3 Things to Consider Before Splitting Your Headquarters Into Multiple Offices

Every growing organization eventually gets to the point where they realize they’re running out of space.  Often times, the response is a reactive one. A quick, inexpensive fix is implemented and, in the end, acts only as a Band-Aid to a larger, more complicated issue.   

Sometimes that fix is to split their headquarters into multiple buildings. Building new or renovating a current facility is viewed as disruptive and too expensive for some organizations. So, rather than expanding, building or acquiring a larger space that will accommodate everyone, they purchase or lease a building nearby and divide the departments between two or more spaces. 

Split-Operations: the practice of dividing an organization’s headquarters across multiple buildings in the same city. This most commonly takes place when an organization outgrows its current building and has no room for expansion.  

Whether it’s due to organic growth or mergers and acquisitions, most organizations find themselves, at some point, with multiple facilities housing their operations. In fact, our research suggests that 24% of the top 50 credit unions in the US have divided their headquarters into 2 or more facilities.

And while there are many reasons for companies to increase their reach through multiple offices across the country or world, dividing the headquarters into two buildings within the same city is usually a temporary fix. A fix that poses considerable challenges for leadership teams. Consider these hurdles before you jump in to the purchase or lease of a second building:

  1. Maintaining a Strong and Consistent Culture

    Culture is the personality of an organization, and a positive one creates an atmosphere that fosters happy and productive employees. But when headquarter operations are divided into two facilities, it presents problems for culture. 

    It’s very difficult to inspire the same culture between two separate offices. The key ingredients in developing a strong work culture, including collaboration, communication, and strong leadership can be difficult to duplicate in a second workspace.

    Another challenge to culture is the loss of personal interaction. Casual communication between employees can have a significant impact on the environment within an organization. Things like: the ability for employees from different departments to meet at the coffee-maker and exchange highlights from their weekend or share office humor have an incalculable positive impact on culture. And dividing employees into two spaces diminishes these interactions. 

  2. Encouraging Collaboration

    Collaboration is key to building a strong and efficient organization. The emphasis on collaboration in organizational behavior has never been greater than today. There are two factors that have necessitated this: the changing expectations of employees, especially millennials, and the realization that collaboration increases productivity. Many modern workspaces are designed to have flexible and multifunctional meeting spaces to facilitate all type of collaborative interaction.  

    “Indeed, some of today's most successful companies build great ideas around the use of physical and virtual tools to inspire and enable a collaborative workforce.”
    -David Borrelli, Salesforce AVP

    So how can you encourage collaboration between cross-functional teams if those teams are in separate buildings? Of course, technology can help.  But sometimes, the best, most productive collaboration is spontaneous. 

    When TTCU The Credit Union set out to consolidate their operations from multiple buildings into one unified headquarters, this was a major consideration. The new building needed to not only facilitate, but encourage, collaboration. So, at the core of the design was a grand, communal staircase created to help increase encounters between people in different departments. The staircase was created to be wide enough to facilitate impromptu conversations while still allowing traffic to flow. Knowing that spontaneous conversations that start in the staircase often warrant further discussion, multiple huddle rooms were strategically placed off staircase entrances to create a convenient location for these impromptu meetings. Even small details like these were strategically planned to ensure that the space promoted effective and efficient communication.  

  3. Creating a Flagship Experience

    Good headquarters planning has moved away from simply using a formula for growth to calculate number of offices and number of cubicles. Today, companies are using their headquarters as a stake-in-the-ground, creating the flagship for their brand. 

    Retailers and grocery chains have understood the concept of flagship experiences for a long time.  Take, Niketown or the Starbucks Roastery for example. These locations provide the ultimate brand experience for consumers, creating a destination rather than just another store. 

    But for financial institutions and other corporations, the flagship experience is taking place at the headquarters. Why? Because leadership is recognizing the importance of creating a unique and exceptional employee experience in order to compete for top talent. Some of the greats like Google and Facebook have led the charge on this idea—garnering the public’s attention with brightly-colored photos featuring nap rooms and ping pong tables.  But it’s not just the big players who are stepping up their game. Employers at organizations of all sizes are realizing the impact the physical environment has on attracting and retaining talent. 

    But creating a flagship experience for your employees isn't about indiscreetly inserting elements of “fun” into your workspace. Your brand and your culture should inform your environment. As an example, if your employees are more data-driven and less creative, the way they seek to recharge at work will be different. Your space should be one that speaks to them. 

    A flagship experience done well represents your brand to the world. Yours may not make headlines like Google or Facebook, but when done right, this building can serve as your legacy for future generations.

 Making Split-Operations Work for You

When there's no other option than to divide your headquarters between two buildings, there are ways to minimize the impact of these obstacles. Here are a few ideas to making split-operations work for your organization:

  1. Create a strategically-designed campus where buildings are connected by convenient paths, dotted with outdoor collaboration spaces. Use centrally-located amenities like fitness centers and training facilities to allow for increased interaction.
  2. Put a plan in place for departmental adjacencies. Take a good, hard look at which departments need to office together in the same building, along with projections for departmental growth overtime to ensure that closely-related departments are able to maintain their proximity.
  3. Open up the lines of communication between offices using technology. Blogs, intranets, and online collaboration tools can help employees connect through the virtual channels.
  4. Create larger-than-average culture-promoting activities that pull together people from multiple offices. Company-sponsored 5K’s, athletic teams, and charitable events can help build connections among groups who may not otherwise bump into each other.
  5. Use consistent design elements and amenities across all spaces to avoid an “us-versus-them” mentality.  Little things like a lesser office lounge or the lack of a fitness center in one office can spur animosity.  When possible, try to create consistencies. 
  6. Be deliberate about communicating your mission, vision and goals across all offices. Employees will feel more engaged when they feel that everyone is working towards the same objectives. Even small touches, like identical company history feature pieces or branded vision wall in every office can make a huge impact on creating alignment.