At face value, it seems obvious: if you are in the commercial real estate business, shouldn’t you operate out of the best-in-class office space that you try to line up for your clients?
That’s part of the thinking behind CBRE’s current program to upgrade its offices nationwide from traditional, last century space to open concept offices that provide the four benefits of wellness, choice, mobility and connection.
Why is this important beyond walking the cutting edge walk of uber-functional space? CBRE has recognized that providing office space that employees actually want to hang out in is a recruitment and retention tool for Millennial-aged employees. It also provides an excuse to bring in would-be clients to showcase the firm’s bono fides and create a little excitement.
“What we are trying to do is obviously appeal to a younger audience and really work through engagement, recruitment, retention, and provide our people with a more effective and engaging work environment,” explained Greg Clark, managing director of CBRE Toronto West.
“Also what we are trying to do is walk a little bit in our clients’ shoes. There are lots of changes going on in the workplace and we wanted to be at the forefront of that to be able to show our clients what is possible.”
Clark said that his office is near the Toronto airport (what CBRE calls “Canada’s most important industrial and logistics hub”) is proving to be a bricks and mortar icebreaker with current and prospective clients.
“What is neat for me is a lot of our clients will actually come in and say, `We are considering making a change and adopt some of what you have done and how does it work?’”
Change is hard
The firm had been in its old offices in GTA West for about three decades, so a large percentage of its current staff was less than enthused about the prospect of moving into new age space.
“There was some apprehension, we moved from a low rise to a tower,” he said.
Add in the fact that despite a larger footprint, employees’ personal space in the new office shrunk with more meeting rooms and common areas and seven different ways to work.
“All of that came with some apprehension, particularly among our kind of more established folks in terms of resistance to change.”
So after some time to settle in, how has the trendy mix of open concept, sit- desks and better lighting been received?
“I think almost unanimously, even our most ardent detractors have bought in and love the space.”
Pursuing WELL Building Certification
So what is different about CBRE’s new space at 5935 Airport Road, a dream office REIT property?
First of all, the headquarters for 100-odd employees is designed as one of the healthiest workplaces in Canada and is registered for WELL Building Certification, a building standard that measures the health and wellness of the people in buildings.
Wellness is one of four key attributes of CBRE’s national office revamp. In the case of Toronto West, wellness features include sit-stand workstations throughout, internal air quality in the top 1% of all offices globally and an HVAC system that automatically pumps in fresh air from outside when increased levels in carbon dioxide are detected. As well, no employee is more than 25 feet from natural sunlight or views and the circadian-relevant lighting system automatically adjusts to brighten or dim based on the natural sunlight level outside.
The other three attributes:
• Choice: The office features seven different work spaces for employees to choose from and provides flexibility to work as individuals or teams, both in quiet or collaborative environments.
• Connection: The new Toronto West office features four times the number of meeting spaces to foster collaboration. A café has been designed as the focal point of the office to foster collaboration across departments and serve as a place for CBRE’s clients who choose to stay on and work after meetings in the office.
• Mobility: Enhanced technology allows employees to move and work freely not only from any location in the Toronto West office, but from any CBRE office nationally. Employees can plug-in at any work station or meeting space as a portion of the office has been dedicated to free addressing for visiting CBRE employees and clients from across the country. CBRE also hopes its proximity to Pearson Airport will encourage clients to drop in before and after flights.
To date, the real estate services company has delivered four new offices (with Toronto West being the latest) with another three to be completed over the balance of the year with Montreal next.