The idea of tackling a new office space design is daunting for most companies. It’s a little different, however, for an integration firm that specializes in solving workspace technology challenges for its customers. It’s even more distinctive for Norwell, Mass.-based Signet Electronic Systems which is unique in its focus on audio, video, telecommunications and security.
So between its wide range of in-house technology expertise and the fact that its customers across all vertical markets are focusing on rethinking their work spaces, it was very appropriate for Signet to take on a lot of the planning itself.
The opportunity came up when Signet, which had been in its facility for 25-plus years, bought a building just a few doors down. The approximiately $40 million integration firm with 138 employees across New England had tripled its size since 1992.
President and owner Bradford Caron recognized that the new space would better accommodate growth and would allow his organization to create a more collaborative and efficient work environment.
The new building can accommodate more engineers, technicians and project managers, according to a Signet press release. It offers 2,400 square foot area for production, assembly, testing and certification and boasts a 14,000-square-foot environmentally-controlled warehouse.
Just as important as the added space, Caron recognized that the old space wasn’t allowing the organization to evolve its workflows as quickly as needed. He wanted a space that current and future employees will embrace.
“To be an industry leader, we must be able to attract high energy, fresh, tech savvy talent,” says Caron. “An environment designed around state-of-the-art technology and natural light, combined with amenities such as a lounge, café, outdoor patio, individual private lockers, and designer furniture is attractive to Generation X, millennials and Generation Z.
Some highlights of the new space include:
- Leverages use of windows and glass to “borrow” natural light. “If you are standing in the center of the building, you can see clear through two departments to the outside” says Stephen E. Archibald AIA, president of Archdesign, Inc., a Massachusetts-based architectural design firm that Signet worked with on the project. Two four-by-eight foot skylights were installed to provide natural light to the interior engineering area, and a sixteen-foot glass entrance tower was added to bring a new look to the building’s exterior.
- A complete passive and active data infrastructure including a new data center with redundant firewalls, fiber connectivity, UPS backup and IP climate-control HVAC.
- Security package includes a unified IP access control and CCTV system and zoned intrusion detection system anchored by a Genetec platform.
- Exterior LED lighting controlled via a networked lighting control panel for granular schedule and lighting scene control.
- An addressable fire alarm system throughout the building.
While SIGNET partnered with ArchDesign and Mass-based construction company Callahan/Hoffman Company, Inc. on the $2 million renovation, it leaned heavily on input from its staff. With about one month left in the build out and prior to the move into the new building, Commercial Integrator visited the former office space to talk with some of those employees about the process and plans for the new office space design.
Decision to Move
Andy Pelletier, director of project management:
The opportunity came up that a building local to this building that was a little bit bigger or ready to be renovated came on the market, and [Caron] saw an opportunity because, to some extent, this building we’ve grown into as far as we can go.
In addition to that, this building did need some renovations and improvements. I think to bring our building up to the level of service that we offer our clients and to better represent what Signet offers our clients, we need to be in a better, higher-class building.
The new office space is class A, so certainly a large jump in the quality and fit-out of this space as far as amenities are concerned and design elements. I think Brad said, “You know what? Now is a good time to reinvest in the company. Let’s plan for the next 25 years.”
Entering DIY Territory
Being an integrator we’re self-performing as much work over there as possible. We’re turnkey-installing our own fire alarm system, turnkeying the data infrastructure, turnkey on the audiovisual packages and turnkey on the security as well.
We’re actually taking over the exterior lighting as well, because we have our own electricians on staff. We have, we’ll call it, five scopes that we’re spearheading over there. Realistically, we took this project. We almost treated this project as a typical project with an outside client, so Brad [Caron] in this situation was the client.
Greg Hussey, VP of engineering:
I think that we’re very, very unique. What we’re really good at, is what we call our power of one. We’re one company, but we can do all of these things — life safety company, business communications, telephone systems. We’re doing speakers and clocks and everything else. We’re an audiovisual company. We’re also a structure cabling company. And security — access control, video surveillance, intrusion alarm, everything associated with that.
New Space Is More Customer-Facing
I think it will promote bringing more clients in to show what it is they’re investing in, because it’s not just a product they’re investing in. It’s obviously the company and the service.
Especially on the service side, it’s a partnership, so being able to show them really what kind of background we have, what kind of product, how we operate and the type of facility we operate within, is a good indicator of how we handle our clients.
We’ve been working very, very hard internally over the last couple years to break down some of the internal silos between departments that I think are just naturally created between sales and engineering and operations and service.
Communication Was Critical
We took it through the entire project phase, from discovery/design submittals to an extent. We had weekly meetings with [Caron] and the rest of the managers that were tasked with each vertical, if you will.
To flush out the scopes, we put budgets to it, to estimates, everything. We’ve put it through the typical product life cycle here at Signet. I was heavily involved with the data infrastructure, audiovisual and, towards the end, the security designs.
I worked with the engineering staff to kind of create our AV design for the different spaces, hammer out the details of the infrastructure, what we’re putting in, why, where, so on and so forth … I work directly with our AV engineer, and we really developed the designs for the space. We try to kind of apply the KISS [keep it simple, stupid] mentality to it, but not to the extent that we were creating spaces that had any shortcomings for our needs.
Design Process Reflects Signet’s Improved Workflow
We’ve been working very hard to break silos and become a much more cohesive team. That’s from a management level. We’ve got weekly meetings set up, standing meetings now, between all the department heads to flag any issues and talk about how we can improve communication efficiencies. When we’re working as more of a cohesive team the end result to the client is a much better one.
In the new office space, we really took that into account. Brad kind of spearheaded the overall design and the flow of the office, and it really speaks to just a project flow from conception in sales and engineering all the way through operations and then into service. It kind of works in that circular fashion.
Rethinking Office, Work Spaces
We’ve also really changed the quantity of offices, the layout, the type of cubicles that we’re using. Right now, we have a very office-heavy environment here, especially in modern office terms, a lot of people in offices.
The same thing with the cubes. We have the high 72-inch walls. They’re very large, but there’s only one person inside of them. The new office space really promotes collaboration. It’s a much more open office environment. There’s multiple people in the different setups, a lot less offices.
More Open Space Required Acoustics Focus
Kelly Clasby, business manager:
We went with one of the top-of-the-line sound masking vendors and we picked the top of the line for a reason, because we knew that sound was going to be an issue and it was going to be a lot different than what we experienced [in the previous space]. The flooring type was taken into consideration, the sound masking, the placement of certain departments.
Technology Has to Be Intuitive
The idea in the smaller conference rooms was again something very simple to use.Anybody can walk into without an instruction sheet. You want someone that can walk in, turn the display on, figure out where they need to plug into to be able to get their display up on the screen or do what they need to do. In the new space, we have two smaller huddle spaces, huddle conference rooms. Both of them have been fit out with 55-inch displays, nice table boxes and just a little control keypad on the wall.
Entrance Is Everything
We’re expanding the lobby area, so there is actually a place to kind of guide our visitors to a comfortable seating area before their party comes to meet them. It’s lot more welcoming and open. We’ve been growing. We’ve kind of knocked down a wall to an additional unit and just continued to build a row of offices as we go. It’s a much more free-flow versus just hallway by hallway by hallway kind of thing.
Emphasis on Digital Signage
Digital signage is a huge initiative that we’re pushing out in our new space. We only have one digital signage screen here in our office, and this is what we do.
We’re looking to take this opportunity in the new space and really make it kind of a showcase of our many disciplines, digital signage being one of them. I think we have 10 screens going in the new space, and we’re going to put content on there. We have our Internet page, our website. We want to bring in a little ESPN or news feature.
… Internally we want to turn it into more of a major communication tool. We’re always looking to decrease email communication. For instance, we have this juice company that comes in twice a week to deliver juices. We have a juice program. It would be nice if [Sarah LePain, administrative assistant at the front desk] could just say, “Hey, they’re going to be here Tuesday and Thursday at 10:00” using digital signage.
Also, recognition of employees. One of our biggest challenges is maintaining that connection with our field employees. We want to maybe kind of showcase a technician of the month or just employee anniversaries or birthdays, something as simple as that. You pass by the screen and you notice that.
Opportunity to Improve Shipping, Distribution
John Hopbell, warehouse manager:
We’re looking at everything. I’m looking at how we restructure it out there, looking at the flow.
What does the flow need to be? Who needs to be involved? What’s the data that we need? When you were a smaller business, you fired an email off to purchasing. “Hey, I need this.” Then you would send an email to the warehouse saying, “Hey, can you make sure you have six of these?” We now are trying to automate that process so that it follows the step the entire way through, because there are a lot of pieces to that that go into that decision process.
Forward-Thinking about Training Facility
We’ve been talking for many years about recording in the training facility. We have designed an AV system to allow us to record. We want to be able to publish our training systems. We want to make them available to our customers as well.
Better Remote Capabilities
We are on Office 365 and Skype for Business. With traffic getting increasingly more difficult these days and employees all over Massachusetts and New England, we’re starting to leverage the remote capabilities of Skype, whether it’s for conferencing, screen-sharing, chat, whatever it may be. We’ve added Skype support so that someone can bring in their laptop [into a huddle room] and use some nicer equipment than what’s built into the laptop. The space is really going to be for a meeting like this would be very good in one of those rooms where you don’t need to take over the large conference room.
Embracing Natural Light
There is so much natural light going through the office that that was a focal point. He inserted some huge 5-by-8 skylights throughout the roof to carry that through to the back section. We’ve incorporated glass into the cubes, into the kind of area-divider walls. There’s tons of glass.
Fewer Offices Equals More Meeting Spaces
Because of the more collaborative environment, there’s less office space to meet. If there’s a spot meeting or a meeting with up to really eight people, we can move into one of [the small meeting spaces]. One of them is a little bit larger than the other. Conference room, our main primary board room, is larger than this. It seats 16 people.
We’re capturing square footage better. We had at one point five warehouses here. Part of our warehouse is upstairs, and part of our warehouse is downstairs. The inefficiencies were just poor. Now we’re moving to one physical location. We’ve invested probably close to $80- to $90,000 in different shelving and equipment, and that’s with what we’re moving from here. The goal there was really to have it all in one area, have it inventoried differently.
Taking Advantage of a Huge Glass Tower
We strategically placed a digital signage screen in the glass tower that’s going to be part of our main entrance, so that it will be lit up all day and all night, pretty much. I call it the Batman signal.
Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen?
That was definitely one challenge upfront … There’s a lot of coordination items that we’ve had to say, “Okay. Well, we need to make a decision now and figure it out,” so I think that’s been one of my biggest challenges. I’ve worked with Brad in a lot of these things and had to bring different questions to him or decisions that hadn’t been made that day just to keep the ball rolling over there. It was kind of interesting in that perspective.
I don’t know that Brad will want to build another building any time real soon, but I think he’s also enjoyed a lot of aspects of that, and we all have.
Choosing Office Furniture
We’re going to, I think, 40 offices and 25 cubes to the complete opposite to 20 offices and 54 cubes. It’s a big flip. We knew we wanted to make an investment to really make that space work for them. [The office furniture company] brought in a group of us. They showed us all of our options. They let us go into the showroom and play around with different things. They actually let us borrow four chairs so we could do a chair voting, and we let the population vote on which chair they’d like for their desk.
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