Life just got a little bit better for Shell Canada’s Fort St. John employees.
After making due with a dusty old building no longer able to support the level of activity the oil and gas company is experiencing with their operations in the region, they were finally moving into their new building this summer, marking the occasion with a grand opening barbecue on Friday, July 27.
“Did you see what we used to have in Fort St. John?” said Louis Auger, vice president of Production North with Shell, when asked what he thought of the new home for their Fort St. John business.
“Fantastic, eh?” Auger continued. “The space. The openness. The brightness. Just the effectiveness. We’ve now got the whole team together.
“And people aren’t doubled up and tripled up,” he added, alluding to the cramped conditions at the old office. “So, it’s just awesome.”
“We have proper workspaces now for everyone,” said Rej Tetrault, Shell’s Fort St. John operations manager.
“In our old office, we were crammed into four people per office – if you could find a desk. Now we have 110 professionally designed ergonomic desks for everyone, with multiple breakout rooms. Breakout rooms for anywhere from four people up to the large conference room.”
The large conference room can hold 110 people, ample space for the approximately 80 employees who now work in the Fort St. John office.
“If you need to make a personal phone call,” Tetrault continued, “we have phone booth rooms. So, we’ve got lots of flexibility.”
However, the improvements aren’t simply about adequate space, but also the design of the space, which includes an open concept, striking photographs from across their operating areas and messaging on the walls that reinforces values such as safety and sustainability.
“It comes back to our values,” said Auger. “We are very, very committed to trying to build an organization and instill in people the want [and] the desire … to do the right thing. And so by having this messaging and being able to interact with each other, we can reinforce those values and really build our culture.”
“Having a nice, quality office that’s clean, ergonomically designed, so that people can work effectively,” Tetrault added. “And that’s not [just] individually, but, also, we work a lot in teams. So, this office is really designed around working in teams.”
Tetrault also remarked that the photographs and the messaging are all about building a culture.
“The pictures are meant to represent the various parts of our businesses, whether that be upstream or downstream, and it allows us to reflect and see that we’re part of a great business,” he said.
“We work for Royal Dutch Shell, that has 110,000 employees, that is in a variety of different businesses throughout the world,” he continued. “So, that’s where the pictures come from. It’s just to reground yourself, to say, ‘I’m part of something exciting and big and helping the world attack the energy challenge.’ And that’s what it means to me.
“In terms of the messages on the walls, that’s partly where we really try to build and ingrain culture. Sustainability – it’s a value, it’s how we work. Safety – it’s not a priority, it’s a value.”
It is also a way of showing the values Shell considers important to their contractors when they enter the building.
“They see ‘sustainability’ and they should ask, ‘What does it mean to you? What do you do about sustainability?’” said Tetrault.
The new building also features a meditation room and a state of the art emergency response centre.
“When Shell builds a building, we’re required to follow particular protocol in terms of how we design the building to be a diverse workplace,” said Tetrault, pointing to the fact that Shell’s employees come from various cultural and religious backgrounds.
“And so one of the requirements around that diverse workplace is to have the ability to meditate if you choose to practice,” he added.
The emergency response centre is equipped with special infrastructure, including dedicated telephone lines.
“To allow us to quickly and effectively respond in the event of emergency,” said Tetrault.
“It’s actually designated as a crisis room,” he continued. “It’s not a room that people can use to have meetings in. And the reason we do that is, if we do have an emergency, we want to quickly go in there, we want to know exactly where the maps are, and we don’t want things to be displaced.
“And we’ve already been asked, ‘Can we use that room? It looks like a beautiful room.’ And the answer is no. It’s a crisis room. It might fit your needs, but we have many other… meeting rooms that can suit your needs.”
The key addition to their workspace is a modern air filtration system that has already provided noticeable health benefits to Shell’s Fort St. John employees.
“We’ve already had feedback from a lot of our staff that, in the old office, they used to have to take allergy medicine, and since coming into this office, they don’t have to take any allergy medicine at all,” said Tetrault.
“We are now working in a very high quality, healthy environment that will hopefully help… keep my staff here happy and motivated to deliver the business,” he added.
“And then also be able to allow us to attract other talents.”
Tetrault gives much of the credit for the finished project to Bruce Reid, president and owner of WL Construction, which is based in Fort St. John, particularly when it comes to the fact that the building was actually ready on schedule.
“When we first made contact with Shell, they were looking at 10,000 square foot building,” said Reid, describing the long process of designing and constructing the new offices.
“I toured them through my CNRL (Canadian Natural Resources) building,” he continued. “And their new plans came out to a 20,000 square foot building. And then they put the job on hold … for about a year. And then when we came back , they knew more what they were looking for. And we started again at 22,000 square feet. And then up to 27,000 square feet. And then we ended up at 34,800 square feet. That’s how fast they’re expanding up here.”
“We initially started this about two years ago,” added Tetrault, who has only been in Fort St. John for about a year himself.
The first year was devoted entirely to planning and scouting locations.
“Last summer, we had a conceptual design,” said Tetrault. “And we took several months to reiterate that back to having a final design.”
Reid was starting construction by late July.
“And so it took a whole year, which was the plan, to finish construction and get all the infrastructure installed,” added Tetrault.
“[Reid] had actually finished a lot of his construction activities several months prior to this office opening,” he continued. “There’s weeks upon weeks of installing IT, some of the systems, and also desks and chairs, which take a lot longer than you realize.”
Reid promised that Tetrault and his staff would be moving into their new office on July 9 and he was true to his word.
The contractor is also proud of the quality of the new building, which is situated in a subdivision that is also home to new offices belonging to CNRL and Talisman Energy.
It will soon be the home of the new BC Oil and Gas Commission (OGC) offices, too.
“I put building scheme restrictions on all those properties,” said Reid, adding that those restrictions are more stringent than those imposed by the City.
“These are going to represent the new investment in Fort St. John,” he continued. “They’re going to raise the level of… confidence of investing in our community.”
Shell’s new office is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified building.
“LEED Silver,” said Reid.
“It’s a grade of sustainable buildings,” he continued. “And they have LEED Bronze, LEED Silver, Gold and Platinum.”
The system is used throughout North America.
“That’s a challenge in the north,” Reid said of attaining LEED Silver status. “Because if this building was plunked in the south, it would be a LEED Gold building. Because there’s certain things up here that you cannot get, like a transit system that delivers people every fifteen minutes to your door.”
A key factor in achieving that LEED Silver rank was the fact that the building did surpass expectations in terms of energy efficiency, boasting thermal ratings of R41 for the walls, R52 for the roof and R8 for all the glass.
“It’s going to cost very little to operate this building with respect to energy,” said Reid.
Construction of the new building consisted of 90 per cent local talent.
“Most of the money stayed in the community,” said Reid.
However, there has been a bit of controversy concerning the actual local benefits of Shell’s new Fort St. John presence because the building is located outside of city limits, meaning that property taxes won’t be paid to the City of Fort St. John.
“It’s a question of leasing what was available at the time,” said Auger.
“We have a real estate group that does nothing but look at offices,” Tetrault added.
“From upstream business to the downstream business, whether that’s gas stations or offices,” he continued.
“We did look at a variety of different locations before we landed on this one.”
Tetrault stressed that Shell did not deliberately try to build their new office outside the city.
“We looked to be in the city and we couldn’t find anything suitable at the time,” he said. “And so that’s the reasoning behind [it].
“Although this is a nice location,” he continued, “being away from the city from a people perspective also means that we’re that much farther away from paths, for instance. So, I can bike most of the way to this office, and the remainder is on the road.
“We didn’t take the decision lightly. We looked initially in the city and then we had to come out here. And besides the taxes, we looked at a variety of different things as well. And this was the best fit.”
Reid obviously believes the location, coupled with the quality of the building, will be to the long-term benefit of Fort St. John.
“They’re all brand new buildings,” he explained. “And they all have building scheme restrictions on them so, when you’re coming in from the airport, it’s impressive. They’re all nice, new, modern style buildings that Fort St. John can be proud of.
“They’re all good quality buildings that are going to last a long time,” he added.
Auger emphasized the benefits to Shell that comes with the location as well.
“It’s on the way to the airport,” he said. “It’s quite convenient. So, for us, for staging operations, it’s quite central. You can [easily] get to all our facilities.”
Additionally, Shell used their grand opening barbecue to provide support for the local SPCA and their favourite cause, the United Way. The event also featured donations of $100,000 each to the hospital foundations in Fort St. John and Dawson Creek.
“I am so pleased to do that on behalf of the company,” said Auger.
“We try to create a building that will allow us to meet our business needs, which means growing the business,” said Tetrault. “By growing the business, we’re trying to hire local talent, and at times we also have to bring in talent from outside. And some of this talent might live in different parts of the world – it could be Alberta – and they come and they join us here to work on our assets. It means now that we’ve got somebody who wasn’t here before. And that is putting pressure on the hospitals.
“We’ve heard that from the hospital themselves and other folks in the community,” he continued. “So, these two donations are a way to help give back. Although it won’t completely alleviate the pressure on the hospitals, but if we help them purchase equipment, it helps them potentially be more effective in delivering the services.
“And so that’s the rationale behind it, is that we know that we’re having this impact, and we want to try to alleviate that and mitigate that risk by providing equipment.
“If I went to the hospital tomorrow, I’d like to know that the industry as a whole, and the growth that it’s seeing, isn’t putting pressure so that I can’t get looked after as well.”
“You can have a lot of other things in life,” Auger concluded, “but if you don’t have your health and your safety, you really don’t have much.”