A Corporate Headquarters That Undoes Dilbert

Last Updated Jul 30, 2008 8:22 AM EDT

Do you work in a building designed to keep you energized, more productive, and that tells your company mission to all staff and visitors within a few steps of entering?

I suspect most of us work in Dilbert's Cubicle World. So it's intriguing to see the HQ makeover designed by, of all things, a traditional utility company, Green Mountain Power. Mary Powell, the chief operating officer (and soon to be CEO) provides a tour of her company's recently renovated HQ in this video on Harvard Business.

It's quite a viewing, and demonstrates the power of architecture and space planning in improving performance. The building has been redesigned from one that oozed power, intimidation, and bureacuracy (complete with marble lobby and stone staircase) to one emphasizing light, transparency, and speed.

Some highlights of Green Mountain's makeover:

  • Telling Landscape A garden at the front of the building is landscaped with transformers and other power-related equipment. "It tells everyone who comes here who we are and what we do," Powell says.
  • Front and Center A fixture of the modern utility is the control room, where a vast wall-mounted digital display monitors the performance of the distribution grid. Utilities are inclined to entomb the nerve center behind concrete cinder block, for security. At Green Mountain, however, it's the first thing visitors see as they enter the building, albeit protected by bullet-proof glass. Distributing power is the central mission of the business, and the control center provides an impressive visual that shows that mission impressively.
  • Equal Standing Each work area is equal both in size and in exposure to natural light. Also, most employees have opted for a stand-up desk (tall chairs are available) to encourage doing business on the go.
  • Community Central To facilitate informal contacts and work discussions, the center of the building houses a cafe.
  • Color for Success Believing that color creates mood, the company cashiered its traditional gray and brown paint scheme for a more sophisticated palette. The walls of software programmers, for example, are done in soothing blues and greens. Execs work bathed in high-energy reds and yellows.
Does all this attention to detail make a difference? According to Powell, customer satisfaction levels have risen from 68 percent in 1998 to 90 percent. Customers like doing business in the building, but they also appreciate the happier employees they are dealing with.

By the way, Powell points out that very few employees thought the changes were a good idea when first proposed -- everyone had an objection to something. But enthusiasm by the management team eventually wore down the objections, Powell says.

Does your workspace encourage productivity and innovation? Does the building reflect the corporate mission? Tell us what you would do to improve your work environment.

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.