A new location for our lab and offices in Ottawa

For this volume’s Construction and Layout entry, Real Strategy caught up with Vincent Martel, Real Estate Project Manager at Englobe to discuss the Ottawa lab and office project that was done during the pandemic.

With Englobe being a specialty engineering and environmental services firm, there were highly unique aspects to the project from the location needs to how the pandemic and its evolving restrictions were navigated.  

Englobe is one of Canada’s premier firms specializing in professional engineering services, environmental sciences, and soil and biomass treatment.

Englobe is one of Canada’s premier firms specializing in professional engineering services, environmental sciences, as well as soil and biomass treatment. Englobe has close to 3,000 employees worldwide and offices in Canada, France, and the UK. With over 150 sites in the Englobe commercial real estate portfolio, the organization is required to undergo projects routinely to outfit sites and negotiate new leases in order to accommodate their growth. 


Growth and Flexibility  

When it came to the Ottawa project, Englobe‘s local team was already more than 60 employees and continuing to grow. Furthermore, as professional engineers, Englobe’s office requires lab space and equipment that is not standard for a typical tenant.

Every year, we have a couple of major projects such as the one we did in Ottawa that requires us to find a new site, negotiate a new lease, and do a proper fit up based on the realities of our local operation.

Vincent Martel, Real Estate Project Manager, Englobe

With the scientific nature of Englobe’s business and the move being more complex than simply packing up a truck with workstations, computers, and chairs, they’ve found that they benefit from longer term leases in order to protect their capital investment and ensure long-term stability. Consolidating their office footprints into a larger premises on a 10-15 year lease affords Englobe significant negotiating leverage when it comes to setting the business terms and tenant improvement allowances. Cash inducements to help offset renovation expenses are a huge factor in any deal but are especially important given the considerable amount of construction costs Englobe incurs when setting up a new environmental lab. 

The new location is more than twice the size of what we had before in Ottawa. The local team found opportunities in different sectors in the region and they needed to have an office and lab space under the same roof that could support the growing number of employees and services offered.

Vincent Martel, Real Estate Project Manager, Englobe

Vincent’s role is to coordinate the local construction project including identifying specific needs, engaging with relevant stakeholders and mobilizing internal subject matter experts. In addition to the usual parties involved in an office move (internal client, landlord, brokerage, lawyers, architect, and interior design firm), Vincent and his team mandated Englobe’s internal engineering department to fully scope out their laboratory needs from conception to completion.  


As a central revenue-generating function of their company, these engineers represent a major stakeholder in the success of the project. Clearly, managing a move of this complexity is no easy feat. Here are some factors that brought complexity to the project:  

- The new site fit-up needed to be delivered and in operation before the end of the previous lease.  

- The moving and installation of laboratory equipment was done in stages to limit operational downtime and impact to client projects. 

- There were multiple delays with construction materials and equipment on account of the pandemic that required constant adaptation. 

Culture and Space  

The overall workplace culture is also an important consideration for Englobe when deciding on new locations and determining layouts. As scientists, people at Englobe will always need to work together, both physically in the lab or on a work site as well as in a larger collaborative sense.  


When discussing Englobe’s team-based culture, Vincent also emphasized the importance of knowledge transfer. Englobe believes in physical spaces that juxtapose employees with less experience in proximity to senior leaders in order to foster learning. Creating opportunities for mentorship is an essential consideration when designing any physical space.  


The Ottawa project was a move towards a more flexible and efficient layout designed to support a hybrid workplace. There is an added focus on natural light, windows, and open space when compared to the previous location in addition to a flexible working policy. As part of Englobe’s back-to-work strategy, there is no specific time or set number of days that an employee needs to be in the office (although this can vary by region). Instead, individual attendance is decided at the team level based on the nature of the work at hand and the individual project needs. 


Vincent also acknowledged that Englobe’s current workplace strategy is to reflect on what has worked versus what hasn’t and optimize from there. The past couple of years have been hectic to say the least. The concept of work has seen a massive disruption in terms of where and how it can be done. The phrase ”at the office” has been uprooted and potentially forever changed. Englobe’s approach is therefore less about enshrining a policy that prescribes how many days someone can work here versus there and is more about larger picture concerns like:  

- Are different short-, mid-, or long-term site strategies needed?  

- What are the best and most purposeful locations? 

- Should strategic satellite office sites be considered?  

- Does it make sense to reconsider larger central offices for smaller remote ones?  

- How will changes in cities impact these approaches? 


As a company, we are in a longterm reflection on the workplace impacts of the pandemic. We started seeing employees going back into the office because they wanted to, while others are still working from home and appreciating that option. For the Ottawa space, it was important for us to provide the flexibility of a hybrid workplace.

Vincent Martel, Real Estate Project Manager, Englobe

The Essentials  

Englobe was identified as an essential service during the pandemic which allowed for employees to continue working from the office. Lab staff and field technicians, who require access to specialized equipment, cannot work from home. When certain jobs entail going to different sites, collecting samples, bringing them back to a lab, storing them, and more, there was never the chance for Englobe to be a remote-first company in the same way other organizations might have pivoted. 


As a result of the pandemic, Englobe had to adopt communication practices that kept many people informed on a lot of different situational elements but without overwhelming them. There were many more communication touch points, a designated COVID-19 committee, and other internal guidelines to address changing operational, as well as health and safety needs. In other words, adaptive measures were put into place that have become standard practice to support an interconnected and hybrid environment. 


Vincent commented on how modern the new space feels and the sense of inclusiveness it inspires. Beyond the lab, the open nature of the office layout provides an incredible sense of freedom. The new location also provides much needed meeting and collaboration areas that were simply not present at the last office. 

We know with the new hybrid workplace reality that people go to the office to meet with their colleagues as well as their clients and to participate in project meetings, leaving individual work at home.

Vincent Martel, Real Estate Project Manager, Englobe

Ultimately, Englobe moving forward with the new reality of hybrid work, while at the same time balancing the driving factors of expanding operations, talent attraction, and need for a magnetic environment. Besides, they’re no strangers to a well organized and executed experiment! 


This article was originally published in Real Spaces Magazine, Volume 9 :