Going for the goals
The first of CSX’s four main objectives was to make sure the new work environments aligned with the corporate vision. Over the course of three years, CSX Corporation had invested in a complete rebranding of the CSX system, and GS&P was able to demonstrate the benefits of realigning the new workspace with CSX’s fresh ideas, new branding effort and PR campaign. “A lot had changed in the 15 years since GS&P designed office space for CSX at 301 W. Bay St.,” says Leith Oatman, interior design principal at GS&P, “and they were ready to transition their work environment to reflect their use of technology to manage the rails and complement their rebranding effort.”
So how does a company align a physical space with its brand? One element of the new campaign promoted the fact that freight by rail is less expensive than freight by trucks. After the economic downturn in 2008, CSX seized the opportunity to help businesses discover ways to save money, and the company wanted to parlay that cost savings into energy efficient space. “It doesn’t matter if the space is pretty, because that’s subjective,” explains Oatman. “But, efficient and sustainable office space is an objective design standard. By creating a work environment that encourages collaboration through lower panels, greater flexibility of work rooms, conference rooms and teaming spaces, businesses can mitigate barriers to the daily business of producing work.”
Some changes were easy to identify and plan, for instance: losing the maze of dark, claustrophobic cubicles in favor of more efficient work stations with lower panels; collaborative spaces with shared enclaves; and private offices located along the core to maximize efficiency. Oatman says CSX toured some of GS&P’s other office projects that were a product of workplace strategy initiatives. These tours empowered CSX to articulate a clear vision of tomorrow’s environment, which was really quite simple: CSX Technology and Intermodal groups desired a work environment that was more open and colorful, offered teaming spaces and was more efficient by reducing workstation footprints. They also wanted to relocate some program functions that were in closed, hard wall spaces into more flexible workstations. These ideals translated into the need for flexibility to change the workplace as the business changed.
Goal number two, right-sizing the real estate, produced some of the more profound changes to the space. A perfect complement to the relocation effort, right-sizing, the process of examining individual employees and matching the most efficient work space to their specific roles, was a timely exercise in self-analysis. “Over the evolution of an organization, titles change and roles evolve,” explains Oatman. “People can end up in closed offices because of their titles — which does not always reflect what they do during the course of a day — or someone may take over an office simply because it’s available. Moving gives an organization an opportunity to examine those paradigms, and create more flexible types of meeting spaces, like the cyber café. It’s an opportunity for the workforce to have closed, yet less formal meeting spaces. The reality is that there is an exchange of knowledge over the water cooler, so why not celebrate the importance of the incidental communication by creating a central location on a floor that is more than a stuffy coffee station?”
With right-sizing, the best and highest use of the floor space is made available. “For instance,” adds project planner Brooke Koepke, “CSX Technology created a telecommuter program which was a new concept to them. The telecommuters solved the issue of the ebb and flow of the tech department where temporary or contract workers are often employed.” In these situations, real estate remains unused, or wasted, once a temporary contract employee has completed an assignment. “We designed ‘garages’ to house movable pedestals for employees that don’t have their own workspace. They would simply pick up their movable pedestal in the morning and check out a workstation for the day.”
To meet the third goal of committing to an urban core and a campus feel, the client chose a streetscape design to connect the leased and owned buildings and create a community atmosphere to help transition seasoned employees who were apprehensive about the move. A streetscape design “helps define wayfinding and adds paths that are safer for employees to maneuver,” says Koepke. And even relatively small investments, like street pavers, “created an urban core and campus-like feel between headquarters and 550 Water St.”
Finally, CSX wanted to demonstrate its commitment to the environment and its prominence as an efficient railroad company, and did so by achieving LEED-CI Gold Certification for the new 550 Water St. location. A few of the many sustainable design elements that contributed to the gold certification included: specifically designed millwork to accommodate recycling throughout the floor; fresh air intake and indoor/outdoor air quality monitoring; the creation of separate HVAC zones that account for different solar exposures and heat gain; new lighting design that delivers a 26 percent reduction in electrical loads; and improved plumbing fixtures that reduce water use by 35 percent.
Even after the LEED Charrette process, where specific points are identified for LEED certification, the design team discovered a collection of stored furniture that CSX was able to repurpose for use in the Intermodal Group’s large employee break room. Throughout the project, the design team specified remanufactured systems furniture as a sustainability strategy, and the discovery of unused furniture fit perfectly into the plan. Though using the remanufactured furniture represented significant cost savings ($1,500 for remanufactured versus $4,500 for new), Oatman says it wasn’t so much about the money. “It was more about the right thing to do — tapping into resources that may have found their way to a landfill if not for reuse or the remanufacturing industry.”
Moving in together
The initial decision to relocate the two groups raised some serious questions. “There was a lot of anxiety about whether they would be able to fit, and, unfortunately, Jacksonville doesn’t have a lot of high-rise buildings with 180,000 contiguous square feet,” states Oatman. “Moving to 550 Water St. allowed them to share amenities that were already provided to employees at CSX’s headquarters. There were synergies that they could capitalize on by having groups literally across the street from HQ rather than two or three blocks down the street.”
As expected, the benefits of shared space were immediately evident. For years, the CSX culture included “town hall” meetings that provided a community setting for executive management to have conversations with large groups of employees, like the Intermodal and Technology teams. “When they were at 301 W. Bay St., they had to rent an auditorium for town hall meetings,” says Oatman. “Even the logistics of having 1,000 people walk three blocks was complicated.” Now, employees at 550 simply walk across the street to enjoy a subsidized cafeteria, barber shop, full gym and a large training area with conference rooms.
The move’s planning and design were not without anxiety, especially when faced with losing Confetti’s Café, a long-loved, privately owned sandwich shop that had become an important part of the culture at 301 W. Bay. Employees had become very attached to the café and it’s pleasant affect on the workday, and they voiced concern over losing a favorite place to read the paper or enjoy coffee and muffins in the morning. Koepke says that CSX listened closely to its employees and was intent on addressing their deepest concerns during the planning stages. “The Intermodal and Technology employees were anxious at the thought of losing easy access to the café,” says Koepke, “so, towards the end of construction CSX asked us to design a space for Confetti’s to address the concerns of the Intermodal and Technology employees that would be moving to the 550 building. We were able to use some extra square footage left over on a non-CSX floor, and it became a very personal gesture on behalf of the employees.” Since the average employee at CSX has been with the company for about 20 years, Oatman adds “it was a relatively inexpensive solution with a tremendous amount of goodwill on the part of CSX.”
When it all comes together
As one of the original designers of the workspace at 301 W. Bay, Oatman says her job 15 years ago was to implement someone else’s design ideas. “What was important to me about this project was seeing GS&P take care of this client over a period of many years and see our design team bring to fruition a space we have collectively been dreaming about. It’s exciting to see it happen!”
For Koepke, seeing how proud the employees are of the new space has been the most gratifying aspect of this project. “They preserve and take care of it, and they love to brag about it.” But she’s quick to point out that much of that credit should go to CSX. “The company really does empower employees. One of their core values is that people make the difference, and that every employee adds value.”
GS&P continues to provide design services at CSX’s headquarters, and has been in ongoing discussions about future additions and renovations. Oatman says one of the greatest compliments to the entire team recently came by way of a newly hired executive. “Last year they recruited a new VP of HR who is so intrigued by the design that she has already reached out to say that this is the direction she wants to go as she tries to recruit the next generation workforce. Next year they are renovating the floor she works on, and where candidates will be brought in for interviews. Her experience and how she felt in her visits to 550 Water St. are so positive, she wants others to feel the same way about joining the company.”