In this era of record levels of workforce mobility, many companies are rethinking old ideas about the ways in which work gets done. The COVID-19 pandemic altered the very landscape of the workplace as huge numbers of employees who transitioned abruptly to remote work during the public health crisis found that they loved it. A thirty second commute, proximity to pets and snacks, and increased flexibility to create a healthier work/life balance are all powerful incentives to keep employees working from their living rooms, back yards, and home offices. Companies of all sizes are facing significant recruitment and retention challenges, and are struggling to attract employees who continue to be enticed by fully remote and flexible positions. It’s not just salaries: employees are looking for a better workplace experience, and a foosball table in the breakroom isn’t enough. Attracting and retaining top-tier talent in this market means going above and beyond the competition. In kicking off the design for Centene’s new East Coast Headquarters in Charlotte, NC – coincidentally, during this era of foundational shifts in the nature of work – the company’s leadership knew that recruitment and retention needed to be a top priority. As such, campus amenities became a design driver in every program area. Every part of the campus is designed for flexibility, connectivity, and individual choice, and campus offerings that make the workday easier, more enjoyable, and more productive for Centene’s staff are woven throughout the campus. Greater Individualization, Greater Trust Possibly the most important amenity built into Centene’s new workplace is trust. Employees, even those accustomed to the high degree of independence and flexibility of remote work, can tailor their workspaces to their individual needs. The campus allows people to self-select work locations to accommodate particular tasks, preferences, goals for the day, or even the weather. There’s an offering for each type of worker, from someone who needs quietude for focus to someone who thrives on continuous social interaction, understanding that those needs might evolve over the course of a day, a month, or a project. The opportunity for choice is visible in the array of options within each program area and across the campus as a whole. More importantly, the individual flexibility represents a significant cultural shift from previous eras of work. If the assumption among supervisors throughout the history of work has been“ if you’re not in your seat, you’re not working,” the default position now is rooted in trust and empowerment. Employers understand that encouraging employees to work in the ways in which they, personally, are most productive leads to greater innovation, greater collaboration, and greater satisfaction. Amenities that Support the Whole Person Work/life balance can be an elusive thing in a traditional office paradigm. Employees and employers alike strive for productivity and focus; however, the competing demands on our time don’t stop during the workday. Amenities that make it easier for employees to accomplish necessary tasks without getting in the car and making a separate trip provide real value by alleviating commute time and stress. For example: The Centene campus includes a plan for a future in-house healthcare clinic with a medical office and pharmacy. When constructed, the clinic will have its own entrance and be available to both employees and immediate family members, making it easier to pick up a prescription, stay up to date on vaccinations, or monitor routine medical conditions without a trip to an offsite doctor. When technology goes haywire, from personal cell phones to laptops, employees will be able to visit an onsite Tech Bar to troubleshoot issues, learn new tools, or access updates. The Tech Bar will overlook the lower-level café, allowing employees to grab a coffee and work or enjoy a meal while the support staff resolves the issue. Mindful of the impacts of a commute and the need for employees to manage dinner time after work, Food Hall vendors will explore prepared meal options that can be picked up at the end of the day and reheated with minimal effort. Eliminating an after-work scramble will allow people the option of planning their departure around their daily work flow or the rhythms of rush hour rather than the need for a grocery run, further alleviating stress. Even the parking is hassle-free, as compared to a downtown office building, and the inviting, connected garages create pleasant transitions during a part of the workday that could otherwise feel like a chore. The entire campus experience helps employees integrate the personal and professional needs that often overlap during a workday to provide greater flexibility, support, and individualization. Winning the Food Experience On any corporate campus, onsite food options offer convenience for busy people who don’t always have time to drive to lunch. It’s hard to get excited about a typical cafeteria, though, day in, day out. To create something truly special on the Centene campus, the team envisioned an upscale Food Hall experience, with a variety of restaurant options in an expansive, light-filled volume that serves as a campus anchor. Seven eclectic food stalls will offer everything from barbeque to salads to Greek and Indian foods to grab-and-go. A coffee shop has a lounge vibe with a variety of individual and group spaces for focus or collaboration. For even more variety, the connected outdoor patio includes a drive aisle for food trucks; rotating local vendors will serve specialty fare. With a substantial footprint – nearly 20,000 SF – the Food Hall is designed to be a hub of activity throughout the day, not just at peak meal times. The Food Hall features office furnishings that are far more inviting and comfortable than those of a traditional food court or cafeteria; people will find a variety of seating options in various configurations for solo work or impromptu meetings outside of mealtimes (though the nearby café makes it easy to enjoy a beverage or a snack during that 3 pm team meeting). Connected workspaces built into the Food Hall make it easy to integrate nourishment, rest, social time, and productive work options into the workday while eliminating the hassle and environmental impacts of a lunchtime commute. Serenity, Now The Centene campus is targeting WELL Platinum certification focusing on the elements of air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community. Central to this goal is the nearly seamless connection between the indoors and outdoors throughout the campus. The site features walking trails, outdoor work and social spaces, and a fully equipped fitness center with weight and cardio equipment as well as private rooms for yoga and other classes. Beyond the ability to work exercise into the daily routine without a separate drive to the gym, the Centene campus allows employees to take advantage of the region’s mild climate and work outdoors in a variety of campus locations. The investment in full Wi-Fi and connectivity from every part of campus means that people can work as easily in the central courtyard or from a bench next to the pond as at an interior desk. Operable walls in many locations further blur the lines between indoors and out, and even fully enclosed interior spaces are designed for maximum daylight and views to nature. Better Together The real advantages of in-person work, of course, are collaboration and camaraderie. The design encourages both at all scales, from collaboration areas integrated throughout the campus to dedicated conferencing and Town Hall facilities. The onsite conference center is designed to be a great place for individuals to use as part of their daily work flows as well as large meetings and training events. Adjustable walls, adjacent breakout rooms, and phone booths create maximum flexibility for multifunctional uses. The Town Hall, showcased at the main entry, boasts a multifunctional auditorium with retractable stairs, and features one of the best views in the building. The double-height occupiable stair accommodates larger groups for all-hands meetings, but can also be configured with tables and chairs for work sessions or daily use. Designing for Cohesiveness On a one million SF campus with a robust assortment of amenities and program areas, the design team employed a variety of strategies to unify the campus. Biophilic elements such as a Voronoi-patterned moss wall in the central atrium and tessellated wood columns extending through multiple floors reference tree trunks and tree canopies, while a nature-inspired palette draws from blues and greens, organic textures and patterns, wood tones in the café area, and louver walls in the Town Hall. The multistory moss wall adds color and texture while serving as a wayfinding tool and a focal point; it also softens the spaces and provides acoustical properties to moderate background noise. Baffles throughout the campus continuously reinterpret materials and textures in different ways while providing acoustical control. The biophilic elements complement the “treehouse” aesthetic which draws from a sense of transparency and framed views to nature from almost every room. The materiality blends throughout the campus without feeling corporate or buttoned up; repeated elements shift and reappear but are not copied and pasted from one space to another. The food stalls required a unique set of materials for ease of cleaning and maintenance, so a variety of white and creamy tiles in an array of shades and textures lends a light and airy sensibility to each unique stall while maintaining a cohesive palette across all seven vendors. The furnishings also help to delineate and unify functions across the campus with a similar aesthetic, eclectic but with a cohesive palette and style. Soft seating, lounge furniture, and options accommodating both focus and collaboration are woven throughout the campus. The palette of the dining hall works with the palette of the fitness areas; the training facilities complement the workspaces; even the parking garage aesthetic echoes the materiality of the interior finishes to create a holistic design. With options to support every type of task and every type of worker, the campus design sets the tone for a new era of work: one which provides flexibility, accommodates the individual as well as the group, encourages innovation and collaboration, and far exceeds the amenities available from the couch at home. About Ariel, Patrick, Emma, and Keely Associate Principal Ariel Cohn, AIA, NCARB, CDT, WELL AP, began her professional career at LS3P after earning both a Master of Architecture from UNC-Charlotte and a Bachelor of Science in Interior Design from Appalachian State University. Her roles in the Interiors Studio cross many market sectors and client types including corporate, investment commercial, multi-family housing, faith-based, educational, and wellness/fitness facilities. A dedicated worker and great multi-tasker with a versatile skill set and positive attitude, Ariel has a keen eye for detail which is evident in her architectural modeling. She uses Revit software to capture and analyze design concepts, and accurately maintain coordinated design data throughout documentation and construction. Ariel brings enthusiasm and motivation to the Interiors team; she is a registered architect as of 2017 and obtained her contractor’s license to expand her industry experience and knowledge of the practice. Senior Associate Patrick Cooley has a passion for fine art and artistic expression that he brings to his design assignments. His early concepts explore ideas that meet the objectives of the client and quickly advance the project development. Patrick delivers his presentations in a lively, interesting way that spark spontaneity and engagement with the Owner. His interior architecture specialties include programming and space planning, detailing, and finishes selection. Prior to joining LS3P his work focused on hospitality/dining upfits, large sports venue renovations and comprehensive renovations of commercial buildings. He is experienced in all phases of design, project management and construction administration. Emma Edmondson, a recent graduate of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor of Architecture, is an Emerging Professional in LS3P’s Charlotte office. Her experience is primarily in the corporate commercial realm with a focus on interior architecture. Emma is passionate about the intersection of art and architecture, and served as editor for Studio Collective, Virginia Tech’s art and design publication. With a green thumb and a love of gardening and houseplants, Emma is dedicated to environmental activism and promoting green design. She also brings experience as an arts archivist, and helped to coordinate exhibitions in Paris and New York. Keely Haggar, a recent graduate of University of North Carolina at Charlotte with both a Bachelor of Architecture and a Master of Architecture, joined LS3P’s Charlotte office full-time in 2021. Keely’s previous experience as a summer intern at LS3P includes collaborative design, rendering, and interiors work for a major corporate headquarters campus project, and construction administration documentation for an Uptown high rise. Outside of the office, Keely’s design explorations encompass furniture building, acrylic painting, and both analog and digital drawing.