Kimball International Receives the WELL Health and Safety Seal for their Recently Renovated Headquarters
In autumn of 2019, Kimball International had just completed a comprehensive renovation of their Jasper, Indiana campus—home to the whole family of Kimball brands. Envisioned with the idea of wellness at its core, the new space evokes Kimball’s history of woodworking, “an architectural concept inspired by the growth rings of a tree, bringing into the space wood accents and radial design elements.”
The aesthetic of the design is just the beginning, as the tree theme extends beyond shapes and materials to establish a spatial architecture. The layout is modeled on both the formal and metaphorical meanings of these natural forms. Like a tree, Kimball’s space has a trunk as well as various branches. Fittingly, the heart of the campus is the Heartwood Hub, an inviting space that provides light (high ceilings and plentiful windows), nourishment (fresh, non-processed food at the Bistro café), water (purified and spring), air (enhanced ventilation and easy access to the outdoors), and movement (“The Well” fitness studio).
The Hub is a literal hub as well. Positioned as the center of the space’s multiple branches, it serves as a communal core, facilitating interaction among the inhabitants of the different zones that surround it. These zones are like neighborhoods, each with various identities supporting unique working styles and objectives and named accordingly: “Downtown” with its open feel and impressive furnishings; the “Arts District” for the Maker Space, where visionary products are displayed and explored; and the “Industrial Park” for a glimpse of products being tested to BIFMA standards.
The various spaces perform a double duty—welcoming visitors on tour while also creating a culture of belonging for Kimball employees. And the connection of the hub unifies the different neighborhoods by establishing a communal location, a place where a diverse population of workers can gather and interact, collaborate and unwind.
All of the above goes a long way toward Kimball’s pursuit of wellness, but—as we all found out so abruptly in March of 2020—not quite far enough. “We completed the renovation that autumn,” says Kimball Marketing Manager Andrea Rohleder. "All the employees moved in and then turned around and went back home in the spring.”
As it was for everyone, COVID proved an abrupt disruption requiring a major transition. In concert with the renovation, Kimball had been working toward achieving the International Well Building Institute’s (IWBI) WELL certification, establishing conformance to guidelines that promote wellness and health by meeting criteria in 10 categories, including air, water, nourishment, and light.
WELL certification is a lengthy process, and while the pandemic disrupted it, the attention on virus transmission created a new opportunity. During 2020, IWBI created The WELL Health and Safety rating, a certification protocol that codifies best practices for making spaces safe, especially in regards to virus transmission. Applicants must achieve excellence in six health and safety themes: cleaning and sanitization, emergency preparedness, health services resources, air & water quality management, stakeholder engagement, and innovation.
Given that Kimball was already on its way to achieving WELL certification, it made sense to aim for the WELL Health & Safety rating. The process was fairly straightforward. At Rohleder's direction, Kimball enhanced their emergency preparedness program, increased use of their onsite health clinic, implemented a hand-washing protocol with safer and environmentally friendly products, reduced surface contact by relocating door latches and installing foot pedals, increased air ventilation to 100%, promoted vaccines, expanded sick leave, created resources for mental health recovery, and promoted movement and good nutrition.
Kimball achieved the health and safety certification last month. Somewhat paradoxically, they’ve yet to achieve the WELL building certification (prohibitions on travel created delays in inspections), but are on track to do so in July, when they will be awarded the IWBI’s highest designation of WELL Platinum. The official certifications dovetail nicely with Kimball’s corporate strategy and their endeavors to create an employee-focused epicenter that also welcomes the community at large.
As we all continue to discover, there are many components to health and wellness. Kimball’s investments in creating safe and welcoming spaces for employees have been comprehensive, from promoting a shared and valued history, to establishing literal and figurative community, to creating the basic conditions for physiological health. While they never expected the moving goalpost of COVID, they’ve responded in kind, transitioning from the acute phase of remote work and social distancing to a gradual and nuanced approach for a safe and responsible return.
The company’s efforts extend to their satellite showrooms as well. Kimball is in the process of submitting documentation to achieve the Health and Safety Rating for locations in Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles. They’re also on track for the WELL Platinum designation in the newly renovated Dallas and Los Angeles showrooms.
As companies strive to get back to normal, safety has become paramount. IWBI has enlisted the services of prominent celebrities and activists—Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, Robert De Niro, and Surgeon General Richard Carmona among them—as ambassadors for its certification program. And the health and safety seal extends beyond workspaces to all varieties of buildings: banks, schools, restaurants, movie theaters, sports stadiums, and more.
Now a certified WELL Accredited Professional, Rohleder is helping create a tangible set of actions to assist in a safe return. “The ambassadorship role ties in nicely to our overall corporate strategy,” she said. “We’ve always been an employee-centered business, and the health and safety certification not only allows us to promote our focus on the wellness of our employees, but also reach out to the community and culture at large.”