When Marlette Funding signed for its future headquarters be the anchor of the development company Buccini Pollin Group’s (BPG) Concord Plaza project in January 2020, the plan wasn’t to reinvent the modern office.
After COVID-19 hit just a couple of months before the groundbreaking, most of the design for the building’s interior would be revised and reworked with safety, social distancing, and both remote and hybrid workers in mind.
Other than the physical construction, most of building project for the Best Egg lending platform maker was done remotely. It’s something Facilities Manager Steph Magaha didn’t see coming when the office, then located in an office building near Independence Mall on Concord Pike, was shut down in March.
“I’ve done a lot of buildouts,” she told Technical.ly, “and I never in a million years thought I could build a building from my house.”
The building sits beside Concord Plaza’s mixed-use development of apartments, restaurants and retail spaces, and faces a tree-lined parking lot that is within view of another BPG project, The Mill Concord. It looks like a fairly standard modern office building on the outside. What sets it apart is that is was designed over the course of its construction to be somewhat pandemic proof, from the high-tech body temperature check in the lobby to the layout of its workspaces.
Mike Urban was hired as head of product for Marlette, and, because of his experience with facility management for previous startups, he agreed to take on a facilities role as well.
“I was working for a startup in Philly and managed two office expansions,” said Urban. “That’s were I cut my teeth. I came here and they were looking for someone to take on the facilities role. We oversaw the whole buildout of this amazing facility.”
The Concord Plaza location was on the top of their list as they explored HQ options.
“There were a number of factors” in choosing Concord Plaza, he said. “We were looking for an opportunity to bring our employees into an environment that matched our culture — location, plus flexibility to help design the interior of the space to make it our own. The reality is, we’re leasing the building from BPG, but it doesn’t feel like that when you walk through. That flexibility and partnership I think was probably the major deciding factor on why we went with this location.”
Throughout the entire process, the facilities team solicited feedback from colleagues on what kind of work space they were looking for.
In a good number of cases, even as COVID-19 restrictions eased up, the work spaces they were looking for were home offices — which became part of the concept of the new HQ.
Surveys found that about one third of Marlette’s 201 employees wanted to come into the office three days a week or more; another third wanted to come in fewer than three days a week, and the remaining third wanted to continue working remote entirely.
That’s a big difference from the pre-COVID era, when employees worked in the office with little exception. After a year of successfully running the business with remote employees, the new office model is more focused on flexibility. Now, instead of all employees having a permanent desk, they’ve moved to an office hoteling model, where employees can reserve desks and meeting spaces from home for their days in the office.
“The pandemic, for all the things unfortunate that happened, was an opportunity for really truly to innovate what the office space should look like,” Urban said. “We really wanted to create an environment that was welcoming, both for the folks who wanted to be here three or more days but also if you just want to pop in. As we add more colleagues, we can grow to about 320 to 340 here as far as feeling comfortable, but we can have more than that who actually work for us because they’re not going to be in all of the time.”
Cubicles have safety partitions, but at this point, social distancing is easy with fewer on-site employees. Even face-to-face meetings are adaptable to just about any arrangement, with options from casual whiteboard setups to roomy one-on-one spaces to formal boardrooms. There’s even an outdoor meeting space with a TV monitor. Having so many different types of meeting places throughout the building was intentional, Urban said, and is part of the ongoing feedback collection from colleagues, to see which types they’d like more (or fewer) of.
“Just like how Amazon makes enhancements to its website, I want that to happen with this building,” he said. We’re going to be reactive.”
Virus safety measures go beyond a temperature check and partitions between desks. The self-service cafeteria, kitchenettes and bathrooms are all virtually touch-free, with features like a foot pedal-activated water cooler.
“Obviously the COVID pandemic spawned that, but even just a general cold or flu or stomach bug, we don’t want that to get to our colleagues,” he said, noting that sick employees will be asked to go home if they don’t pass the quick test in the lobby. “You don’t have to take the day off, but if you’re not feeling well, just work from home.”
After safety, another priority was aesthetics. Far from being a drab office, the HQ has a modern, artistic feel, both from the work of West Chester-based D2 Design and displays of local artists, including Wilmington folk artist Eunice LaFate. The mini art exhibits include the artist’s bio and a way to purchase the art.
With Best Egg’s growth, the building that the company might have grown out of in a few years is looking like it may be Marlette’s home for a while, thanks to the hybrid model.
“It really has provided an even longer-term setup for us,” Urban said. “We’re going to utilize a building with a larger employee based we traditionally would have.”
And yes, it’s hiring now. Want to see more? Check out the photo gallery (all photos by Holly Quinn):