Climbing the hill: Amazon HQ2 looks ahead with The Helix

This WORKTECH briefing looks at the latest plans by Amazon to create a community-friendly campus, the rise of the consumer office and the role of acoustics in increasing productivity

As technology giant Amazon looks ahead to a new era after founder Jeff Bezos announced his intention to step back and hand the CEO reins to Andy Jassy, the company has unveiled its latest plans for its second North American headquarters in Arlington County, just outside Washington DC.

A futuristic plant-covered building, The Helix, modelled on a double helix, will form the centrepiece of a community campus uniting 2.8 million square feet of offices, public gathering areas and street-front retail. Designed by architects NBJJ to prioritise healthy working, the entire project, known as HQ2, is due for completion in 2025.

The Helix is heralded as an ‘indoor-outdoor building’ open to the public – it features two spiralling ‘hill climbs’ to foster creativity and wellness as well as a range of spaces for individual and team work and relaxation. The new headquarters will be LEED Platinum certified and run on 100 per cent  renewable energy procured from a solar farm located in southern Virginia. Amazon has made a pledge to be net-zero carbon by 2040.

‘The new headquarters will run on 100 per cent renewable energy…’

In its commitment to environmentalism, biophilic design, public space and employee wellbeing, Amazon has ticked off many of the big corporate real estate action points in announcing this new scheme. The project also draws a line under its hunt for a new North American base that has attracted widespread interest and controversy.

There were 238 applications in response to Amazon’s HQ2 tender document in 2017 as cities and regions jostled for one of the biggest economic stimulus prizes in American urban history. Amazon highlighted workforce talent, mobility links, connectivity, community, culture and sustainability as key criteria for selecting its new location.

The company eventually settled on Long Island City in New York and Arlington in Northern Virginia, but fierce local opposition by New York politicians persuaded Bezos and his team to pull out and place all its chips on Northern Virginia. Arlington has now emerged as the big winner from the race for Amazon’s HQ2 – and NBJJ’s scheme, with its green credentials and community-based design, looks set to settle the argument.

The consumer office experience

‘Employees need the exact same work experience wherever they are working from’, according to Mark Needham of Cisco. In WORKTECH’s latest webinar on ‘The CRE Journey to the Digital Workplace Experience’, Philip Ross of UnWork discussed the consumerisation of the future workplace with Sabine Ehm of Locatee, Simon Pascoe of Novartis and Mark Needham of Cisco. In this webinar, the panel debated a range of topics from the rise of authentic leadership to the changing attitudes towards workplace analytics and data.

Workplace experience was a hot topic before the pandemic, but experience was solely centred around the office. Now, the conversation has moved on to equality of experience across a multiple channels for work. The panellists took lessons from the retail industry to debate how the future workplace experience might respond to a more flexible, hybrid workforce. Mark Needham suggested that ‘we need to treat the office as a consumer product and earn the loyalty of employees to keep them returning time and time again’.

‘Taking lessons from the retail industry to respond to a flexible workforce’

This approach is coupled with the idea that organisations need to provide their employees with choice. Simon Pascoe explained that Novartis has introduced a ‘choice with responsibility’ agenda which enables employees to make the right choices on where they work based on the tasks they need to complete.

Sabine Ehm suggests that ‘companies should put out a workplace menu of technologies’ where mangers trust their employees to pick the tools which best fit their needs. However, these approaches not only need the right investment of technology and space, they also need a change of mindset from leadership. This shift will see the C-Suite turn to data to provide the insights and feedback to implement long term strategic changes for their business. View the full webinar here.

Acoustics, productivity and future work

As we gear up for a more hybrid working world amid plans to reopen offices, there is now a unique opportunity for organisations to rethink how communication is conducted within their business. The next WORKTECH webinar, on Thursday 11 February, explores findings from a new report by EPOS with WORKTECH Academy entitled, ‘What Will the Post Covid-19 Workplace Sound Like?’ The report looks at the key drivers for workplace productivity and discusses solutions and opportunities for organisations to improve their acoustic environment.

This interactive webinar will welcome guest participation and questions as Professor Jeremy Myerson of WORKTECH Academy and the head of Research and Development at EPOS, Jesper Kock discuss the scientific research behind sound and its impact on productivity and performance. Register to join the webinar on Thursday 11 February here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional live conference series paused due to the coronavirus pandemic. This edition is posted 10 February 2021.
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