Worth It Workplace – The Results of Putting People First

Kahler Slater has long believed in the importance of aligning and reflecting a company’s brand into their physical place. When forward-thinking client, CD Smith, began the process of planning a new headquarters in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, it was clear that a successful project meant more than simply accommodating a growing team. Their leadership wished to provide much needed space, while leveraging the new building as a catalyst to both evolve the firm and honor their company’s values.

As part of our “Worth It Workplace” series, we are taking a closer look at the motivation behind creating a people-first environment and the impressive results this strategy created for our client. We also briefly touch on how their new office was able to flex to the demands of a pandemic-conscious environment to support their immediate and future needs.

Why “People First” Matters

It is not a new understanding that positive work environments directly contribute to employee productivity, creativity, and retention; a healthy work environment allows staff to share ideas, reduces stress and ultimately can help an organization grow. However, while many organizations acknowledge this idea, it is not often the main driver behind how and why design decisions are made.

CD Smith had several organizational goals which they set out to achieve during the design of their new building. Through the initial discovery process, it was clear that their leadership was committed to employee wellbeing above other drivers—the new headquarters needed to provide a space that put their people first. Supporting that idea, they wished to holistically showcase their team’s craft and capabilities, while honoring their commitment to sustainability.

Celebrating Staff Individuality and Community Through Workspace Design

In their previous location, CD Smith’s workplace consisted of mainly private offices and offered little access to natural light. At the onset, a significant decision to move away from private offices into a more open-concept workspace set the stage for creating an environment that celebrated both the individual as well as encourage collaboration, community and creativity. 

Kahler Slater’s team designed an open floor plan, which adapts to the needs of CD Smith by providing customized workstation. Considerable emphasis was placed on staff choices—allowing flexibility on how and where they want to work within the building. Options include access to auxiliary flex rooms which are sized to accommodate a variety of small or large groups. All are enabled with varying technology as well as a wide range of furniture options to appeal to different body postures and desk positions.

Workstation design was clearly important, and the design team focused on creating an experience which integrated a hospitality-feel into each space. Workstations were customized and ran through a series of mock-ups, where tenured staff gave honest feedback on the functionality and comfort. Special care was taken to ensure that ergonomics, workflow and acoustics created a comfortable and collaborative environment for project teams. Taking this one step further, workspaces also include state-of-the-art mechanical and ventilation systems, allowing individual user controls to provide ultimate comfort with an underfloor air system.

Promoting Mental and Physical Wellbeing Throughout

As a demonstration of CD Smith’s commitment to their employees, the design of this space focused on creating an environment which supports an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing. Kahler slater’s team translated this into several design strategies including:

  • Natural Light & Views: The resulting design creates access to natural light and expansive views from every space—a stark contrast to the previous office. It was important to CD Smith to provide connection to green space, which drove designers to provide multiple outdoor access points, including a patio and cantilevered balcony.
  • Atrium & Stairs: In order to encourage employee movement within the office and reduce sedentary habits, an atrium and open stairs serve as a centralizing design feature and promote healthful movement through the space.
  • Healthy Amenities: The onsite gym includes brand new cardio equipment and free weights as well as a mind-body studio featuring on demand workouts. The employee café features a full catering kitchen, Lounge area and coffee bar to encourage collaboration and bring the comforts of an engaging hospitality environment.
  • Commitment to Sustainability: Leadership and employees wished to create an environment that not only supported their personal needs, but also leads by example—using the Greenest building methods available. The building received a LEED Gold certification and demonstrates CD Smith’s dedication to sustainability and the future for their community.

Creating a Welcoming Experience

Beyond just putting their employees first, CD Smith expressed desire to make guests feel instantly welcome from the moment they approach the front door. The building has an elevated entry, which serves as a front porch of sorts—allowing for a moment of transition and greeting. Throughout the spaces, warm materials and soft seating are featured. The café’s double height fireplace and mezzanine encourages conversation amongst colleagues and visitors alike.

Additionally, a tour path was intentionally created and translated through environmental branding to allow guests to physically walk through the history of CD Smith. Beginning at the entry, touchpoints begin with their 1936 founding and follows milestones throughout the space. A dedicated Heritage Room off the atrium celebrates the company’s unique history and family legacy.

Powerful Results

The results of this “People First” design driver have been phenomenal. Through both a pre- and post-occupancy survey, it was revealed that 91% of their employees feel engaged during their daily work and recognize that their work environment is a direct contributor to their satisfaction. Results also include:

  • 117% increase in the workplace supporting employees’ mental and physical wellbeing.
  • 136% increase in options and choices of workspace
  • 86% agree the building celebrates the team and company mission and culture

Ultimately, the new building creates a healthy space for employees and clients to usher in the next era for CD Smith. While not designed with a pandemic in mind, the thoughtful design and strategy of putting employees first allowed for many accommodations in the face of COVID-19. A larger size and spacing of workstations facilitate social distancing and having multiple conference rooms provides safe spaces for client calls and meetings.