Katarzyna Cholerzynska, Head of Facility Management Eastern Europe, Merck, talks to Szymon Semper about the office space redesign, WELL certification, listening to employees' needs and the process of making changes in Merck's Warsaw office.
Can you give us a general overview of Merck in Poland? What areas are your activities focused around?
We are a leading science and technology company operating across healthcare, life science and electronics sectors More than 64,000 employees work to make a positive difference to millions of people’s lives every day by creating more joyful and sustainable ways to live.. From providing products and services that accelerate drug development and manufacturing as well as discovering unique ways to treat the most challenging diseases to enabling the intelligence of devices - Merck is everywhere.
We have been present in Poland for more than three decades. We employ nearly 850 people in three legal entities located in Warsaw, Poznan and Wroclaw, where one out of only three Merck Business Service Centres worldwide is located. This is something we are really proud of.
What influenced your decision to stay in West Station and remodel your office?
Merck’s headquarters in Poland has changed several times in the three decades that the company has been present in the country. Our last location was the West Station complex. After being on Jerozolimskie Ave. for five years, we began to think about a new layout for our office space. Our direction was dictated to a great extent by the pandemic, which has dramatically changed the way we work. We wanted our office to support, in the best way possible, the hybrid model that we had introduced some time before. After preparing a future workplace strategy with the JLL team, it became clear that we could effectively use our current office space without the need to move somewhere else.
What changes have been implemented so far, and what else do you have planned?
We reduced the number of individual desks in the open space, and allocated additional space for additional conference rooms, recovery spaces (library, room with massage chair) and teamwork zones. We divided the open space itself into functional zones, depending on the type of tasks to be performed: quiet, moderate and loud zones. We also implemented a mobile app for booking parking spaces, lounges and workspaces, so that we can responsibly and transparently use the resources that our office has to offer. We continue to check with our employees to see if the office supports us in performing our daily duties as expected, and if we have any more spaces to develop. The feedback we have received from the teams has been positive and allows us to focus on the next step.
At the moment, we are going forward with WELL certification, which will confirm that the new office space meets WELL’s exacting requirements for ensuring maximum comfort, health and well-being for its users.
What criteria did you follow in the process of making changes? What was your most important goal?
We wanted to carry out the entire transformation in the spirit of sustainability, which meant making the maximum use of what we already had in the office (furniture and materials) and therefore reduce costs connected to purchasing new products. We wanted to involve employees in the whole process, so when designing specific spaces, such as the library or the coworking space, we involved female employees who participated in the process as ambassadors of change. When creating the strategy of how our office space should change, we surveyed employees and interviewed managers. The research we conducted, helped us to make changes appropriately tailored to the needs of our team.
You mentioned that you are seeking WELL certification. What does this mean for employees and what solutions have been put in place?
The WELL certification criteria focus primarily on people, and not on the environmental sustainability of either the building or the office. The certification process involves strict verification that criteria are met in areas such as air, water, lighting quality, thermal comfort, adequate space acoustics, as well as the quality and sustainable use of finishing materials. What is more, it is very important to create opportunities for sufficient movement in the office, as well as having a favourable influence on operational actions and activities focused on fostering innovation, social ties among employees, and mental health.
We want to ensure that the changes we jointly decided on with our employees will have a positive impact on us. That's why we decided to create a separate space for regeneration, acoustically isolated parts of the office space for "noisy" work (teleconferences, phone calls), and move the photocopiers from open spaces to enclosed rooms. In addition, we made sure to adorn the office with additional greenery and introduce more design themes connected with biophilia.
What was the implementation process like? What was it like working with JLL and Tetris representatives?
Throughout the process, we held informational meetings for employees, provided e-brochures with key information, and developed sets of questions and answers. We held separate sessions for managers, conducted an employee survey, and organized walk-throughs of the newly renovated office. Throughout the process, we were supported by a group of wonderful change ambassadors who shared key information within their teams, participated in consultations and provided feedback to the project team.
We collaborated with JLL and Tetris on many levels: in renegotiating the lease, creating a workplace strategy, the design of the remodelling and arrangement, technical supervision to change management and support in obtaining WELL certification. We received tremendous support from the JLL and Tetris teams. Our cooperation went very smoothly throughout the whole process. The consultants exchanged all the necessary information with each other and adapted to our needs during the project. Different teams of consultants worked with us at different stages of the project, so the transition from one phase to the next was smooth.
From your perspective, what was the biggest challenge during the office redesign process?
Bringing together all the elements that make up an office operation: controlling the renovation work, implementing a booking application, installing teleconferencing equipment, and proactively communicating with managers and employees. This was by far the most challenging part of the entire process.
What feedback did you receive from employees?
A few weeks after the office opened, we conducted a survey to get a good understanding of how the new spaces affect the work and well-being of those working from the office. What employees pointed out were the overall aesthetics and friendliness of the office, the greater variety of meeting rooms in terms of size, and the functionality of the new spaces. Through open communication, we also learned which elements needed to be refined. This is what we are focusing on at the moment.
What are you most satisfied with?
The upgrade in the standard of the office. The new spaces are conducive to both effective personal work and team meetings. The design and arrangement itself make a very positive impression, both on employees and visiting business partners. This is testament to the tremendous amount of work we have done. I would definitely rate the changes in the office as a success.