Finding new ways to meet: Protective Insurance gets outside


For 90 years, the Protective Insurance team worked out of one office building in a close, creative culture. In March of 2020, that changed overnight. The company easily adjusted to remote work, logistically speaking, but the loss of in-person interaction has proven to be a tougher shift.

“All of us have become very used to the various different types of video technology that support virtual meetings, but we do miss the collaboration you find with in-person meetings,” said Jeremy Johnson, CEO of Protective. “We’re a close culture. We miss workplace socializing and those over-the-cubicle conversations that help people solve problems and learn.”

The technology that kept the organization functioning was essential. Still, seeing faces only on screen left a lot to be desired.

“Yes, we can have really effective large group meetings over video,” Johnson said. “We can collaborate and brainstorm. But there’s something so human and necessary about in-person meetings. When you go months and months without seeing each other, connectivity gets lost.”

Recognizing that there was only so much the company could do to improve the safety within its office walls, Protective looked outward. In April 2021, its shaded greenspace will also hold an outdoor conference space.

Sheltered, with a louvered, weather-sensitive shade, the space can safely accommodate small and medium-sized meetings while following social distancing guidelines—capacity of the space will top 30 people when the threat of COVID infection passes. It will include all the expected technology of a modern meeting space and address the realities of Indiana weather without losing the outdoor feel.

“This gives us a space that’s conducive to collaboration, where we can safely get people together with the necessary distance to not wear masks,” Johnson said. “As we came to understand more about the aerosolized nature of the transmission risk, we ultimately concluded we couldn’t safely mitigate risk within the building.”

Johnson sees benefits beyond keeping employees healthy: “Simply being in an outdoors environment sparks creativity and goodwill. You get those endorphins that you just don’t get when you’re stuck inside.”

But this is Indiana. Weather extremes can’t be ignored. Browning Day Planning Practice Leader Ryan P. Cambridge, notes that August sun is as challenging as February chill. The structure will be positioned to take advantage of large shade trees on the south side of the office building and although it isn’t solid-walled, will utilize solid and louvered panels to keep out blazing sunshine as necessary—or keep the warmth of the ceiling-mounted heating elements in during winter.

“Indiana weather brings some harsh realities,” Johnson said. “No matter what heating elements we build into the roof, there will be days that are just too cold. But our hope is we’ll get at least nine months of use from the space—now and post-COVID.”

Johnson suspects the pandemic has changed views about working spaces for the long term, and he’s enthusiastic about what the upcoming outdoor conference area will provide.

“I think we’ll forever embrace remote working. But we put a very high value on our culture and our people, and this gives us an option for connecting that also is really invigorating. Who doesn’t want fresh air?”

Jeremy Johnson, CEO of Protective
Ryan P. Cambridge, Planning Practice Leader, Senior Associate