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5 Insights into the Workplace of Tomorrow from CBRE

It's no secret that offices are changing. Some blame it on the millennials. Others say it is technology. Whatever the reason, there is a clear shift away from the traditional, cubicled office.

CBRE and its Workplace Strategy group are one of the companies spearheading these changes. We spoke with Emily Neff, the program manager for Workplace360 in the United States, to learn more about the initiative.

In your words, what is Workplace360?

Workplace360 is CBRE’s workplace strategy initiative aimed at improving how our employees work in and outside the office. We’ve put special emphasis on improving collaboration within and across business lines. This translates to a focus on improving flexibility, technology, productivity, wellness, and mobility. The program is currently being rolled out across CBRE’s entire portfolio, as our leases expire.

The whole idea emerged when we realized that a large portion of our portfolio was turning over in a relatively short period of time. As we took a closer look at those offices, we realized most of them weren’t being very well utilized. That was the key element of our decision to change our approach. It made sense — brokers are out all the time giving tours, meeting with clients and traveling.

Knowing that we were at lower utilization, we started a research initiative among our employees. We asked: “if we changed, what would you want to see?” The process started with collecting employee feedback and setting goals accordingly. It has stayed that way ever since.

Our Workplace360 offices are 100% “free address,” meaning no assigned seating. Instead, the environments include a much greater variety of work settings from which employees can choose to work, including “offices for a day” and focus rooms for when privacy is required, and open team-meeting areas, huddle rooms and meeting rooms for collaboration.

Enhanced technology that supports this mobile way of working is a core element of the Workplace360 model. “Plug and play” workstations feature sit-stand desks and are equipped with dual monitors; “follow me” phones allow employees to receive phone calls to their direct line from any location in the office; and “follow me” printing enables employees to wirelessly print to any printer.

What have been the biggest surprises in implementation?

There is often a major misconception that the employees that will resist the change the most are those that once had a private office. There is fear that they will not be able to adjust to an open office.

We’ve learned, however, that the biggest challenge is actually not the private-public dynamic, but the assigned-unassigned one. It requires a lot of training and change management to get people comfortable with giving up their assigned spaces for a communal environment.

It’s actually turned out that those who once had the private offices are the ones that are most invigorated by the change. They felt like they were entering the same room every day, doing the same thing. The new environment offers a whole new experience.

What has the feedback been like?

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive — people admit to feeling more productive and healthier in their space. To quantify it: 93% of employees said they wouldn’t go back to their old way of working.

Some ask if there is a placebo effect — that something new is better — we don’t believe that. Most of the changes are true grassroots changes, so we feel that it is honest positive feedback. There is no cookie-cutter approach. Each rollout is unique to the local office to make sure it is tailored to the employee experience and what will make the office a success for them. We check in one month, six months, and one year post-move to see what has changed and what further training needs to happen.

Have you brought this initiative to your clients?

Definitely — and with very positive results.

According to CBRE’s recent survey of 229 corporate executives, occupiers are increasingly viewing the workplace as both a critical employee attraction and retention strategy, and as a means to control costs. As a result, most of clients are seeking to develop a workplace strategy that both enhances their culture and helps them use their space more efficiently.

Our clients come to us for a variety of different reasons: some want to do a better job of attracting and retaining talent, others are trying to use their space more efficiently, some are trying to build more flexibility into their approach. Whatever their driver, most end up embracing the idea that their workplace can be a tool in transforming their culture and therefore their business. Our success with Workplace360 is proof that can happen.

Do you see any difference in adoption between generations?

Not really. While many expect millennials to be more interested and accommodating to more open and shared environments, we’ve learned that what millennials want and what other generations want isn’t that different. In fact, when we aggregated all of our survey responses across clients and industries from the past five years, we found that on most questions — ranging from how people work to what they want from their future office — there was no more than a 3% difference between how millennials responded and how other generations responded. What we believe: workplace flexibility and choice are valued by all generations.

Photo credit: RMA Photography Inc 

Billy Fink
Billy Fink
Billy Fink is a former member of the VTS team.
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