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How Summa Strategies packed up its corporate culture and made it thrive in a new space

Partnering to create a workplace that inspires people to do their best work, together

image of a modern lunchroom

Office relocations are never easy, but it’s even tougher when you lose the best view in Ottawa.

Managing partner Jim Armour of Summa Strategies — a government relations firm who has carefully built one of Canada’s finest teams of public affairs professionals — and the team found this out when they learned Public Procurement Services Canada would be taking over the building they had occupied since the company’s founding in 1997.

For two decades, their boardroom was the place where they helped organizations achieve success on some of the biggest public policy issues facing Canadians.

photo of a long boardroom table

“Anytime we sat in our boardroom and talked about biting the bullet to find a more modern office, we were admiring a picture-perfect view of Centre Block,” said Armour. “It wasn’t that we wanted to move, but with the acquisition of the building, the move forced upon us.”

It didn’t take them long to realize this circumstance could be the ideal opportunity to find a new space that would take their team into the future.

Choosing your new office location can be an adventure

With this being Summa Strategies first move in their 25-year history, they needed help. 

In the beginning, it was a little bit like those “choose your own adventure” books” said Armour. “We’d start down a path and then the story would take a completely different turn.”

The team wasn’t just changing where they worked — they had to respond to a hybrid work environment.

image of a collaboration room with blue walls and a TV on the wall

After engaging local commercial real estate firm Colliers to find the bricks and mortar, they connected with Burovison to help reimagine their office’s look for this revitalized space. 

“We had a very short timeline between finding the space, fitting things up, and getting everything rolling,” said Armour. “We appreciated having a lot of detailed and intensive conversations with the Burovision team at the front end.”

“When we came through the doors of Burovision, we didn’t have a plan — all we had was a deadline,” said Armour. “We liked their willingness to understand our needs at the outset and the patience to walk us through the questions that needed to be asked.”

As a leading contract interiors provider, Burovision takes a consultative approach to guide customers on workspace decisions. Armour says Burovision gave them the information they needed to get into the right mindset and to make key decisions along the way.

“Part of our process was to share research findings such as Thriving Workplace from Knoll  and use that as the starting point for our discovery conversations around Summa’s business objectives” said Clark Moland, senior account executive at Burovision.

A welcoming workplace

For Summa Strategies, it was important to have the space express a vibrancy to support connection, forge culture and foster collaboration. Moving away from their legacy dark wood paneling and designing a space that would be light, airy, flexible and adaptable was a critical ask of the Summa team. 

image of a U-shaped collaboration space

“Formerly, we were a very closed-office intensive space,” said Armour, “which isn’t ideal when your business is built on teamwork.” Summa moved to smaller footprint height adjustable workstations and emphasized the need for diverse collaborative spaces.

Historically, the team’s strongest bonds were built in their old lunchroom. Despite it being a non-descript space, that’s where the team would gather at lunchtime. “We would discuss what was going on in our lives and what was going on in politics, along with a lot of good-natured ribbing,” said Armour.

With the multi-purpose new lunchroom, “It’s a bright, airy space with lots of seating, plenty of areas for conversation, and a lounge area with a couch and comfortable chairs nearby,” said Armour.  “People can eat together and actually enjoy the space. It has been a successful key gathering point.”

In addition to crafting the spaces they need for collaboration, taking their company into the future meant a serious technology upgrade. 

In the old office, you could say that conducting a presentation in the boardroom was an adventure of its own. “You’d need to find the laminated instructions for how to hook everything up,” said Armour. 

image of a lunchroom

Hosting a conference call was no picnic either. “You could patch people in, but someone had to run the equipment from one end of the table and warn people about the tripping hazard,” Armour added.

A reconsideration of the boardroom along with smaller meeting spaces was required, as having a  boardroom remained important for the team. Armour explains “the boardroom wasn’t ever just about the view — it remains an important public space where clients come to discuss their business.”

The new space features five collab closed rooms, a mid-size meeting room, boardroom and open collab vignettes that all have access to technology, allowing all users to experience premium phygital (physical and digital) participation. The adjacency to open plan settings now offers a variety of self-selected work points. 

“It was important to be able to connect the Summa team and its customers from any location. The updated spaces leveraged technology, creating equitable digital experiences.” Said Gillian Oxley-Harper, president, Burovision Ottawa.

“We have gone through — and continue to go through — an incredible amount of change where organizations have had to reimagine their places of work,” said Oxley-Harper. “One thing we do recognize is that places that matter begin with people.”

Like many organizations, Summa is still adapting to the flexible ecosystem of work, as they find the balance for those in person and those joining virtually. 

With the delivery of their new workspace, Summa is poised to deliver a fluid and equitable experience where the team will come together to foster creativity, ease collaboration, and inspire people to do their best work.