Tracing its roots back to 1897, CNA Financial is one of the largest commercial insurers in the U.S., providing services to businesses and professionals globally. Since 1973, its headquarters have occupied an iconic Chicago Loop tower. The move in 2018 to a nearby, new 35-story tower enabled them to take advantage of new infrastructure, efficiencies, and the ability to effect changes in their workplace, leading to a cultural transition from hierarchy and traditional work modes to a collaborative, brand inspired, state-of-the-art environment that will take CNA into the future.
A common dilemma for many established companies, the majority of employees were comfortable in their stable environment within cubicles and offices, and not looking for change. However, leadership saw change as an agent to increase recruiting, employee engagement, and productivity, as well as deliver optimal workspace to shed unnecessary square footage. As part of the design team’s workplace strategy services, the team met with key executives, led workplace workshops, and analyzed badge swipe data, workforce demographics, and conference utilization to identify a new workplace vision.
Moving beyond flexibility, CNA implemented a hackable work environment that equips both individuals and teams with the choice to continuously reinvent their work experience and modify a particular space in a moment's notice. This allows CNA to keep up with the speed of business and create the ideal environment for innovative ideas to thrive.
A primary workstation and private office solution and size was developed to accommodate multiple workstyles and needs while also helping to shift the culture to become more transparent and connected. By reducing private office and workstation sizes, with less private office allocations, the amount of shared space was increased by 25%, allowing for more collaborative and community space types, including the introduction of huddle and phone rooms, work café’s and quiet zones. Overall, CNA’s real estate requirement was reduced by 60%.
In a hackable work environment, acoustics is a critical factor. A complex sound masking system, layered at the ceiling, provides the acoustic control critical in the new, more collaborative environment, and the use of primary and secondary circulation paths helps minimize distractions and disruptions. Amenities emphasize technology, with the inclusion of scheduling systems, large scale monitor arrays, and sophisticated audiovisual installations.
Throughout the design and construction process, the team partnered with CNA’s real estate and communication teams to develop a change management strategy to ensure engagement through the transition to new workstyles, protocols, and processes while supporting a cultural shift. Primarily delivered through CNA’s internal website, including a video that “walks” around a typical floor, these communications helped employees better understand the look, feel, and function of the new space. A mock-up “pilot” event was also held for employees, providing an opportunity to experience the new space firsthand. Other tools included targeted information sessions and a welcome kit for move-in day.
The new headquarters’ design is sophisticated, sleek, detailed, and geared for convenience and action, with choice, collaboration, and community as key drivers. The design pulls inspiration from the established CNA logo by transforming the two-dimensional, canted text into dynamic architectural massing, ceilings, screens, materials, furniture, and graphics. The simple, 70 degree logo cant was reinterpreted into a series of complex pattern studies, which were then thoughtfully infused into both large and small gestures throughout the space. As a result, the logo inspired patterns embedded in the project’s finishes and architecture creates a branded environment completely unique to CNA’s new headquarters. From table legs to ceilings and walls, the complex patterns were reimagined into a broad range of custom forms and finishes, including custom felt graphics, 3D carved wall panels, etched glass, and architectural millwork screens and benches.
Upon entering the typical floor, the logo-to-pattern translation is featured in architectural reveals and subtle changes in materials. The floor transitions carry your eye to the two feature walls at either end of the lobby. Graphic architectural screens create a sense of separation from the pantry zone to the open office while a custom bench bridges the canted architecture and screens. Three custom wall panel products accent the collaboration areas throughout the space—two laser-cut PET felt boards and a third with 3D-carved adhesive backed PET tiles—creating an open breakout zone for impromptu meetings. Logo-inspired jacquard weave wallcoverings are also featured in the private offices, huddle rooms, conference center, and executive floor.
The multi-use conference room corridor is divisible into zones that accommodate a variety of functions. Each zone is highlighted by a screening element that ties into the floor and ceiling design. The screens are framed, custom etched glass illuminated with an embedded LED in the frame. Throughout the project, custom tables add a subtle nod to the logo cant through table top shapes and leg designs. The boardroom table was custom designed with embedded microphones, speakers, and an ideal viewing angle for presentations.
The result is an environment that empowers employees with choices, an increased sense of community, greater connection to CNA’s culture and brand, and flexibility to adapt to changes over time. "This move is about much more than where we are located or a new building — it is about a workspace that enables and encourages collaboration across all functions and dimensions," said Dino E. Robusto, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CNA.