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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    What’s Going On: Jetsons redux, as Chelsea Groton officially opens new headquarters

    From left, Bruce Flax, president of the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce and Tony Sheridan, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, look on as Tony Joyce, president and CEO of Chelsea Groton Bank, presents a check to the Groton Food Bank, represented by Marge Fondulas, director of human services at the Town of Groton, during a ribbon cutting ceremony Feb. 15, 2024, at the newly renovated Chelsea Bank headquarters on Poquonnock Road in Groton. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    The leadership team at Chelsea Groton Bank holds a meeting in a light-filled conference room on the morning of Feb. 15, 2024, at the newly renovated Chelsea Groton Bank headquarters on Poquonnock Road in Groton shortly before a ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    A conference room is shown on Feb. 15, 2024, at the newly renovated Chelsea Groton Bank headquarters on Poquonnock Road in Groton shortly before a ribbon cutting ceremony. The room is available for use by the public for community meetings. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    The newly renovated exterior of Chelsea Groton Bank on Poquonnock Road in Groton is seen on Feb. 15, 2024, shortly after a ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Getting a tour before the ribbon cutting Thursday for Chelsea Groton Bank’s new headquarters building on Poquonnock Road in Groton was like being transported into a vision of the future, the Jetsons cartoon show in real life.

    All around the 37,000-square-foot building, which not so long ago looked like a relic of the past, people were working collaboratively, with smiles on their faces, grabbing a bite to eat in the light-filled cafe, or holding conferences in glass-walled rooms set up with large screens available for teleconferencing. In one room, customer service reps talked via video to ATM customers at a variety of Chelsea Groton branches, offering pretty much the same services as they can get from a teller while offering extended hours for people to do transactions after the bank is closed.

    “We are seeing more collaboration with our team members and people that aren’t kind of chained down to one space,” bank President and CEO Tony Joyce said during a tour before the big event, which celebrated the official re-opening of the building. “They’ve got the technology to move to different spaces, different environments, based on what they’re working on or who they’re working with.”

    The headquarters project started about four years ago, under now retired Chelsea Groton President Michael Rauh (still a member of the bank board), with concepts provided by architect Bisbano & Associates of Providence. The ideas went through a long process as colleagues mulled over how best to use the soon-to-be-renovated space, and Carlin Construction of New London completed the work as general contractor in about a year and half.

    It would have been a lot easier to build anew, but Chelsea Groton decided to renovate a building purchased from Electric Boat in the 1990s, which the bank lightly renovated in 1997. To bring the building into the 21st century, one of the biggest jobs involved essentially rebuilding the entire front of the building to provide more light and a much cooler-looking facade.

    “Of course we picked probably the worst time to build anything, between supply chain interruptions and coming off from covid,” Joyce told the assembled crowd Thursday.

    “Product availability ... that was quite the challenge throughout,” he added during my private tour.

    He told me the building renovation cost about double the initial estimates, as the price of building materials skyrocketed and finding workers to complete the project became more difficult.

    “We wanted to have something that our employees would be proud of, that would allow them to be collaborative,” Joyce told a crowd of more than 100 at the ribbon cutting. “We’re better together. It’s sort of the motto that we like to use around here.”

    The intense desire to spur more collaboration even extends to lunchtime, where the bank has a policy to discourage eating at workstations.

    “I bring my lunch every day,” said Lori Dufficy, the bank’s executive vice president. “You learn things about people, and that’s really invaluable.”

    Dufficy, who also has the title of chief experience and engagement officer, said the bank also uses its new space for building morale, including a recent Super Bowl-related chili contest two days before the big game.

    “We found out that’s a good way to get everybody smiling,” Joyce said.

    Throughout the new space, intimate nooks for relaxing, making personal phone calls, or teleconferencing are set aside for employees. Different areas of expertise are grouped together in clusters that allow them more easily to communicate and bounce ideas off one another.

    Joyce pointed out that much of the first floor, which contains a downsized branch office, also has space available to the public for meetings of nonprofits and even governmental bodies. The Groton Economic Development Commission already has taken advantage of the offer, and other groups can email Marketing@chelseagroton.com to sign up for conference and meeting room space.

    The downstairs also has an attractive display of the bank’s historical documents and artifacts, including old ledgers in a glass-enclosed space along a hallway. What couldn’t be displayed was digitized, and frames from those photos and documents flash on screens, tracing the bank’s history back to its roots in 1854.

    As part of the project, Chelsea Groton, the region’s largest bank with $1.6 billion in assets, was able to significantly downsize the amount of paperwork it needed to store, thanks largely to a digitization process where much of that information can now be stored in the cloud. Lisa Fields, purchasing and facilities manager, said she was able to reduce about 2,700 boxes of information to 600 boxes.

    The overall project has added a great deal of flexibility to both the inside space as well as how the bank thinks about interacting with customers.

    “If someone comes in, and they want to meet with a financial adviser and it wasn’t something urgent, instead of someone leaving Mystic to drive over here, we just bring them into the meeting virtually,” Joyce said. “And we do this in all the branches ... through our Chelsea live app, and they can talk to us from the comfort of their home or work.”

    The renovation project proved to be a major disruption for bank employees, who largely were relocated to an office building in Norwich that Chelsea Groton owns. In all, about 80 employees occupy the newly renovated building, which includes a fitness room with weights, treadmills and showers as well as a wellness room. They have been occupying their new space since November of last year.

    “A couple things are really difficult when you’re remote,” Joyce said. “How do you import your culture to a new employee? ... It's hard to do.”

    Joyce said he’s very glad the worst of COVID is over and the staff has reassembled all in one place.

    “It was worth it,” he said. “We gained a lot of efficiencies doing this by bringing teams together. ... The collaboration, the innovation you gain by having them next to each other is really beneficial.”

    Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. To reach him, email l.howard@theday.com.

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