by Joanne McFadden, IDA PIDIM IDC LEED® AP
Interior Designer / Corporate Lead

CWB: a Winnipeg landmark and post to over 430 employees. The Canadian Wheat Board's rich history dates back to the early 1920s where, from the beginning, its mandate was to sell the producer's grain in the domestic and export markets at world prices – a true advocate for the farmers of western Canada.

The process of marketing, selling and investing requires an established, regulated and well-managed set of procedures, administered by CWB project teams to ensure grain is fetching top dollar for their owners and growers. Logistically-speaking, the work chain was moving, albeit difficult, to successfully manage flow from one department to the next throughout an 8-storey organization. Thus, the overlying question remained, how does the CWB improve their process, strengthen communication, and convey transparency between departments in addition to the farmers?

A snapshot of the former Canadian Wheat Board office environment included perimeter-enclosed offices for management and executive staff, with a focus on the internal, windowless, compartmentalized, silos with varying square footages and components for staff. Compromised adjacencies, lack of meeting space, limited flexibility and non-descript, institutional colours and finishes were common – quite the disconnect between who they are and their visionary mandate.

The argument to move towards an open office plan became more convincing with notable benefits and positive effects: increased employee communication and interaction,, flexibility, ability to house more employees and the reduced setup led the charge to manage this change.


The CWB selected ft3 Architecture Landscape Interior Design to conduct a feasibility study, creating the outline for a concept that would enable CWB to move towards the bright, highly collaborative, invigorating and professional business model they strive to be.

This was not met without reservations as the expectations meant change – and with change comes resistance. The risk of many managers losing private offices, being replaced with multiple group collaborative zones, while giving employees the opportunity to interact in a way that simply wasn't possible before – frequently and spontaneously – was now the focus, which would in turn be a small sacrifice for a more efficient way to work. The burning question became, how well could ft3 manage staff expectations?


A number of sequential steps followed:

  • The creation of a project working committee which included representation from each department and designated client liaison was assembled, meetings were frequent and structured to maximize knowledge transfer from client to design team.
  • Existing furniture assessments and inventories were conducted – conclusions supported the need to reuse all components and modify layout to establish a workstation footprint which suited all work types.
  • In-depth department needs analyses were developed.
  • Regular review meetings commenced – ft3 pushed for input on: CWB culture shifts, department adjacencies and efficiencies.
  • A series of office tours illustrating similar office environments and the culture CWB wished to emulate were scheduled – participants included all executive, including the CEO.
  • Workstation Mock-up – all departments had an opportunity to participate in individual group presentations showcasing the new refreshed workstation standard. The physical mock-up was left on display. Comments received were highly favourable to the conversion.
  • Regular presentations to the Executive Committee and Board of Directors were initiated for updates and approvals.
  • Lunchtime 'town hall' presentations to all staff updating information on plans, phasing and decanting schedule were given. An informed CWB workplace made for a healthier environment and morale.
  • A construction manager was hired and participated in key meetings throughout the design development process to monitor budget and schedules.
  • A series of phasing diagrams were developed to initiate the sequence of renovations and inform work groups ahead of time of the dates and lengths of displacement.



Overall, staff adapted favorably to the changes. Feedback from the client liaison highlights:

  • A sense of reduced hierarchy due to standardized workstation size
  • Staff moves are efficient, less disruptive and fast. Standardized workstations eliminate the need to hire outside companies to modify workstations, they are now all internally assembled
  • Moveable furniture modules allow for personalized workstations, catering to individual task needs
  • Lowered privacy panels allow for maximized natural lighting and air flow; staff no longer complain about being too hot or too cold
  • The addition of numerous meeting rooms alleviates the concern for the lack of meeting space
  • ''Office dwellers' did have difficulty adjusting to loss of exterior windows and direct natural light but this was considered a small sacrifice in terms of the number of staff who now enjoy and share in the benefit of exterior views and sunlight



  • Manage change
  • Ensure execute buy-in early in the process
  • Create dedicated collaboration areas
  • Promote spontaneous interaction
  • Reduce distractions
  • Standardize wherever feasible
  • Design for maximum flexibility and adaptability
  • Anticipate future needs and trends
  • Balance communication and privacy



Interior Designer / Corporate Lead

The senior design partner at ft3, Joanne has been involved in a wide variety of high-profile projects in both the public and private sectors that not only contribute to increased efficiency and productivity, but also enhance corporate culture and personal well-being. She is invested, committed and deeply involved in the evolution of each design project. Joanne has established a dynamic team of professionals who together are able to work with each client, identify the issues and get results which offer up exciting, meaningful and well planned environments where users are part of the solution.

ft3 Architecture Landscape Interior Design provides full architectural, landscape and interior design services for health and wellness, complex multi-family housing, and corporate office environments throughout western Canada.