If you ask Tom Kulzer why he decided to include not just one slide but two in the new headquarters for his e-mail marketing software company, AWeber Communications, he turns the question back on you: “Why not?” Everybody loves going down slides, they’re a greener alternative to elevators, and they’re quicker than taking the stairs. Okay, they only go one way, but ultimately, slides are just plain fun. Even Kulzer’s 87-year-old grandpa has taken a ride.
Most designers are well aware of the phenomenon of the “fun” office, blurring the lines between work and play with amenities we didn’t put in offices 10 years ago. When Kulzer decided to move his company out of its old office space, which no longer met AWeber’s climate-control needs, he saw an opportunity to create a space that was more comfortable and reflective of the company’s core values—collaboration, innovation, sustainability, and fun.
A far cry from the company’s 1998 beginnings in Kulzer’s two-bedroom apartment, the 71,000-square-foot facility serves as the foundation for the company’s culture and employees. The new headquarters is a renovation of an old DaimlerChrysler building in Chalfont, Pennsylvania, one hour outside Philadelphia. AWeber opened the space by adding a light-filled atrium, and now when guests enter, they are met with two giant slides—one white and one blue—a large living wall by GSky Plant Systems, and a two-story rain curtain. With this initial space, the tone is set immediately; the lobby alone hits on all four of AWeber’s core values.
“People don’t get excited about buildings; they get excited about working together,” Kulzer says. “It’s about the team coming together and being able to smile and help others around the world.” This people-based approach manifests itself in a facility that allows collaboration in all its workspaces. The office has flexible, mobile workstations with equipment and furniture that allow desks, chairs, and computers to be mixed and matched with other spaces. AWeber recently had to affix name badge signs to everyone’s desks because they would become lost from moving around so often, making dropping packages or memos to a desk nearly impossible. The office also includes 3,500 square feet of writable wall surface and numerous informal gathering spaces, allowing inspiration and creativity to take hold at any moment. Kulzer himself works in an open workstation identical to the other team members, creating a more interesting and accessible space.
All these interactive aspects can be seen as just added “fun” elements, but Kulzer says he believes they create a better, more efficient workplace. “A building is just a tool to bring people together,” Kulzer says. “When it’s properly designed and thought out, the office gets out of the way and melts into the background.”
Compared to its old building, AWeber went well beyond simple temperature-control technologies to make the building work for its employees with sustainable features. This includes more than 2,000 plants in the 20-foot-tall biowall, which increases the building’s oxygen levels and air quality. Daylighting strategies and shading reduce energy consumption and maintain a well-lit workspace. These features—combined with an advanced building management system, which monitors more than 50,000 points in the building every 15 seconds—ensures optimal working conditions at all times. The company is also devoted to creating a culture of sustainability through recycling. Mike Flanagan, AWeber’s senior facilities manager, has already expanded the building’s recycling bin from four to eight yards long. Even the drinking water is handled thoughtfully—with reusable company-branded cups and straws and four bottle-filling stations around the building that dispensed enough water in the first year to fill approximately 16,000 bottles.
To give employees a chance to socialize in the natural workday flow, AWeber incorporated an on-site restaurant that employs three full-time chefs who provide dinner-quality meals made from organic and locally sourced ingredients. The only downside is that new employees have to fight the “AWeber 20,” as the potential weight gain has been dubbed by employees. AWeber’s core values aren’t just about having fun—they’re about not taking life too seriously. A volleyball court, yoga rooms, and gym areas promote healthful lifestyles, and classic arcade games, two soundproof theaters, video game consoles, and ping pong tables give employees an outlet to unwind.
“Frankly, when I walk in here sometimes I get that ‘wow’ feeling,” Kulzer says. “I walk around and think, ‘It’s pretty cool that I get to work here every day.’ And I think that excitement translates to the team and their work—it all works together.”