December 13, 2017, Tim Mullaney, Senior Housing News - Asbury Communities is one of the largest non-profit senior living companies in the United States, and its CEO does not have an office. In fact, none of the workers in Asbury’s corporate headquarters has an office. That’s just one of the big changes that the company made when it recently moved its HQ.
Asbury’s new Frederick, Maryland-based offices are just about 14 miles down the road from the previous digs—but it’s been a big change nonetheless. The project involved a full-scale renovation of space in an existing building.
The new design elements and technology are meant to foster greater engagement and creativity, and appeal to younger talent, including millennials. Other senior living providers have also created new headquarters with these goals in mind, prompting Senior Housing News to shine a light on these projects in a recent series of articles.
The Asbury project shows that a non-profit company can create a bold, contemporary main office in a financially responsible way, CEO Doug Leidig told SHN. The move to the new headquarters should lead to savings of about $6 million for the organization, he said.
A team effort
One of Leidig’s main goals for the new space was to encourage a more collaborative culture, and that started well before move-in day, which occurred almost four months ago.
“Everybody in the office had an opportunity to participate and have their fingerprint on this move,” Leidig said.
This was accomplished through the formation of various teams that were responsible for different facets of the move. Every worker in the corporate office could volunteer to be on teams of their choosing. Between 40 and 50 people chose to participate, out of about 60 workers overall, Leidig said.
For instance, about 15 people signed up to help choose the site of the new office. Only one senior leader, the chief financial officer, was a member of this team, which viewed about 20 spaces with the company’s realtor, narrowing it down to three or four. Only at that point did Leidig and other executives step in to play a role.
The winning location was formerly the offices of a large construction company that had recently relocated. It was in a convenient location off the highway and closer to home for about 60% of the staff, Leidig said.
In addition, there was “a lot of incentive” for the building owner to have the space occupied, said Tara McDaniel, Asbury’s vice president of strategic communications. As part of signing a 10-year lease on the space, Asbury received $1.7 million to build out the space and numerous rent-free months. So, the costs of the move ran to $600,000 out of pocket for Asbury, while the cost savings in base rent alone should run to $2 million, Leidig said. The company expects to achieve cash savings of $6 million overall due to the move.
Saying goodbye to offices
Designing the new space also was a team effort, which helped garner buy-in for some of the more controversial decisions.
Perhaps most dramatically, Asbury went from having about 30 offices in its old headquarters to having zero. Now, most employees have a dedicated work station, but the idea is for people to utilize a variety of spaces in a given day or week.
For instance, there’s an “ideation room,” where people can draw on the walls. And there are large monitors mounted on walls throughout the new headquarters, making it easy for people to project their screens to work together.
The “no private offices” policy includes all the C-Suite leaders, including Leidig.
“I was advocating for it,” he said of the change. “There are plenty of rooms and spaces to go meet, so I’m not at my work station that much. Out of nine to 10 hours, I’m at the work station maybe two.”
The work stations are organized in “neighborhoods,” grouping people who often work together. For example, someone who works on payroll is in a finance and human resources neighborhood. This is meant to facilitate more conversation and less reliance on email and meetings.
So far, the new layout is working well, Leidig said. Even those who were reluctant to part with an office are embracing the new space; their fears, such as that they would be giving up an office for a cramped cubicle, have not come to pass.
And for Leidig, the lack of offices reinforces the corporate culture he is trying to build, based on transparency, trust and accountability. In this culture, everyone knows what they need to accomplish and is held accountable for that, without feeling that someone is peering over their shoulder all the time. So, no one should be fretful at the idea that the company CEO might unexpectedly plop down nearby to do some work, he said.
Inspired by Disney
Without traditional offices or cubicles, there are not walls or partitions to break up the space. Instead, the designers utilized other strategies to help orient people. For instance, a variety of flooring materials are used to differentiate, say, a collaboration area from a work area. A self-described “big Disney fan,” Leidig noted that Disney theme parks similarly use a variety of flooring to define spaces and prevent people’s feet from getting tired.
Several ceiling styles are used as well, with some spaces having low ceilings, some having wood, and some having the beams exposed. One of the goals for the next year is to monitor the flow of traffic through the building and bring in plants to create more partitions where needed.
The color palette, fabrics and finishes are done in a style dubbed “resi-mercial,” said Cerrie Gammons, senior interior designer at THW Design, a long-time Asbury collaborator that worked on this project. Resi-mercial blends residential and commercial elements, such as bringing in sofas and similar furnishings, and drawing on softer fabrics or finishes than an office typically uses.
The resulting space might seem like a big leap forward for Asbury, but it reflects values that the company has been prioritizing for several years, said Eric Krull, executive vice president at THW Design. For example, about five years ago, Asbury removed traditional nurse stations from its skilled nursing units, switching to a more social model of care.
“They’re carrying it up to the corporate level,” he said. “This design is for much more of a social model. It’s total transparency, you can literally see through their office.”
Indeed, the new office should create a more unified culture, Leidig believes. Now, when people come in from the field for training or orientation, they can see that corporate leaders are not only preaching the values of collaboration and innovation but are living these values out.
“People from across the system have come in for onboarding or meetings and they are blown away,” he said. “They leave saying, the tone has been set.”