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A walk-through of the Reynolds American Inc. headquarters in downtown Winston-Salem shows a much different work environment today from two years ago.
Recent renovations in the company's 16-floor Main Street Plaza building include updates to individual workspaces and meeting areas, as well as a technology overhaul on nine floors.
Dark corridors and closed-off work spaces have been replaced with open, bright areas aimed at fostering collaboration.
"We have really put in a lot of work and really transformed the environment for our employees, and for good reason," said Tonika Kottenbrock, senior director of social well-being and work environment for RAI Services Co. "We think of our employees as trailblazers thriving together, transforming tobacco. Now, we have the space to support us on that journey."
The Plaza building opened in 1982 and has total square footage of 615,000.
Kottenbrock said that major companies worldwide are using their office spaces, primarily their headquarters, as a strategic asset.
"A modern headquarters functions as two things: as a tangible example of company culture, but it also provides potential candidates a really good idea of what it's like to work at a company," she said.
She said the renovations at the Reynolds headquarters were driven by two factors.
"The first is really our commitment to employee well-being and the second is our desire to be an employer of choice over the long term," she said. "When you think about employer of choice, an essential element of that goal is actually involving our work environment. Talent attraction and retention is critical to companies that depend on innovation. And a modern work environment is a powerful tool in that regard."
She added that better workplace design, new technologies that support collaboration and innovation and a focus on employee well-being "have the ability to set RAI apart from its competition and improve the employee experience."
Kottenbrock said Reynolds wanted "to create spaces where our employees wanted to be, rather than just a space where they had to be."
The exact cost of the project was not disclosed but Kottenbrock said, "It was a significant investment."
Planning for the renovations, which have been done in phases, started in 2014. The first floor was completed in January 2016 and all nine floors should be finished in August.
"The project took some time, but it was time well spent," said Kottenbrock. "It wasn't as if this team of people got together and said, 'This is what we're going to give employees.' Employees were in on it."
To help start the design process, the company surveyed employees asking what they wanted to see in the revamped areas. Suggestions from employees included natural light, the ability to see outside and sit-stand desks.
"Before we purchased a stick of furniture, we actually set up an office setup and a workstation setup on one of our vacant areas upstairs and invited employees to come and have a look, and they filled out a survey," Kottenbrock said.
The design process
Reynolds brought in Little Diversified Architectural Consulting in Charlotte to do the redesign and provide a modern "urban loft" look.
Ruth Cline, a partner and interiors studio principal with Little, said the process was a collaborative effort, including various Reynolds departments, the general contractor and a real-estate partner.
From a design standpoint, the design team focused on Reynolds' desire to attract and retain employees, and looked at everything that was employee-based, including whatever employees touched, felt and smelled, Cline said.
"In most of these areas, we completely renovated the floor," Cline said.
Upgrades include new HVAC; a lot of color and graphics, including a different color on each floor; more glass and access to natural daylight.
The entrances to floors offer display shelves that showcase exhibit artifacts, reflecting the company's heritage. Reclaimed wood from old Reynolds buildings highlight some of the renovated space and old tobacco barrels have been repurposed to create furniture in meeting and collaboration areas.
In terms of well-being offerings, every work station and office is equipped with a sit-stand desk so that employees can stand while they work.
"We also strategically placed our copy areas in the four corners of each of the floors so that employees have to get up, in a way to encourage movement throughout the day," Kottenbrock said.
Walking desks were added where space was available.
"Walking desks are pretty much a treadmill that have a computer on top of them to allow our employees the opportunity to work while they get their steps in," Kottenbrock said.
The company also provided focus rooms on every floor and outfitted a new-mother suite for nursing mothers.
The focus rooms can be used by employees when they need a quiet place to think, focus on a project or possibly have a quiet conversation with their doctor.
Technology, innovation, collaboration
Don Childress, director of information management for RAI Services Co., said the renovations were also an opportunity to "deliver innovative technology but also to wrap that around a theme of ideation."
"What it comes down to is we're maximizing touch control whether it's in the conference rooms or other places," Childress said. "This actually leverages the technology that people have at their desks."
Features include touch technology and video conferencing in conference rooms, and mobile technology in informal collaboration areas, including a large touch screen with a wireless keyboard and mouse.
"So you could have a mobile unit that you could roll around to any place on the floor where you want to meet and have a quick meeting," Childress said.
Ideation technology, which integrates different technologies, can be seen on the building's ninth floor.
Childress said that Reynolds is the eighth company in the country to have this technology.
"This is very new technology in terms of what it does," Childress said. "It allows you to combine the Internet and your search results into a working board. It's for posting ideas, collaborating with others and having blue sky events where you try to be innovative in innovative sessions. It allows you to record all of those sessions.
"Blue sky" or "Blue sky thinking" means brainstorming.
So far, employee response to the changes has been positive, Kottenbrock said.
A recent company satisfaction survey showed a jump in ratings in terms of what employees thought of their work environment after the renovations compared with their workspace before the renovations.
For example, Kottenbrock said that the collaboration areas with technology rose 21 percent post-renovations, access to daylight and outdoor views rose 21 percent, and a design that reflects the company's heritage jumped 28 percent.
After their workspaces were renovated, Christy Canary-Garner and Valentine Cancio-Fitzgerald made these statements:
"The new space is incredible! From the overall design aesthetics, to the improved technology, to the amazing light/brightness, to the layout, to the ... I could go on and on," said Canary-Garner. "This is the first time that I've had an office without a window and I have to admit I was a bit "skeptical" and afraid I would really miss the outside "influence," but the new space is so bright with site-lines to so many outside windows that I haven't missed it one bit."
Cancio-Fitzgerald said, "I am enjoying my new workstation. I also want to let you know how well we collaborated today in the Applications Test Lab ... everyone who came by and saw the teamwork was excited. It was only the first day, and there is already positive buzz around it. Great job!"
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