One of Ottawa’s largest engineering firms is re-engineering its approach to in-person work in response to the challenges of the past two years.
J.L. Richards & Associates has consolidated its three Ottawa offices in a bid to create a more sustainable and engaging workplace. The move includes the sale of the firm’s home of six decades at 864 Lady Ellen Place in the Carlington area and the shelving of a proposal to build a new five-storey, net-zero office at the former site.
“We explored a lot of options,” vice-president René Lambert told OBJ. “The pandemic made us pause and actually got us to a point where we realized the hybrid work environment would work for us.”
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Founded in 1955, the firm is headquartered in Ottawa and has 300 employees in seven cities across Ontario. The company offers services in engineering, architecture, planning and project management.
When the pandemic hit, the firm leased or owned 60,000 square feet of office space spread across three Ottawa campuses, Lambert said, adding that the space wasn’t “efficiently used” or suited to the collaborative work of a firm of engineers, planners and architects.
The new offices comprise the ninth and tenth floors of the Adobe Building at 343 Preston St. Although it is roughly two-thirds the square footage of the former campuses, Lambert says there’s room for growth thanks to investments in technology, an activity-based work approach, and the option for employees to work remotely up to two days per week.
The changes go beyond new panoramic views, better transit access and the popular amenities of Preston Street. There are no assigned offices. All employees — executives included — select a workspace that suits their daily needs using a booking application, which integrates with Microsoft Teams. Meanwhile, teleconferencing upgrades ensure an “equitable” connection, whether employees work from home or a plush seat in the lounge.
There’s also much less paper. President and CEO Saverio Parrotta calls it “paper light” and says the shift was both a game-changer and one of the biggest pandemic challenges.
“When we were forced to go remote, the first question was, ‘How do we even do this from home?’” Parrotta explained. “We all worked at a table with drawings on it. We would buy paper by the pallet.”
Forced to adapt, the firm quickly embraced greener, more flexible approaches and, like so many businesses, realized there would be no going back.
Lisa Fulford-Roy is senior vice-president of CBRE Canada’s client strategies, responsible for CBRE’s workplace strategies practice in Eastern and Central Canada. She says the return to the office is still in the early stages, but the hybrid work trend is clear. “The reality is most people want to be back in a meaningful way. Especially if it makes sense for them,” she said.
Data from the global commercial real estate and investment services firm’s spring 2022 Sentiments Survey shows that more than half of workplaces report some kind of “guided” approach to hybrid work, as well as a 76 per cent reduction in dedicated seating in favour of activity-based work, hot-desking or targeted mobility.
For his part, Lambert says continuing to attract and retain staff will be the ultimate payoff of the consolidation.
“Success for us is going to be that our employees continue to appreciate coming into the office,” he said. “It’s not a big cost savings but we’re getting a return on our investment in terms of the employee experience.”
J.L. Richards & Associates expects the efficiencies to allow space to grow for up to two more decades.