Spring 2024 | Article 03/04

People behind the places: designing our own offices

A lot goes into the design of an office space – from the number of rooms and layout of various environments to the type of furniture, paint colors on the wall and more. Every detail matters. Everything is important because, together, these components drive a shared experience and fulfill layers of company culture for your people. It’s why the best places and spaces put people at the center – bringing the best and brightest together to give teams everything they could need and want from a space all their own.

Building a living lab of best practices of office space design - for our people and yours.

Recently, we redesigned our Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary offices, with critical input from our teams, and pulling from industry standard best practices and expertise across every stage of the design and development process. Great for today, our spaces also serve as an opportunity to test out the latest and greatest advancements for ourselves and our clients, developing a living lab that can learn, grow, and evolve to explore what’s possible.

We reached out to a few of our leaders behind this work, to learn more about what they love most about the new spaces and how they meet the needs of those that matter most: the people who use them.

Discussing our approach and key focus areas

  • Principal, Executive Vice President, Canadian Project Leader
  • Project Management Services

Arlene, how did the projects to design our own office spaces showcase Avison Young’s capabilities?

The projects demonstrated our integrated service delivery model, bringing together all disciplines for the delivery of a successful outcome. From location strategy, brokerage advisory, workplace strategy and playbook, project management and ESG – we handled and executed every step of the way, touching a full spectrum of our services.

Why were ESG considerations a non-negotiable piece of the design and build of these spaces?

Our global headquarters demonstrates that we believe in sustainability. We believe in walking the walk by not just reducing our carbon footprint but by implementing organizational change for the wellbeing of our people and spaces where they work, now and in the future.

What are some of your personal favourite design elements from the new spaces and why?

I love The Commons, a space that demonstrates flexibility and collaboration as a community space that we share not only with our people but with visitors to our office, through after-hours events, classrooms for university students, boardrooms for brokerage meetings, to board meetings for organizations and launchpads for fundraising events.

I also love the little touches that make big impacts, like biophilic green walls that have become the Instagram moment of the space, our telephone booths where people can have private conversations, and the general “phygital” nature of the space bringing the seamless integration of technology into our physical spaces. Bridging technology with the physical environment was critical.

What role did relationships and partnerships play toward helping us successfully complete these projects?

As strong business partners with landlords and vendors, we successfully leveraged past relationships, built upon or expanded current relationships to make sure, no matter what challenges came our way, we could navigate and handle the projects the best that we could.

The result?  We had projects that overcame supply delays and labor shortages to still deliver on time, on strategy, and on budget.

Dive deeper into the process.

Learn more about our Toronto headquarters redesign project.

Tactical design execution

  • Principal, Vice President
  • Project Management

Nathalie, how did we put people at the heart of our design decisions?

We made our key audience groups a critical piece of every space and element:
Strategic site selection: We made our site selection a pivotal element of our project, ensuring ample natural light with expansive floor-to-ceiling windows. Our focus on a large kitchen and various inviting meeting environments, including an exterior terrace, fosters collaboration and community within the workspace.  We deliberately chose a building that aligns with our commitment to employee wellbeing. One key feature was securing a space with gym access right on our floor, underscoring our dedication to supporting a healthy work-life balance and wellness.

Inclusive decision-making:  We infused our Montreal office space with the unique "Montreal flavour." This involved establishing a dedicated committee to meticulously review the design with great attention to detail. We prioritized inclusivity by involving different business units in the design process. This collaborative approach ensured that diverse perspectives and requirements were considered, resulting in a workspace that caters to the specific needs of all team members.
Employee-centric furnishings: Office furniture was chosen with our team's wellbeing in mind. Height-adjustable desks and ergonomic chairs were carefully selected after rigorous testing to ensure comfort and support for all.

Calming colour palette and spacious layout: Our colour scheme was thoughtfully curated to create a tranquil and inspiring environment. We intentionally avoided overcrowding, leaving ample breathing room throughout the space to enhance comfort and productivity.

Transition to collaborative workspaces: We transformed our office layout from assigned seating and closed-off spaces to a flexible, unassigned model. Smaller, reservable work areas promote agility and encourage interaction, nurturing camaraderie and teamwork.

What were some of the elements we included to drive more intentional connection and collaboration among colleagues?

Social gathering spaces: Our cafeteria has become a popular social hub after hours. The addition of a large TV screen allows for shared experiences. Our outdoor space is furnished and designed to accommodate gatherings, providing a refreshing alternative for team meetings or individual work sessions. We're excited about the prospect of leveraging our summer weather to create a dynamic workspace that seamlessly integrates indoor and outdoor environments, fostering collaboration.

Spacious, comfortable layout: By intentionally designing our space with a calming colour scheme and avoiding overcrowding, we've created an atmosphere conducive to focused work and collaboration, enhancing the overall team experience.

What are some of your personal favourite design elements from the new spaces and why?

One of my personal favourites is the reception area. It exudes a sense of peace and invitation, setting a positive tone for anyone entering our office.

Additionally, I love the area leading to the cafeteria, which features practical phone booths and comfortable sofas. This expansive space gradually opens up, allowing you to glimpse colleagues as you move towards the bustling cafeteria.

Finally, our vibrant cafeteria opening onto the terrace is a standout feature. It's a lively hub, offering a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor environments. This integration adds vibrancy and energy, making it a favourite spot for both work and relaxation.

The tangible benefits of a people-first design approach

  • Principal and Executive Vice President
  • Real Estate Management Services, Canada

Neil, how has the new design improved day-to-day business operations? What is possible now that wasn’t before (or made easier)?

The new space is a refreshing environment for the REMS team. The quality of the finishes combined with the unassigned seating has resulted in a more inclusive and collaborative workplace where team members can choose the type of setting they feel best suits their specific objectives for a day of work. For instance, they can gather in an area together where there is a strong social and collaborative energy, or alternatively choose a quieter part of the office if there is heads down work to be done. The social areas of the office also encourage interaction with colleagues outside the REMS team.

What within the space has helped drive increased connection and collaboration across teams?

The interconnected staircase has really helped bridge what can potentially become a barrier between inter-floor interaction. The other element is the Commons area, and concentrating coffee and services in a single location, bringing people together to mingle while getting their beverage of choice.

What are some of your personal favorite design elements from the new spaces and why?

I enjoy the artwork around the office, which reflects life in and around our communities in Toronto. I also like the telephone booths and personal meeting rooms, as well as the ‘living room’ type of social areas where conversations can occur in a more casual setting.

Spaces that put people at the heart – for improved connection, collaboration, and culture

When people who will occupy a space are the focus for critical decisions, it makes the process that much easier and more meaningful, every step of the way because your North Star is clear. From the broad-level strategy to the tactical elements and tangible day-to-day impacts, when you can experiment with the space to enhance the experience for all, it leads to more benefits and wins all around.

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Article contributors

Arlene Dedier

    • Principal, Executive Vice President, Canada Project Management
    • Project Management
[email protected]

Nathalie Gagnon

    • Principal, Vice President, Project Management
    • Project Management
[email protected]

Neil Lacheur

    • Principal
    • Executive Vice President
    • Real Estate Management Services, Canada
    • Facility Management
    • Property Management
    • Asset Management
[email protected]

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