As part of a master planning project, the Tennessee Department of General Services began evaluating all buildings occupied by the state—both owned and leased—looking for ways to improve real estate utilization. With the need to increase efficiency, GS&P was asked to lead a workplace strategy process and pilot project for the central procurement office. The goal was to create a more efficient, effective, open and modernized floor plan with an increase in shared spaces, such as enclaves and collaborative areas. The pilot project would serve as a future workplace example for all state agencies.
Due to the pilot’s success, GS&P was selected to help undertake a massive real estate consolidation effort known as Project T3: Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow. Spearheaded by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, the comprehensive workplace strategy and master planning initiative would transition more than 1 million square feet of leased space into a more efficient use of space within state-owned facilities by following the strategies established during the pilot.
“We initially worked on the pilot program with state leadership, including the Commissioner of General Services, Steven Cates, to evaluate new workplace standards and provide innovative ideas for how the state utilized its space,” explains Jack Weber, GS&P senior interior designer and principal-in-charge on the project. “As the pilot progressed, Commissioner Cates was also working on putting together a plan to consolidate the state’s real estate, which became Project T3. As a result of the pilot, the commissioner asked GS&P to partner with the state to work on the project.
“The state’s extremely aggressive schedule was the primary challenge. The goal was to consolidate more than 12,000 people in less than two years, which not only involved moving people, but also included extensive renovations to spaces, eliminating much of the previous hard-walled office environment, and transitioning staff into a more open and collaborative atmosphere.
“A tremendous change to such a large number of employees meant that we had to pay particularly close attention to how we could move that many people with as little disruption as possible—and within such a narrow window of time.”
Creating and Confronting Change
One of the design team's consolidation tactics was to perform a Shared Space Study—an analysis of all shared spaces such as conference or training rooms—to get a better understanding of spaces that could be reallocated to improve efficiency and use. Existing facility studies, online surveys and staff interview data were evaluated, and it became evident to the team that the large concentration of state agencies in the downtown Nashville area showed the greatest need and potential for improvement. Recommendations were then developed on location, space, tools and audio/visual standards based on the needs and work patterns of the various agencies.
After the shared spaces were identified and reallocated, the design team developed a standard floor organizing concept for each building that addressed all of the state’s primary and secondary goals. In addition to reducing the overall occupancy of real estate, these goals included: developing a new workplace that enhances efficiency while maximizing flexibility and adaptability; redesigning existing agency workplaces to allow space for agencies moving from leased facilities; and providing increased interaction between employees and the various state agencies.
“Generally speaking, the workplace hadn’t been touched for decades,” says Weber. “It was outdated, dark and isolated, featuring high-paneled work stations. The atmosphere was dreary and not at all conducive to productivity or collaboration. So while the primary goal was consolidating space, the secondary objective was to give people a much nicer work environment where they could be more productive.”
In an effort to mitigate the impacts of the move on workers—as well as better prepare each agency to operate more productively—a formal change management process was implemented. As an orientation to the strategy, the GS&P team created, presented and distributed a workplace strategy guideline document that informed state employees of the project goals and upcoming changes. Through this document—along with town hall meetings, videos and other means of mass communication—the team was able to convey the objectives of the project and respond to any concerns or questions that transitioning employees might have.
“We wanted to clearly convey the state’s goals for the consolidation,” says Weber, “and perhaps more importantly explain why we were doing this and how things would occur.”
Creating a Better Workplace
As part of Project T3, Gov. Haslam sought to enhance office spaces so employees were afforded the opportunity to work in an up-to-date environment that allowed them to better serve the people of Tennessee. To bring this environment to life, the prototypical floor plan for each building took into account floor plate organization, the structural bay size and spacing of columns, the proportions of interior and exterior space, and the dimensions from the central core to the building perimeter. These elements ultimately informed appropriate circulation paths and the location of both walled and open spaces.
“The design team kept the offices on only short ends of the building,” explains Weber. “When there’s a need for additional offices we can stack them away from the perimeter circulation corridor. Maintaining continuous circulation at the perimeter was a central goal for a number of reasons: most importantly, to promote access to other employees, eliminating travel down dead ends for access to their peers. The building’s perimeter is both the warmest and/or coldest zone in the building because of its proximity to the glass, so another reason for perimeter circulation aisles was about maximizing employee comfort. An equally important aspect of maintaining continuous circulation was that it allowed for increased views and daylighting. The fewer objects bisecting the glass, the more open it appears.
“Previously, agencies had their own suites, conference rooms, breakrooms and copy areas. With this new strategy, these areas are shared by any and all agencies occupying the floor. Fewer walls separate agencies from each other, which has led to a tremendous increase in their interaction with one another.”
To offset the perceived increase in noise levels, panel fabrics and ceiling tiles with increased absorptive characteristics were used, as well as a sound-masking system to provide additional ambient noise covering normal speech ranges.
Rolling Out the Consolidation
Encompassing approximately 20 state buildings across Tennessee—and roughly the same number of government agencies—the phased rollout of the project started with the William R. Snodgrass Tennessee Tower (originally acquired by the state in 1994), and included buildings in Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville.
In addition to updating and consolidating agency workplaces, the design team updated public spaces—such as entry and elevator lobbies, corridors, restrooms and shared meeting centers—to today’s standards for Class A office buildings.
Projected to save Tennessee $100 million over the next decade, Project T3: Transforming Tennessee for Tomorrow reduces the state’s overall real estate footprint by 1 million square feet, and transitions its employees from outmoded, inefficient workspaces into a user-friendly, collaborative environment that can easily adapt to meet the state’s changing needs.
“We’ve provided the state with the right design solution,” says Weber, “which is reflected in the feedback we’re starting to get from employees who really like the more open and contemporary environment.”
“Our employees have been pleasantly surprised with their new space and have really embraced the new standards,” reports Commissioner Cates. “They’re feeling better about coming to work as it’s cleaner and more inviting.
“Most people relate efficiency to square feet per person. However, efficiency is not just about saving space; it’s also about using space more wisely. This project focused on capturing underutilized ‘me’ space and allocating it to ‘we’ spaces that can greatly benefit everyone.”