I’ve Seen The Future of Office Space…

In 1974, after attending a small concert, Jon Landau, then a music critic, wrote, “I’ve seen the future of rock n roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” After visiting CBRE’s new Downtown LA office, I can safely say “I have seen the future of office space."In my last two blog entries, I wrote about workplace and technology respectively. The new CBRE space is a melding of both.

With regards to the workplace, it’s not about a denser environment. In fact, the space feels wide open, almost cavernous. Everywhere I went, there were wide corridors, open spaces, and most interestingly, people working together.  

When I entered the space, a concierge standing behind a desk greeted me. She invited me wait for my tour guide, Lew Horne, CBRE’s Executive Managing Director of Los Angeles and Orange County, in the area known as “The Heart” of the office. The Heart looks like a hotel lobby with several different types of casual seating, as well as a bar-like area. Inside the bar were all sorts of different snacks, as well as bottled water, free for employees and visitors.

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I sat at one of the tables, opened my laptop, and was connected via Wi-Fi within seconds. All of the employees who work within the space connect wirelessly with their laptops through a secure connection. To my left, there were several glass-walled conference rooms, each with large flat screen monitors. Some were being used for presentations, while brokers working collaboratively used other screens as a large computer monitors.

Before the tour, Lew gave me a quick overview of the space and played me this video. The new space is 20% smaller than the previous space, but he can fit 20% more seats. There are 15 different workspace types, including a workstation that doubles as a treadmill, which he claims gets a lot of use.

No one has a dedicated office or workstation. Even the office’s Executive Vice President, Andy Ratner, doesn't have a dedicated space. I saw him working in “The Heart” when not giving tours. Rather, teams have neighborhoods that include open work areas, private offices that can be reserved for the day, smaller private offices that can be used at a moment’s notice, if empty, as well as conference rooms. The smaller offices have desks that go up and down, allowing them to be used either sitting or standing. When I walked by his team’s neighborhood, Vice Chairman Steve Bay was working with one of his junior brokers in one of the small offices.

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Because no one has dedicated space, at the end of each day everyone has to clear his or her workspace. Each broker is given one small file cabinet and a locker. This may seem impossible, especially to someone like me who typically has a layer of paper on top of his desk, rendering the desk unseen. However, they have a paperless office. Everything is scanned and saved. I didn't see any paper as I walked through the office, including in the legal department. Even the mail is scanned into electronic format. Presentation materials are discarded after meetings rather than saved for posterity.

But what was really amazing was the technology. Most of the conference rooms have Steelcase tables that connect laptops to the screens on the wall. Each broker has his or her own wireless headset that they can pair to any phone in office. In “The Heart,” there’s a wall of screens displaying market information and the office’s Twitter feed. As the workday was winding down, the wall of screens was changed from market info to Monday Night Football, again encouraging people to gather.

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The coolest piece of technology is called Liquid Galaxy. It’s an area of the office used for presentations that includes six high-resolution screens on a curved wall. Liquid Galaxy is an overlay on top of Google Earth that allows for high-resolution maps to be combined with market data and video information. Because it uses Google Earth, it can zoom down to a street level view. Lew and Andy both have become experts and we not only had fun looking at sites of interest like The Hollywood Bowl, but also CBRE‘s New York City office at 200 Park.

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In addition, the space recently received the first Well™ designation awarded anywhere in the country by Delos ®, the pioneer of Wellness Real Estate™. With 1,000 plants, smartlighting systems, energy absorbing flooring, advanced air purification, water filtration systems and anti-microbial coatings on all surfaces, the space sets a new standard for healthy office spaces. If employees are healthier, they will be happier, more efficient, and certainly cut down on sick days.

So you may be thinking, “It sounds cool Jeremy, but why is it better?” Well the feedback was overwhelmingly positive and centered around being smarter. Kevin Bender, an Executive Vice President, told me that he sits in the open area in his team’s neighborhood at least three times a week. It not only allows him to hear what his team is working on, but he’s also more accessible to other team members. He feels that he knows more about what’s going on in the market now because he’s in the mix, so to speak.

Lew mentioned an interesting fact to me as we were wrapping up, which he credited to Steve Bay. If a law firm is signing a 10-year lease, the partners at the end of that lease are still in law school now. For our company, many of the people we want to hire during the term of the lease are still in high school. If we aren’t on the front end of workplace innovation, we will not be able to recruit and retain the best talent in the industry, which is our goal. How can we help our clients stay ahead of the curve if we, who are supposed to be office experts, are using space the same way we did 20 years ago?

I am proud to say that CBRE is an industry leader. Period. In the four months since the office opened, almost 3,000 visitors have come to see the space, including some of our top competitors. If the competition is checking you out, you must be doing something right. Personally, I am going to push my Managing Director, Jeff Hipschman, to adopt a similar model for our East Brunswick office when our lease is up. After all, at the end of our next lease, I will likely be 50 years old. It would be a shame if I were using space the same way at that age as I did when I was 35.

JN