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April 16, 2018
Focus: Real Estate/Construction/Design

Reinventing workspaces: Employers finding new ways to engage staff and attract new hires

Photos / Tim Greenway; Photo illustration / Matt Selva
Photos / Tim Greenway; Photo illustration / Matt Selva
Clark Insurance, Tilson, Unum and Tyler Technologies have all invested in new, more appealing workspace.
Photo / Tim Greenway
Lisa Whited, founder of Workplace Transformation Facilitation, which spearheaded the design with input from employees and management, is shown here in a huddle space at the new Clark Insurance office.

If the organization you work for was an animal, what would it be and why?

That's one question Lisa Whited puts to employees as she helps businesses clarify their strategic vision and design an office that enables people to do their best work.

Whited, founder of Portland's Workplace Transformation Facilitation, involves employees throughout the process, through anonymous surveys and workshops. Animal answers vary from elephant to an exotic avian like the blue-footed booby.

"It gives me an idea of the corporate culture," says Whited, who uses everything she learns to design a space that engages existing employees and helps attract new hires. Before any move, she also works with employees to write guidelines of how to interact in the new space, including acceptable voice levels.

"In Maine, space is not at a premium, but people are," Whited says. "Space is a vehicle for recruitment, retention and improving employee engagement."

An investment in recruitment and retention

With 2.9% unemployment in February and the country's highest median age of 44.6 in 2016, Maine needs to lure more young people to live and work here.

Selling them on Portland's foodie culture, arts scene and coastal location is easy, but often not enough to convince someone to relocate for work. That puts more pressure on companies with growth ambitions to spend millions on attractive workspaces.

Four of them — Clark Insurance, Tilson, Unum and Tyler Technologies — are profiled in the accompanying photo essay, a first for Mainebiz. (Out of the four, only Clark and Tilson worked with Whited.)

While each venue has its own character, there are common strands — open plans rather than cubicles and private offices, "huddle rooms" and other spaces for private conversations, lots of glass and natural light and minimal clutter and noise. In part, the design trends reflect a more mobile workforce and a stronger focus on motivating employees.

"The people at Unum are our best asset and we are investing to create a work environment that is bright, modern and flexible," says Mike Simonds, CEO of Unum US. "Our new space helps our people connect and share ideas, ultimately enabling us to continue our strong growth, innovate faster and provide better experiences for our clients."

Art and other visuals also play into that, like a photo-and-text "story wall" still in progress at Clark showcasing clients and beneficiaries of its community involvement in portraits taken by photographer Tim Greenway, a regular contributor to Mainebiz.

"Our goal of the story wall is to remind the staff at Clark of the good work they do each day," explains designer Robert Brochu. "We wanted visual impact that unfolded in a genuine way."

At Tilson, employees have embraced their new set-up at 16 Middle St., just off of India Street near Portland's eastern waterfront. To other business owners thinking about a similar move, CEO Joshua Broder has three pieces of advice: Talk to the team about why you are making the change, don't overlook acoustics and commit.

"An open plan and activity-based work environment works best when it's implemented fully," Broder adds.

Clark Insurance: 1945 Congress St., Portland (New construction)

Photos / Tim Greenway
Photos / Tim Greenway

Clark has doubled its revenue over the last five years and is one of Maine's largest insurance agencies. Its new building, which took 10 months to build, includes a café (1), two meeting rooms in the reception area (2) and conference rooms (3). In total the new office has about 25,000 square feet for 85 employees.

Investment: $1 million for furniture, technology and fitness equipment. (The space is new, but is leased.)

Development partners: Northland Enterprises LLC (developer), Wright-Ryan Construction Inc., Archetype Architects.

Tilson: 16 Middle St., Portland (New construction)

Photos / Tim Greenway
Photos / Tim Greenway

Tilson is a fast-growing network deployment and professional services firm with a 400-strong workforce, including 100 in Portland. With no assigned desks or private offices in its new open-plan headquarters, not even for the boss (1), employees can choose where they work every day and take ping pong breaks, as administrative operations manager Claire Martin is doing here (2). There's also a Collab Café (3) and huddle rooms like the Dunder Mifflin (4), named after the company in the NBC series "The Office."

Investment: $4 million.

Development partners: Bateman Partners, AlliedCook Construction.

Tyler Technologies: 1 Tyler Dr., Yarmouth (New construction at existing campus)

Photos / Tim Greenway
Photos / Tim Greenway

Tyler employs 491 people in Yarmouth, 210 in Falmouth and 22 in Bangor, and anticipates filling 500 additional positions in Maine over the next eight to 10 years, says human resources director Liz Rensenbrink. The revamped Yarmouth campus has capacity for 750 employees. It features an expanded café (1), large conference rooms (2), meeting rooms like this one (3) where implementation consultant Bobby Jordan is working, and an auditorium (4) that seats more than 175. There's also a 3,600-square-foot fitness center (5), half-court basketball court (6), and multiple decks on all floors for outside access to a trailhead.

Investment: $28 million.

Development partners: Zachau Construction, Mark Mueller Architects.

Unum: 2211 Congress St., Portland (Three-phase renovation)

Photos / Tim Greenway
Photos / Tim Greenway

Want to chat over coffee at the Town Center (1) or do walk on a slow-moving treadmill (2) while on a conference call with corporate HQ in Chattanooga, Tenn.? Both are possible at Unum's sprawling new Portland campus with a $42 million, multi-phase revamp due to be wrapped up later this year. Unum will occupy two buildings and lease out a third as of mid-2019. The completed Home Office 1 building features centrally located stairs (3) with a nautical theme for Maine, huddle and focus rooms (4) and work areas (5) near the Town Center. All employees have laptops and can work anywhere.

Investment: $42 million

Architecture partners: Gensler global design and architecture firm.

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