Taxes. That one small word conjures up a long list of images, few of them pleasant. Tax accounting offices are often lackluster, traditional workplaces. Yet at Ernst & Young’s Shared Services in Indianapolis, the tax compliance group facility encourages recreation, relaxation, and fun while maintaining a high-efficiency workplace.“Alan Kline, who heads up our tax compliance group nationally, wanted this space to be different – not a typical accounting space, drab and boring,” says Robert Wright, director of design and construction, Ernst & Young, Los Angeles. Tax accounting is a demanding career where employees have long work shifts during the hectic tax season. Ernst & Young appreciated that hiring and training new employees was costly and inefficient and wanted its Shared Services Locations to enhance employee retention. The firm researched fellow companies with low employee turnover rates, such as Southwest Airlines, and recognized that a prominent corporate culture could nurture employees and improve retention rates. Along with Ernst &Young, the design team GHK, headquartered in Chicago, polled employees during an interactive discovery process to uncover what is most important to them. The beliefs gathered from this process were integrated into shared vision and heroic statements and directly implemented into the design concept. “The company’s mission is reinforced in every aspect of the space,” says Wright. Inspirational words, such as “teamwork,” are carved into the reception area’s hard-surface flooring. Even the walls are highlighted with the tax compliance group’s shared vision and heroic cause statements. Work meets play at the 53,000-square-foot workplace that combines highly functional, individual workstations with creative common spaces.“My favorite part of the project was the process that the team went through and the excitement level from all levels of management,” says Yolanda Mazzoni, vice president, GHK, Boston. The employees highly valued a work environment that supported privacy and concentration for quiet, focused tasks. The project’s cubicles feature a maximized lighting capacity from pendant light fixtures and high partition walls. “The workstations have high panels so the workers can be isolated, but when they want to take a break, there is space, too,” explains Wright.There is also additional space allocated for temporary workers who are brought in during the busy season. The space was designed to accommodate 350 employees; currently, there are 300 team members. In the workstation area, the facility sports vaulted ceilings to create a light-filled, warehouse effect. “Kline wanted to create a division that did things better, faster,” says Mazzoni.A giant floating heart over a conference table, a 42-foot paper airplane made from a mock 1040 tax form that intersects three rooms: What sets this project apart is its unexpected touches of whimsy in an office environment. Employees valued downtime and amenities during their long work shifts; thus GHK geared the workplace towards fun. The site houses a training facility, an interactive media room/lunchroom, a patio with picnic tables, a relaxation room, a putting green, and a game room complete with ping pong and foosball tables.Outfitted with lounge chairs, the relaxation room allows staff to read a book or listen to music with headphones. On the other hand, the media/lunchroom is a spirited space with Internet connections so end-users can work on their computers in an alternative space, and colorful LED screens proclaiming the company’s internal news. “It was funny. We asked them what is important to them and almost every answer had food attached to it,” jokes Wright. The facilities and design team strived to make the space a great place to enjoy a meal.The project is situated near a picturesque pond with a nature walk and bicycles are available on-site to support exercise and a connection with nature. Snazzy scooters are also available to support a little fun. “One of the most important things in the selection of the site was its proximity to a number of amenities,” says Mazzoni. The facility is located near childcare facilities, and its long corridors are flanked with windows to take advantage of natural light.The space has been a tremendous success with high efficiency levels and happy employees. “The employees do group activities together and feel like a family. It is amazing the culture that has developed in this group,” says Wright. This success is being duplicated in Ernst & Young’s other tax compliance offices, with each space geared to the individual tastes of that region. In New York City, Chicago, and Bangalore, similar designs have already been incorporated to encourage a corporate culture and support the staff. Adds Wright, “I do design and construction across the country, and everyone that sees the facility says they love the space and wish they could get it where they are.”The facilities and design team is pleased that their unique approach has succeeded in creating a responsive culture while delivering the desired efficiency levels. From now on, taxes will be linked with fun.Regina Raiford Babcock ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.