Branding Coast Capital Savings’ new headquarters was about more than integrating splashes of its signature blue — although the use of the vibrant corporate hue certainly makes the interiors pop.
The Surrey, B.C.-based credit union — Canada’s largest, as measured by membership — takes prides in being serious about the business of banking, but not about itself. Wherever it relocated, the space would have to spurn the look and feel of a staid financial institution in favour of interiors that expressed its fun and quirky culture.
Help Headquarters, as Coast Capital Savings calls its new home, does just that. Early this year, the credit union finished moving 700 employees into the recently constructed facility. As anchor tenant, it occupies roughly 113,000 square feet on five floors.
The project began in earnest five years ago, as Coast Capital Savings contemplated the future. At the time, its corporate office occupied 55,000 square feet of leased space in a 25-year-old four-storey building, while its administrative staff occupied 70,000 square feet of leased space in a central Surrey office tower. Two kilometres separated the two locations.
The credit union’s relocation reduced the company’s real estate footprint, but more important was bringing employees under one roof in a modern space. It would have been expensive to update its former offices, which were characterized by underutilized space filled with corridors and private offices, observed Herb Jamieson, vice president, Coast Capital Savings.
“The decision was: Let’s go through the RFP process and see where that lands us,” he said.
Of the 16 responses the credit union received, a location in Surrey’s new downtown centre that’s accessible from the SkyTrain made the most sense. Surveys showed that a majority of staff members — seven in 10 — commute to work from south of the Fraser River.
That wasn’t the only survey Coast Capital Savings conducted as it prepared to establish the Help Headquarters. The credit union tapped furniture supplier Steelcase’s Applied Research and Consulting (ARC) division to complete workplace studies that would inform the space’s interior design.
Observations, surveys and workshops ultimately produced an alternative workplace strategy, said Mike Frewin, strategic account manager, Steelcase ARC. Coast Capital Savings’ employees were categorized as ‘Wi-Fi warriors,’ remote staff who occasionally drop by from off site; ‘roamers,’ who are on the move on site for meetings; or ‘residents,’ who remain relatively stationary. These different work styles would dictate what was required to support each type of employee.
“You couldn’t come up with this phenomenal environment, and have different settings on every floor, if they didn’t have the right technology that would allow them to move throughout the building during a typical workday,” Frewin explained.
Indeed, technology played a significant role in the project, with mobile employees moving from desktops to laptops. So did the transition to an open-plan concept, which was novel at the time.
Coast Capital Savings really responded to the collaborative areas in the open-plan concept it saw at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, recalled project lead Tim Loo of Omicron. Coast Capital Savings engaged Omicron to do the interior design, engineering, construction and project management of the Help Headquarters. Closer to home, the credit union liked the way B.C. Lottery Corporation had expressed brand in its workplace, another Omicron project.
“We had Coast Capital’s marketing group — they had their brand guidelines — engaged in the interior design of the space,” said Loo. “What messaging they wanted, choosing colours, choosing materials, naming of different rooms.”
This type of collaboration is less rather than more common, but, the project lead pointed out, the credit union is a unique client. Together, they walked through the ‘experience’ from the moment visitors set foot in the building, from the branch in the lobby, to the branch-inspired reception, throughout the interiors.
“We understand that they want to have a fun, vibrant space,” said Loo. “If you go into the boardroom, what it looks like to me is a spaceship, so it’s not — they don’t want to be corporate at all.”
The experience actually begins on arrival to the Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership Architects-designed building, with an asymmetrical form intended to convey movement.
“If you think of big banks, you think of towers,” said Anne-Marie Palma, senior manager, brand and digital marketing, Coast Capital. “That’s not what you see here; you see a cool building that doesn’t really have a square corner.”
The credit union’s fun culture is perhaps best captured in the themed cafes present on every floor, which are meant to sate the appetite of employees for food and kitchens — a priority identified in the workplace studies.
Glazed walls with decals mimic the look of a storefront, as Palma described them. The merchandizing, she added, reflects the different regions in which Coast Capital operates, including B.C., Alberta and Ontario. Garage doors on either side of the glazed walls can be opened out into adjacent meeting rooms.
The workplace studies further revealed that Coast Capital is a meeting-driven company, but these gatherings are usually of small groups. With plenty of meeting rooms geared toward duos and trios in its new home, the credit union doesn’t run out of these types of collaborative spaces like it did in its former homes, said Palma.
Meeting rooms are collected around the core, giving resident workers who use the height-adjustable workstations around the perimeter proximity to daylight. There is also a treadmill workstation available on the sixth floor, which employees can reach by elevator or interconnecting staircase.
Top among Coast Capital’s amenities — both figuratively and literally — is the rooftop lunchroom, Palma reported, half of which is outdoors. With views to the city, it features a barbecue and fire pit, providing employees with a place to socialize or temporarily escape.
The ultimate goal of the project was to change the way Coast Capital’s employees feel about work, forever — a riff on the credit union’s mission to change the way Canadians feel about banking, forever, Jamieson illuminated.
“We want to create an environment where people want to come to work as opposed to they’re here because they have to be,” he said. “So we wanted to make it an engaging environment, a bright environment, a collaborative environment, and provide the amenities that make it a second place from home.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.