Paul McNeive: 'Collaborative and agile' is the new wave for offices
The right moves
Global commercial real-estate advisor CBRE has been rolling-out its 'Workplace 360' programme, which aims to physically and culturally transform how the company operates.
The strategy is in place in 70 offices worldwide and has now arrived at the firm's Dublin headquarters at Connaught House, Dublin 4. Louise Barry, director of international transaction management, Marie Hunt, head of research, Murray Osborne, architect and head of design and David McConnell, head of building consultancy, showed me around the revamped premises and explained the strategy.
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My first impression stepping into the lobby was 'Wow'! The large central lobby, known as 'The Heart', is dominated by an ultra-modern coffee shop complete with healthy snacks, and surrounded by a variety of seating areas and 'flexible working areas'. The traditional reception area is to one side and is now backed by a wall of freeze-dried moss. Light floods in from all sides and glazed partitions emphasise the feeling of space. Most of the meeting areas were occupied and there was a pleasant social atmosphere. Off the lobby is a large roof terrace with chairs and umbrellas.
CBRE occupies approximately 1,600 sq m of space, and none of the 165 staff has their own desk.
Louise Barry told me that the layout is all about "collaborative and agile working." All staff, including secretaries, are given a company laptop and mobile phone, and plug in daily at the desk of their choice. Whilst individual departments tend to work in 'neighbourhoods', the increased interaction with other departments is seen as very beneficial. Meeting rooms can be booked by staff, ranging from formal rooms to more informal 'break-out' spaces. One internal meeting was taking place with perhaps 15 staff members sitting on tiered timber benches, auditorium style.
Part of the strategy is to improve the way the company works, maximising efficiency and with an emphasis on staff wellness. For example, healthy breakfasts are provided, as are pilates classes and free membership of the gym in the building.
Forty percent of the desks can be instantly adjusted to allow the user to either sit or stand while working. The office is paperless, with practically no space taken up with storage.
"Apart from the internal aspect, the client-facing aspect is very important.
"The new offices showcase the business for the clients, and are also seen as important in attracting staff to work for the firm," David McConnell told me.
A big step forward in the service to clients is the 'Experience Centre', which was close to completion when I visited. This is a theatre-style space, with mood lighting, and dominated by a four-metre screen and two other digital screens which will be used for presenting ideas, designs, pitches, and market updates to clients. It's certainly a quantum leap from PowerPoint presentations in stuffy boardrooms.
The new offices are bristling with the latest technology and most meeting rooms have interactive whiteboard screens. A presentation on your laptop will automatically load onto a screen in a meeting room - there's no more messing about with wires. Despite being busy, the offices seemed peacefully quiet, which was helped by an eco-friendly, sound-absorbing material which is placed in the ceiling spaces.
On the tour, I was welcomed by Myles Clarke, who was appointed as managing director of CBRE in Ireland at the end of last year. He is the only person with an allocated office, understandably deemed necessary for confidential discussions. Indeed, the flexible desk arrangement is seen as not only good for generating ideas, but also serves to "flatten the structure".
I liked the fact that each CBRE office is encouraged to incorporate its own design features and one open-plan area has a multi-angled side, representing the Cliffs of Moher, with the floor coverings representing the transition from beach, to rock, to sea.
'Workplace 360' is an innovative move, which will impress staff and clients. The strategy can also be packaged for CBRE clients by its in-house design teams.