Tim Venable, Senior VP at CoreNet Global interviews Meghan Tuohig, Chief People Officer, Overstock.com.

Don’t have time to read this? You can also listen to it as a podcast: https://www.corenetglobal.org/KCO/content.aspx?ItemNumber=40297

Q: Tell us about your career path. How long have you been with the company?

A: It’s been sort of a wild journey. If you told my 18-year-old self that 20 years from now I would be an executive overseeing HR functions in a company, I would have probably laughed in your face. For my undergraduate, I was really interested in the sciences. I wanted to go into biomechanics. I was studying kinesiology. I was an athlete. Frankly, when I took a job at a small online retailer called Overstock.com in 2004, it was really just to sort of pay the bills and get by until I knew what the next step in my career would be. Here I am, 20 years later, and I’m the Chief People Officer.

I started in 2004 as an administrative assistant, and over the years just saw opportunities within the company. I’ve had various roles in sourcing, in marketing, and for a while I was overseeing a consumer auctions platform that we had at Overstock. In 2013, I was asked to start exploring options for the company to find new space. Our lease was coming up in a couple of years for our previous offices. I went out to New York City and studied interior design and architecture in anticipation of this project. I worked on Overstock’s new headquarters, Peace Coliseum, for about three years. And during that building process I got a really good, deep understanding of the culture at Overstock because I was creating a physical space where we wanted to maximize the collaboration, the productivity, and the engagement of our work force. I had to really understand those physical elements that would help people be their best selves in the office.

It was a very natural fit for me to go from that project into People Care. I have been in People Care now for about three years, and was just recently promoted to Chief People Officer. So, that’s my journey at Overstock. It all started 15 years ago.

Q: What keeps you awake at night? I’m guessing that employee retention and attraction, engagement, health and well-being are very much on the list.

A: Your guess is correct! I’m a big believer that Overstock’s biggest asset really is the people in this building. It’s the 1,500 employees we have here. They are the ones building the technology, building the processes and creating those relationships that really drive the business. And so I’m constantly thinking about employee wellness and satisfaction. Not just for our employees, but for all their families as well. I’m always trying to think of ways to enhance our culture and our workplace here to be very inclusive, innovative and productive and make sure we have the most engaged set of employees in the state of Utah.

Q: What role does the workplace play in supporting your efforts to deliver on your key objectives?

A: It’s really crucial. The features of our physical space actually reflect the virtues of Overstock. If you were to come to Peace Coliseum, you would see that it’s very open and transparent. There’s a lot of natural light. There are meeting spaces everywhere you look. That environment allows us to be healthy, engaged, collaborative and incredibly productive. The space definitely matters. If you could’ve seen the space we were in before Peace Coliseum, it was very walled off, with small offices.

Peace Coliseum feels like it does a much better job of reflecting our culture and who we are. Again, the people are really driving our business and we want them to be comfortable and inspired here. It’s a very vibrant space, so it really meets their needs and we’re incredibly proud of this space. It’s a 19-acre campus. It’s about 231,000 square feet of office space. We have an onsite daycare and a medical clinic with a full-time physician for our employees. We’ve got a fitness center. We even have a greenhouse onsite where the fruits and vegetables grown in the greenhouse are actually served in our onsite cafe.

Right on the perimeter of our property is a TRAX station (TRAX is our public transit system). We often tell employees it’s easier for them to take TRAX, or the train, into work than to park at our parking garage and walk across campus. It’s a lovely place to be and we found it to be important for people to want to come into work every day. And we find that’s the case with our Peace Coliseum.

I like to say that Peace Coliseum is a bit like Overstock. From the outside, it’s this concrete structure that looks like a coliseum. From the air, it’s actually a peace sign. We sometimes say it’s like the duality of man: it’s big, strong and bold from the outside, but we’re just soft and very peaceful on the inside.

Q: I’m told that the campus is LEED Gold certified.

A: Yes, that’s correct. We’re very proud of that. Overstock is incredibly committed to sustainability. We have a lot of features on the campus that helped us get there. The site itself, the property, is a former EPA Superfund site that’s been cleaned up. We also have View Dynamic Glass, which is electrochromic glass that changes its tint according to the time of day and the weather. That has also contributed to that LEED Gold certification. We’ve got water-saving plumbing fixtures. Again, we’ve got a TRAX station on the perimeter. And during the building, the construction process, we used a lot of recycled and locally sourced materials that all added up to LEED Gold certification.

Q: You mentioned the View Dynamic Glass as one of the building’s innovative features. Can you tell me more about that?

A: It’s really incredible when you see these windows at work. The View Dynamic Glass has allowed us to completely eliminate any window coverings in the entire building. If you’ve ever spoken to a facilities person, you can ask them how painful it is to manage window coverings in a large building. Our work force really loves it because we are able to maximize the natural light that just floods into this building.  And it’s done in such a way that it nearly eliminates glare on monitors.

It allows our employees to remain connected to the outdoors here. If you’ve been to Utah, you will know that the outdoors is so stunning. A lot of people relocate here because there’s such a connection to the recreational opportunities and the mountains. The windows allow all of our associates to remain connected to the outdoors. We have such stunning views of the Salt Lake Valley and the Wasatch Front that it would be such a shame to have those views covered up by window coverings all day long. It allows us to remain really comfortable yet connected to the outdoors.

There was actually a study done fairly recently where there was a control group and a test group using this type of glass. The outcome of this study was that employees were actually about one and a half percent more productive in an environment with the glass. When I apply that to Overstock and our work force, that one and a half percent increase in productivity translates to millions of dollars. It’s a real monetary value that we are getting from that physical element in our building.