Edwards Lifesciences’ Tom Porter is a leading advocate for creating corporate campuses that spark collaboration, innovation and ‘casual collisions.’
Tom Porter has spent his career reshaping the modern corporate campus. After years with tech giant HP, chipmaker Broadcom and engineering firm AECOM, he joined Edwards Lifesciences as Vice President of Corporate Services in 2010 and now oversees a global real estate portfolio that houses more than 14,000 employees. At Edwards Lifesciences, Tom connects campus design with the company’s culture of innovation and its mission to save lives. In an interview with Catalyst, he talks about the importance of evolving workplaces to enhance connections between employees and creating multiple opportunities for “casual collisions.”
What do you see as the biggest change in the concept of a corporate campus? In the past, the approach to campus design was one-size-fits-all. And today, you can’t do that. Employees are constantly collaborating. They are working in small project teams. They are being asked to be innovative and agile. Employee health and well-being are critical as well – this focus aligns with Edwards Lifescience’s focus on serving patients around the world, and we want our employees to work in an environment that promotes fitness, being active, eating well and taking care of yourself.
There is also much more focus on sustainability today. Investors and employees alike are drawn to companies that are taking steps to think about their carbon footprint and the communities they operate in. If you look around our campus, there are many energy-saving and generating opportunities, such as solar cells and charging stations for electric cars. We have two tanks in the ground that recover water and we use that to irrigate the landscaping. We are focused on the environment and our community and reflect that in our sustainability practices. We have an opportunity to show our commitment to our employees and our community in the design of our campus.
What role does design play in innovation? Innovation can result when people are willing to take risks. People will take risks when they are in an environment with trust. Trust is developed through knowing each other. You get to know each other by seeing people daily. We’re all about creating environments where people run into each other and have the opportunity to get to know each other.
Many of the things we built around campus are intended to create what I call ‘casual collisions.’ People running into each other while they pick up their mail and realizing they have been meaning to follow up with that person on something. We have this set up for everything – getting coffee, getting food at the café – the space is set up so people interact with each other. For example, in the café, we don’t put the menu at the entrance – you have to walk around to see what is available. And as you walk around, you run into people. The more of these collisions we create, the more people get to know each other, the more they trust each other and the more likely they are to share ideas together and innovate.
Innovation can result when people are willing to take risks. People will take risks when they are in an environment with trust. Trust is developed through knowing each other. You get to know each other by seeing people daily.
How do you create an innovative environment? In the past when we talked about R&D, we talked about creating pilot labs dedicated to certain work- and the space was designed around that specific work. Today, we design space around the worker. We create an environment where people feel comfortable, they feel energized, they feel empowered. When people feel that way, they bring their best ideas to their work, which leads to better outcomes for Edwards Lifesciences and the patients we serve.
In the courtyard between the entry pavilion and the Museum, a world map shows all the Edwards Lifesciences campuses.
Do you see an ROI from the amenities? We do. Last year, we hired 2,600 people worldwide, and 49 percent of those hires were millennials. People coming into the workforce today are asking for and expecting to work at companies that are focused on their carbon footprint, that are offering amenities around health and wellness and that support their expectations and experience in working collaboratively and fluidly. We bring in more than 100 interns a year for the summer and they come here and realize, “I’m back on campus.” If you’re trying to make an easy transition for someone from college, make it look like college.
Today, we design space around the worker. We create an environment where people feel comfortable, they feel energized, they feel empowered.
What is the impact of “casual collisions?”How do you measure that? It’s hard to measure but you can see it. During the course of the day, you see people engaged in activities around the campus. We’ve always had a strong and meaningful culture at Edwards Lifesciences – it’s now more visible. Our employees and visitors experience it every day.
What elements do you like on the new campus? One of the things I had to advocate for was the green wall [on the LPA-designed parking structure]. I love the green wall. At the time it was built, it was the largest one in North America, measuring 4,500 square feet. It is a stunning example of how we can transform a parking structure into something beautiful and living.
Casual collisions can happen throughout the campus.
Is the push toward getting more out of every square foot going to continue? I think what’s changing is you’re going to get less personally defined space and more flexible open space. Before, if you took a floor you would typically do offices and cubes and a little area for flexible use space. That is reversing now. Today, you do some workstations, some offices and a large open collaboration space.
What do you think is the next step on campuses? Sustainability will continue to grow and flexibility will continue to evolve in new office build outs. More people are catching on to the idea that we’ve got to be able to be flexible because things are changing and we’re asking people to work differently. Everything we’re looking at today is all about mobility. Mobility is going to be a huge change as we think about the work environment. It’s less about spending your day in your office, at your desk. People are going to get unlocked from their desks. They will gather in small teams, then do a team meeting outside or hold a walking meeting. This is the way we are working today, and our office space needs to support and encourage that.