Danone North America Presents a New Way to Work

Mary Prenon | August 2018

The main hallway leading from the lobby is named Inspiration Drive and features a huge mural with the company’s tagline, “One Planet, One Health.”

What if you could wake up each morning and decide where you want to work that day? Your selections include New York, Denver, Barcelona, Paris, Montreal or Amsterdam. Well, employees of Danone North America are able to make that choice every day—their new 80,000-square-foot headquarters at The Source at White Plains (1 Maple Ave.) is divided into six international “neighborhoods” based on Danone’s worldwide office locations.

Not only can they choose their destination, but they can also choose their work stations—only 25% of its employees have assigned desks or offices. Each “neighborhood” offers an open floor plan with desks that convert from sitting to standing, desktop and laptop computers, and “soft phones” integrated with the computers to indicate when calls come in. There are 59 conference rooms scattered through the “neighborhoods,” as well as small offices that are available on an “as needed” basis.

From left; Michael Neuwirth, Senior Director, External Communications and Kim Cassano,, HR Organization Development Project Associate.

Kim Cassano, HR Organization Development Project Associate, played a major role in the company’s move from its former location at 100 Hillside Avenue, across from the Greenburgh Town Hall. “We had been there for about 12 years—we used to refer to that location as ‘the beast,’” she quipped.

The planning process began about two years ago, and one of the company’s main objectives in moving was to have everything on one floor. They also wanted plenty of parking for the company’s more than 350 headquarters’ employees, as well as a central location that was easy to access.

Relocating the nation’s 15th largest food and beverage firm was no easy task. It required the expertise of Jones Lang LaSalle commercial real estate brokers, with offices in White Plains, Stamford, CT and Manhattan, as well as CPG Architects and Pavarini Construction, both located in Stamford, CT. Herman Miller, noted modern furniture retailer, provided the office fixtures.

“In addition, we got all of our employees involved,” said Cassano, whose job title also included “Project Oz Team Core Member,” a witty referral to the Land of Oz from the renowned movie. “We started out with brainstorming sessions, then met with small focus groups, followed by larger groups and ended with voting. We wanted everyone to feel like we built this house together.”

Michael Neuwirth, senior director, external communications, said Danone had incorporated the “open office” model about 10 years ago. “This concept stimulates conversation between various departments” he explained. “The fewer walls, the better.”

The main hallway leading from the lobby is named “Inspiration Drive” and features a huge mural with the company’s tagline, “One Planet, One Health.” Emanating from there are crossroads to other “neighborhoods,” along with various nooks and crannies offering tables and chairs for impromptu meetings or even bean bag chairs.

Cafeteria

A mountainous group of risers by the cafeteria is also a popular work spot, as are the sofas and chairs situated throughout the building. Employees can take their coffee breaks or lunch at any time, and there are food stations stockpiled with yogurt and other healthy snacks in every “neighborhood.”

Another big difference from the traditional office is the lack of printers and trash cans at every desk. “We have one printer for each neighborhood, so it cuts down on the paper usage,” said Neuwirth. “As for the trash cans, we found if you have them you just make more garbage.” Instead, there are centralized waste and recycling centers.

Clean desks are also encouraged. Lockers are available for coats, purses and other belongings, and employees keep images of loved ones or pets on their screensavers in place of desk photos.

“It was an adjustment, but everyone seems to love the open space. Some say it’s surreal or very ‘Google-esque’” said Cassano. “The focus is all about how the individual wants to work.”

It’s also rare to find anyone dressed in suits or other typical business attire, and it’s unlikely you’ll hear the clacking of high heels going down “Inspiration Drive.” The dress code at Danone is very casual. “We want people to feel comfortable coming to work,” added Cassano.

Adding to that comfort zone is the company’s Wellness Area, which includes two “Mothers Rooms” for new moms to relax, plus a Recharge Room and Zen room, both designed for meditation or relaxation with a “zero-gravity wellness chair.”

“One of our employees recently had dental work done and wasn’t feeling well, so this was the perfect place for a ‘time out,’” explained Cassano. The rooms are booked in advance for half-hour sessions.

Work space

Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics in California, believes open office plans will continue to be a popular trend in the future. Global Workplace Analytics helps organizations and communities understand how new ways of working can impact people, the planet, and profits.

“A recent study indicated that 50% to 60% of people in the workplace are not at their desks regularly,” said Lister. The study included the banking, finance, healthcare, insurance and many other industries. “It found that for the majority of time, people are in conferences, meeting with customers or working remotely.”

What motivates employers to initiate these workplace changes, Lister notes, is a combination of saving money and being able to attract and retain employees. “Younger people especially expect to be more mobile, they want to be trusted and they want to work in a place that gives them flexibility,” she said. “People are 10 to 15 times more costly than the buildings they occupy. So, if they lose time during the day because they can’t work well in an environment, it offsets the gain you think you had.”

Another continuing trend that Global Workplace Analytics is following is “activity-based work,” which is built around individual and team tasks. “Throughout the day, people are doing different kinds of work, so it stands to reason they probably shouldn’t be sitting in just one place all day,” said Lister.

The Danone office has already incorporated this “activity-based workplace,” and has identified five activity modes:

Focus: Individual work devoted to a particular task or project;

Partner: Activity or conversation with another individual to achieve common goals;

Collaborate: Working with another person or group in person/via technology to achieve a common goal;

Socialize: Interactions that create trust, share values and build productive relationships; and

Learn: Acquiring or developing through combined learning activities.

To help employees recognize the various areas, Cassano has developed “activity mode” coasters that are placed on tables and desks throughout the facility.

Quiet Car lounge area

Contributing to the whole “open feeling” throughout the building are high ceilings with soft lighting. The ceilings are also coated to reduce noise and control the temperature. In addition, there’s a large lounge area known as the “Quiet Car” that serves as a conversation-free area for quiet reflections.

“People need a place to relax and get away,” added Lister. “Brain research shows that part of the creative process requires that kind of ‘Zen time.’ Employers need to pay more attention to how to optimize human behavior and performance.”

Many of Danone’s White Plains employees commute to work by car, while others rely on buses or trains. The company provides daily shuttle service to and from the White Plains Metro-North station.

Today, the Danone North America team is comprised of some 6,000 people with offices the U.S. and Canada and more than 15 manufacturing facilities across North America. The company is also committed to community outreach and designates a month when employee teams go out into the local communities to volunteer their services to various causes or non-profit organizations.

In-house, the company’s Inclusion Council helps to foster a diverse culture and has initiated a variety of employee resource groups. In addition, Danone offers ongoing professional development opportunities for employees.

Danone North America is a subsidiary of Danone, a French multinational food products corporation based in Paris and founded in Barcelona, Spain. Danone North America’s brands include: Dannon®, Silk®, So Delicious®, Horizon®, Vega®, Wallaby®, Earthbound Farm®, International Delight®, Activia®, DanActive®, Danimals® Danino®, Light & Fit® and Oikos®.

So, what does the future of office work look like? “There are some firms now where even the CEO doesn’t have an assigned desk,” said Lister. She also described a firm in the Netherlands that is so technologically-advanced that it coordinates with your navigation system to direct you to a parking spot, automatically adjusts the temperature in your work space, and its kitchen even remembers the type of coffee you like. “I think that’s just a bit ‘Big Brother’ for us here in the U.S. now, but who knows, it may be coming soon,” Lister said.

Editor’s Note: The Westchester County IDA granted approximately $1.273 million in incentives for the project that involved Danone’s headquarters relocation from Greenburgh to Downtown White Plains that the company estimated would cost more than $30 million to complete.

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications