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Unilever Unveils Consolidated North American HQ in Englewood Cliffs

'Marketplace' Designed to Save Energy, Foster Collaboration
May 8, 2018

Ian Dunning (right), Unilever's North American workplace director, talks about the smoothie bar at the consumer-product's revamped and consolidated headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.
Credit: Linda Moss for CoStar Group

There is an elaborate cafeteria with dozens of choices, healthy and locally sourced food, as well as a separate tea station, an ice cream parlor and a smoothie bar, which is a big hit with millennials.

In addition to the full fitness center, there are wellness rooms where one can do light exercise, stretch, meditate or pray. Employees can stop by the hair salon for a cut or blowout, and drop off dry cleaning on the way there. New moms can go to private "mother rooms," where hospital-grade breast pumps are available to them.

With all that, the newly-renovated North American headquarters of Unilever, the global consumer-products giant, is missing only one thing: offices.

On Tuesday, company officials emphasized that point, the fact that not even their president has an office or an assigned desk at what they are calling the Unilever Marketplace, the revamped and consolidated headquarters on Sylvan Avenue in Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

"We have no offices in the entire building," said Ian Dunning, Unilever’s North American workplace director. "Nobody owns anything and everybody shares everything."

Unilever and officials from some of the firms that worked on the renovation project made their remarks during a media tour of the company’s North American base, which is located just north of the entrance to the George Washington Bridge on New Jersey’s Palisades.

Unilever – with brands that include Ben & Jerrys ice cream, Lipton tea, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Dove – said that extensive work at the headquarters campus has resulted in one of East Coast’s most sustainable and technologically-advanced smart buildings, one that is designed to foster interaction and collaboration among employees.

Amenities such as the hair salon, tea station and ice cream parlor, as well as a company store, allow Unilever to showcase its brands and also foster interaction, Dunning said. The salon, for example, uses TIGI, a line of Unilever professional haircare products.

In 2014, Unilever announced "Project Unify," a plan to merge five of its North American offices and several of its operating groups into a single workplace, at 700 Sylvan Ave. The headquarters went from five buildings with about 800,000 square feet to two buildings with roughly 441,000 square feet, about a 40 percent reduction, according to Dunning. As part of the process, four of the main buildings were connected together, all linked to what was once an outdoor courtyard but was covered and made into a large atrium or indoor plaza.

The partners on the renovation phase of the project, which took two years to complete, were architect Perkins+Will, developers OVG Real Estate and Normandy Real Estate and broker Cushman & Wakefield.

Unilever declined to comment on the cost of the renovations, but said they will ultimately result in an overall 20 percent operating cost reduction.

Before the consolidation, there were 14 entrances/exits at Unilever’s headquarters, meaning that employees could go from the parking lot to their office and only see a handful of their colleagues on any given day, according to Dunning. Now there are only three entrances, all secured and requiring keycards to get in.

There was a "broad blend" of purposes for renovation, Dunning said.

"The top-line driver is about business efficiency," he said. "And what we were struggling with and suffering with was this very disjointed business. We were spread over multiple buildings, people were just so disconnected. Literally, people would see just three people a day. A big driver was we needed to be more connected. We needed to bring people together. We need to ramp the energy up."

In addition, Unilever wanted to do a better job of keeping and attracting employees, like millennials that are increasingly entering the workforce, according to Dunning.

"We were losing talent because people found the workplace was a real drain on the energy," he said. "It’s definitely helped us on the recruitment side. And we’ve actually seen our loss rates reduced over the last 12 months."

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Unilever, which has roughly 1,800 workers in Englewood Cliffs, was also looking to slash its energy costs, and it is seeking Platinum LEED certification for the revamped headquarters. The facility is now using advanced smart technologies, including 15,000 sensors that measure temperature, occupancy, daylight and pinpoint employees' locations. Based on that data, features such as the heat and air conditioning can be adjusted in different parts of the building accordingly.

"We can actually see how the building is performing at any point in time," Dunning said.

Unilever’s employees and executives don’t have desks or offices, but they have assigned work areas and lockers, according to Dunning. For example, there are designated spaces, "neighborhoods," for executives and the various Unilever teams, he said.

"People know where they come to in a building, they know which floor they work on, which area they work in, but then they can use two difference desks on different days," Dunning said.

There are also silent rooms on each floor and phone booths, which don’t have phones, he said.

Business-related calls are conducted on Skype, and the booths allow employees to have phone conversations without distracting their colleagues, according to Dunning. Various-sized conference rooms are sprinkled throughout the headquarters.

Employees also have the option of using an app to locate their colleagues within the headquarters, to book rooms and to control lighting.

"The big win here was actually bringing people together and creating a space they can really collaborate in: Get away from locking people down to a single desk, free them up to use the space when they need to use it and how they need to use it, give them the more modern facilities they wanted, improve the IT and the technology that they’re using," Dunning said.

Linda Moss, Northern New Jersey Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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