Architectural Design for Employee Well-Being

This thoughtful and considered renovation at Manulife's head office serves as a clear demonstration of bringing bring contemporary values into architectural design. The impact of inspiring design is far reaching and multifaceted, and should never be discounted.

Jason Martin
November 1, 2023

A focus on employee well-being creates an award-winning global head office for Manulife. 

In 2018, Manulife decided to consolidate its Kitchener-Waterloo offices and welcome all employees to their Canadian headquarters, a grand 325,000-square-foot building, surrounded by lush greenery, scenic views and a natural environment worth celebrating.

Manulife’s Vision for the Future

Even before the pandemic, Manulife was at the forefront of redefining what a workplace can offer its employees in terms of flexibility and encouraging healthier habits. With both their interior and exterior renovations, Manulife has demonstrated their commitment to their team’s well-being by creating an adaptable, welcoming space which accounts for the ways in which the working world, as well as employees’ needs, have changed.

The new global head office is home to a contemporary, productive work environment, encouraging the team to engage with and enjoy the tranquility of nature just beyond the office walls, either while working in a space flooded with natural light and stunning views, or working outside in one of the flexible spaces created specifically for this purpose.

Core Design Choices to Support the Vision

One major goal for these renovations was to offer flexibility for different work preferences and shifting daily needs, creating opportunities for different groups come together organically throughout the day.

Figure3, one of Canada's leading multidisciplinary interior design firms, applied their extensive experience in both office and hospitality design to create a campus-style environment designed to foster community and promote collaboration amongst teams.

Some of the ways in which we fulfilled the brief included:

  • The design team prioritized daylight access and views to the outdoors for all employees and broke up large open spaces with specialty zoned areas.
  • Rather than a traditional layout of enclosed offices around the perimeter and a sea of cubicles in the central area, this office provides a variety of types of workspaces and meeting areas. Employees can meet around coffee tables in the ‘pantry’ on their floor, set up shop in soft seating areas, head to a study carrel or focus room for some quiet space, or work near different teams each day depending on their collaboration needs.
  • A large new terrace links directly to the cafeteria, providing a large outdoor dining area, along with chaise-style loungers to encourage moments of quiet and relaxation during the work day.
  • A long walkway was constructed which winds through the natural landscape and terminates at a lower pathway that connects to a larger trail system in the area. This walkway permits employees to incorporate movement into their day, to get more fresh air, and continue on to explore the peaceful trail beyond the office.
  • Three pods intended for gathering were nestled into the trees and set up to accommodate work-related needs such as meetings, focus sessions, lunch plans, and so on, again giving implied permission to shift how they may have previously worked, to include more time outside.
“The building is on an amazing site with incredible views. There was a real desire to have people who work at Manulife engage with the outdoors. How do you get people to want to work outside? Well, you have to create a great space in the landscape for it.” - MSS Partner Jason Martin.

Employee Adoption is an Exciting Benchmark

We enjoyed working with Manulife to merge timeless design with forward-thinking values in a workplace setting. Their commitment to creating healthy and vibrant spaces to help employees thrive in an office environment pushed typical corporate design boundaries with meaningful results.

“The 100-person steering committee at Manulife was blown away with the design [Martin Simmons Sweers] and the team came up with. We also had a company-wide Yammer site, and staff all said they loved the new space and it made them excited to come to work in the morning.’ - Ed Fasan, (former) project manager, Manulife Financial

It is a pleasure to see this project culminate in such wonderful reception from the Manulife team. This thoughtful and considered renovation serves as a clear demonstration of bringing bring modern values into architectural design. The impact of inspiring design is far reaching and multifaceted, and should never be discounted.

Our talented partners on this project included:

Interior Designers: Figure3
Landscape Architecture: The Planning Partnership
Civil Engineering: Stantec
Structural Engineering: MTE Consultants
Lighting: DEI Consulting Engineers
Contractor: MARANT Construction
Landscape Contractor: Moser Landscape Group
Exterior Carpentry: Country Lane Builders

Considering your next renovation or build? Contact us today or learn more about how we can help bring your vision to life in a practical yet imaginative way.

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