Pharmaceutical companies may be in the business of developing drugs, but they’ve innovated something else over the last decade as well: workplaces designed to enhance collaboration and speed decision-making. Their open environments became a tool to support any number of drivers (other than the obvious reining in of footprint) including the process of bringing products to market.

And now, as architects and designers who work in this sector, we seem to be at another pivotal moment with our life sciences clients. We’re seeing a growing number of them go back at it, seeking to define Fast Workplace 2.0. They’re integrating lots of technologies (some of it leading edge stuff; more of it “standard” IT used more abundantly and more creatively) into their open campuses to make their bricks and mortar even more nimble, even more connected, and all in support of better communication and faster decision-making.

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s ground-up campus in Lawrence Township, N.J. Image: (c) Connie Zhou, courtesy of Gensler

Take Bristol-Myers Squibb, for instance, and its ground-up Princeton Pike campus in Lawrence Township, N.J., which was designed by Gensler. Walls came down—or never went up—at this new 650,000 sf campus, which opened late last year and comprises four buildings connected by a four-story atrium where bridges and a grand stair circulate people quickly. We helped BMS calculate walk times between floors and buildings at a previous campus to make sure employees (who now sit in neighborhoods, not cubicles or offices) could easily and quickly get to any location to meet with colleagues at this new campus.

But the bigger story here is the co-location story. The new Princeton Pike campus logically co-locates 2,100 BMS employees who have reason to work together and who were previously spread out over five campuses. And supporting the easier, quicker access—not to mention car rides not taken—and this newfound potential for impromptu face time with colleagues over coffee, is an array of technology brought onboard to make “sharing information, quicker,” as Mitchell Weitz, head, workplace services for BMS, explains it.

The campus has digital signage—multiple monitors on every floor of every building to expedite the sharing of neighborhood, corporate and site content. We designed several big-and-bigger video walls, including the 7-by-24-ft. one in the atrium where roughly 1,000 employees can gather for town hall meetings that can be broadcast globally. Meeting rooms are equipped with a variety of collaboration tools. The smallest meeting spaces have scheduling devices outside their doors, enabling employees to immediately/visually determine if one of these rooms is available. And all of this is set against a backdrop of a more robust Wi-Fi, which extends to outdoor spaces including the patio and volleyball court; boosted cell phone service, even in the basement; and on-demand tech help in the form of an IT Concierge room that works like an Apple Genius Bar.

Gensler designed Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Princeton Pike campus in New Jersey. Image: (c) Connie Zhou, courtesy of Gensler

“We wanted to be less old pharma and more biopharma or biotech,” says Weitz. “We wanted to break the physical and logical barriers to getting work done.” “Fast” is a big deal in the pharma world. It takes at least 10 years to bring a single drug to market at an average cost of around $2.5 billion to develop it and gain marketing approval, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. That cost has more than doubled in the past decade. Using the workplace to speed that process is smart. And for many of these life sciences companies, a faster workplace is also a more dynamic place to be and can be used to retain and recruit talent. 

“There’s a whole bunch of drivers for us,” says Jon Sheh, Johnson & Johnson’s director of workplace experience for the Americas, referencing the company’s push to turn its workplaces across the globe into mobile environments. J&J employees get to choose where they work both onsite (within their assigned neighborhood, their choice of activity-based desking solution) and off campus (when appropriate). Supporting that concept of people-in-motion-with-laptops is a well-curated arsenal of devices and technology: universal docking stations; softphones; pull printing; HotSpot Printing; virtual collaboration rooms; Bright Red Kiosks, which is J&J’s version of the walk-up, tech support center. 

“Speed of decision making is a really, really powerful point for us, and we can certainly see the impact of reducing emails, increasing face-to-face conversations, actually seeing people and quickly dealing with an issue rather than scheduling a formal meeting,” says Sheh. Having great spaces supported by great technology “certainly drives faster decisions.”

GlaxoSmithKline’s new North American headquarters in Warren, N.J. Image: Courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline

It drives a couple other J&J objectives as well. “Being the healthiest workforce on the planet by 2020” is among them, says Sheh, noting the ergonomic benefits of moving around. So is being a more socially-connected workplace, says Sheh, noting its resonance with Millennials.

And then there’s GSK, an early pioneer of the “fast” workplace where employees can choose from a range of collaborative and quiet spaces. Over the last decade, it has turned roughly 1 million square feet of global workplace into SMART Working, its brand of agile working, and introduced an escalating array of technology that helps untether people from their desks and promote more fluid collaboration. Among those technologies: full-blown videoconferencing rooms and desktop videoconferencing phones “that turn any meeting room into an instant videoconference room,” explains Ray Milora, head of workplace design and change management for GSK’s global research and development.

With the opening last year of its new North American headquarters for Consumer Healthcare in Warren, N.J., GSK has upped its own game. It gathered employees from three buildings into this one facility and added three labs “linked to each other that enable us to speed development of our products and our research with consumers, experts, and our shoppers,” says Colin MacKenzie, region head, Americas at GSK Consumer Healthcare, in a YouTube video.

Along with a SMART Lab for research and development (equipped with rapid prototyping tools, among other technologies), there’s a Consumer Sensory Lab that allows GSK to bring consumers in to observe how they use and respond to GSK products and a Shopper Science Lab that delivers a quasi-virtual reality shopping experience.

What’s next for the fast workplace? More and better change management including “hand-holding” with the new technologies as they’re brought on board, says Sheh at J&J. “If people don’t start using the technology to work the bugs out in the first two weeks, they’ll just put the technology aside.”

Milora at GSK believes it could be something more surprising: less focus on technology and more focus on “human nature.” A variety of work settings for people to gather around and talk. Fewer walls to allow views to the outdoors and daylight to stream in, which improves people’s mood and ability to concentrate and enhances collaboration. Outside spaces and access to nature—all the things we desire at home and throughout our day, brought to the workplace.

“The technology is there, and it’s supporting all that we do, but this non-tech stuff is just as important, if not more,” says Milora. “We’re re-enabling people to simply connect.”

Brenda Nyce-Taylor, IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, is Firmwide Sciences Practice Area Leader, Managing Director, Principal with Gensler in Morristown, N.J. Brenda brings extensive experience with clients in the pharmaceutical and consumer products industries. She is a collaborative leader with emphasis on the conceptualization of workplace projects, and she has deep expertise in the New Jersey suburban real estate market. She has designed numerous suburban corporate headquarters interiors with an inside-out approach, maximizing the impact of amenity spaces to aid in recruiting and retaining talent. Brenda is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and the International Interior Design Association. She was recognized by NJBiz as one of the Best 50 Women in Business in 2011.