It’s been five short months in our new office in Aksarben Village, and yet, it feels like we’ve been here for years. More importantly, it feels like home. Building out a new space in seven months and moving offices, along with 40+ employees, is no small feat. Now that the dust has settled, I sat down with Ervin & Smith’s President and CEO Heidi Mausbach and Chief Marketing Officer Katie Kemerling to find out more about the decision to move and the impact it’s had on the business and our employees.
Q: Why did Ervin & Smith decide to move?
Heidi: The initial idea to move came about two years ago when we did our annual planning to set our five-year goals for 2020. We looked at what was most important to our employees and found that it was really about finding a space that allowed us to connect with the community we live in.
Katie: We also wanted to find a physical work environment that fostered creativity and collaboration and enhanced our employees’ lives.
Q: Why did you pick Aksarben versus, say, downtown?
Heidi: Being centrally located and having brand visibility were important to us. This area is thriving; it has a lot of great energy, and it offered a lot of different amenities within walking distance—restaurants, shopping, movies, a gym, walking trails and a park right outside our door.
Katie: We wanted to be more centrally located for our employees as well. We mapped where all of our current employees live and found that if we went any farther east, it was going to create big commuting challenges for the majority of them.
Heidi: Another reason we wanted to be centrally located was for our Omaha clients. We’ve had clients say, “It would be great to get out of our space for a day,” but they didn’t want to come way out west before. Now clients are interested in coming to us and want to be part of our creative, collaborative environment.
Katie: Aksarben has undergone a transformation over the last several years and has evolved into this innovative part of the Omaha community. The idea that we’re part of an area that’s become a hub for the city is pretty cool. All of this aligned well with who we are and our agency DNA.
Q: Speaking of the creative spaces, one of the unique features of the new space is our community room—talk more about the decision to create a community space.
Heidi: When we were looking around for centrally located creative spaces that you could use for planning, or to even go to work remotely, there weren’t many options that really existed in this area, especially the Village.
Katie: So we created that space. Our Never Settle room (named for E&S’s mission) is a value add for our clients. It’s a nice thing for us to be able to offer it up for clients for free. It’s also a way for us to create a small revenue stream outside of the traditional agency service model by extending it to groups that our employees are currently involved with from a nonprofit or a board perspective. It goes back to our larger goal of wanting to connect with the community.
Heidi: Our industry is changing, and clients want to be more collaborative in working with their teams. This is a space that allows us to do that.
Q: There was a lot of thought that went into designing the physical space. Why did you involve the employees in the initial design process?
Heidi: It seemed like a natural thing to us, although we’ve heard that is wasn’t. We wanted to understand how our employees work and at the same time challenge the way they thought about the space they work in and its potential.
Katie: We’re just not a top-down leadership group. That’s not how we operate, and so it was important to us to have input from the people who make the company what it is. Our people are so important to us, and in order to make this an environment that feels like home—that feels productive, creative, inspiring and that fosters collaboration and innovation—we needed to involve the employees. We weren’t interested in creating an office environment of the past. Instead, we were focusing on building out a space that accounted for how teams will be collaborating and creating in the future. We couldn’t have achieved that on our own.
Heidi: One of the biggest compliments was when employees said, “We can see how our feedback was reflected back in the design of the space.” The visioning process we went through with our builders, architects and team members wasn’t just to get artificial buy-in or make sure that people felt like they were part of the process. We took that information to heart and pushed our architects to design a space that reflected that feedback.
Q: This happened incredibly quickly. What did you learn through this process?
Heidi: One consideration throughout the process was definitely our budget. We were creative with the materials, furniture and design, and it paid off; the project came in under budget.
Another reason why we were successful and this project was able to happen so quickly (initial design to move-in was less than seven months) was because we had local partners TS Maas and RDG Planning & Design who were in alignment with us. We have similar values, and they had a clear understanding of our vision and could enhance it and bring it to life. Everybody was accountable to what needed to be done. If our architects needed to turn a design element around quickly, then we needed to quickly give our feedback and approvals, and then our contractor would work to hit all the deadlines in terms of reviews and making sure that everything was right, and we communicated well. It was very much like how we work with our clients.
Katie: It was a little bit more of an iterative process where we were all working in tandem together, which is why we were able to do it so quickly. I think having executives involved was key. We were committed and were heavily involved to make sure that the space represented our brand, culture and values.
Q: Now that we are here, what are you most proud of?
Katie: I love the overall compliment that our employees have said that just it feels like home, or it feels like us. That this is a good fit. Our physical environment is critical to being creative—to being innovative—and now we have it.
Heidi: It’s very reflective of who we are as a brand. And it’s great to see our employees proud to bring their families and friends in to show off the space.
Katie: The other thing I am proud of is the fact that people are using all of the little spaces that have been designed out—sitting in the birdhouses or in the booths or tucked away in the oversized chairs. I see people mixing up their work environment quite a bit, which I think is healthy.
I also feel like there’s more personal connection and conversation that’s happening naturally based on the space, and for me, when people know one another, that strengthens our teamwork—the connectedness and the trust—so I think there’s just bigger, better friendships and relationships that are emerging from that, and that’s going to do wonders for our personal happiness and for the work we create.
Photo credit: Tom Kessler