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Sun Life invests $21M in office workplace pilot at Waterloo HQ

Sun Life has spent $21 million to create a pilot workspace for about 700 of its Waterloo headquarters employees. (Courtesy Sun Life)
Sun Life has spent $21 million to create a pilot workspace for about 700 of its Waterloo headquarters employees. (Courtesy Sun Life)

Sun Life has invested more than $21 million in an activity-based, people-focused workspace pilot project at its Waterloo Canadian head office.

The renovations cover 75,000 square feet at the 647,713-square-foot complex and include a stronger focus on employee collaboration and well-being, and better support for hybrid work with virtual, in-person and cross-geography teams. The pilot floor is open to 700 participants.

Sun Life executive vice-president and chief people and culture officer Helena Pagano told RENX in an email interview the company was moving toward a hybrid work model even before the pandemic.

This pilot program and an overall modernization of several of the multi-national company’s offices are part of that evolution.

“We’ve learned our people really value flexibility and they also want more meaningful ways to connect with each other in-person,” Pagano explained.

“For us, employee engagement and productivity continue to be high and unchanged, and we continue to deliver strong results, so hybrid is here to stay at Sun Life.”

The renovated space’s features

The Waterloo head office renovations feature unique areas designed for types of activities people may do throughout their work days. Specific features include:

    •    open collaboration spaces that can be customized with movable furniture, technology, whiteboards and space dividers;
    •    collaboration experience rooms that provide immersive conferencing and an intuitive user experience for hybrid meetings, allowing an equitable experience for those joining in-person and virtually;
    •    sound-proof, self-enclosed pods that allow for confidential conversations or meetings;
    •    open areas equipped with café-style espresso machines, which can be set up for snacks or meals when needed, for informal gatherings and socializing;
    •    relaxation and reflection rooms that give people comfortable spaces to take a break and support their well-being;
    •    and a quiet zone and a library zone for when people want to do individual, focused work or light collaboration with one or two colleagues.

“We are still in the early days of the pilot and we’re hoping to better understand how our people use this space to connect with each other and collaborate,” Pagano said. 

“It’s really about giving people flexibility and options to support how they work — whether that’s out meeting with clients for a day, doing heads-down work at home or connecting with colleagues or managers at an office.”

Sun Life’s international presence

Sun Life is a financial services organization that provides asset management, wealth, insurance and health solutions to individual and institutional clients. 

Sun Life has operations in a number of markets, including Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, India, China, Australia, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Bermuda.

It had total assets under management of $1.33 trillion at the end of 2022. 

“Global workforce trends have been transforming how work gets done which is why we’ve been on this hybrid journey and are reimagining our offices across Canada, the U.S. and Asia to support modern ways of working,” Pagano observed.

“It’s no surprise, but we’ve learned the biggest draw for people to come together in the office is each other.

"Offices are evolving to places where people maintain connection — whether for collaboration, career progression, onboarding or socializing.”

Sun Life in Waterloo

Sun Life has been in the Waterloo community for more than 150 years and its two-storey 227 King St. S. headquarters opened in 1912. Several additions, including an 18-storey building and a five-storey parking structure, have been incorporated into the facilities. 

The company also has hubs in Toronto and Montreal and has some 13,000 employees across Canada, including more than 4,000 in Waterloo. 

“We’ve known work styles have been changing towards activity-based work and our people want more flexibility to work where and how they want,” Pagano wrote.

“As we reimagine the role of the office, we’ve been adapting and investing to give employees that flexibility we know they value with the space to collaborate while in office.”

Sun Life reduced its Waterloo office locations from four to two in 2021, closing its Westmount Place and Allen Square locations while retaining the King Street headquarters and another multi-tenanted, 114,033-square-foot site at 600 Weber St. N.

Sun Life sold the King Street office to Concert Properties in 2014 and now leases its space.

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