Simplifying the construction process for a young tech company

Aver Inc., a young technology company whose mission is to "bring honesty and simplicity to healthcare billing," is working with providers and insurers to predict healthcare costs upfront. They are also working toward smarter strategies for making the cost of the same services consistent from one place to the next. 

Aver hired Pepper to build out their new home in downtown Columbus, Ohio. Due to current and projected growth, they were looking for a partner who would be flexible to adjust as their business evolved. They wanted to be engaged in the process but didn't have any experience with construction. It was important for Pepper to understand their mission and culture so we could provide them with the information they needed to make the right decisions.

"We chose Pepper because we could see they understood our vision and where we were as a company. Construction is pretty permanent. You can't move concrete once it's poured. So we appreciated Pepper's agility - their ability to adapt and keep the project within our budget as our culture continued to form." – Aver's project manager

Quiet zone
The quiet zone allows Aver employees to focus without interruption.

Aver's space is designed around how they work. There is no assigned seat, and in fact, employees choose where they work each day based on what they will be doing and the team with whom they will be working. The space is divided into different zones: quiet zone (and ultra-quiet zone), dynamic zone, work zone and customer zone.

Though the space is very open, some areas were designed with special themes, like the coffee house, art and garden team rooms. These themed rooms serve as a backdrop for creativity and collaboration. Around the outside of the space are additional collaboration and conference rooms. Features include whiteboard walls, glass and natural lighting, a garden hideout with live plants, balance boards, adjustable-height desks for sitting or standing, giant bean bags and a foosball table. Absent of walls and wires, it would seem that the space would be pretty basic  to build, but not so.

This is the story of how we constructed Aver's new home, as the company itself was still being built.

Building excitement

While it is normal to dive into the details, it was important to first step back and look at the project from our client's perspective. For Aver, this was their first project. It was like graduating from an apartment into their first real home, where they had the opportunity to decide the flooring, lighting and colors on the walls.

Aver was an enthusiastic client, and understandably, pretty hands-on from the very beginning. To them, it wasn't just work space; it was a reflection of how they are defining themselves as a company. In fact, before Pepper was brought on board, they "crowd-sourced" ideas with their employees to develop the overall program.

Aver's founder was involved alongside the project manager throughout the design phase, and even during construction he continued to meet with the team every three weeks. Meetings were always held on site, which helped the Pepper team walk through the space and explain issues and present different scenarios as solutions. As their office started to take shape, Aver included other team members in onsite tours.

As Aver’sexcitement grew, Pepper was inspired to dig deep to find the right solutions to some of the challenges the project faced. It wasn't about dollars and cents or days and weeks; it was about meeting the needs of the heart and soul of this young company.

Aligning the design and budget with the vision

When Pepper joined the team, Aver and the architect, Design Collective Inc. (DCI), had completed the programming and schematic design phases, where they determined the flow of people through the space and established the themes that would be applied throughout. The design was about 50 percent complete – detailed enough to bid the work and get more accurate pricing and not too far along that design changes could be made with minimal cost impact.

As Pepper prepared the initial estimate based on the design, it became clear that we would need to value engineer the project to bring it within Aver's established budget. By engaging DCI in the process, we identified the areas with the greatest cost savings potential and found alternative materials or systems that both saved money and achieved the original design intent.

For example, DCI specified a specific linear lighting package. Working with DCI and our electrical contractor, we recommended a different manufacturer and similar model for significant savings. Aver was happy because they still received the linear lighting package and the lighting effect they wanted and didn't have to settle for the building standard. Other savings were found by switching flooring manufacturers and acoustical ceiling systems. Through the value engineering process, the team cut the budget by 45 percent.

Unique space; unique needs

Pull planning at Aver
Pull plan scheduling helped Pepper adapt to changes.

Aver is unique, and their space is unlike a typical interior renovation. Different areas were designed to serve different work styles and needs. To ensure all materials were ready to be installed when planned, we focused on how the components came together in each specific room. While we were ordering smaller quantities of multiple materials, we still had to stay on top of the material dimensions and lead times, which created the conditions for much more coordination with suppliers and subcontractors.

The Pepper team verified dimensions in the field and incorporated the coordination details into the schedule and logistics plan. For example, layout of the bricks on the garden room wall had to be coordinated with the locations for the television, planters and electrical outlets.

Adapting to fit client changes

The original project called for construction of four different zones. The plan was to start on the north end of the floor and move south. Two weeks into construction, Aver changed their plans. With the size of the company, their new space more than accommodated their existing needs, so they decided to shell part of the space and only build out the portion that they currently needed – shifting the focus from the north end to the south end. The change could have meant a schedule delay, but Pepper worked with Aver and the subcontractors to re-work the schedule without missing a beat.

Later in the project, Aver went through a re-brand and changed their brand color to Passion pink. This, after accent walls were already painted. They also elected to change some of the flooring color and design after it had been installed. Pepper worked with the subcontractors and manufacturers to re-order and re-install the different material and re-paint different accent walls in time for final occupancy.

Smart decisions

Dirtt Walls
DIRTT wall system in Aver Inc.'s offices.

During the preconstruction planning process, Pepper helped educate Aver on different construction methods and materials so they could make decisions about some of the details. For example, for the millwork, we shared information about the characteristics of laminate versus hardwood and the benefits of both. We also provided material samples so they could see and feel the differences.

Aver found savings through recycled materials, including the wood paneled walls that were used in the café space. They also looked at the long-term value of different materials and systems, which resulted in the decision to use DIRTT wall systems. DIRTT wall systems are demountable glass wall systems that allow for space reconfiguration without demolition and re-construction.

Perhaps the smartest decision Aver made was bringing the contractor on board during preconstruction to assist with design and cost evaluations and constructability. Had Aver simply bid the project, the value engineering ideas would have been more costly when implemented later in the project. Early involvement allowed Pepper to partner with DCI to find the best solutions for Aver’s objectives. We understood their vision and were able to find ways to provide solutions that met their expectations and their budget.

Results

The original construction schedule was 16 weeks, and Pepper finished four days early. The job was completedas planned and with a fully-satisfied client.

 

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