• CBRE

Creating a Better Workplace

CBRE, the world’s leading commercial real estate advisory firm, is improving how we work, creating more rewarding experiences for employees and more effective workplaces for organizations.

Creating a Better Workplace

When the lease on Northwestern Mutual’s Los Angeles office expired in early 2017, the firm’s leadership saw an opportunity to transform the way it did business. The existing workplace’s technology was outdated, its health and wellness amenities anemic, and its layout a throwback to the days of cubicles and corner offices. To continue to hire—and retain—the best and the brightest in their industry, the company needed to evolve. So, the financial services company partnered with CBRE.


CBRE provides a range of solutions from sales to leasing to facilities management, it serves a vast array of clients across the globe, including 90 of the Fortune 100 companies.

One of CBRE’s specialties is helping companies use their physical space to drive productivity and manage the proliferating demands on the modern office.

CBRE’s Workplace practice, established in 2008 and comprised of more than 40 professionals across the Americas, is focused on creating, implementing, and sustaining workplace strategies that improve employee engagement and create real and measurable organizational value.

Northwestern Mutual’s Los Angeles office

For Northwestern Mutual, CBRE’s Workplace team set out to determine how much space they would really need—drastically less, it turns out—and which amenities and services would best support their work. CBRE’s process included quantitative analysis as well as input from a cross-section of employees to capture nuances of the company’s culture and work styles. One of the most impactful outcomes was the decision to implement “desk sharing” for a portion of the employee population. Sharing workspaces untethered those employees from their desks, creating meaningful efficiency gains and allowing Northwestern Mutual to re-invest real estate savings into other areas, such as a Client Experience Center.

In addition to their research and programming, CBRE’s multidisciplinary team scoured the Los Angeles area, looking for the perfect location, finally settling on a 25,000-square-foot space in the heart of downtown Los Angeles.

The office space has changed the way Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles works, from facilitating more collaboration amongst employees to helping the firm digitize their files and go completely paperless. The office has also helped the company stay at the forefront of workplace innovation and employee enablement, including the seamless integration of leading-edge technologies throughout the space—no small feat for a firm that has been around for nearly two centuries. Matthew Plocher, managing partner of Northwestern Mutual Los Angeles notes, “As a company, we pride ourselves on helping our clients live life differently. Thanks to CBRE, we are living that purpose out ourselves, thinking differently about our space and the impact it has on how we work.”


We sat down with CBRE to find out how companies can create better workplace environments.

Protect Your Employee’s Time.

In today’s standard open office plan, there is a barrage of productivity killers. Often, they’re rooted in ill-conceived design that encourages bad habits, such as unnecessary meetings. “If I can turn around and ask a colleague a question instead of having to schedule a meeting, that’s a much more effective use of time,” says Georgia Collins, a senior director in CBRE’s workplace practice. “By changing the physical environment, we can encourage conversations that aren’t centered on formal meetings. And then if you are going to have a meeting, you think about how to make it more effective.”

In an age of endless distractions and multiplying demands, workers are struggling to take more control of their days. “In our experience, people are constantly complaining that they don’t have time to just think about things for a prolonged period of time,” Collins says. “We need to think about time as a value worth protecting.” And to support that, the workplace needs to have spaces that foster this type of deep, focused work.

“If you accept that time is the most important commodity for your people, then saving one to two hours per person per week is significant,” says Lenny Beaudoin, senior director of CBRE’s workplace practice. “Aggregate that across the organization, and there’s real value.”

Create A Culture of Flexibility

In recent years, the proliferation of fast, cheap, and reliable internet connections has brought with it the promise of flexible work arrangements. Why waste money on massive offices, the thinking goes, when teams can hunker down at home some days and collaborate in their pajamas?

Companies offer employees the chance to work from home on certain days, but this structured telecommuting still involves employees adhering to a predetermined schedule; an ostensibly flexible policy is anything but. True flexibility, says Nina Charnotskaia, a CBRE director on the workplace team, is more about culture than scheduling.


“The ultimate offering is an organizational idea of trust, that people will choose when they need to be in the office to get work done,” she says. “It shouldn’t be codified to Fridays or every other Tuesday. It’s an activity-based issue. Work has become a 24-hour proposition, thereby expanding the definition of trust.”

Elevate The Employee Experience

Once upon a time, commercial buildings were only built if the developers could find enough companies to take on long-term leases. The volatile head counts at tech companies have changed that equation, giving rise to coworking spaces. They’re adaptable, scaling up and down as needed.

That newfound workplace agility has also led to a change in how employees think about the space they spend most of their time, and companies are realizing the value of investing in their people rather than their spaces.

That’s not to say that firms aren’t still building gleaming HQs, but they are refocusing their budgets to concentrate on employees’ quality of life, both in the office and at home.

“Firms are looking into the elevation of employee experience rather than just the physical space,” Collins says. “And if those companies are getting amenities and services right, then they’re not looking at what’s coolest and newest—they’re being thoughtful about who their people are.”

This story was created with and commissioned by CBRE.


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