Power to the People
Southwest Airlines is clear about one thing: they put people first. In fact, the company’s stated purpose is to “connect people to what is important in their lives.” That purpose extends to their employees too.
So when the company wanted to refresh its 3,500-person corporate headquarters in Dallas, Texas, they went straight to their people for inspiration. “Every square inch of their former space was covered with employee and family photos,” says Urmil Shah, senior project manager for Structure Tone Southwest, who led the renovations. “That personal connection was central to the new design and the way the project moved forward.”
The new office addresses a now common goal—to replace the segregated, hierarchical corporate style of the past with an open, collaborative workplace that better reflects how Southwest truly operates. But what makes Southwest different is they literally brought personal style into the process. “Each breakroom space or ‘culture center’ was designed to capture Southwest’s unique culture and fun-loving nature,” says Gary Reed, Structure Tone Southwest account executive. “Each one is based on a different theme that is integral to Southwest’s core values and employee feedback was included in the process.”
From coffee, to musical instruments, to Halloween, the spaces are meant to directly reflect the people who work there and the people-centered culture the company embraces. Other spaces throughout the office feature thank-you letters from customers, a listening center for the social media team to respond to customers and an archive room where the company keeps its memorabilia, complete with museum-quality air control and fire suppression systems.
While the open design itself was fairly straightforward, the building’s sheer size came with some challenges. “We were renovating over 800,000 square feet of occupied space,” says Reed. “That equated to 22 phases of work with lots of coordination and temporary workspaces over the four years it took to renovate.”
With so many people affected by the work, the construction team tackled what may be the most critical feature first: the restrooms. “We renovated 64 restrooms before the full project even began,” says Reed. “We knew the restrooms would take longer than the office area itself, so we wanted to avoid blocking access to them as staff began moving back into their space.”
The team also managed to save some time (and money) on a special design feature. The design included several elliptical walls with expensive light fixtures that would take a long time to arrive. The team figured out that by cutting the drywall around the lights and building the walls to fit the curve, they could use standard light fixtures and covers, saving weeks on the schedule and thousands of dollars.
“We were fortunate to have a very receptive client,” says Shah. “Southwest is one of the best clients I’ve ever worked for.” Turns out putting people first—as clients, customers, consultants or employees—truly reaps the finest rewards.