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The workplace strategist at CBRE

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Jeremy Neuer, senior vice president and workplace strategist, CBRE.
Jeremy Neuer, senior vice president and workplace strategist, CBRE. - (Photo / )
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In January, employees at the East Brunswick location of CBRE, a global real estate services company, moved into a new office that was radically different from its former, more conventional workspace.

The East Brunswick office’s design is part of CBRE’s Workplace360 strategy. The new space was designed for office hoteling, a term used to describe a work setting where there are no assigned desks or offices. All employees have their own lockers with a combination, where belongings are stored at the end of the day.

Not only do the desks electronically convert from standing to sitting desks, but the company also has a standing conference room and a high table. It has a wellness room with dedicated private space for new mothers to pump breast milk at work. The file cabinets along the wall double as cushioned benches.

Recently, Jeremy Neuer, a senior vice president and workplace strategist, and Lenny Beaudoin, senior managing director at CBRE’s global workplace strategy practice, spoke about how this open-address approach to workplace design impacts a company’s productivity and bottom line.

NJBIZ: What workspace design trends are you seeing among your clients?

Lenny Beaudoin: Companies have always wanted to have efficient workplaces, but what is changing is they are now challenging their traditional notions of how to allocate space. Many clients want to do more with less, but still make their people happy.

If you go back 10 or 15 years ago, most organizations that were trying to do more with less space were just creating smaller work environments. They moved people out of offices, into open floor plans and condensed the square footage overall. But that didn’t make people happy. Those types of work environments are lampooned today.

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If you really want to make your people happy, you have to break the notions that one person equals one space. When you start to think of the workplace as an experience and give people more choice in how they share that space, you can drive much more efficiency as well as drive culture and engagement. For a work environment to be competitive in the future, it has to align to the lifestyle of the people you want to recruit to work there.

NJBIZ: How has the new setup of the East Brunswick office impacted productivity?

Jeremy Neuer: I first saw this type of workplace environment in our Los Angeles office and I was sold on it within six hours of being there. I knew we would make more money and be more effective at our jobs by going to this environment. It’s a game-changer as both a recruitment tool and as a business development tool. As we bring clients to our office, it speaks to the talent we have within our company and the vision we have. Our old space didn’t do that.

One of the best things about our new workplace is that our junior members are learning so much more. In the way we used to work, I would sit in my office and the junior people would sit at their desks and I’d call them in occasionally to go over something. Now, my team sits in a pocket in an open space. I can listen to them on their calls and they can listen to me. They are learning by osmosis. I’m able to coach them in real time and the interaction we have during the course of business is taken to the next level. Being out in the open accelerates their learning curve, which means we are able to give clients a higher level of service.

Employees just bring their laptops, log in to the Wi-Fi, adjust their desks for sitting or standing and start working. We could sit in different seats every day depending on who we are working with on a particular project. Recently, I was in the office from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and worked in four different places.

This setup has allowed us to increase our capacity by more than 50 percent. We can take exactly the same space and keep adding people. We can move in five or six more teams of people; we don’t have to move or take down any walls.

NJBIZ: Did you receive any pushback from employees when you moved to the new office?

JN: Of course we did. But once employees saw how much easier it was to interact with each other and how much faster we were able to get things done, we had their buy in. Some people had drawers full of files, so we scanned all the paper for them. You have to make the change as easy as possible for your people.

When a company does a move like we just did, the message delivered to employees cannot be about what they are losing. You have to show them what you are giving to help them do their jobs better. Now we access our files from anywhere using desktops, laptops and phones. The technology was given to us not just so we can work from anywhere in the office, but from anywhere at all.

LB: When people go through office initiatives like this — and this is about change management — you can’t show up and say, ‘We need you to get rid of your files because you will have less space.’ That’s not how we approached it. We looked at the business problem that we could solve. We wanted to make information more accessible. We wanted our teams to be able to access files from anywhere and to be able to coordinate with each other without being tethered to files in the office.

NJBIZ: What advice would you have for companies considering this type of initiative?

LB: Don’t expect to get people wildly enthusiastic about change. The best thing you can do is to get them to suspend disbelief. The way to accomplish that is by really understanding how you can support the way employees work so they develop the confidence to trust you and try it.

The other part of my advice is to be bold and courageous. In a lot of instances of organizations going though workplace change, they try to negotiate the outcome with employees, which means they meet in the middle and don’t satisfy anyone exceptionally well. The most compelling work environments have a clear and bold vision, and execute that vision. They have the courage to do that, then they bring their people along.

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