No Piece Is Too Small

Everyone grumbles when it comes to moving desks at the office—stacks of papers, photos, and knickknacks all have to find their way from one area to another. Why can’t everything stay as is? As Illumina’s Jenny Durbin explains, each employee’s placement is a carefully considered piece in a puzzle to optimize company performance.

Many stories in American Builders Quarterly tend to deal with company growth, particularly when it comes to constructing (and expanding) the spaces in which employees work. And why not? Each project is unique and never seems to go exactly to plan—something that doesn’t seem to faze the knowledgeable executives featured cover to cover in each of our issues. But once the walls are up, isn’t the construction phase over? Not according to Jenny Durbin.

“We need to know how these spaces are being used, and match what we design with the business needs and the expectations and needs of those that use that space,” Durbin explains.

The manager of global facilities and innovative workplace at Illumina—a genomics company that researches and develops life science tools—is responsible for not only configuring square footage and site planning, but also for the minute details of an internal work space, such as furniture, conference rooms, and even seating charts. Essentially, she says, her job is a giant jigsaw puzzle, one in which she has to figure out how each of these elements fits into the others.

In an interview with ABQ, Durbin spoke about the data and psychology behind Illumina’s recent projects and how a bit of foresight can further company success.

The Illumina Look

Part of any Illumina project, Durbin says, is working to serve the clients, who are fellow Illumina employees. When it came to reconfiguring the company’s Cambridge, United Kingdom, locations into one site, Durbin and her team knew there would need to be some compromise on the final result. “We were working with a prescribed budget, requirements for each department, and leadership expectations to create the EMEA Headquarters for Illumina,” she says, “which caused us to struggle with the balance of budget, design, and providing essential lab space.”

As it turns out, this was possibly the most challenging aspect of the project for her team because they were shifting from four buildings that totaled 78,000 square feet to one master campus of 155,000 square feet of lab and office space. They also needed a design to accommodate the company’s five-year growth projections. With these numbers in mind, Durbin then collected the head count projections and applied a square footage multiplier (based on internal and industry benchmarking) to calculate how many square feet each person would require.

But numbers aren’t the only factor when it comes to consolidation—culture needs to come into play as well.

“Unlike office cultures in the United States, where they want collaborative spaces integrated throughout, offices in the United Kingdom prefer to have a focused section of collaborative spaces that remain separate from private workspaces,” Durbin explains.

This consideration led to a shift in layout that incorporated a separate area for the much-needed laboratories in a way that did not interfere with the more administrative functions of the space. In order to accomplish this, Durbin worked with the architect and landlord to create the shape, look, and feel of a culturally sound and functional layout.

“With every space I work on, I not only want it to be functional, but I also want it to be energized and inspiring,” she says, adding that sometimes an energized environment has to be altered, albeit by a fraction.

“Originally, we had a vision for our UK office to have more areas to foster collaboration and creativity. But we had to prioritize based on budget and leadership guidance on meeting the required seating capacity to meet headcount expectations and proximity of lab to office space. Because it’s most important for our offices to be able to support the departments and teams that reside there, we altered the design,” she continues. “It has simplified finishes that still reflect our original vision, but we maintained the integrity of workspace function.”

A Long-Term Puzzle

A company that conducts such innovative research on a global scale not only needs a headquarters, but also a campus. Durbin and her team have been tasked with expanding and renovating its headquarters campus and other facilities in the San Diego region—none of which can be done lightly.

“The company has invested in this site for its long-term home, and since occupancy in 2010, have realized the value in the flexibility of the campus to accommodate Illumina’s growth,” Durbin says.

This consideration can be seen in Durbin’s work on the 293,000-square-foot building dubbed “Building 6.” The five-story facility will house warehouse and distribution, manufacturing, and office departments, as well as clinical labs—a crucial investment for one section of the campus, and one with functions that are likely to change in the future.

Construction, then, posed a challenge, and it required Durbin to collaborate with the architect and key facilities stakeholders, as well as those that would inhabit the building. The group decided on a flexible notion in what Durbin calls a “manufacturing ballroom” concept.

“The thought behind this was, ‘Can we design this office space to also be a lab in the future if needed?’” Durbin explains. “The space won’t do those at the same time, but we need the flexibility for it to change functions if the company needs it to.”

The entire building has been designed with this flexibility in mind, specifically when it comes to the mechanical and utilities elements that will support the more robust clinical and manufacturing requirements in the future. What now serves as an administrative workspace can be moved to serve as a manufacturing or lab space with utilities and infrastructure as well. Durbin says that these measures shorten their timelines because she and her team can respond more quickly. Employees have already moved into Building 6, and so far, the feedback has been positive. As for the vacated areas on the campus, plans are underway to study these spaces, realign space allocations, and repurpose them to help alleviate the intense space constraints that have plagued the site while B6 was under construction.

A development that’s adjacent to the headquarters campus, which is known as “i3,” is also part of the plan. The development is a new construction, and Durbin has been tasked with collaborating with the architect to organize and design i3 to optimal utilization for Illumina’s office-centric departments.

In addition to her usual construction, designing, organizing, and furnishing, Durbin says that it will also be the first facility that has fully incorporated Illumina’s new “Work Anywhere” program. The program serves as a supplement to the flexibility built into each building: employees, instead of having a designated desk space, have a designated “neighborhood” within the building. Each neighborhood houses a mixture of workstations, enclosed conference rooms, and open collaboration spaces designed to support more mobility.

“If I’m looking for someone in our marketing department, I may not know the exact seat they will be in, but I’ll at least know the building and the section of that building that person will be in,” Durbin says. “Not every person works well in the same type of environment, so we want to be able to accommodate the different working styles of our team members.”

The entire site has Wi-Fi to allow the mobility of Illumina members, who use laptops, videoconferencing, and instant messaging programs such as Jabber to accomplish the day-to-day. Other perks of the site include convenience power throughout, work lounges, and cafés. An important aspect of this Work Anywhere program, Durbin says, is that it fosters greater communication. With employees floating around i3 throughout the day, keeping each other up-to-date has been essential.

And while communication is a mainstay throughout the office, not everyone is expected to float. Durbin says that some teams do need a set desk space, and part of her planning is determining the teams that would benefit most from assigned spaces as well as how that fits into the company’s flexible plan.

Durbin is still collecting feedback on this program, but once i3 renovations are complete—which, as of press time, is scheduled for July 2017—the plan is to integrate the Work Anywhere program along with the rest of Illumina’s San Diego campus.

Solving the Puzzle

Flexibility, too, isn’t restricted to physical spaces, but projects as well. For example, while Durbin and her team have been working on phase one for the UK office, they have now found that there must be a second phase. “I think we were a little conservative when we set the layout,” Durbin says. “Since we’ve worked on this project, we’ve experienced changes within the organization and head count expectations that will trigger the need for expansion onsite sooner than we initially expected.”

With the development of a master plan, Durbin and her team hope to complete the first phase by November 2018, with the next phases to be completed in the next five years. New puzzles are also on the horizon. In a structure called “Building 1,” which is also on the main San Diego campus, Durbin will be working with Herman Miller to conduct a workplace study to gather data about co-locating and collaborating in the same building.

“Building 1 is a 20-year-old building that we last renovated seven years ago. We need to understand how we’re utilizing this building before we begin any further renovations,” she says.

Another study that Durbin hopes to conduct for Building 1 is about the use of conference spaces, which stems not only from how to plan the physical space, but also to get a sense of the building’s culture needs.

“I hope to conduct studies across our regions. I’m interested to see more workplace studies happen in general. [At our headquarters] we’ve been running at 95 percent occupancy for the past two years, and I think these studies will be a crucial part of alleviating that,” Durbin says.

With Durbin on the case, it looks like no puzzle piece will go unnoticed.

Meet the Pieces

To coordinate the factors that must come together for each site, Durbin works with several teams. Here, American Builders Quarterly gets further insight into the challenges that face Illumina’s workplace strategy.

“[Our biggest challenge is designing] spaces/technology that meet everyone’s work style. We work with Jenny to develop different ‘Type’ conferencing spaces—from open soft seating styles to more classic conference room table/chairs rooms.” —Mark Tallent, Associate Director, Global IS Infrastructure & Engineering

“Illumina is lean on space, and we often are challenged with our reaction time for our space requirements. Jenny continues to challenge her team with ways to achieve our space needs with alternate solutions. For example, looking at alternate ways to work onsite and using it efficiently, assigning a one-to-one ratio workstation versus other types of work points. Jenny is an innovative leader here at Illumina. She is a great manager and [is] leading Illumina into the next generation of work strategy.” —Tina Clark, Senior Facilities Planner and Workplace Strategy