Firm’s employees lived the `exceptional customer experience’ during office remodelingAt first glance, the remodeling project MSI General undertook in early 2017 seems pretty routine. A successful business, in this case, a design build firm, decided its headquarters needed a fresh look and work space better suited to the evolving technology its team needs, as well as more pleasant surroundings for clients and visitors.
A more discerning look reveals far more: a project that transformed the work environment, signifies the firm’s culture and Core Values, and gave employees at all levels the invaluable experience of conducting business in a construction zone – just like their clients do. The finished product, a sleek yet comfortable headquarters, is designed to showcase MSI General’s design build model and all that it offers, and to accommodate client and employee needs for the foreseeable future.
“Now that we are in the space, what I really enjoy is watching how well it’s working…You can feel people working together,” says Dirk J. Debbink, Chairman and CEO. “What I think it gives clients is confidence when they walk in – it says `these people know what they are doing.’”
Critical to the project from design to completion was incorporating MSI General’s Core Values into every aspect. Those values – Integrity, Commitment, Trust, Passion, Teamwork – are literally on the walls to label meeting and gathering space but also are cited frequently as Debbink and other staffers talk about the firm and their work. Construction began in January and was completed in May, when the firm celebrated 60 years in business.
“The project was tied to our 60th anniversary and our Core Values,” says Ken Krahe, Vice President and Director of Operations. “Our overall goal was to create a more progressive work environment and more effective use of space. We set up areas so clients can envision how they could set up their own space. When we have a meeting with a client, the Core Values are right there.
“We live them every day.”
Ken Neitzke, Senior Architectural Technician, IT Manager and LEED AP O+M, agreed.
“That was from day one, “Neitzke says. “We talked about how to relate the Core Values to clients and new employees. We live and breathe it but we had to convey it.”
There were other key objectives, too. Those included modernizing the office space, incorporating technology to improve communication and collaboration, improving the building’s circulation, adding collaboration and meeting space, and incorporating the firm’s signature Design Excellence.
Debbink started the process in fall 2016, reaching out to the Leadership Team for a dialog. “Why are we doing this and what do we hope to accomplish?” The team set up a committee drawn from throughout the company to define the project scope and determine a timeline. Everyone involved was eager to contribute, to both upgrade the building and workspace and to make it into a showcase for what the firm could accomplish for clients.
Other key elements were to live up to the firm’s commitment to sustainability throughout construction and to upgrade infrastructure, costly but often invisible improvements necessary to ensure the building’s long-term life. Neitzke took charge of sustainability, developing initiatives and making sure they were carried out. During construction, the firm was committed to salvaging, re-using or re-purposing as much as possible. As a result, 80.4 percent of waste was recycled and/or diverted from landfills. And there have been additional savings. “We’ve had a huge reduction in the use of paper for agendas and other documents because we now use monitors for meetings and presentations,” Neitzke says.
Design and customer experience
As happens with most client projects, MSI General’s project required the skills of professionals throughout the firm, from architectural design to construction, operations and interior design. But this time, the firm’s professionals were the clients, and vice versa. That yielded some eye-opening clarity.
Jim Olson, AIA, Vice President and Director of Design, had overall responsibility for the project, working with the entire design team on the plans and construction. It was complicated, requiring a plan to tie together office space, garages and the building’s existing second floor apartments and bring everything up to current building code. The strong desire to create open, airy spaces was challenged at times by the limits of adapting existing structure. With departments moving every few weeks as construction progressed in phases, the staff accommodated those disruptions while staying focused on their work for clients and other project deadlines.
“We were in a living workshop here. There was constant ‘can you come and look at this?’ Olson says. “We lived through this and a customer said ‘Now you know what we went through.’ Very enlightening. It’s very different from just moving to a new building.”
Nancy Mooney, Interior Designer, led the effort to choose interior finishes, working with the architectural team to develop work spaces and design solutions.
“Our objectives were plenty,” Mooney says, noting the challenges of creating a focused work environment, better office circulation, an open airy environment and finishes that made the office a showplace for clients. “We’re all committed to living by the Core Values,” says Mooney, who explained how the values were integrated into the project and how areas were named for them:
Teamwork Café – We accomplish our best work as a collaborative team through accountability, communication and respect. This space is less formal, more engaging and encourages all team members to start the day as a team, celebrate successes and socialize as a group.
Commitment Conference Room – Where we meet as a team once a week to discuss current projects and update our co-workers. This also is the space where we hold employee training. We are engaged and passionate about our work and dedicated to our profession.
Trust Conference Room – Our main executive conference room where we build relationships with prospects, clients, and with our team members in the interview process.
Integrity – This is picked up in the main corridor and flows through the office space. We have collectively agreed to hold ourselves and each other accountable to maintain the highest ethical standards.
Passion Conference Room – Where we recognize our current projects. The magnetic map wall (which marks MSI General ongoing projects) is a strong visual of our continued presence in Southeastern Wisconsin. We are passionate about providing a unique design build experience and use this space to highlight current work from the team.
Justin Marshall, an architectural technician, served as a designer on the project.
The staff was directed to work with Debbink and run the project as they would with an external client, meeting deadlines, choosing finishes and making other decisions. It was a revealing peek behind the curtains. Marshall used 3D visuals to allow Debbink and other executives to “walk through” various models to help them make choices.
That same technology now is offered to clients, which helps everyone better understand clients’ experiences in the design phase. Now, in addition to what clients can see in the models, they can literally sit in or walk through design options in the MSI General office.
“We had to do what our customers must do – make decisions, choose finishes, know exactly what the purpose of the end result will be,” says Zac Zeuske, Project Superintendent. “We can build a room but if there isn’t purpose for it, you won’t get anything from it.”
Zeuske’s responsibilities included coordinating on-site activities, scheduling, tracking contractor schedules, quality assurance and safety.
Impact on team members and clients
Before and after photos of MSI General’s headquarters tell the tale of the finished project, as do comments from team members about the impact for them and their clients. Among the most noted improvements are open areas with natural light, multiple rooms and areas where people can collaborate and an abundance of monitors, many of them wall-mounted, for presentations to clients or spontaneous working discussions. The Teamwork Café, in a light flooded central area of the office, replaced a smaller, enclosed lunch room. It’s now the favorite gathering spot, hosting celebrations each time a new contract is signed as well as meals and informal meetings. It’s also available to community groups, part of the firm’s practice of supporting local businesses and organizations.
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Neitzke offered more perspective on how the firm’s Core Values were integrated into the new office design. For example, the Passion conference room often is the first step for clients and the café is where team members gather to share, and the Commitment Conference Room is “where it all happens.” Integrity envelops the whole building; it’s everywhere. “Everyone is much more energized, everyone seems happier working” Neitzke says, a comment echoed by many in the firm.
Krahe, who oversaw operations and the project’s budget and contracts, cites design excellence as a critical element of the remodeling. The firm and its staff now have the office space they need, proximity between departments (especially those that work together), an open concept that promotes collaboration and the ability to use the office space as a showcase: a variety of carpeting, wall coverings, furniture, ceiling finishes and LED lighting, plus monitors in every team room allows clients to see and experience what they can have with their own projects.
“It shows MSI General’s capabilities and the investment we’ve made in the future of the company,” Krahe says.
To a person, the MSI General team members talk about a boost in morale since the project was completed. They emphasize that it always was a great place to work, but the newly designed space makes it even better. The upgrade in technology also makes it easier to show clients what their own projects can look like and when it comes to specifics such as colors, flooring, lighting and furnishings, they need only look around — it’s all there instead of looking through a catalog or on a laptop. “There are screens everywhere,” is a common observance.
MSI General has a section on its web site for “Raving Fans” – testimonials from clients about their experience with the firm during their respective construction projects. Marshall and other MSI General staff, in turn, have become raving fans about the remodeling project and what it has accomplished for the firm’s team members and their ability to better serve their clients.
Says Marshall, “One of the objectives was to create more space for collaboration. Informally, that improves communication. It’s great for teams and improves teamwork overall.”
Other benefits were more efficient use of space by making hallways nearly twice as wide as they had been and incorporating huddle space within departments. The open concept, opportunity for collaboration and the technology upgrades are the top improvements for employee experience – but also for client service and satisfaction.
“We hit every objective,” Marshall says. “That denotes design excellence in itself – how it was done, how it improves the company and its culture.”
Mooney’s view: “This was a very well thought out, tactical design. How you wanted the team members to live in the house. Now, that first meeting with clients, that first impression, we’ve kicked it up. It boosts morale. It was really good before and now is better because it showcases our collective talents and abilities – and it feels good.”
For Neitzke, the project shed new light on the customer experience. “We have a renewed appreciation for what our clients endure. We didn’t do anything different here… It was good to experience what our clients do. We will be more mindful.”
Zeuske believes clients see and feel the difference in the office. “It feels like a home for a top-end design build firm. We can bring them here, show what we can do. We can take them to an architect 10 steps away. It makes a world of difference.”
Krahe has seen the impact on clients. “It shows MSI’s capabilities and the investment in the future of the company. Most people walk in and say `Wow’.”
Says Olson, “We are a design build firm, not just a contractor. We have design in our name.”
“This is who we are and what we do. And we’re not done. We can change and update as needed. We need to stay current. It’s what we tell our clients; we need to live it.”
Debbink scans the headquarters now – and the firm’s future – and likes what he sees.
“The impact on our staff is the most positive element of the renovation, how much people engage working here,” Debbink says.
MSI General has a strategic plan calling for growth of 7 to 10 percent per year. He believes the newly finished space allows for room to grow in surroundings that will attract and retain skilled professionals.
“It’s not just a place. It’s how we work, how people feel about it. It always was a nice place to work. Now it’s an awesome place to work.”