Workspace of the Week: Inside Novartis Canada’s New Montreal HQ

Novartis honed in on a spot at Place Gare Viger—a new mixed-use campus in Old Montreal spanning over a million square metres
(Photography: Caroline Thibault)

In 2019, Novartis Canada began rethinking its workspace. The company had developed a new strategy focused on innovation and collaboration, which meant partnering with groups like cardiology clinics and multiple sclerosis research organizations to develop new healthcare solutions. The Canadian arm of the Switzerland-based pharmaceutical giant wanted an office closer to big hospitals and tech companies.

Novartis had been in the same outdated building in Dorval, Que., 30 minutes from downtown Montreal, for 20 years. The space, spanning five floors, had too many private offices and not enough meeting rooms, making it difficult for the team of 300 in-office staff to work collaboratively together. “It was good for the past, but not for the future,” says Andrea Marazzi, president of Novartis Canada. So, leadership turned their sights to office spaces in downtown Montreal.

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By June 2021, Novartis honed in on a spot at Place Gare Viger—a new mixed-use campus in Old Montreal spanning over a million square metres. Montreal architectural firm Provencher Roy was hired to oversee the entire project. The plan for the campus was to renovate a historic train station into offices, then construct new office buildings, retail, rental apartments and a hotel nearby. While the site was still under construction, it checked off all of Novartis’s boxes: It was next to the CHUM—the Université de Montréal hospital—and tech companies, like point-of-sale platform Lightspeed, had already signed on as tenants. The building would be equipped with the tech advancements that Novartis desired, like touchless entry points and meeting rooms with TV screens and smart whiteboards.

By April 2023, Novartis had implemented a three-days-in-office hybrid model and moved into their new 3,000-square-metre office spanning the ground and second floor of their building. The office interior was designed by firms CBRE Workplace Solutions and Gensler Toronto. The ground floor is an open-concept space designed to foster collaboration among workers. Here, Novartis hosts town halls, along with events and meetings with external stakeholders, like health-care workers, academics and public health institutions. There’s also a 40-person board room for leadership meetings, and kitchen lounges with green velvet booths that have built-in screens so they can also be used for casual meetings.

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The second floor is where heads-down work takes place. There are 100 unassigned workstations with multiple monitors in enclosed booths, as well as plenty of open-desk spaces. Both areas operate on a first-come, first-served basis. (Marazzi says there’s usually about 150 employees in the office on any given day.) Twenty one meeting rooms, which range in size to fit anywhere from four to 10 people, are equipped with a digital touch screen synched to Microsoft Outlook to show an up-to-date schedule of when the room is booked. 

Here’s a look inside the new Novartis Canada office space:

An empty workspace at Novartis with a red sofa, white chairs and open-concept ceiling
Part of the ground floor in Novartis’s new office is named Biome as a nod to the new ideas staff hope to foster here. This reception space, with a red sectional couch and side chairs from furniture brands Haworth and CIME, is a spot for Novartis customers and guests to relax when they arrive. Open ductwork mimics the look of a modern tech office. “It feels less formal and more innovative,” says Marazzi. (Photography: Caroline Thibault)
A white row of private phone booths inside an office space next to a row of white lockers
There are 11 phone booths in the office, spread out between its two floors. Behind the booths is a wall of lockers where staff can store personal items, like jackets, while they’re in the office for the day. (Photography: Caroline Thibault)
A group of men sitting at a table in a hallway at an office talking
These open “discussion spaces” on the second floor are a place for Novartis staff to have informal chats. Past this area, in black, is a block of meeting rooms. “In the previous building, there were not enough meeting rooms,” says Marazzi. “Now, there is a good proportion of space for individual work, but also teamwork.” (Photography: Caroline Thibault)
An empty boardroom with a table and chairs
This meeting room’s whiteboard (far left) has a Huddly camera, which uses AI to hide the writer in front of the board, along with any reflections or shadows, so that remote participants can easily see what’s on the board. (Photography: Caroline Thibault)
Employees sitting inside a green couch nook eating lunch at Novartis's office
There are two kitchen spaces on each floor. The first-floor lounge is larger, with booth seating that has screens built into the sides. “You can have your lunch, then you can connect your computer and have a work conversation,” says Marazzi. Novartis partners with a catering company that takes online lunch orders from staff in the morning, then delivers meals by midday. (Meals are paid for by staff themselves, but Novartis gives them a 25 per cent rebate.) (Photography: Caroline Thibault)
Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu
Andrea Yu is a freelance journalist based in Toronto. She writes about life, culture, real estate, business and health with a focus on human-interest stories.