Case Studies

Sara Nomellini – LPL Financial

Building much more than just a space

As you are reading this, look around you. How do you feel about the space you’re in? No, give it some real thought—how does it make you feel?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have an emotional connection with your home, leisure space and workplace. Sara Nomellini knows this. An architect with decades of experience in corporate real estate, she knows the difference between a space that is functional—and one that is comfortable and welcoming, fostering ideas, creativity and collaboration.

Sara Nomellini – LPL Financial Blueprint Magazine

“It’s all about accepting the built world as something that affects how people behave and how they feel and how they think,” says Nomellini, who is senior vice president, corporate real estate for LPL Financial. “If employees are happy and productive and engaged, they will serve our clients and advisors more effectively and more efficiently.”

Unique needs, unique challenges

The largest independent broker-dealer in the U.S., LPL provides technology, resources and services to help more than 16,000 financial advisors and around 700 financial institutions manage their businesses. With professionals conversant in finance, compliance, risk, research, technology and other specialized areas, Nomellini cites the need for a workplace that inspires and unites.

An example of this concept put into practice: LPL’s Carolinas campus. The financial services company embarked on the project in Fort Mill, South Carolina, in early 2014, completing and unveiling it in October 2016.

Sara Nomellini – LPL Financial Blueprint Magazine

Combining natural elements, functional design and a variety of amenities and resources, the 27-acre campus has 450,000 square feet of office space in two buildings. Inside, Nomellini explains, most work stations are cubicle-like, but they are designed with sliding panels to allow for privacy—unlike traditional cubicles, which tend to invite interruption.

Scattered throughout the buildings, there are also “drop in” communal spaces with comfortable chairs, couches and low tables; others are more café-style and social, with high tables and stools. Glass stairways are intended to encourage employee movement, Nomellini says, and the campus also has 2 miles of walking trails, community gardens, a boardwalk with open-air lounges, a health clinic, a fitness center and outdoor sports courts.

All of this took human “buy-in” from the more than 2,000 people who would occupy the space, she says. Before even starting with the design process, Nomellini and her project management team held focus groups, separating managers from other employees so everyone could speak freely.

From the get-go, a “unique challenge” emerged—to accommodate a fast-growing workforce to keep pace with the firm’s rapid growth. LPL opened a Charlotte, North Carolina, office in 2006, adding to its existing San Diego headquarters. Over the years, Charlotte-based employee counts grew quickly and the firm moved into two—then three then four—different office spaces to accommodate that growth, Nomellini says.

As a result, some workers felt isolated or not integrated with the Charlotte employees or the West Coast teams.

Sara Nomellini – LPL Financial Blueprint Magazine

Nomellini and her team chose a site in the midst of high-quality commerce and residences—adjacent to a 2,100-acre greenway—to support a viable work-life environment. The campus reflects sustainable design: the building structure and flooring have been crafted from reclaimed hardwood and the carpeting is made from 4,900 miles of recycled fishing net; there are electric car-charging stations; and the campus collects rainwater for plumbing, cooling and irrigation systems.

“It’s homey, it’s residential, it’s safe,” says Nomellini.

Along the way, contractors played with configurations of the work spaces, encouraging employees to try them out and give honest feedback. For example, before building one of the office breakrooms, staff members were invited to eat their lunches and socialize in a mock-up space—for a dose of reality, one worker even spilled his coffee during the experiment—while Nomellini and her team watched, then peppered them with questions.

“We looked to them for input during the entire process,” she says.

Workers on the facilities side were also included—because it’s essential they can care for the space so it looks “as good on day 3,000 as it did on day one,” she says.

A dynamic workplace

As the company continues to advance its service and support to financial advisors in the digital age, Nomellini and her team keep an open dialogue with workers. Because of the relationships they’ve fostered, the workers are willing to share their thoughts and opinions, she says.

One emerging challenge is incorporating work-at-home assignments. Nomellini highlights projects focused on seat-sharing initiatives based on rotating schedules and calendars.

Sara Nomellini – LPL Financial Blueprint Magazine

However, that requires a larger cultural shift and “buy-in,” particularly from the corporate side, which can tend to be conservative in the financial services industry. In recognizing that much work can be mobile, larger policies have to address workloads, expectations, concerns from managers, and perceived inequalities from department-to-department.

“We want to make sure they succeed. We want to be a provider of choice,” says Nomellini.

In Nomellini’s case, that’s been a given. Earning her master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, she started out working with the federal government’s General Service Administration (GSA). Seeing a need for project managers, she took a chance on the opportunity and it turned out to be a “really good fit for me.”

A registered architect and member of the American Institute of Architects, she then transitioned into corporate real estate, joining LPL more than 10 years ago. The opportunity came about because she was “really in the right place at the right time, open-minded, flexible, willing to give things a whirl,” she explains.

And with the company constantly re-inventing itself, it’s never a dull job working to keep ahead of things, she says. “There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think ‘Huh, I never thought of it that way.’”

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