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‘Model Home’: CBRE Offices Show Tech Advances in Action

CBRE Group Inc., among the world’s largest commercial real estate brokerages, recently overhauled two of its San Diego County offices in ways that reflect the tech-inspired workspace mantra of many of its corporate clients: Do more with less.

Its offices in downtown San Diego and Carlsbad are among the company’s first to be refurbished as part of its global “Workplace360” initiative. Separate desk workspaces are not pre-assigned; paper is nearly unseen by visitors; collaborative meeting areas are booked via computers and mobile devices; and workers access documents securely from the cloud more often than from filing cabinets.

For Los Angeles-based CBRE, which employs about 200 people at three offices in the local region, the shifts are geared to a brokerage industry where workers spend much of their time on the road or in remote sites, communicating and accessing research via their smartphones and tablets. That description increasingly applies to many other industries.

“It really reflects a lot of the ways in which people are accessing information, communicating with other people, and utilizing the space,” said Paul Komadina,

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managing director for CBRE’s (NYSE: CBG) San Diego region.

The company is also expecting bottom-

line results from its investment in renovations. In the two local offices impacted so far — its University Towne Center site will be changed over by 2016 — CBRE projects $413,000 in savings over the 10-year terms of its leases at those locations, Komadina said. Its paper and storage costs alone are projected to drop nearly 90 percent over that period at the downtown and Carlsbad sites.

More Tech, Less Space

The company has so far been able to reduce required square footage at the two offices by a combined 977 square feet, down to 12,000 square feet, largely because less space is needed to store paper documents. Starting with 482,000 pages of documents, the company was able to scan 167,000 pages, then purge much of the rest.

About 65 percent of its original document load no longer had to be kept in physical file drawers, which themselves were reduced by 88 percent in the two offices. File drawers allocated per person dropped from four to less than one.

“Not having to take up space with file cabinets let us free up space for those different configurations of working areas in those offices,” Komadina said.

Throughout the two offices — at DiamondView Tower in East Village and Pacific Ridge Corporate Centre in Carlsbad — space that was once devoted to storage has been used to set up various meeting-space configurations, ranging from informal café settings to larger conference rooms.

Workers book room space via technology developed by Crestron Electronics Inc., which enables scheduling to be done remotely via Microsoft Outlook on workers’ computers and mobile devices. Outside the conference spaces, wall-mounted screens with motion detectors let passers-by know when and how long the room will be occupied.

Workspace Trending Downward

Industry researchers said such changes reflect continued shrinkage of U.S. office workspaces, brought about through technology and corporate quests to boost the efficiency of existing resources.

A 2012 survey by CoreNet Global, an industry organization that represents corporate real estate professionals, found that 40 percent of respondents predict the average space per office worker would be 100 square feet or less within five years.

U.S. office space per worker peaked at around 370 square feet late 2009, but was down to 295 by first quarter 2014, according to data from CoStar Group and the University of San Diego, presented at a recent local forecast conference by USD real estate professor Norm Miller.

The San Diego market’s average space per worker was 250 square feet at the end of 2013, among the lowest for major markets and below the 400 square feet in cities such as San Francisco, Houston and New York City.

Living the Model for Clients

Miller said many national and global firms, including CBRE and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), have recently been setting up nondedicated workspace with scheduling capabilities for collaborative work areas, as other large companies take their own steps to use space more effectively.

The San Diego offices are among the first five in California — and 12th and 13th globally — to be overhauled by CBRE. Workstations have chairs and monitors with adjustable heights, making it possible, for instance, to work at computers while standing up.

To save paper and preserve privacy and security, the two local offices now have a “follow me” system where documents can be sent to a printer from any work station, but are not printed until the person who initiated the printout swipes a card or enters a security code on the printer.

Depending on the long-term results, the brokerage company’s experience with its own program will likely carry over into its advice to clients. It could serve as a real-

world example to corporate customers in the local region “because we are living this model ourselves,” said John Frager, executive managing director for CBRE’s San Diego regional operations.

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