Forget, if you will, the myriad stories of companies that responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by shrinking their real-estate footprint.
Some Montreal-area employers are doing just the opposite — taking on more office space in the hope of luring staffers back en masse as soon as public health authorities authorize it.
Take the case of Ludia Inc., the award-winning 400-employee video game studio acquired last month by Los Angeles-based Jam City. Among other products, Ludia develops mobile games for the popular Jurassic World and How to Train Your Dragon franchises.
Ludia recently decided to take over a third floor of the Old Montreal building it has called home since its founding in 2007 — a 50 per cent expansion. Adding about 20,000 square feet of office space will result in a workplace better suited to the needs of a post-pandemic world, says founder and chief executive officer Alexandre Thabet.
“Historically, people were obligated to show up at the office every day, but that’s no longer the case,” Thabet said last week in an interview at Ludia headquarters. “There’s a complete shift in mindset. While we know the value of an employee showing up and interacting with colleagues at the office, we can’t impose this way of working anymore. So we need to find ways of attracting people who want to go back, and to do that in an optimal way so that it benefits the projects they’re involved in, the organization and the employees themselves.”
The new space is brightly lit, with mostly white walls, plenty of drawing boards, open meeting rooms, about 300 physically distanced workstations and 900 chairs. Multiple soundproof glass booths allow for quiet face-to-face meetings or video chats. While most individual offices have been eliminated, a phone-free “library” has been set up for employees who need a space to concentrate.
Ludia was shifted to work-from-home mode virtually overnight when Quebec Premier François Legault ordered a lockdown as the pandemic swept the province in March 2020. While productivity held up admirably, the CEO admits creativity took a hit.
“We suffered,” he said. “We really saw a diminishing tendency in coming up with great ideas or strong concepts.”
Ludia’s redesigned offices, which coincide with a new brand image, aim to reverse the trend. If that happens, the undisclosed investment will have been worth it, the CEO says.
“When somebody comes into the office, we want this to be a social experience,” said Thabet. “We want to structure things to make it easier for creative, co-operative processes to take place here. That’s been a big challenge. The co-operative, creative aspects of the work we do have been extremely difficult to replicate over a videoconference. We knew that if we wanted to continue to create some of the top mobile video games, we needed to change some things.”
What won’t change are the perks that the video-game industry has become known for — in this case, gaming rooms, a cappuccino bar, a ping-pong room and foosball and pool tables.
“We try to provide environments where it’s not just about work,” Thabet said. “Even around the billiard table, there might be work-related conversations that take place while you’re playing a game. The goal is to have an environment where long-lasting relationships develop and you can create.”
Although internal polls show no more than 200 Ludia staffers plan to work from the office when authorities allow workers back, Thabet says the company is committed to a hybrid system for the long run. That pledge, he says, might even help recruitment efforts amid an ever-worsening labour shortage.
“We have embraced the notion of full flexibility for our employees, and we want to keep it that way regardless of how the pandemic evolves,” the CEO said. “We will never go back to the way we were working prior to the pandemic.”
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