 3 conference rooms; fewer shared areas and less access to collaborative space.
The second floor floor plan, before the initiative. Then, SRA only had 151 seats, with 237 square feet per seat; 3 conference rooms; fewer shared areas and less access to collaborative space.
The second floor plan after the initiative. The new office has 202 seats, with 187 square feet/seat; 11 conference rooms; and improved pantries, living room, and collaborative areas.
The second floor plan after the initiative. The new office has 202 seats, with 187 square feet/seat; 11 conference rooms; and improved pantries, living room, and collaborative areas.

According to Gretchen Leigh, an interior designer at IA, the success of the project hinged on a rigorous and interactive pilot study and programming phase.

Said Leigh, “The process throughout each phase of the design was very interactive. We worked with SRA to develop and adjust the design according to feedback from the user groups, who were informed of the proposed changes during the pilot study.”

As part of the pilot study, the design team hosted a series of town hall-style meetings and brown bag lunches to establish the foundation of the new workplace, and to glean feedback from the future end users.

“It was a constant feedback loop: information would come in, we would work with the information, adapt solutions accordingly, and evaluate again,” said Leigh. “The pilot study allowed for the conversation about a new, alternative workplace to begin far before final programming and planning took place.”

To reduce employee anxiety and increase excitement around the transition, they built two of the new benching systems in the lobby of the old building, along with color renderings of the proposed space so employees would know what to expect.

Once the pilot study was underway, programming became the key to the completion of the project.

Said Leigh, “programming was the cornerstone to the final solution. Work styles and support functions [ascertained in the pilot study] were assessed in order to ease the transition from a predominantly closed office space to open workstations.”

Said Dunn, “We’ve always put a lot of emphasis on sustainable, effective, and engaging environments for our people. Over time and principally through my engagement with CoreNet, I’ve learned a lot about Alternative Workplace Environments.”

“Through that we engaged our workplace consultants, architects, engineers, construction contractors, and furniture dealers, and began the process of creating this new environment that we expect will be flexible, sustainable, attractive, and effective for our customers and staff.”

This new approach focused on maximizing real estate. It included ample flex and hoteling space. Each department was assigned an area or cluster, with 85 percent of employees given an assigned seat.

According to Denise Carlston of American Office, “SRA was very entrenched in the private office concept as a company. So it was a pretty radical turnaround for them going to a different environment.”

SRA chose Herman Miller’s Canvas Office Landscape for their workstations, which features flexible and stackable panels.

According to Dave Chelena of American Office, “One of the big drivers for SRA was the level of privacy they would have moving from the old offices. We had a lot of conversations about the panel height in order to come up with a solution that everyone agreed upon, but once they moved in they began talking about the need for more privacy-the great thing was that we specified adjustable panels so that employees had the flexibility to adjust the height to meet their needs.”

With low panel heights, these benching configurations allowed for the flow of more natural light into the space. A stark contrast from windowless offices, the new set up was designed to encourage employee wellness while reducing energy consumption.

To encourage interaction, the space includes numerous conferencing areas – small group meeting rooms, designated phone rooms, and huddle areas.

Said Leigh, “The centerpieces of the floor plan are image covered circular collaborative areas, identifiable by their graphic tree wrap. The Birch and Beech Conference Rooms offer spaces to support digital collaboration as well as informal meetings where the furniture can be reconfigured any number of ways. An open pantry and lounge encourage individual and group work, impromptu conversations, and lunch breaks.”

The renovated space also helped SRA to better embrace their sustainability goals.

Their formal “Go Green” program includes reducing paper consumption, a 90 percent recycling goal and reducing their overall carbon footprint.  They recycled construction debris, reused materials in this space and other SRA locations, improved the lighting and electrical systems and installed paper and other recycling receptacles throughout the space.

This new space also better enabled them to serve their federal government clients who are embracing the sustainability standards of Executive Order 13514.

Said Dunn, “SRA has a long standing commitment to and reputation for supporting their customers, people, and community. The renovation of Arlington Center exemplifies that commitment with effective reductions in real costs and in the way it enhances the work environment for employees.”

SRA’s space was completed in Fall 2013. SRA delivers IT solutions and professional services in support of some of the most significant missions of the U.S. government.

More from Natalie Grasso Cockrell

Not Your Average Spec Suite: The Explosion of Tech Suites in Chicago

BOX Studios Ferdinand Dimailig on the influx of tech suites in the...
Read More

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *