Michelle Higgins – AvidXchange
There was a 60,000-square-foot renovation project in Charlotte, North Carolina, a 5,000-square-foot build-out in Alabama, and several smaller renovations and upgrades at other sites across the country.
All would provide AvidXchange with enough space as it designed and built a second facility in Charlotte over the next two years—a 200,000-square-foot space that would accommodate five years of planned growth
As has become common among businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic has halted much of this work.
Instead, for the last six months, Higgins, the company’s director of facilities, has focused on the company’s response to the pandemic, which has involved moving employees—or teammates, as the business calls them—to remote work and preparing AvidXchange for a return to the office, whenever that may be.
Bringing people back to work
The company made its workforce remote in March except for about 20 people whose roles were deemed essential, like the facilities and security teams.
At the time, the first and sixth floors of the company’s headquarters remained open, though refrigerators, coffee units, lighting systems and mechanical systems were shut off or placed on an adjusted schedule to save on energy costs. Additionally, badge access for employees was deactivated to ensure they did not enter a space without permission.
That strict approach took a turn in late May, when Higgins et al reopened buildings in Charlotte and Sandy, Utah, to about 100 employee volunteers.
Volunteers were given expectations related to social distancing, occupancy levels and face coverings, and had to be in the office for a minimum of three days each week.
To comply with the Centers for Disease Control guidelines, increased cleanings were scheduled, seating within the office space was staggered, and seating capacity was reduced in conference rooms, collaboration areas and common spaces.
“In addition to the increased cleanings throughout the buildings, we ensured disinfectant supplies were and are available for teammates to use in open office areas, conference rooms, collaboration rooms, break rooms and other areas of high traffic,” Higgins told Blueprint in August. “These types of details helped the reopening for volunteers be the success that it was.”
In mid-June, the company reduced the commitment of three days per week to one day per week, to allow more flexibility for existing and new volunteers. This reduction increased the volunteers from 100 to 250, prompting the reopening of three more offices in Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.
“After the new round of volunteers joined, our ability to support an environment with heightened awareness for disinfection was vital,” she says.
Due to the spikes around the country, approximately 10 percent of AvidXchange employees who initially volunteered to return to the office have since shifted to working from home. Of the volunteers who have remained, approximately 55 percent of them work in the office one day per week and about 5 percent are in the office all week.
“For the teammates who volunteered, they are grateful for the opportunity to work in the office from a mental health and productivity standpoint,” Higgins says. “They trust the ongoing and transparent communications we’ve provided.”
Projects delayed by a pandemic
She says the projects halted by the pandemic will pick up again. However, it will be with a new outlook on timing, amenities and seating capacities.
Among the first projects to resume will be the renovation of a building known as Silver Hammer, as well as a build-out in the Alabama regional office. These projects will provide AvidXchange with the seating capacity for new employees as the second 200,000-square-foot construction building is designed and completed.
Previously, the Silver Hammer building housed approximately 350 employees, a few computer training labs, conference rooms, storage space for Higgins’ facilities team and vacated space from other tenants.
The pre-pandemic design converted the space into 200 seats for employees, fully outfitted computer labs, a large conference space to accommodate 1,300 attendees, a small café to introduce food service to the campus and an indoor basketball court.
The post-pandemic redesign will take into consideration seating styles and capacities for meeting and conference spaces. All other amenities and attributes are anticipated to remain, even if not useable on day one.
The design for the new 200,000-square-foot building includes space for 1,200 employees; a learning and development suite with a library and support desk; a customer experience suite showcasing available products and interactive displays; a 200-person auditorium; large conference rooms; a full cafeteria; bigger fitness rooms; a more spacious nurse’s suite and a rooftop terrace.
“Expanding our headquarters signifies the rapid growth we are seeing as a company and the need to provide teammates the best working environment possible to be their best selves at work,” Higgins says.
Falling into facilities management
Despite her career successes, facilities management was not the career Higgins envisioned as a young girl growing up in Brockton, Massachusetts. After dropping out of college and working full time for about six months as a facilities administrative assistant for Uno Restaurant Corporation, a new facilities director gave her new purpose.
“I soaked up every piece of information he was willing to give, asked a ton of questions and learned the ins and outs of facilities, including mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems,” she says. “He encouraged me and I knew I had found my passion.”
Although she had apprehensions about returning to college, Higgins enrolled in an 18-month facilities management certification course through Northeastern University. After achieving her certification, she took a job in facilities for Shire, a biopharmaceutical company. During her seven years there she obtained an associate degree in construction management at Wentworth Institute of Technology and helped build an entire campus during Shire’s five-year growth plan. But she wanted more.
That came as an opportunity to develop a space planning program from scratch at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. She says it allowed her to take everything she learned in the previous 12 years—the good, the bad and the indifferent—and create something that was truly her own.
“It was also my opportunity to truly lead a team and it was exhilarating to write policies and standards and redefine existing space planning programs to increase their reporting functionality, while building and developing others,” Higgins says. “The downfall was the northern Maine winters.”
When the AvidXchange job was posted, she says it was like she wrote the job description herself.
“It was everything I had done for 16 years wrapped up into one amazing package,” Higgins notes. “Since being here, I’ve had endless new opportunities to continue to grow and develop within the facilities and real estate world, and I’ve grown as a person too. It couldn’t be better.”
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