As the seven-floor, 75,000-square-foot headquarters of Gate City Bank’s 35 branches, the Downtown Fargo location is not your typical banking office. Built in 1956, the building still shows its age in a few places, but as Senior Vice President & Office Services Manager Jay Krabbenhoft and architect Andrew Koedam showed us, the bank has made a committed effort over the past 10 years to redesigning each floor with employee well being and productivity in mind above all else.
*Wild | CRG is an independent architecture, design and construction management firm whose Fargo office is housed in Gate City’s downtown building. Koedam works directly with Krabbenhoft on all things design with the bank.
Beginning in 2007 and lasting the better part of two years, the redesign of the first floor was aimed at not only incorporating more contemporary furnishings into the space but also emphasizing a view of the street on the north side of the building.
Krabbenhoft: “We knew we wanted to embrace Second Avenue. When we talked about the remodel, the city had talked to us about Second Avenue being more of a conduit to the river and said, ‘This is going to be an even busier street than it is already.’ And we’ve seen that.”
If you’ve ever been in a Gate City branch before, you know it’s like walking into grandma’s kitchen. The smell of fresh-baked cookies fills the air, which Krabbenhoft says is not only a nice perk for bank goers but is a part of the larger customer experience.
To mirror a larger goal of increased transparency among Gate City employees and operations, many first-floor walls were replaced with glass, which allows employees to enjoy a better sense of what’s going on behind “closed doors,” Krabbenhoft says.
Whether it’s an executive meeting, a training session, or a video call with another Gate City branch, employees and customers alike now get to see more of the day-to-day than they ever could before.
Second floor, which was constructed in what used to be empty, volumetric space, according to Koedam, is evidence of Gate City’s past. Though by no means old-fashioned, there remain remnants of less efficient and less interactive times.
One example of design inefficiency is the 250-square-foot single-person offices that line the north wall.
Krabbenhoft: “The (second floor) offices are very traditional in nature. There’s lots of filing, you’ve got power seats – so you have a supervisor and, of course, when she talks to her subordinates, they would sit across from her. These are large rooms.
“We did the studies and systematically discovered that about 55 percent of all private offices are empty at all times. That’s a huge amount of square footage that is wasted. As we go to other floors, you’ll see how we’ve tried to utilize that square footage and make it more usable and multi-functional.
“If this is John Doe’s office, you and I wouldn’t use it. We wouldn’t go in there and make a phone call. We wouldn’t sit in there and have a meeting. This is Kevin’s office. And that’s a lot of square footage that’s dedicated to him. And that’s expense.”
On the south side of the second floor, six-foot cubicles line the mezzanine. The high-walled units are in direct contrast to the open concept floor plans on some of the upper floors of the building and a reminder of the days when employee interaction wasn’t as encouraged.
Krabbenhoft also points out that the second floor is home to the most printers per capita in the building. Where on the floors that have undergone more drastic redesigns there are only a handful of centralized printers and many second floor workers have personal printers at their desks.
Krabbenhoft: “I hate to use the word ‘difficult,’ but we made it harder to walk over and print something. We print more efficiently now.”
It would be surprising if there are nicer custodial closets in town than Gate City’s, and that’s no accident, according to Koedam.
Koedam: “We recognize that everyone from the janitor to the CEO needs to do their job and do it correctly. And by providing them the proper tools to do their job, it makes the whole building better. It makes the company better. It makes everything better. It’s very democratic. All employees have a nice place to work.”
Probably the best view in the entire building belongs to the call center. With expansive, ceiling-height windows that look south over Downtown Fargo, call center workers get to enjoy ample natural light and a working experience that, as Krabbenhoft puts it, hopefully makes up for occasionally unpleasant interactions with frustrated customers.
Krabbenhoft: “How can I word this? People don’t necessarily call the bank to say, ‘I’m having a great day’ or ‘I’m happy to be calling you.’ This is a stressful job. So we did a lot of research on what we could do to make this as positive a facilities experience as possible for these folks. And at the same time still meeting the bank’s expectations to maximize square footage.”
While both the call center and main office area on the third floor were ultimately redesigned as open concept spaces, the decision was not without some initial apprehension. Doubling the number of employees on the floor from 40 to 80 and all but removing the walls and cubicles had both Krabbenhoft and Koedam concerned that noise pollution would become a real issue. That is until they let human psychology take over.
Koedam: “We did our research and toured a few different facilities. We went to a call center that had 400 people in it, I started talking, and I was the loudest person in there and talking over everybody. It’s amazing how people adapt.
“There are 80 people on this floor and you just think, ‘Wow,’ with how quiet it is. There were some nerves among the employees. We met with them beforehand explaining how it works, trying to ease the tension, which worked out really well.”
Krabbenhoft: “It’s all about communication. You can get buy-in on a project if you do it in stages, right from the very beginning. Including our architect in the bank’s culture is very helpful for him to understand how to build it for us.”
In direct contrast to the large, often empty managerial offices on second floor, their third floor equivalents have been updated to reflect the themes of transparency, multi-functionality and efficiency that Krabbenhoft and Koedam preach repeatedly throughout the tour.
Krabbenhoft: “The people in these offices are at the same level, status-wise, as the ones downstairs, but these offices are greater than half the size of the ones downstairs. This is about one hundred square feet. There’s limited filing because you just don’t need it. And notice the chair off to the side. If we were going to have a meeting, we’d go out to a collaborative work area. (The power structure) is just not that way anymore. We would sit one-on-one. It breaks down barriers in a positive way.”
On the executive sixth floor, you’re greeted by one of a handful of open meeting areas throughout the building. Krabbenhoft says that in addition to the spaces helping reduce square footage costs by being multifunctional, they serve another, more subtle purpose for younger employees.
Krabbenhoft: “Say you and I are new workers. We can see, ‘Oh, this is how a meeting goes.’ We all understand how a meeting works, but the youngsters might not know exactly. And they can kind of glean that from watching.”
All Gate City employees are able to hold meetings in any conference room throughout the building – even Gate City President Steve Swiontek’s personal office – as long as they schedule it using one of a number of tablets mounted throughout the space.
In what’s already become something of a tradition, no “Office Vibes” article would be complete without a look at the bathrooms. Like all of those before them, Krabbenhoft and Koedam say theirs are the best in town, and while we won’t make a judgment on that, we will say Gate City’s are the first we’ve seen with TVs and personal shoe buffers.
Fast Facts: Sixth Floor Renovation
- A generator was brought in to power the saw that was used to cut the opening in the south exterior wall, as the building could not provide the necessary power.
- More than 4,000 pounds of steel was installed at the south windows to support the existing wall above.
- Nearly 100,000 square inches of glass was installed on the south elevation of the building to harvest natural sunlight.
- More than eight miles of wire is installed on the sixth floor alone.
- The level of security throughout sixth floor is the equivalent of One World Trade Center in New York.
Gate City Bank
500 2nd Ave. N, Fargo
Wild | CRG
500 2nd Ave. N. Ste. 514, Fargo