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Offices Supporting Management

Air France-KLM

Interview conducted in June 2017

*This article is based on research conducted at an earlier date; some details may differ at the present time.

Improving Employee Interaction by Using Space More Efficiently

One of Europe’s largest airline companies, Air France-KLM was established in May 2004 through a merger of two leading airlines from France and Holland. Air France operates 22 flights a week between Paris and Japan (Haneda, Narita, and Kansai), while KLM Royal Dutch Airlines operates 14 flights a week between Amsterdam and Japan (Narita and Kansai), for a total of 36 flights each week.

The company’s Japanese branch used to have a ticket counter, but it discontinued its ticketing operations a few years ago, and with the aim of making more efficient use of space, it relocated its office in September 2016. For this article, we spoke to Air France-KLM’s Martijn Gaikema about the company’s office-related issues, how they have been resolved, and its vision for the new office.


Rika Hinata

Martijn Gaikema

Regional Financial Controller
– Japan, Korea and New Caledonia
Air France-KLM


Break area


Brief Memo

  1. Moving Office with the Aim of Using Space More Efficiently
  2. A Suitable Amount of Space, a Reasonable Rent, and a Convenient Location
  3. A New Office Concept That Encourages Employee Interaction
  4. An Ideal Office Combining Transparency, Openness, and Flexibility
  5. On a Mission to Improve Communication Between Employees and Maintain a Comfortable Work Environment

Moving Office with the Aim of Using Space More Efficiently

Air France-KLM is a global airline company that has established routes covering 381 cities in 114 countries. Operations at the Japanese division’s Tokyo office are broadly divided into four departments: sales, marketing and e-commerce, freight, and administration.

Before moving to its current site, the office was located in a large building above Tokyo Metro Aoyama-Itchome Station. The 120 employees used around 1,100 m2 of floor space, plus a 76-m2 storage area. The office was easy to access by public transportation.

“Despite the fact that we had discontinued our airline ticketing operations a few years earlier, the ticket counter space was still there. There were other spaces that also weren’t being used efficiently, so we decided to develop a plan for making more effective use of our space,” explains Gaikema.

“What’s more, we didn’t have enough meeting room space available. When we held all-hands meetings, we had no choice but to use the large area where employees’ desks are. And due to the layout of the old office, there were no places where employees could communicate freely with each other.”

The old office was laid out with the employees’ work area in the middle and individual managers’ offices along the windows on either side. Due to the configuration, employees’ desks were not necessarily located close to their team leader.

“Besides that, items for marketing events, IT-related parts, and documents that we were obliged to keep for legal reasons were stored in a separate storage room that we rented in the basement,” notes Gaikema. “The cost of renting that space was not negligible. We took advantage of the move to thoroughly sort all our documents.”

A separate storage space was obtained for documents that needed to be kept for legal reasons, while items such as stationery for which the company had no further use were boxed up and given away to various organizations. Paintings, vintage posters, and the like belonging to the company were donated to museums.

A Suitable Amount of Space, a Reasonable Rent, and a Convenient Location

In January 2016, a relocation working group was formed, with Gaikema acting as the project leader. There were six members in all, including four from each department and one from the IT team. Progress was verified at regular weekly meetings as well as at meetings of a decision-making body made up of senior management from the Japanese division.

Once the working group had been formed, it soon began considering locations for the new office. The prerequisites when searching for a new building were: ease of commuting for employees, convenient location for visiting clients, appropriate rent, and appropriate amount of floor space. The company determined the amount of floor space that it needed based on the adjustments mentioned above, which considerably reduced the area required.

“The floor space of the new office is around 650 m2,” says Gaikema. “That’s about half the floor space that we had before the move. Our office-related costs have been reduced by some 50%.”

When searching for a new office, the company was not particularly persistent to the location, but given the need to review office building information and conduct negotiations with building management, it decided to work with a company specializing in office strategy.

“Sanko Estate had helped us out when we relocated our Osaka office in 2015, and we had no hesitation in asking for their help again this time,” recalls Gaikema. “They were able to make a convincing case to our relocation specialists who visited Japan from Europe by presenting not only buildings but also market information, office trends, and the like. Since Sanko Estate provided explanations directly to the visiting specialists in English, it was easy for them to understand and actively take part in the deliberations. Sanko Estate’s work did not end once the lease was signed—they have continued to flexibly support and advise us since we moved in, right up to the present. We certainly made the right choice in hiring them.”

As a first step, the working group began to consider buildings both in the area near the old office, which was already familiar to them, and across a broader area that included the Suidobashi area, Nishi-Shinjuku, and Harumi. The list of candidates was narrowed down based on the company’s conditions and priorities. During this planning stage, they visited eight shortlisted buildings in person.

“After visiting the eight buildings, we narrowed down the list even further to six buildings,” explains Gaikema. “For each building, we asked a representative of a different design company to accompany us and give us their expert opinion. Finally, office relocation specialists who had come to Japan from Europe visited the candidate buildings as well. We selected the one that was best able to meet our various needs.”

Several office design companies which understood Air France-KLM’s thinking were approached and asked to submit bids to handle the design. Ultimately, they decided to commission a Dutch design firm that had previously worked on projects in other locations for Air France-KLM.

“The reason we selected the firm was that the modern design proposal which they submitted was closely aligned with our own vision for the office. They came up with very stylish solutions for our many different requirements,” notes Gaikema.

A New Office Concept That Encourages Employee Interaction

Gaikema describes the new office’s concept as being able to create a space where employees are free to interact with each other.

“As part of our internal communication, we shared progress reports on the relocation project as well as the latest version of the action plan with employees on a weekly basis,” he notes. “That way, every employee who would be working in the office felt involved in the project.”

At the same time, the design firm conducted a survey which asked employees to give their opinions and preferences about the details of the new office, no matter how minor.

“All employees were surveyed about the office environment, facilities, and functions,” says Gaikema. “The aim was to develop a more concrete vision for our office by taking into account the preferences of the entire staff. The survey was conducted online over three days. The response rate was extremely good, which showed that employees were very interested.”

Opinions voiced in the survey covered a wide range of topics from requests for office functions such as more meeting rooms and a space where employees could talk freely to environment-related issues such as the lighting, noise level, and comfortableness of chairs.

The responses were passed on to the design firm. While the details were still vague, the firm proposed several layout plans after carefully identifying issues and preferences by reviewing every single survey response. A proposal that was close to Air France-KLM’s vision was selected, and this was gradually brush up through patient effort.

Once the design proposal had been finalized, office interior design work proceeded at a rapid pace. As a result, the move was able to be completed on schedule by the end of September, with no delays. Searching for an office building and developing the office design concept simultaneously proved to be a successful approach. What’s more, Gaikema, the project manager in charge of the move, had supervised multiple office relocations in other regions. This prior experience was another factor contributing to the smooth completion of Air France-KLM’s move.

“As an airline company, Air France-KLM has very specific IT needs, so it’s necessary to coordinate preparations, arrangements, and everything with Europe. However, the Tokyo office does not have a ticket counter and is not visited by general customers, so that helped simplify the standards to be implemented with regard to corporate branding, the colors to be used, and so forth,” adds Gaikema.

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