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Lisa Morrison
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Northwestern Mutual: Navigating a Change in Workplace Strategy

Northwestern Mutual recently engaged Lawrence Group to design their new St. Louis offices. This was not only a change in venue from downtown St. Louis to Creve Coeur but also a shift in their Workplace Strategy. Northwestern’s business model is unique in that each financial representative operates as their own business unit. Their former space was nearly 100% offices and made for a compartmentalized, isolating layout. Managing Partner Gerard Hempstead first described their business structure as: “a friendly competition, but competitive nonetheless.”

To address concerns with acoustical privacy yet balance the need for more daylight with an open office solution, we proposed a “neighborhood” style design. Perpendicular rows of glass front offices start at the perimeter windows and build back to the core. These banks of offices are centered on clusters of workstations. Each glass front office is adjacent to at least one workstation. Their shift to more of a 60/40% workstation/office ratio was dramatic even though it is still a much higher ratio than the national standard.  Throughout the process, Lawrence Group worked closely with the current financial representatives to understand their individual workplace needs and preferences.

In addition to typical conference rooms, Lawrence Group planned for more communal spaces in the new design. These new collaborative spaces included a state-of-the-art training room for new recruits, a modern and impressive boardroom for client meetings, a hospitality-based café for a quick break or small gathering, and several retreat rooms with fully controllable lighting for a bit of privacy or even a quick “power nap.” In terms of the overall aesthetic, Northwestern Mutual hoped to bring a modern aesthetic to help retain existing staff and attract new talent, but also have touches of transitional elements. Lawrence Group helped realize that goal by layering in rich textures, mixes of wood tones, soft creams and leathers, warm stone materials, and complementing this subtle, classic palette with some fun pops of color.

So far, the transition to the new offices has proven to be an overwhelmingly success. Hempstead reports that, in the first month in the new space, they have seen a significant upturn in sales, and he is anxious to see that trend continue. The frequency of client meetings has sharply increased thanks to the prime location, new amenities, and modern conference spaces available.

The relocation and new design of a company’s office can sometimes be a scary and unnerving transition. The goal of the designer is to listen to our clients’ concerns, observe workplace patterns, challenge current norms and create a space that even the client could not have imagined. Not only does it have to hit all the aesthetic benchmarks (beautiful, stunning, impressive, etc.), but it has to work for that client’s unique needs. There are plenty of universal workplace strategies and trends in the marketplace, but no one solution can work for every client. As designers, we must lead the charge in workplace design and customize environments that meet our clients’ goals and expectations.



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