BREAKING THE MOLD:
MANULIFE’S DYNAMIC APPROACH
FOR THE FUTURE OF WORK
Manulife’s renovation of their piano-shaped office in Waterloo was more than a building overhaul.
It was an opportunity to entirely reshape how they work.
In 2018, Manulife had made the decision to consolidate their teams in Kitchener-Waterloo into their existing
330,000-square-foot building on King Street. This project afforded Manulife an opportunity to completely
transform their offices into an environment more conducive to collaboration and innovation. As such, when
the COVID-19 pandemic set in and companies around the world became more concerned by how they were
going to encourage employees to return to the office, Manulife found themselves way ahead in the race to
attract and retain the best talent.
“Our workplace transformation was well-timed with the pandemic, which forced companies to make
significant changes, much like the ones we’d already mapped out for our new office,” observes Michael
Miceli, Manulife’s AVP and Managing Director, Corporate Real Estate. “At the outset, we focused on making
our employee experience more positive and productive by upgrading our mechanical systems; introducing
more fresh air, touchless door operations, traffic calming and a turning circle that eases employee drop-offs.”
“We’re seeing workplace design more and more influenced by hospitality and even retail design. Those who
work in retail and hospitality think of space as a ‘service’ to their customers. We’re now seeing these same
principles being applied to an employee’s connection to the workplace,” says Figure3 Principal Eric Yorath.
“It’s not just amenities but services that will attract employees back to an office. And this is the direction
Manulife is heading.”
“Our workplace transformation was well-timed
with the pandemic, which forced companies
to make significant changes, much like the ones
we’d already mapped out for our new office.”
/ Michael Miceli. AVP and Managing Director, Corporate Real Estate, Canada at Manulife Financial
Figure3 developed a master plan to shift Manulife from an assigned workstation culture to an activity-based
model, an entirely different way of working. This thoughtfully executed environment reinforces
to each team member the vital part they play in contributing to the whole by providing a kinetic,
user-centric experience where they get to choose how and where to do their best work.
The space also encourages movement with convenient, practical destination points throughout
(which build natural opportunities to stop and engage with co-workers), and a balance of social and quiet
spaces to promote emotional well-being.
“The intent was to link Manulife’s mission and values with a new approach to “service” that was
personal and would resonate with the individuals that would be occupying it,” says Jennifer Tinson, Creative
Director, Workplace, Figure3. “The layout along with the ‘look and feel’ needed to represent Manulife visually
and experientially while remaining consistent across all Manulife facilities. We developed standards to allow
the flexibility necessary to accommodate the range of buildings, settings and conditions that exist in the
Manulife portfolio, integrating dynamic, brand-aligned features and elements that could be modified
The lobby offers a powerful first impression, setting the tone for a positive visitor and employee experience
that continues at touch points along natural paths of travel across these large floors. Familiar brand icons
and colour references are purposefully articulated throughout the space, with carefully placed walls of
greenery offering a nod to the outside environment from the expansive window views.
Amenities are a huge draw for employees, but work flexibility will be just as important in a world transformed
by COVID-19. When they return to the office, Manulife teams will be able to work in a hybrid arrangement –
partially from home and partially in the office – and can choose the space to suit the activities required for
that particular work day. “Other employers are trying to get their buildings up to the same type of standard,
and we have already built it,” notes Mark Thompson, Manulife Corporate Real Estate Director.
“We are already there.”
Space functions are clear and travel paths intuitive, dividing the floors into manageable and navigable
neighbourhoods that balance active dynamic zones in which to work, collaborate and socialize, and quiet
places to focus and re-energize. Senior management are located in and amongst staff with meeting spaces
and alcoves in proximity to allow for more visibility of fellow staff.
The conference centre offers a lounge for client or internal functions, and three 24-person meeting rooms
with retractable ceiling partitions can accommodate theatre-style seating for up to 200. The generous caf
is an office hub with direct access to an outdoor terrace that’s a setting for dining, socializing, and a wide
range of staff activities. The wellness centre includes locker and shower facilities, multipurpose rooms,
reflection rooms and a refreshment lounge adjacent to an arrival point, with plenty of bike storage.
“It’s been an amazing undertaking where the architect, the designers, the business representatives and
our team all played critical roles in its success, striking a balance between interests,” observes Miceli. “And in
the end, we moved mountains together. Figure3 provided the connection between all aspects of the
transformation that we wanted to achieve, as well as the necessary ingredients to prepare our
3,400 employees in Kitchener-Waterloo for our new way of working.”
A study in how design and change management can effectively work together, Manulife’s new workplace
is bold, lively, and engaging, and has been met with enthusiasm from staff. This transformative shift in the
work experience will serve to establish the Manulife standard for their facilities around the world.