CorVel Corporation is a national provider of risk management solutions in workers’ compensation, auto, health, and disability claims management. These are essential services that the Irvine, California-based publicly-traded company delivers to help client companies save money while providing protections for employees.
But Allison Olsen, the company’s director of corporate real estate, uses pragmatic language to describe the day-to-day operations where the company’s nearly 4,000 employees work. “It’s all about the people,” she says. Though the industry is not exactly glamorous, the company occupies Class A or B space to serve clients’ needs, and to meet the needs its own employees by providing a thoughtfully-designed and high-quality workplace.
CorVel’s operations are sprawling. They have 86 leased locations in 43 states, with about 650,000 square feet of office space in total, situated as close as possible to clients. The company is growing, and Olsen was the first person dedicated to its real estate management responsibilities when she took the position in 2013.
She has a lot of leases to manage, but her job entails much more than legal documents. Olsen’s marching orders from Chairman of the Board Gordon Clemons are to create memorable workplaces that enable recruitment and retention of high quality productive employees. Sometimes those employee ranks can even increase by double digits within 30 days at a single location due to business growth. Although she has to scramble to find temporary solutions for sudden expansion, she approaches all real estate decisions with prudence.
It’s largely driven when the company is onboarding new client assignments, a critical moment for any company in a business-to-business service environment. “It’s really a kind of a dance,” says Olsen. “But it’s a good problem to have.” For companies such as CorVel, commercial real estate is an essential component of service delivery. “Our goal with real estate is to be close to our customers. We pride ourselves on being the local solution for risk management services.”
Part of the dance Olsen cites also includes allowing some autonomy and engagement in space planning decisions at the local office level. For example, they are migrating toward open-office configurations, as do many companies for a variety of reasons, but rather than presenting it as an edict from the corporate office, Olsen encourages local office managers to take ownership of changes that have a direct effect on employees.
The chairman has instilled in the company’s management tier an ethos of putting people first when it comes to office space. Olsen adds that his vision is to have spaces where employees are proud to work. “We care about associates’ happiness,” she says. “We try to be deliberate about building for them, and to give them a space they are proud to return to every day. That pride has a way of affecting the business: when you can take pride in the environment in which you work, you can’t help but take more pride in your work as well.”
She cites an example of how that “employees first” focus played into the company’s Fort Worth, Texas, office. The office in that city was occupying a second generation space, taken as-is from the previous tenant. Very little thought was directed toward customer or employee experience. When it was time to design the new space in a new part of town, Olsen made the people her first priority, and the result proved to be a major success.
The employees are now in a space that is open, refined, and professional, yet still maintains a laid-back quality with some Texas flair. During a visit, one of the customers was so pleased with the office, they asked for design references so they could implement the same look and feel in their new office. “I worked hard to make design decisions that are still in line with the corporate standard,” she says, “but I wanted to make sure their space felt personal to the associates: their home away from home.”
As a technology-focused risk management company, Olsen explains that she and her team want their offices to feel on-trend, similar to the layout of many tech startups even though they are well-established. One of the changes affecting the CorVel spaces going forward is the increasing digitization of records and how those records are handled. This change is allowing the company to transform square footage previously dedicated for scanning operations and paper storage to common areas. Large lounge spaces serve as a gathering or work space for out-of-town visitors, with a coffee shop vibe. “We have to be thoughtful in our space planning to accommodate changing technologies,” she says, “and we are always tweaking the standard to pick up what we’ve learned along the way.”
Commercial real estate remains a world of moving parts. Not only does office automation change the game, so too do the lifestyle patterns of younger workers. In many markets the trend is to move downtown while CorVel has remained in the backyard of their customers. This has allowed the company to service customer needs personally and create longstanding relationships that become familial.
To the matter of budgets, Olsen follows a smart strategy of being a “second generation” tenant. By that they most often move into previously occupied space where costly elements such as plumbing and electrical from the preceding client are repurposed for CorVel’s needs. This drastically reduces costs in the build-out. And while the company makes no major green claims, the reduction in material waste quite likely reduces its carbon footprint as well.
“We want our space use to be as efficient as possible,” says Olsen. “As a publicly traded company, we want to be good stewards of our finances. We strive to spend as little on overhead as possible, so our customers reap the benefit of our lowest pricing.” In early 2018, Olsen established a schedule of real estate financial projections to anticipate rising costs associated with the coming year. It’s about being intentional and strategic, she says – two factors that keep the workplaces as elegant as the company’s share price.