Message in a bottle

Coca-Cola’s new headquarters in downtown Toronto cater to employee needs
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 12/16/2013

When Coca-Cola settled on a new home for its Canadian headquarters, it opted for a major change.

Previously, the 400-employee company was located in an older building on a 13-acre lot in north-end Toronto. Now, it’s tucked in a downtown building with three floors, 100,000 square feet and a modern, efficient space that aims to reflect its values — including living positively and sustainability.

The old locale no longer made sense because of changes with the company’s distribution and production processes, according to Tova White, vice-president of human resources at Coca-Cola Canada.

“We had quite a large space and it didn’t really reflect the way we needed to work, and it wasn’t efficient,” she says, adding the old building was tired, dated and dark.

Employees involved in process

One of the criteria for the new locale was employee engagement, which is a huge factor for many employers when considering design, according to Caroline Hughes, principal and strategic partner at figure3, which designed the new space.

“(Coca-Cola) cared very much about creating a place where people can be happy,” she says. “Happiness isn’t just a tag line for them, but it’s an important way of doing business. And it wasn’t optional — it was a focus for us in creating a happy place to work.”

In considering alternative locations, Coca-Cola set up an employee committee of about eight people to consult on various factors, including where employees live and accessibility to public transit. These recommendations then went to a steering committee for final decisions.

“It was a two-and-a-half-year process and we involved people right upfront,” says White.

There was also a change management committee, made up of cross-functional, high-potential employees charged with closing out the old location and officially opening activities at the new building. The group was also involved in community legacy, which meant saying goodbye to the neighbourhood at the previous location where Coca-Cola had been for decades.

“We had associates who worked their whole career in that building, so it was a big change,” says White.

Before the move in the spring of 2013, there was a lot of employee communication to keep people informed of developments, and people were brought down to visit the new office and their workspaces.

HR also surveyed employees for feedback on what kinds of facilities they would want and use, and several have been incorporated, such as employee showers and locked bike racks. Coca-Cola also provides a shuttle bus to and from the main GO Train station downtown.

The company also acquired 200 extra parking spots nearby to accommodate employee cars for two years, but is finding many employees are giving up the spots because the new location is so accessible.

“A lot more people are walking, riding their bikes,” says White.

Lighting, graphics

A focal point of the new digs is a large common area or atrium filled with natural light pouring down from a skylight two floors above.

“We have an amazing space that is really light and bright and kind of positive,” says Hughes.

Employees can relax in funky bright red chairs or assemble there for events such as town halls, peering down from the ledges above. Meeting rooms behind frosted glass are located either side.

Various hallways or “portals” to new areas feature different themes, including company brands, a commitment to sustainability or Olympic partnerships. And there’s a massage room and a “quiet room” featuring a footbath for Muslim employees.

In the lunchroom, as part of the company’s sustainability platform, long tables are made of reclaimed farm wood while brightly coloured chairs are made from recycled Coca-Cola bottles.

“People liked the idea of modern but they didn’t want it to look like an art gallery or anything, so we brought that element (of wood) in,” says White.

Lining the lunchroom are large screens on the walls displaying company messages, foosball tables and a “freestyle” Coke machine where employees can make a drink from any combination of the Coke’s sodas, for free. A magnetic wall also features a collage of photos of each employee.

Outside the lunchroom and kitchen is an expansive terrace overlooking the street below, featuring a stylish seating area and vegetarian and non-vegetarian barbecues.

“When it’s set up, it looks better than any night club… It’s gorgeous,” says White.

The terrace was an important feature for the company, says Hughes.

“It’s something that they themselves had to fight for — it wasn’t necessarily originally budgeted but it was really... an important value and give-back for staff and so they found a way to do it.”

Unlike the previous office, the floor design is inside out, with offices in the interior and cubicles on the exterior.

“Exposure to natural light is a huge plus in this building and of huge importance to employees,” says White.

The windows are large, the ceiling heights are higher and the lighting is good quality, says Hughes.

“All those things contribute to how it feels when you’re walking through. It’s about the experience of working there. People have to be there all day long, so (it’s about having) as much natural light as possible.”

And the process is ongoing — HR regularly asks employees for feedback about the new accommodations, and there have been a few tweaks, such as changing a pink hallway to Coca-Cola red and putting better faucets in the bathrooms, says White.

“We’re constantly trying to make sure people are feeling at their best.”

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