CannonDesign's Follet HQ project: Designer Forum

By Mark Hirons

For well over a century, Follett has proven a trusted partner to pre-K and K-12 schools, districts and college campuses around the world. The company is a leading provider of education technology, services, and print and digital content, serving over half of the students in the United States and working with 80,000 schools. In addition, Follett runs campus retail locations across the U.S.

Given the rapidly shifting world of technology and its impact on the educational landscape, Follett partnered with international design firm CannonDesign to consolidate its Chicago area offices into a main headquarters that would best help its people leverage these technologies to enhance business. Focused on strengthening culture, communication and idea sharing, Follett’s new collaborative workplace empowers the organization to succeed as it continues to drive the shift from its historical focus on books to modern digital learning assets. Ultimately, Follett is creating a new platform for lifelong learning.

“We sought an environment that could not just contain how work gets done, but be a catalyst [to evolve] the business,” says Mary Lee Schneider, Follett CEO. To achieve such a workplace, Follett took a comprehensive view of the design effort, investing in research, focusing on design—including strategic flooring design—as well as employing change management to create a space that empowers its people and business.

Organizations seeking to revamp their workspaces need to invest in quality research, which often requires asking hard questions about a company’s ability to create a rewarding work environment, be socially and environmentally conscious, allow for flexibility, and empower people and ideas. Follett has found success with its workplace efforts thanks to its commitment to extensive research.

Through a series of town halls and surveys, Follett gained critical insight into issues that needed to be addressed by the new headquarters.

• Only 45% of Follett’s employees were happy with the previous offices, which is 25% below the average American workplace score of 60% satisfaction.

• A majority of Follett employees, 65%, said they’d take advantage of alternate places to work away from their desks if available.

• Follett’s previous offices offered just four meeting rooms for every 100 employees. (The new headquarters offers 11 to every 100.)

• One quarter of the company’s employees could not see any other team members from their seats in the previous offices.

Follett listened to its employees and then changed these realities through the creation of a headquarters with different workplace settings integrated into neighborhoods. A unique experiential hub at the center of each floor links the company’s spaces in the tower.

At the core of Follett’s effort to bring its employees into one headquarters was a desire to create One Follett, where all staff and key elements of the organization work together as a collective whole. True to Follett’s desire to support lifelong learning, the design team incorporated insights from developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s Five Minds of the Future, which identifies the different cognitive abilities to create various spaces that specifically engage the different “minds” to foster active enrichment.

Given Follett’s role as a leading retailer, the designers also instilled a strong branding presence across the eight floors. Key colors and elements critical to Follett’s brand are reinforced throughout the design. This is balanced with unique spaces at each central hub that respond to behaviors and thought processes that the staff relies on for productivity. Key spaces include a showroom gallery to showcase the brand; an entry emporium to demonstrate Follett’s strong retail experience; a “hive” resource library for employees; a forum area with surround sound technology for team presentations; a celebration cafe; team zones; and IT areas. This ecology of spaces, linked with interconnecting staircases, creates a collaborative setting that energizes Follett’s new culture.

Follett’s story is also reinforced through strong material selection. Within the reception emporium, a sliding slate panel door, reminiscent of the old chalkboards, contrasts against a high top table with imbedded technology for guests to learn more about Follett. This area also reinforces the Follett “spark” of knowledge with sculptural light fixtures and a vibrant red-orange palette that activates the setting. In the cafe, a graduating mural celebrating students’ academic achievements comes alive with the fabric banners hung above. Similarly, each hub has unique materials and approaches that provide an eclectic collection of experiences that reinforce Follett’s rich culture.

To select the proper flooring for Follett’s new headquarters, the CannonDesign team worked with company leadership to establish the functions of the spaces in the building, the amount of expected circulation, acoustic needs and reflectivity. Due to the spatial needs of Follett’s headquarters, the design team selected carpet as the fundamental flooring element.

The designers knew that carpet could be a catalyst for expressing the sense of energy the company seeks to project to its employees and clients. The team created large progressive carpet patterns in bold colors for the open office areas and large conference rooms. Textured neutral bases were introduced in the more refined areas, like the executive suite, where Shaw’s Eccentric and Socialite carpet tile were chosen as a rich, yet engaging element. Ultimately, as the Follett headquarters demonstrates, there needs to be a purposeful visual balance throughout the space that complements the intent and vision.

Working with Follett, CannonDesign chose to capitalize on the “spark” component, derived from the flame of knowledge that the organization helps bring to the world of education. To create impact, the team chose a series of colors with red at the innermost area of the floor plan, blending to red-orange, to orange and finally to a light grey neutral. The progressive color design for the flooring captured the spirit of the company and keeps the “spark” concept ever present as it flames from hubs of activities and softens where activities are quieter in nature. Beyond the color, the hexagonal shape of Shaw’s Plane tile product coincided with the triangular shaped building as the perfect solution.

From a design perspective, working with carpet offered greater creative possibilities across the Follett space. The wide array of color and texture choices afforded by carpet provided greater creative freedom. The effort to create the energy and “spark” concept Follett needed would not have been as successful without the rich patterning and color values provided by carpet.

Key drivers for selecting flooring in workplace environments include the acoustic needs of the different spaces. It is critical to understand the programmatic functions of spaces and how other materials throughout the space impact the design and acoustics.

Examples from Follett included the use of carpeting to absorb sound in the cafe where the organization wanted to establish flexibility for individuals to be able to work in collaborative settings nearby throughout the day. Conversely, the showroom entry on the ground floor was one area where the design team utilized hard surface flooring to help convey sound and energy.

Follett, like most organizations investing in workplace environments, was very focused on how the flooring would impact the building’s longevity and value over time. The CannonDesign team worked with Follett to select sustainable carpet that would last and enrich the space on day one and beyond. Follett also learned about and invested in maintenance processes that will keep the carpet looking remarkable long into the future. This upfront investment makes a huge impact on the success of the space and ensures that it will look great for years. It’s imperative that organizations work with designers on the appropriate selection of fibers and textures to achieve the best combination of durability and design.

Not surprisingly, Follett’s level of investment paid off with positive results. A follow-up survey of Follett team members yielded results that confirm the design’s success. 
• Employee satisfaction for all generations and functions in the organization has increased by nearly 40%.
• Frequency of interaction with teammates is up 39%, and the speed of communications with colleagues is 15% faster.
• Universal access to views and natural light has also been recognized by 85% of Follett employees as an improved feature of the new headquarters.

Everything the company did—its initial focus on research, the design that integrated its interest in educational and retail markets, its focus on flooring design, and its change management effort—led to measurable improvements for the workplace.

Copyright 2015 Floor Focus

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