A “beta test” of how to reimagine workspace in order to attract employees back to the office has landed an ABC Greater Baltimore Diamond Excellence Award for office renovation.

The award went to the Chesapeake Employers Insurance Headquarters project for its success at meeting the needs and desires of the new hybrid work culture.

The insurance company had to embark on a renovation after experiencing a small computer fire and significant water damage on two floors of its building during the pandemic.

“Since it had been 20 years since they last renovated, they figured it was a good time to reinvent the office space on the two damaged floors and conduct essentially a beta test for the building,” said Sandy Sawicki, Vice President, Interior Design at JMT Architecture.

The project cleared out the maze of large, high-walled cubicles and the outer rim of private offices. Cubicles became slightly smaller and lower, and the new private offices were clustered in the center of the floors.

“The building has glass on all four sides, so the new design allows light to come all the way through into the interior. It is a much brighter and more open space,” Sawicki said.

Chesapeake Employers Insurance also decided to create a bold and expansive central gathering space for employees. Near the elevator on the second floor, it created a large work café with a kitchen, vending machines, casual seating areas, and some signature features.

“We had several custom tables made by Anything Wood and Metal which is a local Baltimore company. They are very large, striking, bar-type tables made from oak and iron,” Sawicki said.

One design element created challenges – namely the desire to have exposed ceilings.

“It was spaghetti above the old ceilings. It was years of people putting cables and conduit and ductwork up there,” said Alan Mech, Director of Special Projects at CAM Construction. “We were shaking our heads and wondering how we were going to make this look good. But we ran some new wires, consolidated some things, created a black-conduit raceway, and strategically placed mechanical and electrical items above wood slats and ceiling clouds. It turned out beautifully.”

The design, Mech said, also included the smart idea of locating an IT service area beside the café. That arrangement allows workers from all floors to drop off laptops or other items for service then get lunch, hold meetings or continue their work in the café while their equipment is repaired.

“One thing I didn’t think would be a hit was the small gym,” Mech said. “I was wrong.”

The small space includes Peloton bikes, treadmills, free weights, and other workout equipment. A full wall of windows and another wall of mirrors ensures the space feels bright and open.

“I had so many people say to me, while we were building the space out, that they liked the gym so much they were going to quit their old gym and work out there instead,” Mech said.

“Our client was really engaged and wanted to make a change that would create something fresher, brighter, newer, more attractive for employees,” Sawicki said. “They succeeded in creating a nicer place to come to work. It’s a better environment with more amenities that supports a culture of working together.”