Perhaps more than any physical or spatial design feature, creating a new headquarters for Seattle-based insurer Delta Dental of Washington was all about employee involvement: not simply attending a few meetings at project kickoff, but building a truly immersive process that began long before any design or even site selection.
"The company had been talking for quite a while about the culture we need to make sure we're competing in a changing industry," explains Karen Aliabadi, who directs human resource strategy at Delta Dental. "It was more about culture than brick and mortar." But as a result of involving employees at every level, "We made decisions we didn't think we were going to make," she adds, "about everything from location to furniture."
Breaking Down Barriers
Their eventual architect, NBBJ, spent a year gathering data and listening. "We engaged face-to-face and online with folks to learn about their current workplace experience and how the building played a role in their doing their jobs," says NBBJ principal Kelly Griffin. "We did workshops to understand what people's work days were like. We deployed a survey with ninety-eight percent response rate: I'd never seen that before. There was a lot of motivation from folks."
Moving from a 1980s office building in the suburbs with high-walled cubicles, the company sought a more collaborative and flexible space. "We wanted to reduce silos," Aliabadi says. "We talked about bringing everyone together and collaborating." NBBJ summarized the design strategy in a series of goals: break down barriers; make the bigger vision visible; enable staff to overcome fear of change and taking risks; promote an optimistic point of view for the future of the industry; support individual needs; and leave healthier than you arrived.
Collaboration and Color
With natural light coming from one glass-walled side of the building (offering views of the nearby Space Needle), the design shifts the main circulation spine to this edge. Along the "promenade," as it's called, is the company's design studio and an adjacent cafe-lounge; together they become one large space with the opening of a garage door in between. Along the promenade are also a series of smaller meeting spaces, known as "huddle eddies" denoted with washes of bright primary colors unifying floor, ceiling, and furniture. "In the huddles, color is very important to get us out of our workspaces and thinking differently about different problems," Aliabadi says.
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