State-of-the-Art Office Case Studies:

Offices Supporting Management

New Balance Japan

Interviews conducted in June 2016

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

Consolidating Scattered Workplaces into a New Office That Enhances the Company’s Brand

New Balance Japan, Inc. is the Japanese subsidiary of New Balance Athletics, Inc., a U.S. sporting goods brand based in Boston, Massachusetts, whose three core values are “integrity,” “team work,” and “total customer satisfaction.” For this article, we interviewed Yuji Matsuhira, HR director and the relocation project owner, and Haruka Ishikawa, HR officer and a project member, about the concept and features of the company’s new Japanese head office in Jinbocho, Tokyo, which moved in November 2015.


Yuji Matsuhira

Yuji Matsuhira

Director, Human Resources, New Balance Japan

Haruka Ishikawa

Haruka Ishikawa

HR Officer, Human Resources, New Balance Japan

Elevator hall featuring the company’s core values

Elevator hall featuring the company’s core values

Brief Memo

  1. Insufficient communication and lack of shared culture among employees as the company spreads out across three floors and an annex
  2. Thorough consideration was given to the layout plan, which changed 46 times before it was finalized
  3. Drawing on New Balance’s global standards, the new office design adopts the style of the Boston and U.K. offices
  4. Benefiting from flow planning that enhances communication and the impact of showroom displays
  5. A new office that increases media exposure opportunities and contributes to the company’s branding

Insufficient communication and lack of shared culture among employees as the company spreads out across three floors and an annex

New Balance, an American shoes and sporting goods brand expanded into Japan in December 1988 at the height of the bubble economy, and set up its first office in the Toyosu district in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward. After over ten years at the Toyosu office, it relocated to another building in Akashicho, Chuo Ward. After about 15 years, it decided to make a major move. The reason for this was that the office had reached its maximum capacity: less than 50 people at the time it moved in, the number of employees had steadily increased to about 200.

Matsuhira: “The old office was small, with about 8,900 sq. ft. of space per floor; we handled the company’s growth by leasing more space in the same building, until eventually we were spread out across three floors, as well as an annex we had set up in a nearby building. This led to a silo mentality with a lack of a shared culture across departments, as well as insufficient communication among employees.”

As measures for expanding the office, the company was faced with a choice between two options: to wait for vacancies in the same building, or to move to another building. After much consideration, New Balance Japan opted to relocate so that it would be able to consolidate its office space on a single floor, with the aim of addressing problems such as decreased communication within the company.

Matsuhira: “Over a year before the decision was made, a salesperson from Sanko Estate had given us various advices such as plans for accommodating more people, and brought us information on potential locations for our new office at the same time. After considering the situation and their information, we decided to entrust the entire relocation project to Sanko Estate.”

At first, areas such as Ebisu, Shinagawa, and Shiodome were proposed as candidate locations, but in light of various factors, such as the building’s size, the area’s image, accessibility to/from our clients’ stores, and the accessibility for employees to commute, New Balance Japan finally decided to relocate to a building in Chiyoda Ward’s Jinbocho district.

Matsuhira: “The new office location was decided by November 2014. At that time, the US CEO happened to be visiting Japan, so he was able to see the office space first hand. Since the building with a large space such as 24,900 sq. ft per floor was rare, we would be able to accommodate all our employees, including staffs from the annex, on one floor. That was the deciding factor.”

The relocation plan was officially approved by the U.S. head office in mid-January 2015. Before that, the relocation project was kicked-off in the New Year, with 12 project members selected from across the company.

Matsuhira: “At that time, there were few people within the company with experience of handling an office relocation. So, I imagine that it would have been a lot more difficult carrying out the project without outside help.”

Thorough consideration waw given to layout plan, which changed 46 times before being finalized

New Balance Japan has an office in Osaka as well, which is a branch office only with a sales function, while the production department is located in a subcontract factories outside of Japan. All the other key functions, including head office functions, planning, development, design, and distribution, are located in Tokyo.

Ishikawa: “By selecting members from various departments, we were able to gather opinions from people with different perspectives. We were unable to adopt all of their ideas so that the project team evaluated them one by one and, then, made a decision after obtaining the viewpoint of management as well.”

The opinions received from various departments included some requests that were simply impossible to carry out.

Ishikawa: “People said things such as ‘I’d like to have a gym set up in the office’ or ‘I’d like an employee cafeteria’. It would be a different matter if we were a big company, but that’s rather difficult for a company of our size. So we had to turn down such requests.

When the project team was first set up, meetings were held at least once a week, and they covered the details of everything from selecting the furniture, to plans for the office decor and layout. The members also visited other companies to see their cutting-edge office spaces to learn about them. This influenced some of the features incorporated into the new office. In addition, five different office layout templates (proposals A to E) were drawn up, and once proposal E had been decided on, thorough consideration was given to the details. In the end, the plan was changed 46 times before it was finalized.

Matsuhira: “After allocating 220 seats to the office area, we wanted to provide other areas such as meeting spaces that employees could use freely. However, since the number of employees became more than we initially expected, we had to revise the layout again and again. I’d heard that New Balance Shanghai office changed their layout plan 24 times, but I never imagined that we would change our plan even more.”

Drawing on New Balance’s global standards, the new office design adopts the Boston and U.K. offices style

Foreign companies expanding globally often use a somewhat standardized office design for their branches in various countries. The same is true with New Balance.

Matsuhira: “In terms of office design, New Balance has some standard global criteria, which basically indicate that the office image has to be consistent with the company’s retail stores. The same rule is applied in Japan. However, around one year before our office moved, other New Balance offices in Shanghai, China, and Manchester, England, relocated as well. When we went to see those, we realized that the office concept does not necessarily have to be identical to the retail stores.”

Incidentally, about one month before the Japan office moved, the U.S. headquarters in Boston relocated. New Balance Japan looked at photos of the head office following its move and noticed once again that it had a different design concept from the retail stores. The U.S. head office had adopted a design inspired by the entrance area of its factory in Boston. The Tokyo head office decided to adopt a somewhat retro design similar to the headquarters, such as the wood and brick accents featured in the 18th-floor elevator hallway.

Ishikawa: “At first, we actually didn’t receive the building’s permission to renovate the elevator hallway. However, after patient negotiation, the owner finally agreed to change their rules for us, and we were able to carry out the renovations.”

Elevator hall

Elevator hall

Matsuhira: “We also incorporated a wall decor stating New Balance’s core values of ‘integrity,’ ‘team work,’ and ‘total customer satisfaction’ at three places inside the office, including the elevator hallway. The aim of this was to ensure our core values are clearly understood and appreciated by everyone, including each individual employee as well as customers who visit the office.”

In conjunction with the move, all the office desks were replaced with brand-new ones. These are somewhat smaller than those used at the U.S. head office, considering the difference in physical size between Japanese and Americans. All desks are assigned to specific employees, but their layout was drastically changed. The old office used the partition-less arrangement that has long been a standard for Japanese companies, with desks grouped into islands which employees sit facing each other while they work.

Matsuhira: “Personally, I felt that the desk layout at the old office didn’t match our brand image, and to be honest, I didn’t like it. This time, we requested photos of the Shanghai office, U.K. office, and U.S. head office, and we also referred to the offices of other companies that the project team members had visited. The desk layout was decided based on these. The offices we visited included some hot desking-style arrangements where employees don’t have assigned places. In the case of our company, though, employees often keep product samples and their belongings near their desks, and even if, for instance, we provided them with personal lockers, not everything would fit, so we steered away from hot desking.”

In one corner of the office space, artificial green grass has been laid out and tiered seating set up on it. This idea was proposed by a design company. When project team members visited this design company, they saw that it had introduced the same kind of space at its own office.

Ishikawa: “We call this space the ‘stadium’. Once it was actually completed, it was bigger than I expected, but it’s very convenient. It has a screen that can be pulled down, so employees use it for practicing presentations or for holding small in-house events.”

The multi-purpose “stadium” area

The multi-purpose “stadium” area

Matsuhira: “The project members got together regularly until the stage when the fixtures were selected, just before the summer of 2015. After that, orders were placed by the core members, and then we began the interior finishing work, first for the showroom and then for the office. Sanko Estate joined us when we visited the site to check the work’s progress, and thanks to their expert eye, they were able to point out and give advice about details that we wouldn’t have noticed.”

Ishikawa: “Sanko Estate met with us in person every week, and we were able to consult them late into the evening. Even after the plan had been decided to some extent, there were a lot of changes, but no matter what we said to them, they never said no to us and that was encouraging.”

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