Wherever possible, knock down the walls. That’s the lesson to take from Concur Technologies, Inc., one of Seattle’s largest technology companies, which in 2013 moved from its longtime home in Redmond, Washington, to nearby Bellevue, building out a 122,742-square-foot space in the Key Center building—about one-quarter of the downtown structure’s total square footage. Founded in Redmond in 1993 by Mike Hilton and Rajeev Singh, Concur Technologies has grown on the success of its cloud-based expense-management software, which automates the submission and approval of employee expense reports. In 2012 and 2013, the company made several acquisitions and secured a number of big contracts, and with those successes came a spirited round of hiring, expanding the company to more than 3,000 people worldwide, 750 of whom worked in the company’s increasingly cramped 100,000-square-foot original headquarters.
“We were busting at the seams,” says Al Kinisky, senior director of real estate, facilities management, and procurement. And with hiring not expected to stop anytime soon, “we knew we needed a space that would accommodate our future growth.”
Concur Technologies started its search for a new space by determining where employees lived, and from there it simply narrowed its options by seeking out key requirements: the company needed at least 100,000 square feet, it wanted to keep all its employees in one building (ideally on consecutive floors that would allow for internal stairways), and it needed to move when its current lease was up. Only a handful of properties met those requirements, and Concur Technologies ultimately settled on the 488,470-square-foot, 22-story Key Center because it was relatively new, having been built in 2000, and it’s located next to Bellevue’s transit center. The company signed a $3.5 million-per-year, 10-year lease agreement for floors 7–12, and Kinisky’s team quickly began working to build out the space according to exacting specifications.
One of Concur Technologies’ main goals was to reflect its nonhierarchical corporate structure by increasing the amount of open work space from 60 percent to a minimum of 80 percent. In the end, Kinisky and his crew reached 90 percent. To achieve that, they made all but 14 executive offices a standard 10-foot-by-12-foot size and located them along the interior of the building, with glass fronts for transparency and natural light. “Even our CEO’s office is located along the interior with a glass front,” Kinisky says.
Open workstations, meanwhile, were positioned along the windows in groups of four to six. They have low 43-inch walls to maximize natural light coming into the space and foster greater connection among coworkers.
A number of features of the space, which the company occupied in May 2013, facilitate collaboration via informal, unplanned interaction, and that, in turn, promotes cross-departmental brainstorming and innovation. For instance, senior executives are spread throughout the building—10 executives over six floors—to avoid creating an “executive row.” Furniture is mobile and adaptable, made from pieces that can be swapped in and out easily, and there are collaboration booths, one-on-one rooms, and seating areas with LCD screens. Also, the office’s robust Wi-Fi network allows employees to work almost anywhere within the space.
In addition to facilitating collaboration, Kinisky says, the office helps physically define some of the business’s core values. “We wanted a space that reflects a feeling of never having arrived, a space that reminds us that obsolescence is right around the corner,” he explains. One of the more abstract requirements of the space, according to Kinisky, was that it must evidence a “culture of fighters” in its buildout. The company had a “near-death” experience during the dot-com bust but came out stronger, so to reflect that, Kinisky’s team used recycled and reclaimed materials, including lobby lights made from recycled cardboard, a reception desk made from recycled paper, carpeting and smaller lights recycled from the previous tenant, and office furniture brought over from Concur Technologies’ previous location.
Even the most minor challenges received attention, including nonlevel floors and white noise coming from the HVAC system. The employees’ reaction to the finished project has been better than Kinisky originally imagined it would be. “I thought the space would be cool, but I’m biased, so I was prepared for a lot of complaints,” he says. “But today … a lot of employees see the benefits. They love the look and functionality of the space.”