“We worked closely with Asurion’s facility and project management team to develop a unique environment that would appeal to their target staff and support the company’s attraction and retention efforts,” says Jack Weber, GS&P senior interior designer and principal-in-charge on the project. “That was one of Asurion’s biggest goals because top-tier IT programmers and developers are extremely hard to come by. You have to do everything within your power to make sure you’re not only giving them the right tools, but you’re also creating the right setting for them to work in. Our part was to give them the optimum environment and make it better than anything else out there.”
Asurion’s search for a unique space in which to house its new software development center led them to a circa 1980s corporate office park. Saddled within a bridge connector between two buildings, a 15,000-square-foot space was ultimately selected because of its capability to expand in four separate directions.
“The space was in an older building that had been through quite a few different build-outs in the past,” reflects Weber. “So we had to clean up the plenum space, the exterior perimeter and the existing floor to make it presentable for the type of new space we would be creating. Asurion wanted to give the new development center an urban loft feel with an open structure and exposed concrete floors. But before we could do anything, there had to be a lot of demolition and general repair to the core and shell before it would work for the environment that we were trying to create.”
A Pod-themed Workplace
Asurion’s initial idea for the space was to place similar functional groups together (such as programmers with programmers, and testers with testers), and provide a shared, collaborative space that would enable cross-functional teams to come together. However, as the design team began to evaluate the new workspace and understand the working styles and needs of Asurion’s functional groups and teams, a different concept was agreed upon.
“Based on our research, as well as our experience with workplace strategies, we found that individuals can successfully focus on what they’re doing while in a room of up to 12 coworkers,” says Weber. “When working together with other team members, there are times for heads-down concentration, and times when a more collaborative effort is required.”
To address these diverse work patterns, the design team developed a pod-themed workplace concept that combined cross-functional team members together in a space that would allow each group to form its own unique microcosmic environment. In this setting, a diverse mix of employees can work in tandem in an open environment, but then use social cues when heads-down time is more appropriate. Additionally, nine 11-person pods were positioned at strategic locations within the space’s unusually shaped floor plate. This pod-themed design would allow the office to expand as more team members came on board. Individual pods could be built out as needed to extend the space gradually in any of four directions.
“When we were creating a prototype for a pod, we had to determine how many people a pod would need to hold and what items were going to go into that pod,” explains Weber. “We decided to incorporate segmented desk space within the pods to provide employees with a private area for concentration that’s separated from the group space, and placed tables and stools in the pod’s center that allow for meetings and discussion. We also provided clear glass and walls that double as whiteboards for teams to write on, and large, flat panel displays where programmers can share ideas with other team members.
“The extensive use of glass along the pod’s corridors and in pod entryways allows team members to see inside the pods and to assess the working conditions of the pod’s occupants—whether they’re talking or working privately. Ultimately, the pods give employees control of their own environment by allowing them to understand their team makeup. As the company grows, all they need to do is add pods, as opposed to growing one section of a functional type and then reorganizing everything because you grew one group but weren’t growing the next.”
In addition to an open environment, Asurion executives expressed the need for a color scheme that represented the company’s forward-thinking culture and the creative work that takes place behind closed doors. The design team decided on a warm yet bold palette of oranges, reds, greens, yellows and magentas, along with furniture in complementary tones. Wall graphics were also used throughout the space to add energy and visual interest at key circulation points.
“The ADC is intentionally a little more colorful than the corporate headquarters we designed in 2004,” says Weber. “Blue and orange are in Asurion’s logo, but the rest of the colors needed to be really dynamic.”
Moving farther into the office space, vibrant graphic walls visible at the ends of corridors not only add energy and color, but also provide wayfinding cues. The lively color palette carries over to the pods and the cafeteria/breakroom, which features tiered stadium seating that can be adapted for various uses during team meetings and presentations.
“The breakroom area needed to have a lot of flexibility in terms of what they could use it for,” says Weber. “It serves as a break space where you can eat lunch, chat with coworkers or grab a cup of coffee. It also doubles as an area where the entire office can come together and listen to leaders give a presentation. That’s when the tiered seating can really be utilized.”
To further enhance the open, collaborative theme, a mix of high-top and traditional dining tables, stools and comfortable chairs was incorporated throughout the space. This variety of seating options gives employees the ability to share ideas and collaborate on product solutions away from their desks and pods.
“We not only created a workspace that’s functional, inspiring and fun, but were also able to incorporate sustainable elements into that workspace,” adds Weber. “We used energy-efficient lighting to minimize the light level. We chose low-VOC paints and sealers for the concrete floors, and installed carpets that have a high amount of recycled content. We also made the best possible use of natural light. Virtually every space and every person has access to it, along with views of the wooded setting. At the end of the day, we’ve given Asurion a space that performs well and shows well, and is something they can be extremely proud of.”
“One of our original goals was to promote collaboration between the functional groups in IT, and I have never seen so much interaction between groups,” says Terri Russell, office manager for the Asurion ADC. “I walk the space two or three times a day and people are really working together. I work within the management team pod, and that has been a great space to work in. We are very accessible to all the employees, and the organization feels like one big team versus a more hierarchical firm.
“I previously had an office and was initially skeptical about coming to a place with an open concept,” continues Russell, “but I have adapted to it and love it. The employees have also adapted extremely well to this concept. I see groups in various states of heads-down focus, collaboration and sometimes just kicking back and socializing. The cafeteria/breakroom is also working really well. We have all-hands meetings in there every week and can easily fit everyone in using the tiered, bleacher-style seating. We use that space for lots of social events as well.”
Setting a new standard in workplace design, Asurion’s Atlanta Development Center has the space to support 100 staff and can easily accommodate the fast-growing company as it expands. With its smart workplace strategy and vibrant architectural and interior design elements, the new software development center successfully addresses all of Asurion’s key objectives of providing a highly functional and dynamic environment for IT’s best and brightest.
“The space is working great,” confirms Russell. “We are getting the cream-of-the-crop, 100-percent best programmers and developers to come and work for us.”