AARP Headquarters

Mission: Open Work Environments

At AARP’s headquarters in the nation’s capital, the nonprofit that advocates for Americans over 50 called for a major do-over of its offices. The organization that works to redefine aging would also redefine how its staff work together and share ideas.

In one of its Washington, D.C., buildings, two floors would be taken down to their primary support walls in the first step of a complete renovation. Those areas would soon become examples of the modern collaboration work space. And AARP turned to AVI-SPL for its design, engineering, and integration experience to realize its goals.

“We envisioned open and flowing work environments, and high-tech collaborative areas,” says Mat Burgess, AARP’s senior adviser of business conferencing services.

Images provided by Hoachlander Davis Photography

Action: Remake Two Floors

Those environments took shape as AVI-SPL’s engineers and technicians took a lead role integrating AV and collaboration systems in dozens of new team rooms and larger collaboration areas. Spaces would include technology from the industry’s leading lights, including Polycom (video collaboration), Biamp (audio), Chief (wall mounts), Crestron (digital media), NEC (displays), and Shure (microphones).

Najeeb Uddin, AARP’s VP of engineering transformation, took the lead role in sharing the company’s goals and the kind of capabilities it wanted.

“Najeeb was pretty insightful as to what he wanted and gave a lot of input,” says Barry Ruhlman, AVI-SPL project manager.

An entire floor would become Life Reimagined – a space that had been housed in another of AARP’s offices a few blocks away. In its former home, Life Reimagined was a traditional layout of cubicles and private offices. Bringing the area into the revamped headquarters would see a radical transformation, one that would better fit the lofty designation of an area dedicated to thinking in new ways about life after 50.

The new Life Reimagined space includes 25 team rooms (many with glass walls), all with local inputs so that groups of two to four can quickly access the network for collaboration and share content from their personal devices. Each room has its own scheduling panels that sync with the monitoring and management of Crestron Fusion.

Solutions like Polycom RealPresence Group video conferencing, Crestron’s AirMedia content sharing and digital media, and large NEC displays were implemented in a variety of collaboration areas. Those areas range from personal offices to team rooms to open collaboration spaces. For these areas and other AV systems, Crestron Fusion provides advanced scheduling and device management from a single location.

The other key piece of this project is an innovation center known as “The Hatchery,” where dozens can assemble to brainstorm new ideas in a space centered on innovation. On that floor, half of the area was set aside for open collaboration, with the other half dedicated to offices and team rooms, most of them with the same kind of collaboration devices and AV systems as those in Life Reimagined.

One major difference is the six-by-two 55” Planar video wall with full touch capability can display content from multiple sources, such as AirMedia, in any of its quadrants. It enables 30 to 40 people to simultaneously create notes, jot down an idea, and save their session. When finished, they can export the content from those windows to a printer or put it in an email. To prepare for future collaboration needs, the AVI-SPL team wired the system to accommodate video conferencing.

“Your project managers were knowledgeable, and the technicians were accountable,” says Mat. “If something didn’t work, they made it right.”

Impact: Share and Work Together

Today, AARP’s revamped spaces at its Washington D.C. headquarters have empowered its employees to share their ideas and work on them together in ways that are fast and concurrent. The emphasis on reinvigorating the company’s collaboration culture has led to a transformation that can serve as a model for other companies that want to work smarter.

“We gave them a whole lot of change,” says Mat. “Our people had to learn how to work in an open environment.”

Despite the growing pains you might expect to accompany a radical shift in the workplace, Mat says areas like Life Reimagined and the Hatchery are being used just as intended.

Individuals and teams from AARP and its partners often float in and out of the Hatchery to make frequent use of its collaboration tools, while others may set up residency for a couple of days or weeks in certain rooms.

Throughout both main collaboration areas, smaller rooms are used by groups with focused assignments. During innovation workshops, participants take what they’ve learned about day-to-day routines and how to transform those routines. For sessions that consider disrupting aging, collaborators ask questions like “What does it mean to be retired?” and “How do we improve the lives of those 50-plus?”

The popularity of the spaces means that Mat and his team frequently visit the Hatchery and Life Reimagined, helping employees get familiar with the technology. Through those visits, Mat sees the positive impact those spaces have had on AARP’s culture and how the staff have shaped their use. For example, using mobile presentation carts, people have taken one large space and used it as break-out areas for ideation sessions.

“The Hatchery and Life Reimagined spaces continue to evolve by those that inhabit them using innovative thinking to come up with new uses for these spaces,” says Mat.