The most progressive organizations are using corporate real estate in bold new ways.

Photo showing office corridor with vibrant murals

Major companies are seeking creative ways to retain, attract, and inspire employees through innovative real estate strategy. These six brands are leading by example.

Space to Create: WarnerMedia

The entrance to WarnerMedia’s new London, England, headquarters feels less like an office vestibule and more like the threshold of a wonderland: Reflective materials and creative lighting combine to create a vibrant, kaleidoscopic effect. It’s a fitting welcome to a company that’s powered by creativity, with brands that include HBO, CNN, and Cartoon Network.

WarnerMedia’s move to the new headquarters was spurred by the need for a space that would enhance staff interaction and meet the complex technical requirements of a major broadcasting studio. “The company was leaving their previous siloed and dated location, and our goal was to create a space that encouraged innovation through openness and inclusion,” says design lead Siobhan O’Leary.

"Our goal was to create a space that encouraged innovation through openness and inclusion."
Siobhan O’Leary, design lead
The unusual floorplate of the WarnerMedia headquarters presented an opportunity to create cozy collaboration hubs.

The design team needed to connect teams and allow for future flexibility while also working within an unusual existing floorplate that included “fingers” protruding from the structure’s core. They responded with open corridors that promote interaction, collaboration areas, access to terraces and open refreshment areas, and robust digital capabilities that fulfill the departments’ needs to connect online.

The new headquarters pushes boundaries, defies norms, and promotes new ways of engaging and creating, just like the people who power its brands.

Integrating with the Community: CoverMyMeds

Across the Atlantic, other companies are seeking new ways to reflect employees’ interests and enliven the workplace. “It’s a novel way to approach the design and purpose of a building,” says Anna Sommers, the director of campus operations for CoverMyMeds, a company that solves medication access challenges for patients.

She’s referring to CoverMyMeds’ new campus, which incorporates nearby bike paths and other public infrastructure into its 12-acre riverside site in Columbus, Ohio.

“We were particularly struck by how engaged the CoverMyMeds staff were with the environment,” says Ron Stelmarski, design director at Perkins&Will. “And when we saw the river and the bike paths nearby, we immediately thought of this as coming to work in a park.”

Company leaders wanted the campus to blur the lines between the buildings’ interiors and exteriors, and between the campus and the surrounding area, to rival the quality and variety of spaces that employees enjoy in their communities.
In CoverMyMeds' new headquarters, cascading floor plates optimize views and natural light. Terraces bring indoor spaces into the outdoors.

The building is shaped like a V, with a central garden that’s crisscrossed by interior and exterior bridges that connect the two sides. The public is regularly invited to attend art shows and other events in the cathedral-like lobby.

Sommers says the design reflects the company’s inclusive, collaborative, and flexible approach: “We’ve intentionally created a destination workplace that enables our employees to do their best work.”

Spotlight on Services: Wells Fargo

One of the largest banks in the world, Wells Fargo, is taking a similar approach to office siting and design, but on a broader scale. The company is developing an employee services toolkit that will help site managers and other stakeholders improve amenity offerings at hundreds of its office locations throughout the U.S. The toolkit helps Wells Fargo identify its staff’s preferred coffee shops, parks, gyms, and services, and includes an inventory of amenities that already exist nearby. “The goal is to ensure that employees have access to programs and services which support them in their work, wherever they work, and bring value to being part of Wells Fargo,” says Justin Williams, senior vice president at Wells Fargo.

“This is a kit of parts, a framework of standard recommendations,” adds Darius Miranda, vice president and strategy consultant for corporate real estate and workplace experience at Wells Fargo.

“We’re all about enhancing the employee experience, and this will streamline the process of locating, designing, and/or renovating an office while still being responsive to local staff preferences and existing conditions.”
Darius Miranda, vice president and strategy consultant for corporate real estate and workplace experience at Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo's London, England workplace. (Photo: David Churchill)

The toolkit, which includes an online dashboard, analyzes data on climate, security, walkability, wellness, and demographics. It helps designers consider how company-provided services at a given location could complement existing neighborhood resources. Developing this framework now will create a simplified design process down the road, resulting in workplaces that reflect the Wells Fargo brand, embody a familiar look and feel, and integrate with the community.

Wells Fargo is taking a robust and iterative approach to the project, much like a tech firm would undertake the development of new software, says Mariana Giraldo, design strategist at Perkins&Will.

“We’re in a new world, with new challenges,” she says. “Wells Fargo came to us with a clear question that needed to be solved, and they’ve been very open to what the ultimate result could be. A client mindset that’s open to discovery, innovation, and iteration brings so much value to the process.”

Sustainable Stewardship: WM

An open mindset led to a stunning result for WM, North America’s largest comprehensive waste management environmental solutions provider. When corporate leadership decided to consolidate the headquarters in Houston, Texas, they made it clear that they were open to creative ideas for the new buildout, with one major stipulation: sustainability was the primary goal.

“WM’s relocation into our new headquarters is central to our purpose: We operate with sustainability at the center of all we do,” says Jim Fish, WM’s president and CEO.

Leasing multiple floors in a LEED v4.0 Platinum Core and Shell Certified tower was the first step. For the fit-out, the design team emphasized recycled materials, natural elements, future flexibility, and spaces and technology that support collaborative work. In addition, creative use of the WM brand’s colors, clever evocations of its logo, and illustrative displays of the company’s culture and values stoke pride in WM’s workplace and build an even stronger sense of belonging.

“WM’s relocation into our new headquarters is central to our purpose: We operate with sustainability at the center of all we do.”
Jim Fish, president and CEO at WM
Brand identity, connectedness, and a commitment to a greener future are united in the most striking design feature in WM's new headquarters: a nine-story central stair that’s flanked by a living wall.

“The stair provides a continuous vertical connection throughout WM’s space, offering opportunities for all departments to connect,” says Perkins&WIll project manager Jennifer Carzoli. Those opportunities include areas for collaboration and refreshments on each floor, conference rooms, and screened booths for semi-private work, meetings, and networking.

The result is a bright, modern space designed to sustain the environment and team members.

Unlocking Potential: 3M

As WM and other companies seek to design and build new workplaces, others, like global manufacturer 3M, are innovating by enhancing existing ones. The company is approaching interior design the way it designs its consumer and industrial products: with curiosity, empathy, and a commitment to testing and refining over time.

After working remotely throughout the pandemic, 3M’s staff are now encouraged to work when and where they want. As a result, the company is viewing its real estate assets through a new lens. “Interior designers are more like investigators now,” says Megan Kennedy, interior design principal at 3M. “I ask questions: ‘When are you coming into the office? How are you using your space?’”

Kennedy and her team are tuning in to 3M employees’ wants and needs to systematically improve the technological functionality, sustainability, and aesthetic appeal of offices companywide. She’s leading the interior design aspects of 3M’s Flex Office initiative, which tests the effectiveness of various workplace design strategies in the post-pandemic environment.

The Flex Office framework encourages retrofitting existing facilities instead of building new ones, as well as introducing biophilic elements, maximizing daylight, allowing for future flexibility, integrating intuitive technology, and providing staff with autonomy and choice through unassigned, activity-based hybrid work settings.

“Interior designers are more like investigators now. I ask questions: ‘When are you coming into the office? How are you using your space?’”
Megan Kennedy, interior design principal at 3M

“We’re building a roadmap for transforming outdated buildings into magnets for staff,” says Anne Smith, an interior designer at Perkins&Will who is collaborating with Kennedy on the project. Initially intended to apply to two floors in a single building at 3M’s headquarters in Maplewood, Minnesota, the framework’s emphasis on testing and iteration has made it applicable to every 3M office location. That, in turn, will help company leaders intelligently navigate an uncertain future, Kennedy says.

“We’re asking more questions and assuming way less than we ever did before.”

Creating Connections: The Aspen Group

For TAG’s new headquarters in Chicago, company leadership responded to uncertainty by focusing on the organization’s mission and doubling down on proven strategies. Best known for providing training and support to an extensive network of doctor-owned Aspen Dental practices across the U.S., TAG welcomes thousands of healthcare professionals to its Windy City location every year. The planning team envisioned a space to help visitors build connections with company leadership and staff, as well as other members of the network.

“Camaraderie is central to who we are as a company. We wanted to provide an incredible space for our growing number of corporate employees to come together with the thousands of doctors and healthcare professionals we support as one team.”
Bob Fontana, founder, chairman, and CEO of TAG
The Aspen Group's new headquarters provides a fun, vibrant space for staff and visiting members to gather, meet, and learn.

Located in Chicago’s vibrant Fulton Market neighborhood, the headquarters occupies the top eight floors of a new LEED Platinum and WELL Certified office building. It features a lobby and café on a middle floor; executive offices and collaborative work areas above; and a bleacher stair that leads visiting professionals down to two floors of state-of-the-art training space.

“Because our member network is dispersed around the country, we wanted the headquarters to be a place where they could all come together and see that they’re part of something big,” says Steve Nolan, TAG’s senior vice president of communications. “For the people who work at the headquarters, that means meeting the new members of the team and re-establishing connections that were diminished during COVID. For the members who visit, it means coming to this amazing building in a cool neighborhood and having access to hands-on training in the latest technology. It really helps them feel connected.”

Taking Risks

As pandemic-related disruptions continue to rattle the workplace, the most successful companies will be those willing to step outside their comfort zones again and again. They’re asking tough questions. They’re defying norms. They’re boldly redefining the real estate status quo. Uncertainty always feels uncomfortable, but it’s also where innovation thrives.

“COVID challenged business leaders to think strategically about the goal of their office environments,” Fontana says. “Are they designed for training and collaboration, customized for your employees and industry innovation, or are they simply a place to come punch a timecard?”