Cross-Pollination: Redesigning a Work Place

Redesigning a workspace meets key business objectives.

Research and innovation are driving forces behind the success of Kimberly-Clark (K-C), a Fortune 200 company best known as the manufacturer of leading brands like Kleenex and Huggies. In 2010, K-C recognized that laboratory space on its Roswell, Georgia campus was stifling employees’ teamwork.

“The Health Care division buildings were constructed in the late 1980s,” said Ellen Whitaker, K-C facility planner and architect. “The research and development facility was no longer serving the needs of employees from both a lab utilization and work environment perspective.”

Health care product research is typically done in collaborative, interdisciplinary, flexible environments. People from marketing, prototyping, research, development, legal, engineering, and manufacturing gather around a project as part of the “go to market” strategy. When the project finishes, they move into new team configurations. The existing space in Roswell consisted of a number of small labs, each around 500 square feet. The division of space made it difficult for researchers to collaborate across research and development disciplines and as part of these ad hoc teams.

“K-C’s campus was a good example of a challenge that many companies face, which is suiting the space to the employees’ needs and the business bottom line,” said SEH project manager Trevor Frank, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB. SEH assisted in the planning, design, and construction of the project. “We are always hearing about the importance of ‘doing more with less’ when it comes to space. But, if we maximize efficiency without considering employees, we may end up creating unusable workspaces that also feel cramped. At K-C, there was so much untapped potential in the space, and it was our task to do as much as possible with it.”

K-C and SEH conducted employee visioning sessions. The sessions revealed most researchers wanted to move toward a more collaborative shared space design, but were concerned that shared space would not provide enough room or access to vital equipment.

A Vision for a New Workspace

To understand existing work processes, and how space could facilitate better collaboration, K-C facility planners and SEH worked together to conduct employee visioning sessions. The sessions defined how internal groups interacted and how workspace was managed. They also gave K-C management an opportunity to communicate their goals for the project to employees. Those goals included encouraging collaboration, more sharing of space, and other space and resource efficiencies.

The visioning revealed most researchers wanted to move toward a more collaborative shared space design, but were concerned that shared space would not provide enough room or access to vital equipment.

SEH conducted a number of studies, including quantifying how much space each employee needs and how much time each employee spends using different equipment. Some studies assessed details as specific as employees’ distance from equipment in the existing laboratory space—in order to keep the distance as close or closer in the new work area.

In addition to understanding the work processes, the SEH team considered designs ranging from a very minimalist and flexible “hoteling” arrangement to a slightly more customized shared space. SEH also arranged for K-C researchers to tour facilities that employed the different approaches.

“The tours allowed users to see firsthand the different environments, and some of the efficiencies and constraints of each. Hearing the testimonials of their peers led users in the direction of a shared, flexible space and alleviated some key concerns about that type of environment,” Frank said.

The visioning and the studies paid off in the design. They confirmed the multiple smaller labs could be integrated into one 7,000 square foot collaborative environment, downsizing the footprint of each employee and providing more flexible spaces for ad hoc teams.

Studies also revealed opportunities to reduce equipment redundancies. For example, the number of tensile testers was reduced from 10 to 5. The testers are still located in close proximity to users, and the total hour-capacity of five testers is sufficient for all users’ combined needs. Eliminating equipment redundancy lowered costs for equipment purchase, calibration, and other regular maintenance.

Designing the Vision

For K-C, a shared lab facility makes sense because it aids the ad hoc teams that come together to bring products to market, then reconfigure to work on different projects. It also helps promote innovation.

“An open concept encourages cross pollination of ideas, which benefits research teams who are asked to anticipate consumer demands and develop and adapt to new technology and new processes to remain competitive,” said Frank.

Flexibility is the key to the open, shared space. At K-C, elements that would typically be fixed were made mobile. Each employee has a mobile cabinet that holds the unique equipment they need to do their job, as well as their personal items. Mobile benching and storage are reconfigured into a variety of arrangements based on the needs of the users. Even the overhead equipment—compressed air, vacuum, and power and data supply cords—are mounted with “umbilical” connections that allow multiple arrangements and flexible use.

Once a product is launched, the space is reconfigured so the next project can get underway, often with new team members, different configurations, and different equipment.

The laboratory is located in the corner of the building. Windows overlook a lake and walking trail, making it highly visible, naturally lit, and attractive. In addition to being a pleasant environment for employees, K-C management hopes the central location will give other groups on campus the opportunity to see the shared space in action.

Although open, visible space was a major theme for the project, the architects also had to accommodate some laboratory spaces that need separation. This was accomplished with a “box inside a box” concept. Private laboratories retain some separation within the shared areas, but still offer opportunities to consolidate some functions between groups.

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The laboratory is located in the corner of the building, making it a highly visible and naturally lit environment.
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Mobile elements, like rolling benches and carts and flexible overhead utility umbilicals, allow multiple configurations for different activities.

Construction Details

During construction, senior research management and the general contractor conducted tours of the lab under construction to engage staff in the construction process. “It helped reinforce the role of the researchers as stakeholders in the project,” said Frank.

The building materials emphasize aesthetics and sustainability. An LED-illuminated fixture conceals the stainless steel exhaust hood and ductwork and provides additional ambient light for the work areas. Ceiling soffits provide a backdrop for overhead services and utility connections, lighting, and HVAC. Sustainable features include recycled glass and concrete lab benching and wall tile.

“The successful completion has set the stage for continued innovation and excellence across the corporation,” said K-C’s Ellen Whitaker. “This is an impressive enhancement to the Roswell campus that has energized the organization and successfully met the original objectives: providing a lab environment that promotes collaboration, increases efficiency through the reduction of unused equipment, and improves flexibility that allows for future growth.”

lap layout

Attention to Detail

  1. Box-within-a-box structure accommodates the need for biological separation.
  2. Overhead, flexible umbilicals provide utility service to mobile lab benches.
  3. Lab technician workspace is adjacent to the lab and allows visible access to the lab area. Automatic doors provide “no hands” operation.
  4. The large LED-illuminated hood enclosure (see also p. 10) conceals a stainless steel exhaust hood and is the focal point of the lab.
  5. Ideation areas use large glass illuminated marker boards that aid impromptu break-out meetings.
  6. Daylighting and views were created for all occupants by moving the labs from interior locations and arranging them along the windows with views of the lake and campus

Lessons Learned

For organizations that are evaluating workspace design and function, Frank has these tips.

  1. Talk with others in your industry who have gone through the process. Architects can show you how space configurations work, but a peer or colleague in your industry can speak your language.
  2. Responsive management is essential when you are asking people to move out of spaces they have occupied for years, or even months. Listening to concerns and then sharing a consistent message helps foster an environment of culture change.
  3. In the end, it really is about finding the untapped potential of your workspace, which is not only good for the bottom line, but also for morale.

About the Expert

Trevor Frank

Trevor Frank, AIA, LEED, AP®, PMP, NCARB, is a senior architect, renovation specialist and facilities visionary. Contact Trevor

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