While there may be some time before a sizable return to our Atlanta-based HQ, Base Camp, putting a design plan in place was an immediate need, especially as employee feedback showed newly established fears around the open floorplan at Base Camp related to COVID-19.
Armed with data and feedback from our employees, Interface’s core project team went into planning mode for the Base Camp redesign project.
The pandemic demanded that we advance our telecommuting policies and offer much-desired flexibility to most of our employees. While our telecommuting policy will remain in place long after the pandemic, as an organization, we believe in the power of shared spaces and places to encourage human connection, innovation, interaction and creative collaboration.
We believe that face-to-face meetings and cooperation are fundamental parts of our company culture, so we will optimize our locations for safety and avoid closing them permanently. This cultural perspective empowers us to rethink how our physical spaces should exist in the future to support and enable our employees, customers and partners.
Before fully considering redesign changes for the building, we established a few key objectives, understandings and space needs. Once decided, we dove into choosing the design plan that met these intentions. Here are a few of our guiding thoughts and needs:
Preserving the Integrity of Base Camp
Our core project team agreed that our ideal redesign would focus on minor adjustments versus major space overhauls. Why? We don’t want COVID-19 to completely redesign our space for us. We’re optimistic about the future and how we’ll continue to utilize Base Camp. We also recognize people love Base Camp as-is and don’t want to lose the characteristics that make it a great place to work.
Optimize Current Spaces
We are optimizing our current space to create ample and safe environments and seating, allowing our people to use Base Camp the way they want. In the short term, this means rearranging and viewing the space differently, so our team members can maintain standard social distancing protocols while working.
Keeping in line with our sustainability imperatives, we’re prioritizing using the furniture and spaces that we already have to prevent waste. At the same time, we want to ensure resiliency and flexibility are at the core of our design decisions to support long-term Base Camp objectives. In the short term, this includes repurposing what we have with social distancing in mind and leaving room to adapt down the road in response to other events or design trends.
Employees Still at Home
As our survey findings revealed, people are not comfortable returning to Base Camp in the short-term, due to the following reasons:
- Telecommuting Policy: Interface adopted a telecommuting policy during the pandemic to empower our employees to choose their work location based on the type of tasks they may perform on a given day. The policy aligns with the fundamental Base Camp tenet of work choice, which we ingrained in our headquarters’ culture and design.
- COVID-19 Impacts: The pandemic continues to affect access to childcare and traditional school options for children, requiring some team members to work-from-home. Additionally, some people and their loved ones fall into the high-risk category, making it hazardous to return to the building. And, while we all want to see our coworkers face-to-face, our leadership encourages everyone to do what they need to take care of themselves and their families during this time.
Bringing People Together
Our core project team recognized the conference rooms and meeting spaces would present the most significant challenge during the redesign process, establishing an interesting dichotomy as our survey data revealed that in-person interaction and collaboration would be one of the key drivers that bring people back to the office. But these spaces come with inherent risk.
Prior to the pandemic, our typical conference room held four to eight team members at a given time. Often, we saw a fairly small conference room filled with the maximum number of occupants, sitting shoulder to shoulder around a table. Now, with social distancing requirements in mind, the same places can only hold two people. We need to provide additional spaces for teams to gather for face-to-face interaction and meet the need for users to be distanced for the time being.
With this in mind, our team set out to determine how to reconfigure other spaces to create additional safe collaboration and meeting spaces. We reviewed space utilization data compiled prior to the pandemic and identified several highly underutilized areas that could be redesigned to bring people together safely. Armed with this data, we created ergonomic, open-air collaboration spaces throughout the building to support in-person interactions in a socially distanced way.
Work Choice During COVID-19
When we initially designed Base Camp, we created spaces and an environment with work choice in mind; we provided employees with several options of when, how and where they worked in the building – a relatively new design concept at the time.
Pre-pandemic, many team members utilized Base Camp based on work choice principles, but half of our employees ended up with an assigned desk. In a pandemic-conscious world, these desks don’t meet social distancing requirements. Instead of assigning an appropriately distanced desk to everyone, which would have required the purchase of nearly 100 additional desks, we transitioned all of our people to work choice, or free-address, significantly simplifying our redesign and allowing us to continue to evolve Base Camp in the future.
We opted to install a desk reservation system for our workspaces, supporting both work choice and social distancing. With this system, we will make half of our desks unreservable, reinforcing the need for six feet of distance between individuals. This will provide ease of mind for our employees who will know they have a safe place to work when they come into the office. Additionally, the reservation system allows our team members to find where their colleagues have reserved desks, which will help them connect with the colleagues they most need to collaborate with when they are at Base Camp. The ability to keep some desks “offline” allows us to avoid moving furniture out of the building and back in when the time comes, preventing potential asset loss or damage and saving costs related to movement and storage.
Furthermore, the desk reservation system supports our cleaning efforts as desktop devices denote when a desk has been used and needs cleaning. Finally, when COVID-19 becomes less critical over time, we can easily take additional desks “online” and make them reservable.
Making Space for More Employees
During the redesign process, our core project team also juggled another Base Camp change – the addition of more employees as part of a merger with another Atlanta-based Interface office that housed about 30 Information Technology employees. Instead of providing a safely socially distanced work environment for 140 people, we’d need to provide one for approximately 170 people.
We surveyed our Base Camp employee population to understand their concerns and get a sense of how much they planned to come to the office in the future – once COVID-19 becomes less of a threat. After analyzing their anticipated utilization of the office, we confirmed that we could safely accommodate 30 additional employees at Base Camp, as long as we adopted a work-choice arrangement for all Base Camp team members.
Sharing Our Redesign Process
The previously mentioned key considerations and findings are critical as we begin to establish design solutions with architecture partner, Perkins + Will, and narrow in on our final design plan. This ensures we keep people and what they need from Base Camp today and in the future top of mind.
When we opened Base Camp in 2018, we knew the space would evolve and change over time. The changes we’re making today are just the next steps in Base Camp’s evolution. We didn’t begin 2020 expecting to make renovations to the office, so we don’t have a blank check to facilitate a complete overhaul of the space. And, we believe it’s safe to assume most companies are in the same position. We hope our story helps other companies navigate their own workspace and optimize it thoughtfully and strategically.
Featured Image by Nick Merrick, ©Hall+Merrick Photographers