“Sometimes, things happen for a reason,” Grover Wray says. “This is a good example of a company’s culture and physical environment coming together.”
Wray is the senior vice president, chief human resources, and physical facilities officer for DigitalGlobe, a global provider of high-resolution visual information about the Earth (picture a 16-year library of satellite images for mapping and navigation, peace keeping, and humanitarian assistance).
The “thing” he’s referring to is the company’s 2014 move roughly 30 miles south of its former headquarters in Longmont, Colorado, to its current headquarters in Westminster, Colorado.
Longmont, he says, had been a long commute for the company’s employees—many of whom are Denver-based—and for potential hires from the Metro-area talent base. For that reason, when DigitalGlobe needed a new headquarters, the company searched closer to Denver, but not too far for those employees who lived in the Longmont area.
After a long search for a space that met the company’s many requirements came up empty, DigitalGlobe announced it would instead build its new headquarters.
Two weeks later, the phone rang.
“We got a surprise call from a broker representing the company that owned this particular building,” Wray recalls. “They asked if we’d be willing to change our mind and consider this space instead.”
The company occupying the space was moving out and hoped to find new tenants that would take a long-term lease. Wray says the call was serendipitous.
“We’re a satellite-imaging company. The building’s atrium resembles a large, glass satellite-like dish. For years, people had said to me, ‘DigitalGlobe needs to be in that building. It represents who you are and what you do,’” Wray says.
Wray and his team agreed, and began the plan to move into a space that had seemingly been built for them.
Prior to the decision to change the location of its headquarters, DigitalGlobe’s CEO Jeff Tarr asked Wray to take on facilities and real estate responsibilities.
“It’s a little unusual for a leader of HR,” Wray says.
The driving idea behind handing over those duties to Wray was to merge facilities and culture. As HR typically oversees company culture, Wray found himself in a unique position of being able to build that culture directly into the new space.
With Dave Heiney, DigitalGlobe’s director of corporate facilities, Wray arranged meetings with individuals from each of the company’s departments and organized a culture committee to ensure the physical space represented the culture of DigitalGlobe. The company had a large amount of ground to cover with four floors of 100,000 square feet each and the basement, as well as several different voices to consider. That’s why the pairing of the two functions was a natural fit, Heiney says.
Reflecting the company’s raison d’être, the building’s four floors and basement represent the subject of DigitalGlobe’s satellite imagery: the Earth. The basement is the mantle, while floors one to four are, respectively, sea, land, sky, and space. The theme defines the color palette for each floor and the explorers for which conference rooms are named. For example, one third-floor conference room, the sky level, is named for the Wright Brothers. On the fourth floor, the space level, there are Galileo and Sally Ride conference rooms.
The main challenge in moving into such an expansive building was ensuring employees stayed connected.
With parking garages at the east and west ends of the building, Wray says, “It would be very easy for individuals to come in from the parking garage, go to their desks, and, aside from interacting with their own team members, go back to their car at the end of the day without interacting with anyone else in the building.”
As a result, he and Heiney led an effort to ensure there were reasons for employees to become more mobile. They planned a central “collision point” where all employees would gather from all parts of the building. In the “Core,” the area between the east and west wings, they set up a cafeteria with a coffee bar serving breakfast, lunch, and snacks, and also providing free soda. A mail room was also set up in the Core, so that employees could run into one another while retrieving mail.
On the fourth floor of the Core, Wray and Heiney set up a game room with ping pong, foosball, and shuffleboard tables, as well as a hoop-shooting game. They also created a Frisbee golf course on the lawn surrounding the building for outdoor recreation to connect with colleagues.
In addition to creating central gathering spaces, the HR and facilities teams decided to knock down walls to create an open, collaborative work environment. Although it’s a glass building, the interior previously featured cubicles with walls so tall that they blocked much of the space’s natural light.
To solve the problem, the DigitalGlobe team created glass-walled offices and conference rooms in the center of each floor and installed low-wall cubicles to let in light and make the environment open and accessible.
The open office was a change from the layout of the Longmont site. Prior to the move, employees were surveyed and the main concern was the change from tall to low-wall cubicles. Heiney says there was trepidation that the open floor plan would impact productivity. With phone calls and conversations occurring in the shared space, many were concerned that noise would be a distraction and that privacy would be compromised. In a follow-up survey, the responses were overwhelmingly positive about the bright, open environment. Instead of diminished productivity, Wray says, employees report that the opposite has occurred.
Not only are current employees enthusiastic about their new headquarters, but new hires have reported that they joined DigitalGlobe in part because of the location and impressive space.
The outcome, Wray explains, was not surprising. The plan worked for several critical reasons: It incorporated the voice of employees, and the goal was clear from the get-go: create a space that distinctly represented the DigitalGlobe culture.
“The role of facilities and HR is not just to provide a safe and comfortable space, but also to create an environment and culture where people can do the very best work of their careers,” Wray says. “With this project, we’ve accomplished that mission.”