Workplace brief: Wärtsilä
Relocation opens the door to workplace transformation
Wärtsilä shows how research can guide workplace design and then prove the success of the solution.
When the Finnish technology group brought 500 staff together on a new campus in Helsinki in 2018 it was against the backdrop of an ongoing group transformation strategy. Wärtsilä is an international smart technology company specialising in the marine and energy sectors. Operating in fast-moving industries, supporting customers in maximising their environmental and economic performance, the group strives to be recognised as a market leader and preferred partner. In that context, the key objective for the new Helsinki Campus was clear: to deliver an enhanced and appropriate experience for both employees and visitors, one that would reflect the company’s purpose and market position.
There’s no doubt this objective has been achieved. The quality of the new work environment is such that Wärtsilä has become the first Finnish company to receive the Leesman+ certification. Based on pre- and post-occupancy surveys, the new premises have significantly improved the employee workplace experience. Awarded to just 3% of the 4,421 buildings measured to date, the Leesman+ certification confirms the position of Wärtsilä on an exclusive list of recipients so far limited to 66 organisations across 118 workplaces in 34 countries.
Leesman measures employee workplace experience via its global business intelligence tool, which captures feedback on how effectively the workplace supports the workforce. The Leesman+ certification recognises exceptional performance in workplace design, delivery, management and operational effectiveness – all clearly demonstrated at Wärtsilä’s Helsinki Campus.
Gathering data to underpin decisions
The Wärtsilä team first encountered Leesman at an industry event where the firm was presenting its approach to workplace research: the team was in no doubt that they had spotted a timely opportunity. Atte Palomäki, executive vice president for communication, branding and marketing, explains:
“The scientific approach was appealing. We needed data and analytics for planning the new offices in regards of people and their needs, different activities etc. and found the Leesman approach to be very thorough and comprehensive in that matter.”
As a result, Wärtsilä commissioned a ‘before’ study covering existing facilities as they were in 2017. This provided a raft of useful information to support the project planning for the new facilities. The pre-occupancy study of the two previous Wärtsilä buildings, located in different neighbourhoods of Helsinki, recorded an average Leesman effectiveness score (Lmi) of 61.0. “This offered us a good understanding of the things we needed to achieve or change, and the results were very much in line with employee feedback,” says Palomäki. “Targets for the relocation project were about supporting the ongoing transformation in the company, improving the employee and visitor experience, and living our purpose – ‘enabling sustainable societies with smart technology’.”
Wärtsilä also committed at that point to follow up with post-occupancy research in order to provide comparable numerical data for a sound analysis of the project outcomes.
Providing a workplace that works
The Helsinki Campus is home to about 500 Wärtsilä employees – though, being a dynamic business, the number of people on-site varies significantly week by week, and even day by day. In addition to company staff – covering a profile that spans technical specialists, sales, business support and management right up to senior level – the campus frequently also hosts numerous visitors, notably customers and business partners, but also from time to time school groups, politicians, media and others. Meeting the range of demands and expectations brought to these buildings by these diverse parties was one big challenge for both project planners and facilities managers.
The campus is made up of two adjacent buildings, one eight and the other four storeys high, comprising a total of about 10,000 sqm. The first two floors of the main building are ‘public’, consisting of meeting rooms and a conference centre, an experience centre showcasing what the company does and accommodating space for events and training, project areas for working with partners, and finally an internal acceleration centre. The six floors above this are office space, which offers a mix of open-plan and enclosed areas, such as small work rooms, meeting rooms, phone booths etc. The open space is divided into two zones based on activity: one for collaboration and discussion, the other for more focused and distraction-free work. In addition, on the fifth floor, there is a large communal cafe/living room-like space for relaxation, refreshments, internal events, impromptu meetings and the like.
The workspace is built to facilitate flexible work, meaning that instead of personal desks employees can choose to work in a variety of areas
based on their preferences and tasks at hand. Wärtsilä uses a digital ‘building twin’ tool to make space use more transparent and help
employees get the most from the space as a resource. The overall workplace design draws on home-like, colourful, fun themes implemented
with sustainable materials and with Wärtsilä branding visible throughout.
Riikka Haakana, workplace and service manager for Wärtsilä Real Estate, sums the new workplace up this way: “In practical terms, the
environment is about giving people the ability to choose how and where they work. Teams and individuals have fewer constraints and can
follow their preferences in ways that support what they need to do.
“And it also looks very homey here, very cosy and comfortable – without forgetting the ergonomics and wellbeing at work. The overall vibe is much more relaxed.”
Proving the success
On the face of it, Wärtsilä’s Helsinki Campus project was a move in the right direction: consolidating staff in purpose-built accommodation was a positive step for a business operating in industries that demand a strong blend of efficiency, effectiveness and creativity. But a critical test of what has actually been achieved in such a case lies in post-move assessment – how do the people using the accommodation judge its success?
Leesman’s post-occupancy analysis found the buildings achieving an Lmi score of 71.6, a figure 9.1 points higher than the global average, and 10.5 higher than the average score at pre-occupancy. The research findings revealed that Helsinki Campus employees take more pride in showing their workplace to visitors (+28%), they say their workplace better supports their productivity (+26%), and they feel the workplace is more enjoyable than before (+45%).
Picking up on the new sense of pride, Haakana says: “We used to have this very standard office and there wasn’t a lot to show to visitors or get them really involved; but now we have the experience centre where we’re showcasing what we do and there’s a lot of technology, videos, plenty of information – while being very visitor-friendly. There is a feeling that we have invested a lot of love in environment, which I believe has something to do with the new feelings of pride and enjoyment.”
She adds: “In a practical sense, we wanted to open up what we’re doing here at Wärtsilä.”
“And now we have the right spaces to work with partners and start-ups, as well as the ability to partner better with each other.”
“People are much happier now, even with the basics such as the technical infrastructure, audio-visual facilities and IT generally. Everything works in the same way, so wherever you go it’s easy to settle down and work productively.”
On the specific – but always important – issue of leisure facilities, employee satisfaction is up 35.2 percentage points. Haakana explains: “We had a small bunker-style gym and shower facilities in underground floors in the old office. For the new location we built a larger space that is light and inviting, and functional for a variety of sports. Employees can enjoy a sporty break playing table tennis, drop by for a gym session after work or attend a weekly yoga session. Our sports committee organises activities there and we have a masseuse coming in weekly.”
Lessons learned and future plans
The Wärtsilä team has come to see its Helsinki Campus as both a real estate project and a cultural transformation project. It is an undoubted success on both scores: the Leesman data goes a considerable way towards proving that.
There have also been a number of learnings around project success factors. For example, Haakana suggests: “Space is a very strong tool for change, so seizing that opportunity is crucial. Having people on-board, engaging with them from the earliest stages is important. Communication is key, especially open, interactive communication with employees throughout the project in a very authentic way, even if you’re communicating about issues that are not decided, ready or unfinished. Additionally we formed a group of early adopters moving in 2 months prior to the move. One benefit of that pilot phase was building a positive excitement about our plans and testing the functionality.
“Of course, not everything on the campus is perfect. Results from our post-occupancy survey revealed a few smaller issues to tackle; but on a bigger scale, they confirmed that we are on the right track. What we have achieved here will certainly be reflected in future workplace projects.”