The State of Workplace Strategy: Q/A With Coca-Cola’s Wendy Heller

Optimizing a workplace for efficiency often begins with the actual design of the workplace itself. DisruptCRE recently discussed workplace strategy with Wendy Heller, the senior workplace strategist at one of the world’s biggest and most recognizable companies: Coca-Cola.

There are so many workplace concepts, theories, and strategies (open offices, remote working, and so on). In your experience, what seems to be working?

As we think about workplaces, choice is really the number one driver, whether it is our business or looking at peer companies. Choice can mean a few different things here, too. It can be very granular, allowing an individual to move around throughout their day and choose spaces that match the work they’re doing. Or, click up a few notches, choice can apply to real estate. For example, thoroughly evaluating a 10 year or longer lease, which may not be the choice that best supports the business. That then speaks to things like co-working and flexible space alternatives, allowing people to work in different ways because they’re in a market where maybe they don’t need a physical office. All of this, and much more, falls under that common header of choice.

Do you think that notion of personalization is playing into your strategy more and more?

I think it’s a balance. Personalization means different things to different people. To some people, that might mean, “I get to pick every detail.” I don’t know if that’s practical in a large corporate setting. One of the things that we try to do is create the opportunity to personalize based on, you guessed it, choice. We like to allow groups or individuals to select from catalogs or choices within a standard, which gives them a level of freedom and customization. Creating custom-tailored solutions for every person gets super tricky to scale, costly, and fragmented across our different locations.

How are workplace culture/amenities used to attract and retain top talent?

Our team partners with HR in their aim to attract and engage talent. We want to attract top talent and keep them engaged so they do their best work and remain eager to continue working for The Coca-Cola Company. We look at it like a lifecycle: attract, engage, develop. We think the workplace plays an important role in each step in that process. It’s something that resonates with me as an employee, and it’s something I’ve heard our business and HR leaders talk about as well.

To illustrate what I mean, when we began renovations on our world headquarters campus in Atlanta, Georgia, which is 2.2 million square feet across nine buildings, rather than starting in one particular building, we made the decision to move horizontally rather than vertically. We wanted to create the biggest impact for the largest number of people right in the very beginning of the multi-year plan to renovate our campus. We started by creating what we call Mainstreet, which stretches across the first floor (and in some areas the second floor) of all of our buildings, all connected with interior hallways. Mainstreet was designed to be almost like a town, with places and amenities to make our associates’ lives a little easier each day. We have seven distinct dining venues, coffee shops, a pharmacy, a Care Center, a credit union, two dry cleaners, a sundry market, a store with Coca-Cola merchandise, and more. We also have a state-of-the-art fitness studio right on campus and over two acres of beautifully renovated outdoor space as well. You can do many of your errands while you’re at the office. Then you can get right home to your family after work. It’s great!

One of my favorite parts of this transformation is hearing associates who were not involved in any way talk about all of the insights that we put into the project. They perfectly explain to guests and each other about all of the stories that we crafted into the space. Somehow, people just get it. It’s been really exciting and neat to experience.

For example, in one of our main buildings, we have created two water walls. They’re essentially waterfalls that are regularly updated to spell out different graphics and words unique to our business. Water is the main ingredient in our beverages, which is why we loved it as a one of the main “wow” features of our campus. Of course, the water that runs through the system is recycled over and over, because protecting this precious resource is important to us too.

What’s cool is you just watch people – even people who have been at our campus before – interact with and experience the water. They understand why the feature was chosen and what water means to our business and are truly fascinated by the entire thing.

Similarly, we have the world’s largest flip disk wall. It’s a wall of 36,000 small discs that are red on one side and white on the other that flip to create images and messages that are, again, unique to our business. As a 100-plus-year-old company, we wanted to think about ways we could embrace our heritage in a way that would look new, cool, and modern. The concept was borrowed from the transportation industry. It is used in train terminals all over the world and is a nod to our vast and complex distribution network.

It’s not at all uncommon to see someone standing and shooting a video on their phone of the disks in action. People get really excited about it. Whenever I have guests in the office, they say, “Hey, can we walk over there, I want to see it again.” It’s just one of several unique touches that people have learned to expect and get excited about when they’re at Coca-Cola.