After two years of working remotely, employees of The Minto Group are now headed back to the world of water coolers. What awaits them, though, is a brand new office oasis filled with plants, singing birds and a touchless environment that promotes physical distancing and capacity control while breaking down silos and fostering collaboration.
Once it became clear that the pandemic had changed the traditional workplace forever, the Canadian real estate company started reimagining, as early as November 2020, what its drab downtown Ottawa office space could look like for the future hybrid workplace.
Bye-bye, cramped cubicles.
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“We wanted to really make a statement about who we are as a company,” said Michael Waters, CEO of The Minto Group, of the complete office makeover. “If we’re inviting people back, we’re not inviting them back to the same old, same old. We’re making that commitment to them and putting our money where our mouth is.”
Minto started its renovations in early July 2021, working through COVID-19, supply-chain disruptions, logistical challenges and the Freedom Convoy street closures, before reaching substantial completion March 18.
Minto, which builds homes and manages multi-residential and commercial properties across the country, as well as in South Carolina and Florida, is based in Ottawa. Its headquarters are at 180 Kent St. in the Minto Place building.
Leading the Ottawa office renovation has been JP St-Amand, director of commercial operations at Minto, with a team of his colleagues. Being project manager was like conducting an orchestra, said St-Amand of working with designers, engineers, contractors, furniture suppliers, painters, signage vendors and others.
“It’s like I had all these musicians and they were all excellent at what they do, but bringing 42 different vendors together and trying to have them all play the same tune at the same time was a challenge.”
The completely remodeled office space is inspired by Minto’s eco-friendly tree logo. Particularly striking are the 2,500 plants located throughout the two floors. Of that total, 1,100 can be found on the bio wall – also known as the living wall – located at the office entrance. The calming feature is the work of Vancouver-based GSky Plant Systems.
The town hall meeting area, which resembles a leafy living room, feels like a sanctuary with its soothing sounds of songbirds. None of the noise carries far due to the installation of stylish ceiling barriers and hanging acoustic panels.
Minto’s new office promotes health, wellness, diversity and inclusion. It has designated a private room for yoga, meditation and Muslim religious prayer (equipped with a foot bath). There’s also a separate room for working moms to keep up with their breast milk pumping.
As well, the company has added a gender-neutral washroom, on top of its accessible bathroom.
Work is still being completed on the 6,300-square-foot outdoor terrace, where staff will be able to gather, hold barbecues and play bocce.
“Speaking for myself, it’s a much more energizing environment,” said Waters. “Suffice to say, we definitely spent more than we originally conceived in the budget, but like every reno, whether you’re renovating a bathroom or a kitchen, you go in with an idea, more ideas come and you start thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if…?’”
Staff are returning to much wider hallways and fewer desks that are better spaced out. Other features include touchless tech, motion sensors, improved air circulation and UV-light sanitization. On the topic of health and safety, Minto has added a dedicated first-aid room.
Minto has reduced its total office footprint in Ottawa from 60,000 square feet to 46,000 square feet, recognizing that many of its 300-plus employees at Minto’s 180 Kent Street now have flexible work arrangements. The new space accommodates 85 assigned desks and 119 bookable workstations.
“So many of our staff tell us that they love the freedom and flexibility of working remotely, at least some days of the week,” said Waters.
Minto has increased its number of boardrooms from 12 to 26, of various sizes. The state-of-the-art spaces are all equipped for video conferencing.
It’s also added small, quiet areas – including a half-dozen soundproof phone booths – along with rooms conducive to brainstorming sessions. The stunning wall-sized landscape of a misty B.C. evergreen forest isn’t just art; it also doubles as a whiteboard.
Minto wanted to create a workplace that could bring people together and focus on culture, collaboration and creativity, said Waters.
“JP and the team did, I think, a fantastic job reimagining the space with the thinking of the three Cs in mind.”
The new office has been well received by employees, said JoAnn Taylor, vice-president of human resources for The Minto Group.
“People are loving it because they have the best of both worlds.
“We do invest in our employees. The fact that we spent the time, money and effort to redesign the workspace, to make it a better place to come and celebrate and work together, people have been excited and appreciative of everything the company has been doing.”
Minto used Calgary-based prefab construction firm DIRTT for the timber frame that adds warmth to the office design. It worked with four different furniture vendors to promote Canadian products as much as possible, said St-Amand.
“From a logistics standpoint, if it’s in Canada, we know we can get it here. The only thing we couldn’t get in Canada was the carpet. It sat for several weeks in a port in Belgium because they had a shortage in shipping containers.”
Minto’s new office also pays a respectful nod to the company’s nearly 70-year history. It was founded in Ottawa in 1955 by brothers Gilbert, Irving, Lorry and Louis Greenberg. In fact, there’s furniture from the 1950s on display in the vintage-styled room that’s appropriately called The Roots.