A visitor to Brookfield Global Integrated Solutions’ (Brookfield GIS) new Innovation Centre might miss one of its most novel features without the benefit of a tour guide. Meeting rooms are outfitted with two sensors: one counts occupants; another detects motion.
Data collected from the sensors show how the rooms are being used, supplementing pre-move surveys and post-move focus groups with hard numbers. As Kathy Paul, senior director, strategic workplace solutions, Brookfield GIS, related, they provide valuable insight into space utilization at a time when organizations are confronting the question of: What is their magic formula for the right number, size and types of collaborative and quiet areas?
“Even if they’ve gone into a mobile workplace, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve done enough,” she said. “They don’t know if they can take on more, or have they gone too far?”
The initial impetus for the recently completed project was to accommodate the outgrowth of Brookfield GIS’ existing head office, which was roughly one kilometre down the street in Markham, Ontario. However, following two important events, the scope of what was ultimately a $4.5-million renovation expanded dramatically from one floor to all three floors of the former IBM operations centre.
First, in late 2014, the company landed contracts with Canada’s federal public works department that instantly made it the largest outsourced provider of facilities management services in the country. Then, in early 2015, Brookfield Asset Management acquired Johnson Controls’ half of the business.
“When the divestiture occurred, they gave us an opportunity to turn from the guys-in-the-vans model in culture to a very sophisticated workplace offering that we would be sharing with our clients, and this space was meant to be that,” said Paul.
The lease was structured so that the company could take the whole building, which made the change of plans straightforward in that respect. But with renovations already underway, it meant that the building would be constructed in reverse chronology — from top to bottom as opposed to starting with the most public-facing spaces.
The third floor would house 170 employees in the 19,500-square-foot Innovation Centre; the first and second floors would house the balance of the 600 employees who work out of head office. Altogether, the freshly fit out spaces span 70,000 square feet.
The 1980s-vintage building retained its raised floor, which required grounding, as well as its T-bar ceilings, while LEDs replaced T8 light fixtures. The renovation introduced new architectural, HVAC and electrical systems.
One of the biggest challenges for construction manager Flat Iron Building Group emerged when, as the fluid design was crystallized in the final push of the project, it became clear that the electrical room would be inadequate to service the entire building.
“Within five days, we had to take all the infrastructure out of that electrical room, build a new electrical room with drywall, make it secure enough for the ESA, and then move all the equipment over,” recalled Bill Lotton, director of construction, Flat Iron.
All that occurred while the 24/7 operations centre remained up and running without incident. Moving the operations centre into the renovated space was a feat in and of itself. The carefully orchestrated relocation involved three computer moves, two physical moves and one phone-system move over the course of five weeks.
“We are responsible for all of their (clients’) facilities, so being down wasn’t an option,” said Diane Baird, who runs the operations centre. “We had to get generators in; we had temp equipment conduits running everywhere; we had to keep it safe, because people had to work in the middle of it.”
Even with sound masking, for an open-concept space in which employees are fielding calls the area is remarkably quiet, Paul pointed out. The behavioural change was supported by the provision of etiquette training and headsets.
Closed spaces are delineated by demountable walls instead of drywall, offering not only the flexibility to reconfigure the space literally overnight, but time savings on the tight construction deadline. For example, it meant that the carpet tile could be installed across the floor in one sweep.
The carpet tile, which contains recycled content, was eligible for LEED points, as were all of the finishes that were selected. It was a display of the company’s commitment to sustainability in spite of that fact that the nature of operations and physical building conditions ruled out pursuing the environmental certification.
Brookfield GIS is also trying to reduce its impact by transitioning from a paper-based to a digital environment, although only to the extent that its customers are ready to embrace the move. One of its contracts required the company to maintain a secure high-density filing room.
If sustainability automatically factors into most design conversations these days, wellness is the new workplace frontier. The palette for the company’s office combines productivity-promoting white surfaces with its branded blues, plus bright accents for energy.
“It wasn’t about the walls, it wasn’t about the floor, it wasn’t about the finishes,” said Paul. “They were all enablers, but the design, and the methodology behind the design, is about the employee productivity.”
The design also inserted dashes of whimsy into the workplace, where whiteboards abound, in the form of inspirational quotes and meeting room monikers such as “What’s the plan?” and “Who’s on first?” Other fun features include a foosball table in the multi-purpose Collaboration Café that can be used at any time of the day.
Imparting trust to employees, by letting them choose when, where and how to complete different tasks, is a key ingredient in facilitating productivity, said Paul. In fact, when Brookfield GIS was acquainting its employees with their new office, it posted ‘nutritional facts’ about each of the different rooms, using percentages to indicate what styles of work they were designed to support. Graphics affixed to the glass partitions offer a quick reference, with images such as a telephone receiver and a trio of people.
Some meeting rooms are bookable and some are not; a booking system releases rooms within five minutes if the parties that have requested the space are no-shows. All the meeting rooms are tech-enabled for plug and play as well as screen-sharing. The counting and motion sensors installed in their door frames let the company know whether they’re being used as intended.
“If we see that it’s consistently being used by one person, and that one person’s here for the day, then this space is being used incorrectly; somebody’s using it as an office,” said Paul. “If we see the behaviours aren’t aligning with the design or the culture, we have a chance to go in and provide some focus on that intention.”
The data from the sensors didn’t just inform change management; they informed planning for future needs. Faced with a request for additional space it didn’t have, the project team was able to prove the Innovation Centre could easily absorb 100 new hires, since it had a space-utilization rate of 40 per cent.
Brookfield GIS is currently operating at a 1:1.5 desk-to-employee ratio with the goal of moving towards a 1:2 ratio. Cubbies and lockers substitute workstations as storage areas, so that employees have a place to park their personal effects on days that they’ll be on the move.
In order to complete the renovation on an expedited schedule, the team used a modified integrated project delivery model. The model saw all stakeholders, including Flat Iron, engineering consultants and trades, collaborate early and continuously throughout the 10-month timeline.
Members of the Brookfield GIS team handled leasing, interior design, project management, move management and workplace strategy, in addition to their regular workloads. At the same time, the outsourced provider of facilities management services fit out eight new locations across Canada to expand its capacity to fulfill the public works contracts.
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.