Christopher Hahn, a German-born car enthusiast, loves every role he’s held at the Volkswagen Group (VW) over the last 28 years. He first worked in different roles in Brazil and then went back to his native country to lead a key business unit. Upon returning to the US for a facilities role in 2008, Hahn realized that what he assumed would be a role focusing on dealership leases and a few simple construction projects was far more complex: overseeing the real estate portfolio at the top automaker includes offices, test tracks, design studios, distribution centers, ports, and other highly technical spaces scattered around the country.
Hahn’s first major project involved relocating VW’s US headquarters from Michigan to Virginia. Now, 14 years later, he’s senior director of real estate and facility services and directing another headquarters initiative as the company looks to consolidate its presence in Fairfax County with a new 196,000 square-foot office.
The HQ project is designed to promote both collaboration and innovation as Volkswagen drives into the future. By 2018, Hahn and VW were 10 years into their 15-year lease in Herndon, Virginia. “Things were starting to feel a bit dated and we wanted to investigate what we could do, not just to have the latest amenities, but also to give a new generation of employees a whole different experience,” he says.
A new headquarters represents a big investment, and to get the most return, it needs to match the company’s overall strategy. After leaving Michigan in 2008, VW opened a $1 billion plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew its domestic output from 223,128 to 375,030 vehicles. It has a new focus on the transition to electric cars and autonomous driving.
Volkswagen needs the right talent to accomplish its vision, and Hahn knows a new headquarters will help his colleagues attract, recruit, and retain that talent. “Automakers are competing with leading tech companies for employees, and this new facility is going to be one of the many things that gives us an edge in the race to bring people to the Volkswagen Group,” he says.
The company will become a tenant at the Reston Town Center, a 1.1 million-square-foot development managed by Boston Properties that sits less than five miles from VW’s current headquarters. Once complete, the vibrant complex will connect to subway and metro lines flanked by hotels, restaurants, parks, retail spaces, offices, and condominiums.
When Hahn and his supporting team from JLL found the available space at Reston Town Center, they realized they would be able to unite employees who currently work across three different buildings in an isolated corridor. They planned to replace assigned desks with a hoteling solution and moved further in that direction after the COVID-19 pandemic changed how employees interact with their workstations and, more importantly, with each other.
Many employees who used the current HQ buildings will continue to work from home while many are transitioning into the new hybrid classification once pandemic restrictions ease. Those who do come into the office will mainly attend team meetings, onboarding events, brainstorming sessions, celebrations, and other special functions. “We’re embracing a different way of being at the office,” Hahn says. “One that gives us what we really need.”
The new office design features just 450 traditional workstations for 1,200 employees. Collaboration pods, wireless infrastructure, advanced A/V equipment, smart booking tools, and other features will help the hybrid workforce of the future connect and contribute on its own terms.
As Hahn carries out the plan, he’s doing so with an eye towards emphasizing the VW Group brands. “We’re a car company, and we show that off as much as we can,” he says. A ground-level brand experience center with garage doors to the street will draw in neighbors and double as space for product launches, press meetings, training sessions, and dealer events. Each of the seven floors above will feature one Volkswagen Group brand active in the US and include large screens where employees can see company information displayed in real time as well as videos from the various sites to emphasize what Volkswagen Group of America does and how everyone is a part of its success.
Despite the considerable challenges related to gaps in the supply chain and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Hahn says the new headquarters project is on-time and on-budget. He plans to move it forward for the remainder of the year and welcome employees to the office for the spring of 2023.
It will be a big moment for VW and its brands. The company, like most across the nation, sent its workforce home when coronavirus started to spread in March of 2020. Hahn believes that reuniting in a new and purpose-built facility will usher in a new era of innovation. “Our headquarters is being built for our employees, and being here on-site will remind them that they are all part of an amazing company,” he says. “And when we’re all together in one place, we can accomplish some really remarkable things.”