One of multi-billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s most famous quotes is: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This concept of putting employees first is now redefining our workplace culture in a big way—including changing the way businesses now design the layout of their workspaces. Gone are the days of CEOs holding swanky corner offices while staff slave away in dark cubicles. Modern workspaces are now open plan with maximised light infusion, less storage space and more communal areas all leading to increased communication among staff members and general emphasis on their overall well-being.  All this and more can be found in the understated yet spectacular new office for PartnerRe.
“We did complete an officewide survey of the staff through an anonymous questionnaire of approximately 50 questions to get an understanding of what the employees liked and didn’t like about their current offices and what they wished for in their new space,” said interior designer Lauren Grayston of CTX Group. “The questions ran the gamut from enquiring about employees work patterns to their feelings on the workplace culture to technologies they use. We complied and analysed the results which provided us with the key design goals for the new space which we interpreted three dimensionally into the space you see today.”
Originally PartnerRe inhabited both the fourth and fifth floors of Wellesley House on Pitt’s Bay Road. As their business evolved the decision was made to consolidate the staff into the fifth floor and completely renovate the space in the process. The original office space was “the opposite of how it is now—with individual offices around the perimeter of the building which let very little natural light into the interior walkway and left the offices feeling quite dark. And there were no open meeting areas so there was no feeling of community,” said Grayston.
It was a challenge to do such extensive renovation while the company had to remain operational, said CTX owner Jacob Hocking: “Sound, noise and dust mitigation was necessary to permit them to remain active on the floor below. We had to carefully schedule core drilling and access to the lower floor to suit their working schedules.”
“Alex DeCouto and the entire Greymane team have to be thanked for the great job they did overseeing and coordinating the work,” added Grayston. “They did an excellent job of keeping works on schedule on a very tight timeline in a challenging space where business could not be interrupted by the construction works going on. They worked tirelessly and were extremely respectful and courteous and always willing to work with us as we dealt with some of the challenges that arose during construction.”
Once the main demolition—including the removal of a steel staircase that formerly linked the two floors—was complete, the CTX team set about to rework the space to better suit their client’s needs. “We proposed to take the office functions and cluster them at the core and created a meandering glass wall to divide them from the open space,” said Hocking. “The glass wall provided privacy and enclosure when needed and the open space that remains is bright, spacious and better suited to the office layout.”
The colour palette chosen for the interior design reflects on the overall branding of PartnerRe, which Grayston describes as “subtle, classic and approachable.” The result is a mix of warm and cool greys, and whites contrasted by rich walnut wood accents. The flooring is a mix of large-scale carpet tile and porcelain tile selected in various tones of grey with a subtle teal thread to pick up on the teal accent used as an understated splash of colour in the design. However, according to Grayston, the main pops of colour are actually in the artwork and from the gorgeous 360-degree harbour and city views—all of which are now visible throughout the space.
“[The PartnerRe branding] represents the true partnership PartnerRe has with all of their clients,” she added. “This ethos is felt throughout the company. We incorporated it into the design with the subtle use of colour and open-plan offices with multiple communal and small group meeting areas which encourage community and creativity to flourish and make the entire space a welcoming and enjoyable place to be.”
As guests and clients step off the elevator they are immediately greeted by a custom walnut and grey quartz reception desk that backs on to a curved wall highlighted with the PartnerRe logo. The desk was custom designed and built by Carvalho Construction with the hanging stone counters installed by Surface Trends. Above the reception area, slatted walnut ceilings frame out a skylight which bathes the space in natural light. There is also a modest seating area with a curved couch and recessed television. Original graphic artwork is featured on the opposite wall.
The slatted walnut ceilings meander through a curved wide corridor leading to the expansive multipurpose café area. A large training room adjacent to the café features a curved glass wall that allows the entire space to be bathed in light. “The ceiling in the café and reception area is a slatted walnut that has integrated LED strip lights that were selected to feel as if they were custom fitted into the wood ribs,” said Grayston. “Overall, it is one of my favourite features of the space.”
The café was designed to be used for everything from power breakfasts to casual coffee meetings as well as to open up to the training room for large meetings or social functions. The fully functional and well-equipped kitchen and multiple seating areas were well considered to cover every possible function the company may need; however, the best feature was intended just for the staff, according to Grayston: “The key piece of equipment in the entire space has to be the built-in coffee maker that can brew fresh espressos and cappuccinos from an app on the employee’s phone.”
A key concept in the design of the common areas was to provide multifunctional spaces that can be used in a variety of ways. This is especially evident in the demountable glass wall system used to separate the training room and the café area. “We incorporated it to provide separation when the training room is in use but then to be able to open up and connect the two spaces when used jointly for social functions,” explained Grayston. “The full-height glass floods the café area with light and provides views to the world outside as employees socialise or enjoy their lunch.”
Touring the project, one couldn’t help notice that the traditional boardroom was seemingly absent. “The key concept was to provide multifunctional spaces that can be used in a variety of ways,” explained Grayston. “There are actually multiple boardrooms—we have the training room that can be set up for board meetings of up to 25 people and also two separate conference rooms which provide meeting spaces for up to 12 people.”
Throughout the main staff work area, the designer chose low workstations in crisp white with charcoal grey fabric panels and rich warm walnut accents to tie into the finishes used throughout the space. The desks are adjustable for sitting or standing and, with a minimal need for paper these days, maintain a clean, uncluttered look even on busy days.
According to a source at PartnerRe, “The new Bermuda office is a complete departure from our previous, rather dated offices on the fourth and fifth floors of the same building. Our 36 employees are now consolidated on the fifth floor in one completely open-plan office with spectacular views across Hamilton Harbour and a bright, modern feel. Taking out individual offices and knocking down the walls has transformed the look of the office and the way people work.
“Employees are really pleased with their new space: ’Amazing views,’ ‘Bright, airy and welcoming,’ ‘Love the energy, the bright, modern feel…’ is what everyone is saying. People especially like the cafeteria which pulls the whole office together.
“But also teams are feeling better connected—conversations that might have taken place in a meeting room are now happening more openly.”
When asked what he thought of the space, Joe Hooks, PartnerRe’s head of North America Cat, said: “It’s already changing the way we work. As much as possible we try to have our conversations on the floor rather than in huddle rooms. It means that the whole team can listen in and everyone has access to the same information—people will feel better informed and that has to be a good thing.”
Clients are moving towards the more open-plan layout as it results in a more vibrant and collaborative space, agrees Hocking. He adds: “Meeting rooms are needed for phone calls and private discussions, but now that there is less paper in an office, fewer filing cabinets and less storage is needed so there is increased space for break out areas and more comfortable working stations.”
Our judges certainly noted the successful way the CTX team collaborated to create this modern, employee-centric office plan. “The design is very innovative and different,” stated one judge while others commented on how the curved walls softened the space and how the well-integrated LED system “evenly balanced out the distribution of light throughout the space.”
As for her favourite elements of the design, Grayston states: “The way the spaces are connected with the curving meandering walls and the walnut wood ceilings are, hands down, my favourite design details. Also, I have to say that having the opportunity to meet and work with the PartnerRe team was such a privilege and is actually one of my favourite memories of this project.”