When electronics retailer RadioShack realized that the layout of its headquarters building in Fort Worth, Texas, was incompatible with its emerging corporate objectives, it took decisive action. The company moved from two 19-story towers with 16,500-sf floor plates to a low-rise campus a block away that has 30,000-sf floors.
"RadioShack went from a predominantly enclosed-office environment to a virtually 100% open plan," says David Meyer, SVP with Dallas-based HKS Inc., the architect for the new headquarters. "It recognized that employees were working more in collaborative teams, and saw this as something that will continue to evolve. And it recognized that an all-private-office plan was not consistent with that work evolution."
That decision flew in the face of more than eight decades of RadioShack corporate culture. The company, founded in 1919 by Norton Hinckley and Dave Tandy as the Hinckley-Tandy Leather Company, was purchased in 1963 by Tandy's oldest son, Charles. RadioShack was then one of a number of retail businesses (which included Pier One, Color Tile, and Bombay Co.) that made up Tandy Corporation. When the company moved into Tandy Center in the late 1970s, wood-paneled perimeter offices epitomized its hierarchal organization.
In 2000, the company consolidated around its flagship retailer and changed its name to RadioShack, with nearly 7,000 stores in the U.S. Its management then started taking a hard look at whether the headquarters facility provided the optimal setting for today's increasingly competitive business environment.
RadioShack management quickly realized that a new generation, with different attitudes about the workplace, was entering the workforce, says HKS's Meyer. This "Starbucks Crowd" is not interested in hierarchical structures that isolate employees. It craves teamwork; it demands to be connected. "The workplace has to be able to respond," he says.
"We turned about 180 degrees from our office layouts in the old Tandy Center," says Bill Knotts, RadioShack senior director of corporate real estate. "We've come a long way and evolved back to a pure focus on RadioShack."
The work environment of the new headquarters is highly interactive. "It's hard to be collaborative in a closed-office environment with little common space," Knotts says. "You literally are forced to reserve conference rooms and set up meetings for discussions that might take only five minutes if you just ran into each other." The old layout "was crippling our ability to work productively," he says, and forcing departments to be assigned to more than one floor.
Setting up a 'lab for ideas'
The company decided to evaluate interior layouts for its new headquarters by setting up an "Idealab" outfitted with 15–17 workstations and one closed private office, covering an area of about 25% of a typical office floor. This pilot office set-up was installed in a vacant retail space in the three-story base of Tandy Center.
The laboratory was established in the spring of 2003, when the new headquarters was under construction but the interior fitouts had not been specified. The designers started utilizing input from the laboratory later that fall, when they began final layouts of various departments.
In a year of operation, the laboratory was utilized to determine the type of open plan that would be used in the new headquarters and how space would be configured. "We used the lab to make sure we made the right decisions about the open plan, so that it would support the employees and respond to their needs," says Glenn Clark, HKS design director for interiors.
In addition, the lab was useful to the designers in evaluating lighting fixtures, raised-floor systems, and other components. The laboratory also was used to introduce employees to the type of work environment they would be experiencing. One business unit liked the new environment so much that it asked to stay there until it moved into the new headquarters.
One idea that came out of the laboratory was to place interactive spaces in high-traffic areas adjacent to elevator lobbies, to stimulate interaction among employees. Adjacent open stairways along the outside wall of the office buildings, unlike the center-core location of the former headquarters, encourage employees to use the stairs, where serendipitous interactions can also occur.
RadioShack says setting up and operating the lab cost about $400,000, but it estimates that this prototype enabled it to realize at least $1.5 million in avoided costs. For example, it made adjustments in the size of millwork that resulted in its more cost-effective use. Savings quickly multiplied because this application was repeated on 18 floors in three buildings.
Crunching the research numbers
The company also hired DEGW, an international consultancy based in London that specializes in workplace design, to help plan its new headquarters. Using surveys and focus groups, DEGW collected opinions about workplace conditions in the former headquarters and how a more productive environment could be created in the new one.
Project manager David Craig says input from employees helped to shape how RadioShack's physical layouts needed to be changed in order to meet the corporation's goals. Focus groups reinforced the belief that the existing space was supporting a culture characterized by entitlement and hierarchy, an attitude that the company's management wanted to eliminate.
DEGW found that individual departments worked in vastly different ways. "Our goal was to unify the culture and push it in the direction that leadership wanted it to go," with greater emphasis on sharing and not using space to reinforce hierarchy, Craig says. Only 15% of office space in the former headquarters was allocated to shared activity; in the new headquarters, it's 30%.
The first of RadioShack's 2,400 headquarters employees started moving into the new headquarters last March, with full occupancy to be completed early this year.