e-Loft All the Fashion at BMO Nesbitt Burns

When you’re a staid old bank, it can be difficult to attract and keep top IT talent who can pretty well have their pick of interesting tech jobs at innovative, leading-edge companies with funky office spaces complete with cappuccino makers and pool tables.

Employees often look to their work environment for signs their employer cares about them and for reassuring messages about company success and prosperity. With that in mind, BMO Nesbitt Burns has recognized the value in the old adage “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”.

The financial services firm recently moved its e-business development team from its bank tower location in the heart of Toronto’s financial district to a trendier loft in the fashion district a number of city blocks away. The e-development team supports the Bank of Montreal’s Private Client Group, including the BMO InvestorLine direct brokerage and BMO Nesbitt Burns’s new Full-Service Online investment program.

According to Heather Campbell, vice-president of e-development at BMO Nesbitt Burns, consultations with key IT staff members generated a list of requirements which were incorporated into the final design of the brokerage firm’s e-Loft. For example, to reduce PC monitor glare, the 14,000-square-foot space is completely devoid of fluorescent lighting, and instead features softer-hued track lighting and natural light which streams in through six-foot-tall windows.

BMO elected to maintain the loft’s original brick interior walls, hardwood floor and ceiling, and exposed wooden beams and mechanical shafts. Low workspace partitions and frosted-glass office walls add to the open-concept look.

The e-Loft’s floorspace is divided into “neighbourhoods of like-minded people”, Campbell says, explaining Web designers are grouped together in one area, while Java developers and Microsoft technicians are located in separate areas. One exception to the open-concept design is an application stress-test area, in the centre of the office, which is almost entirely closed in by partition walls that double as whiteboards.

Productivity-oriented features include ergonomically designed workstations and chairs from Steelcase Inc., optional cubicle privacy screens, and collaborative work areas. The e-Loft also includes showers and relaxation areas, plus a complete kitchen.

According to Campbell, some members of the e-development team were apprehensive initially about moving to the fringes of Toronto’s downtown core, but they now say they are very happy about the move. One obvious change to the work dynamic of the group, Campbell says, is an increase in interaction among team members. In addition, whereas before the majority of staff would disperse at lunchtime, the noon hour now finds team members gathered around the lunch counter in the loft’s kitchen or relaxing in the comfy stuffed chairs in the adjacent lounge area.

And yes, there are a cappuccino maker and a pool table.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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