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Office Tour: Aviva’s Digital Garage At First Canadian Place

Aviva Insurance has launched its first digital garage in North America, a brick-and-beam-inspired space at First Canadian Place for digital product development. We toured the office and heard how it's luring TO tech talent.

Aviva digital and software engineering VP Danny Galic with the digital garage designer Suzanne Bettencourt, of figure3.

Here's Aviva’s digital and software engineering VP Danny Galic with Suzanne Bettencourt, principal of figure3, whose team designed the digital garage. When it comes to traditional Toronto office towers, few are more iconic than First Canadian Place. But Bettencourt and company went to great lengths to make the bank building feel more like a King West brick-and-beam office space, complete with exposed ceilings and concrete floors, and even brick veneers added in some spots. Aviva wanted a Class-A space in the financial district, and on PATH, but not too far from the King West tech cluster, Bettencourt said. “So this gives them the best of both worlds.”

Aviva's digital garage at First Canadian Place

Toronto has a thriving tech startup community, Aviva’s PR rep, Priscilla Wong, said. “And we want to tap into that here.” The firm’s focus is digital first, and the digital garage — Aviva opened the first in London, and has another one in Singapore — is a place for product ideas to be “green-housed,” spurred by company-sponsored events like hack-a-thons and a pitch day. “The insurance industry is not known for leading-edge technology,” Wong said. “We are evolving.” Competition for talent is aggressive, so it’s key Aviva has a workplace that can vie with Google and other firms to attract the best programming, coding and engineering minds in the business.

Collaborative space at Aviva's digital garage.

Aviva’s digital garage is open, well-lit and super flexible, with few conventional workstations and an array of mobile furniture that can be shifted around to facilitate collaboration. There are free-assign desks and meeting rooms for office visitors to use, and big screens throughout the workplace are equipped with cameras for remote meetings. “It’s about making a space do 15 things instead of one,” Bettencourt said. The efficiency of the digital garage means it can comfortably absorb future company growth. Galic told us he’s hired nearly 40 staffers to date and plans on adding up to 70 this year.

Aviva's digital garage at First Canadian Place

Aviva moved to First Canadian Place last July from a smaller office at 121 King St W; the digital garage is the top floor of the company's two-level space at FCP; the second floor is for conventional office uses. Wong said Aviva will soon be moving from its Canadian HQ in Scarborough to new digs in Markham, a space that's being designed in the same spirit as the downtown digital garage, with an emphasis on collaborative environments, mobile technology and minimal cubicles. “Not even the CEO has his own office,” Wong said. “Aviva is changing its office concept across the board.”