New Norfolk Southern HQ designed with future in mind

Company ‘created an environment perfectly suited for the future of work in a post-pandemic world’

Norfolk Southern recently moved its headquarters from Virginia to Atlanta, bringing its management under the same roof as its operations and technology teams.

“There are many reasons we are proud to call Atlanta home. The city is diverse and culturally rich, with amenities that will ensure our employees and their families thrive. We are committed that Norfolk Southern and its people will be more than just residents of Atlanta — we plan to be engaged community partners, committed to the future of our new home,” said Jim Squires, chairman, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern.

The company didn’t just merge two locations however; it built a 750,000-square-foot campus that put employees’ health, safety and happiness front and center.

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“Employee health and well-being were a central focus of the design from the outset,” executive vice president and chief transformation officer Annie Adams said at the Nov. 10 ribbon cutting for the new building. “As a result, we created an environment perfectly suited for the future of work in a post-pandemic world — with lots of space for socially distanced meetings, touchless movement and transactions, hospital-grade air handling systems, abundant outdoor spaces and state-of-the-art technology that enables our new era of hybrid work.”

Part of design plan was to ensure as much natural light as possible flooded the building. The stairs were constructed by the exterior glass so that they too could take advantage of the sunlight. You’ll find no dark stairwells in this building.

The stairwells connect all the floors, Adams said, and “the people you work with, if they’re not on your floor, they’re likely on the floor above and below you.” This encourages employees to skip the elevator and hoof it to their meetings.

Although many of the safety protocols were planned from the start, the pandemic gave the company pause. “We kind of stood down, and we did a top to bottom review of the whole building,” Adams said. “And we did make a couple of changes.”

The architects were given a challenge: Find a way for employees to enter the building and get all the way to their workstation without having to touch anything other than their personal phone. “And we achieved that,” she said.

The building’s front doors were changed to be larger and automated, as were the doors leading from the parking decks to the elevator lobbies. On top of that, a building app employees can download to their phones allows them to reserve a parking space, call for an elevator, pick their floor and even order lunch. All without touching anything but their phone.

The new headquarters sits on 3.4 acres in Midtown’s Tech Square. It features, among other things:

  • Two modern architecture glass towers with a connecting campus-style hub
  • Touchless technology from top to bottom
  • Hospital-grade air filtration system
  • Open workspaces, street level plazas “bathed in Wi-Fi” and rooftop terraces
  • Employee amenities that include a restaurant-like food hall, 24/7 fitness center, onsite day care, coffee shop, art installations and an artist in residence studio

Although the food hall and coffee shop will feed employees’ bodies, the company also hopes to feed their souls through the power of art. A day after the ribbon cutting, Norfolk Southern announced a call for applicants for its inaugural artist-in-residence program.

“Norfolk Southern has a legacy of supporting the arts community and a deep respect for the art they create. Artwork, from sculptures to paintings, plays a central role throughout our new headquarters and serves as a catalyst for reflection and inspiration,” Adams said. “Art brings people together, and through this new program we aim to foster unity, inclusion and offer an opportunity for our employees and the community to directly engage with the arts.”

Beginning in 2022, the big-windowed studio on the Spring Street side of the campus will serve as a dedicated creative space for the selected artist. In return for the free use of the space, the artist will create a custom piece to be featured within the new headquarters. The overall building’s décor is embellished with art from the company’s collection, as well as several new pieces from Atlanta artists.

“Art is, by definition, one of the most diverse creative outlets,” Adams added. “As a company that embraces diverse perspectives, we aim to offer and support unique opportunities for artistic and cultural expression in our headquarters city.”

In addition to employee health and well-being, the company is “also focused on sustainability,” Adams said. “Our employees take pride in knowing that our building will be LEED certified, and that we are reducing our environmental footprint by doing things like collecting and reusing rainwater onsite.”

LEED stands for leadership in energy and environmental design, and is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building types, LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings.

The new headquarters is built to LEED version 4 specifications and aims to be one of the first LEED Gold certified office buildings in Georgia.

“We spent a lot of time making a lot of decisions,” Adams said, “either supporting the health and well-being of our employees or the environment. But they go hand in hand, and technology facilitates those kinds of things.”

Adams added the company is excited to be in Tech Square. “To find a lot that was big enough that we could implement our vision, where we’ve got green spaces … and the access to talent in an area that’s the heart of innovation,” she said. “I can’t imagine finding a more perfect spot.”