The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

DESIGN | WORKSPACE

AUGUST 2014

From Cubicles to Collaboration
CBRE’s new Tokyo HQ promotes flexible, task-oriented working style


One day, all office environments could resemble CBRE Inc.’s Workplace 360 concept; and that will make the people who work in such places more efficient, collaborative, productive, and simply happier in their jobs.

CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm, moved into a new office space on the 17th and 18th floors of Tokyo’s Meiji Yasuda Seimei Building earlier this year. The company wanted its new Japan headquarters to be radically different from its previous working space.

“We decided to consolidate three branch offices into one headquarters here in the Marunouchi district, although that would mean moving from a space of 1,390 tsubo [49,4602 feet] to one of 1,145 tsubo [40,7432 feet], which is quite a large reduction in space,” Laurent Riteau, director of workplace strategy, told the ACCJ Journal.

The challenge was to create a working environment in which 550 people were able to operate. However, they wanted to get away from the accepted wisdom that desks should be arranged in lines, covered with paperwork and files, and that everyone must sit at the same desk every time they come to work.

They also wanted to dismiss the notion that meetings solely happen in designated rooms.

“In our last office, we each had a desk and everything we did as individuals revolved around that space,” said Riteau. “But as professionals today, we work in a far more complex way. We take conference calls, we give presentations, we send e-mails by computer, we have to write reports and conduct research, and we have impromptu meetings in a hall.

“We wanted to create a space that supports those kinds of complex activities,” he said. “And, instead of having a desk with no choice of where each of us worked, we thought we needed a flexible working area, depending on what we are doing at any given time.”

After two months of speaking with senior management, conducting a survey with every staff member, and observing how space was being used in the previous offices, it became clear to Riteau and his team that CBRE was not getting the most out of its working space and, consequently, its employees.

It quickly became apparent that just 40 percent of the office space was being utilized, with meeting rooms only occasionally occupied—but, paradoxically, there was not enough of the same, otherwise under-utilized space at certain times of the day.

The traditional office layout effectively only permits employees to concentrate on a task for a maximum of two hours in a working day, according to Riteau.

The answer is Workplace 360, where no one has a desk and people move to an area that has facilities appropriate to what they are working on at that moment. For anyone used to the traditional landscape of an office, CBRE’s floor plan is impressive.

The reception space—marked on schematics as Tokyo—is light and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows that have a stunning view of the Imperial Palace and across the city beyond. A single, large conference room is complemented by two medium-sized and four small meeting rooms.

From here, the 18th floor is laid out in four broad areas, each named after a city in which the company has a major presence.

Arriving in London, private meeting rooms are labeled Piccadilly, Kensington, and Buckingham. The walls of booths are covered in white boards and everyone is encouraged to brainstorm by writing on them. Workstations are in the middle of the room; some have two computer screens, some have a single screen, others have none. Users select the place they will work depending on their task at hand.

As we continue on into the Paris zone, there are low sofas and an area that resembles a café, with bench seating, individual tables, and staff helping themselves to tea and coffee.

From the relative hustle and bustle of the French capital, we move into the quietest area of the office and the library-like atmosphere of workstations where conversation is kept to a minimum and booths are set aside for phone conversations.

Landing in Los Angeles, where the private rooms are Rodeo, Melrose and Sunset, is slightly noisier again, as sales staff tend to congregate in this area. Sofas encircle a desk for comfortable discussion; chest-high tables encourage standing debate; graffiti-style artwork on the walls helps to make the environs feel less like a staid workplace.

New York is the penultimate stop on the upper floor of the office—Sydney occupies the entire northern end of the 17th floor—with partitioned space named in honor of Tribeca, Manhattan, and the Bronx.

Behind another wall are lockers that are assigned to every staff member, from office novice to managing director. Employees deposit their laptop, paperwork, and other paraphernalia in their lockers at the end of each working day.

Another innovation—some suggest the very best of all—is the incorporation of a cafe operated by New Zealand company Mojo, serving light meals and drinks throughout the day. Once evening hits, CBRE staff can even crack open a selection of bottled beers and wine.

“None of us had ever tried anything like this so yes, I’d say I had some apprehensions about the plans,” admitted Jesse Green, senior director for corporate communications and marketing.

“I used to have my team around me and we always scheduled meetings in the same meeting rooms, but this is a completely different way of working.

“We’ve only been here a few weeks, but already it feels much more collaborative, more spacious and productive,” he said.

Packing everything away at the end of the day and putting it all in a locker felt “a little odd” to begin with, but everyone has got used to all the changes very quickly and the vast majority say they have no desire to go back to the way in which they used to work.

“The cafe is an enormous draw,” Green agreed. “In our previous office, the nearest coffee shop was a 10-minute walk, but right now it is just 10 feet from where I am sitting. It has become a focal point of what we do.” •