A Bean Counter Tallies Soft Metrics at CBRE’s New Global HQ

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Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie Grasso Cockrell
Natalie is a Workplace Consultant at Herman Miller and the former Editor of Work Design Magazine. She’s currently based in Pittsburgh.
An aerial view of the lobby area in the new CBRE HQ. Employees call it “the heart.” Photo by Bob Fox.

“It’s about happy people, it’s about collaboration,” said Gil Borok, the deputy CFO and chief accounting officer at CBRE’s new Los Angeles HQ.

Wait. Rewind! A numbers guy said what?

“It’s about cost savings, too, of course,” he said. “But that’s not the only reason to like it.”

In October 2013, CBRE unveiled its new global headquarters in downtown LA. The new space showcases CBRE as a market-leading brand by reflecting in their own office the strategic advice that they are increasingly providing occupier clients. The transition to a new way of working has culminated in an office-wide “aha” moment for the team at the traditionally buttoned-up, polished firm.

But the biggest surprise emerging from the free address, light-filled space was to hear their chief accounting officer talk about collaboration, idea sharing, and meeting new people in the organization. Shouldn’t numbers and efficiency measures be more important to him than human behavior?

Not necessarily.

A glass enclosed conference room at the new CBRE HQ. Photo by Bob Fox.

“The reason we did it was all about collaboration leading to a happier workforce and more business,” he said. “If you’re a skeptic, you can always fall back on the financials. But the intangible elements are there. Is the workforce happier? Are they proud to be employed by CBRE?”

“We weren’t driven by cost savings alone,” he said. “I think there’s so much more benefit than just the cost savings.”

To wit:

“It’s just better,” he said. “This idea of, you know, when you reach a certain stature you get an office, it’s a closed office . . . you fight it. But six months in you get used to it. I’m looking out, people are doing what they do. People are more cognizant about not talking loudly. Do I have my feet on my desk? No. But I never did anyway.”

“My office is half the size it was, and now we have a clean desk policy,” he added. “I was a typical finance guy — files everywhere. Now I leave for the day and it’s all clean.”

As for confidentiality in translucent glass enclosed spaces, Borok said that “the reality is that I don’t think things are as visible to people who should not see them as one perceives.” He added that, at first, meeting in a glass enclosed conference room was somewhat unsettling, but that he and his colleagues have adjusted to it.

“We’re a professional organization so I trust that folks aren’t attempting to see what they shouldn’t,” he said. “And if they do, I think they know that if they divulge it, they will probably have to answer to a higher authority than the company.”

A look at a few of the new glass enclosed, free-address offices at the CBRE HQ. Photo by Bob Fox.
A look at a few of the new glass enclosed, free address offices at the CBRE HQ. Photo by Bob Fox.

Borok also indicated that technology, of course, is a big enabler. This couldn’t have been done ten years ago without laptops and cloud technology.

“And I think this could go up a notch as other offices do it,” he said. “Technology evolves and it’s going to allow for even slicker ways of working than we have in this particular location.”

Borok’s tips for other businesses that want to take this leap?

“Have a conversation with somebody who knows something about it, whether they’re an expert at CBRE or somewhere else. Someone who has specialists in workplace strategy,” he said. “There are experts who have done it, know what they’re doing, know the metrics, utilization, neighborhoods, all the nuances. The benefit you get depends in big part on what you put in.”

As for the new office, Borok said it has become “like second nature.”

“Our local market president says he can’t imagine going back to what we had,” said Borok. “I agree. There is an energy that you feel. It’s palpable.”

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