When Daimler Trucks North America decided to invest in a new headquarters for their design and engineering hub in Portland, Oregon, they wanted to take the opportunity to provide not only an attractive, useful space for their employees to work, but also improve productivity and company culture. They found in Knoll and furniture dealer Environments, a willing and knowledgeable partner to help carry this vision forward.
Rethink Workspaces Altogether
A 70-year old company with a wellestablished culture, Daimler Trucks North America hadn’t spent much time reviewing its work environments or its effect on employee satisfaction.
Matt Markstaller, Real Estate Manager for Daimler Trucks North America, describes the planning of the new headquarters as the first time he and his team could really start fresh and think strategically about their workplace design. “It was an opportunity for us to not just evolutionize but revolutionize what we were doing,” says Markstaller.
His colleague Amy McClaughry, Project Manager for the Property and Building Management Group, also felt the difference in what was possible, describing the design process as “inside-out.” “We knew the most important thing that this building was going to do was support our workforce, inspire them and make them more innovative,” says McClaughry.
In particular, the facilities team wanted to diminish the isolation that large cubicles can create. “It was too easy for employees to isolate themselves in their cubicles and then be unhappy about lack of communication,” says Markstaller. “We knew that we wanted to do something different and bring the walls down.”
Attract Top Talent to Portland
Part of the reason CEO Martin Daum kept the North American headquarters in Portland was the city’s reputation as a great place for design and innovation. It also hosts the headquarters for other world-class, design companies like adidas, Nike and Columbia Sportswear. Daum wanted the city and the building to attract the best talent possible. The facilities team knew the new space would need amenities to rival those in the tech industry and workspaces that inspire Daimler’s greatest asset, innovative thinking.
McClaughry understood the challenge of representing the needs of her 1,000 colleagues moving into the space, “We want our employees to be happy and do their best work,” says McClaughry. “Our job was to make this building so great that people would look forward to coming to the office.”
Highlight the Daimler Aesthetic
In the past, Daimler’s office spaces didn’t tell a visitor much about the company’s product, its success as an industry leader or the pride employees took in what they created. Many of the workspaces were very plain and had no elements connecting the workplace to Daimler’s brand. The new headquarters needed to highlight Daimler’s style, success and products.
“It was the plan to create an innovation center for Daimler and show off the work that they do. The minute you walked into the space it would be about the pride Daimler employees take in working for the company,” says Gina Zaharie, who served as Senior Sales Representative for Knoll on the project.
Even bringing more of the Daimler team to their main campus on Portland’s Swan Island, would help inspire a sense of unity. “A portion of the company was across the river. They would often have to come over from the other side of town to have in-person meetings,” says Zaharie. The new headquarters would have nearly all employees working nearby each other for the first time.
Increase Trust Among Employees
With direction from Knoll and Environments, Daimler utilized online surveys, round tables and one-on-one interviews to gather data on employee satisfaction levels. The Knoll Workplace Strategy team also spent time working in-person with groups of employees to uncover areas of opportunity. “Daimler knew it was important to involve employees in the workplace redesign. They wanted employees to feel engaged and have a voice in the design process in order to create an environment that would build upon Daimler’s strong culture and brand values,” says Tracy Wymer, VP, Knoll Workplace Strategy.
“We found that we have a really good company. We have good pay, good benefits and an interesting product. But, we had trust and communications issues,” says Markstaller.
Markstaller and his team knew that their current workplace layout—large, high-walled cubicles—prevented opportunities for connection. “It became obvious that the way to help foster trust and communication within the organization was through the design of their workspace” says Erica Keegan, Account Executive at Environments.
Create More Collaborative Spaces
During the surveys, many employees cited limited meeting space as a major pain point and blocker to productivity. Most of the Portland staff interact regularly with colleagues in Germany, but finding a meeting room with video conferencing capabilities had been a challenge.
“They tell stories about trying to reserve a conference room then getting bumped so many times that eventually the entire team has forgotten what they were going to meet about,” says Zaharie.
The goal was to create ample meeting spaces, both casual and formal, with outlets for technology, screens and comfortable furniture.
A Holistic Kit of Parts
Markstaller kicked-off the redesign project with an RFP for furniture and expected to simply update the existing footprint. “We got pitched from everybody about how great their furniture was, then Knoll came to us with a new way of thinking about the whole project. This is exactly what we wanted to hear and we knew we had found the right partner to improve our space.” says Markstaller.
Knoll and Environments focused on the entire space rather than just the primary workstations. Thanks to this bigger vision, they won the project and, after some analysis, suggested moving from a 6x8 to a 6x6 individual workstation for each employee and providing more shared spaces. This was going to be a vast change for Daimler; however, the direction provided by Knoll and Environments gave them confidence in the strategy. “They guided us and applied knowledge from things that worked in the past to get a certain result. Their expertise helped minimizes the risk for us in getting a good result with a rather large change that we didn’t have experience with,” says Markstaller. “We did work sessions with different groups—HR, IT, Accounting—to identify how they work, what they have today and what they would change. We took a really nice blend from what we were hearing,” says Zaharie about the new workspace layout.
Daimler’s new 6x6 workstations are setup in an L-shaped with an AutoStrada® technology spine wall that holds all electrical and data, and has both a markerboard and tackboard. Each station has an ergonomic Generation by Knoll work chair, a SapperTM XYZ monitor arm, a height-adjustable sit-stand desk and AnchorTM pedestal file cabinets underneath their workspace to regain some of the space lost from the previous, U-shaped workstations. The stations also have low horizons to maximize natural light.
Daimler utilized the 6x6 workstations throughout their new facility then customized the shared and breakout areas to meet the needs of the individual departments. Workspaces are setup in neighborhoods of 16 to 18 people and designed from a “holistic kit of parts” so that workstations and shared spaces could be brought together in unique ways, creating a customized space for each group.
50-inch high file cabinets provide separation between different neighborhoods.
Room to Collaborative and Connect
Moving to 6x6 individual workstations freed up floor space without reducing headcount. That extra space translated into group areas. “These spaces encourage teams to get up, work together, improve communication and foster trust within the group,” says Keegan.
Daimler intentionally selected a neutral and timeless color palette for the workstations, such as the aluminum and silver AutoStrada panels to reflect Daimler’s products and a neutral palette of tans, taupes and greys. The only occasional pop of color in the workstations is on privacy screens or the seats of the Generation by Knoll® work chairs.
This strategy allows for greater attention on the lively colors in the shared areas. The design team gave these collaborative spaces some extra energy with colors and textiles, encouraging a sense of playfulness. “Daimler was intentional with the colors and there are some wild ones—bright yellows, oranges, reds and some really fun textiles,” says Zaharie.
In addition to shared areas within the neighborhoods, every floor has public amenities located in a central hub, such as the larger conference rooms, break rooms, restrooms and elevators. “You see activity in this area on every floor. You have interactions waiting for the elevator or waiting to get into your conference room. It creates a bit of excitement on the office floor,” says McClaughry.
Supporting Change with Education
Daimler’s greatest concerns regarding the proposed changes for the new space were noise and personal privacy. The Knoll and Environments team conducted work sessions and roundtables to address fears about going to a more open and collaborative work environment. “At first, Daimler employees were viewing the new workspace as something being taken away from them,” says Keegan.
Change communication included in-person meetings, pre and post-occupancy surveys, roundtables to educate employees on changes coming and why the new design was important for moving the organization forward. There were “how-to” materials created for the company’s intranet site on adjusting chairs, monitors arms and desks.
“Overall, the biggest worry from employees was noise. What we’ve experienced with the new workspace is that, when you open up the sightlines there’s a natural phenomenon of people being aware of each other and bringing their voices down. It happens seamlessly,” says McClaughry.
Moving Toward LEED Platinum
Beyond employee happiness and improved trust, Daimler wanted the new space to highlight the company’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
“Daimler Trucks North America makes the most fuel efficient trucks in the market. It was important to our management that our building reflect the same type of efficiency that our products do,” says McClaughry. She says they viewed the construction of the building as an opportunity to display their point of view on environmental responsibility. Plus, being efficient makes sense. “Fuel for trucks means money out of our customer’s pocket. Likewise, we don’t want to waste resources heating and cooling our building,” says McClaughry.
The design team is pursuing a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating, the highest possible. Besides removing trash cans from every workstation, building a bike trail and investing in a very smart HVAC system, adding access to natural light and views were an important part of the new space to enhance employee well-being. And, for the team they were one of the most enjoyable parts of the project.
“We’ve got the best view of Portland because we are outside of the downtown area and see the city from the other side of the river. We really took advantage of the landscape and created an enhanced user experience,” says McClaughry.
The LEED Platinum certification is still in the works but the process is well on its way. “It’s the story behind the closed parts of the building. It’s a sense of pride knowing it’s running as smartly as our trucks do,” says McClaughry.
Complete Leadership Buy-In
An essential element to moving through so much change together was the total buy-in and support of the Daimler Trucks North America’s leadership team. Previously, leaders had large offices on the periphery of each floor. In the new space, executives moved to smaller private offices and many managers joined their teams in open workstations. “Daimler executives led—and live—the change to the new workspace by example” says Wymer.
Markstaller considers the move a healthy one for managers and their teams. He now conducts nearly all of his team meetings out in the open spaces, rather than in meeting rooms. “I’ve had hundreds of meetings in our collaborative area and it’s made me aware that there’s nothing I really need to discuss that I care if anybody hears about. That realization caused me to consciously understand that I trust everybody in my group,” says Markstaller.
More Amenities for Employees
Thanks to the online employee surveys, Daimler collected a lot of useful information about amenities their employees would like. “We’re always looking to attract and keep top talent. For us, having a fitness room; a coffee shop with local coffee; a beautiful, outdoor patio space overlooking the Willamette River; a large conference center; an on-site cafeteria; lockers and bike storage was critical when we developed the non-office perks,” says McClaughry.
To add more residential-style amenities, McClaughry and her team also included shuffleboard, ping pong tables, lawn games, and TVs for employees to relax and enjoy. McClaughry acknowledges that this is a big cultural shift for Daimler.
“We’ve always been traditional, a bit more heads-down. I think we’re starting to embrace what extra breaks can do for someone’s productivity and the creativity they can bring to their job,” she says.
Reset the Daimler Aesthetic
With the new headquarters building, the Daimler design team took the opportunity to develop an architectural ethos that would guide the design for the headquarters and also other projects to come. “We wanted to create something that wasn’t a generic headquarters building but where, walking in the door, it felt like Daimler,” says McClaughry.
The assembled a team of people from across the company developed the ethos. Rather than simply select an architectural style, they relied on the company values—innovation and technology leadership; global presence and network; operational excellence and sustainability; high performing and inspired people—to set the direction. The resulting ethos not only reflects the company values, but also their products with imagery of trucks, including the shiny chrome, brushed silver, metal and the primary colors you see on truck cabs. This isn’t the place for a water color landscape,” says McClaughry.
Mid-project, Daimler’s parent company updated the Daimler logo from blue and white to silver on silver. But, the impact was minimal. “Fortunately, we had already pulled all these colors from our trucks and the school buses we make,” says McClaughry.
In their elevator areas they took design sketches that were created by their engineers and had them reproduced in their replication facilities onto steel and aluminum. The team went to a high level of detail in pulling the actual manufacturing components of what they do into the design elements of the building. “Fortunately, in the manufacturing industry, when you make something it really helps you identify what you’re space should look like,” says McClaughry.
Greater Trust and Collaboration
As the project took shape, increasing trust and collaboration became essential outcomes. But, making those shifts happen required big changes. “A low-risk solution for me would have simply been to give everybody what they had. To make these changes we were taking a risk,” says Markstaller.
McClaughry says the team spent a lot of time thinking about getting people to get up from their desks, interacting with people from other departments and sharing ideas. “The entire building is designed to support that kind of random interactions,” says McClaughry.
When Erica Keegan of Environments looks back on the project, she’s impressed by just how far Daimler’s leadership was willing to go to improve its company culture. “Introducing this open concept supports the trust factor. Daimler was willing to go with it. Take the risks,” says Keegan.
According the Markstaller and McClaughry, the energy of employees in the new workspaces is high and the frequency of interaction between staff is up exponentially. “Moving out of my private office helped me understand other people better, be more connected to them and help them be more connected to me,” says Markstaller.
Taking This Design to Other Spaces
The new headquarters holds about 1,100 Daimler employees. Next door, the original corporate headquarters hosts approximately the same number of engineers. Daimler plans to remodel that building starting in 2017, implementing the same design elements from the new headquarters.
“We want to get everyone into a similar experience as soon as possible. We’re going to remodel our other facilities, well over a dozen buildings on Swan Island. It will take us time but we feel strongly that we have a solid corporate standard. We’re ready to deploy that wherever, whether in Portland or one of our North Carolina facilities,” says McClaughry.
A Whole New Approach to Work
The commitment to increasing interaction came from the top. “It’s not just something that they’re speaking about but are practicing themselves,” says Zaharie. “Daimler created public spaces and meeting areas without walls or sound barriers to create a community anchored in trust.”
Markstaller recalls people being worried about needing more privacy, not wanting others to see their work. He is impressed at how the furniture and layout has taken a leading role in changing the culture.
For example, Markstaller is grateful he can hear conversations that keep him educated on his team’s work. And, when he has a conversation and misses a detail, his team can quickly set him straight. “I love it because I don’t know everything that’s going on in my department. Sometimes I paint a high-level picture to keep the conversation moving but then people can catch me up. It ends up being really efficient,” he says.
Markstaller credits a shifting culture on creating places for people to meet and not letting them isolate themselves. “We’ve found that you can drive culture through the workspaces itself. Even though I try to be an open manager and try to communicate well, it is a lot better with the new arrangement,” he says.
How have employees responded to the new headquarters?
“The pulse of the employees coming in is overwhelmingly positive,” says McClaughry. “Being in facilities, there’s a tendency to feel a bit pessimistic about asking people to change. I can tell you that I have never had so many congratulations and so many thank yous. It’s been overwhelming. It far exceeded my expectations in how well people adapted so quickly,” says McClaughry.
Markstaller agrees, saying, “When we first started talking about this we had plenty of negative reaction. Now the staff would rather be in the new building with the new furniture than the old building with the old furniture,” says Markstaller.
A veteran of workplace transformation, Zaharie gives Daimler full credit for its success. “Daimler’s done a phenomenal job from beginning to end—opening the spaces up, bringing down the horizon lines, creating spaces that encourage people to get up and get out of their workstation,” she says.
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Daimler Trucks North America
Daimler Trucks North America is an automotive industry manufacturer of commercial vehicles headquartered in Portland, Oregon, and is a wholly owned subsidiary of the German Daimler AG.
Knoll, Inc.: Knoll, Portland, OR
Knoll Furniture Dealer: Environments, Portland, OR