Things That Go Bump In The Light


How SAP Labs’ innovative environment enables a new way of working

SAP needed a new work model and environment that would help them support the development of software that runs two thirds of the world’s business. Bringing their Cloud team together in one building from the three they had been scattered across was just the beginning in their journey toward working in a totally different way.

“If you want to get things done, you need to bump into one another,” says Mike Tschudy VP, Product Design Group, SAP Cloud, who led this fundamental shift. “You need to have conflicts, conversations and a dose of clumsy. And you can’t do that in cube farms.” Fast forward to the present and SAP Cloud team members can be found heading to meetings on oversized tricycles—without passing a single cube.

The SAP team worked with DEGW (now Strategy Plus within AECOM), for workplace visioning and ReelGrobman to design the new space, the original architect for previous tenant improvements to another campus building. After a highly collaborative process, a design was developed for one wing. It proved so successful; it grew to the entire building.


Collaborative work area

A new way of working required unprecedented flexibility—both in terms of group composition and dynamics. This was essential to creating a more fluid interaction and solving problems quickly, avoiding the time waste of booking meeting rooms and a scheduled approach to collaboration. “We wanted ‘Accidental Collaboration’,” says Tschudy, “a place where people can bump into one another in common areas, overhear one another, leverage spontaneity to drive alignment and epiphany and have open and honest conversation about what is getting done. Out of that comes innovation.”

The result is an entirely different experience. “It’s a different energy than any of our other buildings in our campus says Dwain Christensen,” SAP Director of Workplace Strategies. Part of that is the new vibrant color palette, the exposed concrete floors, and open space filled with natural light, where people can come together naturally without being in a room. The other part is pure vibe.


Team room

“To encourage interaction and better connect people, process and technology, the team room or ’pod’ concept was formed,” says Clare Yeh, who, along with Lisa Macaluso, were the senior designers from ReelGrobman on the project. “Each team calls this their home base for the length of the project, which is typically about three months.” Built for about 10 people, the expandable team rooms are highly customizable with movable dividing walls to accommodate different dynamics.

The team rooms are located all along the perimeter to maximize natural light, which is extended with the interior glass walls that double as writing surfaces—as do most of the building’s walls. Each team room is equipped with a large flat-panel screen that projects from laptops. Employees have their own mobile pedestal, a locked file cabinet that’s typically parked under their work surface in the team room. When it’s time to move on to another project, the pedestal easily wheels down the concrete hallways to the next team room. “The adult-sized tricycles and scooters are popular,” says Macaluso, “and they really helped people who didn’t initially embrace the nomadic way of moving around all the time.”


Coffee corner/break area

For non-team time, there are plenty of options. For concentrated quiet work, there are six- person study halls (aka, “coding caves”) that separate team rooms in which laptops are allowed, but not talking or cell phones. Private and acoustically sound phone rooms accommodate two people and are located in the central Conference rooms can accommodate up to 12 people and are equipped with media:scape by Steelcase with HD videoconferencing capabilities. Zen Rooms have large floor cushions that surround a low coffee table for a more casual meeting alternative.

Fully equipped “coffee corners” are open areas with writable surfaces and multiple seating options to encourage collaboration. Acoustical panels by Tinta are hung from the open ceilings to muffle the sounds of espresso machines or informal team meetings that occur around the drop-down projector screens.


Open work areas, private offices, and phone rooms

An upcoming post-move occupancy survey will be used to trend their results data, but anecdotally the results are impressive. “There’s more talking now and gathering in common areas,” says Raquel Fanucchi, SAP Project Manager. “The sheer volume of requests to tour the facilities is a positive data point in itself.”

“The energy we’re experiencing, the ad hoc benefits, the efficiencies—they all point to how things are positively changing,” Tschudy says. “We live in a generation of conflict avoidance—and it’s nonsense. It’s going to be a little clumsy and awkward sometimes, but it’s going to be real. Human contact is needed to do great things.” And SAP’s Cloud team is on a roll to do just that.

Project Information: Architect: ReelGrobman
General Contractor: BCCI Construction

For more information about this project or ReelGrobman, please contact Win Roney at 408.288.7833 or

Photo credit: John Sutton

Below: Open work area with whiteboards


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