Property Biz Canada

CBRE transforming offices to WELL Building Standard

Steve McLean | Green | Property Biz Canada | 2017-03-07

CBRE Canada has transformed eight of its offices and is responsible for four of the country’s first 10 WELL Building Standard-registered sites: Vancouver, Toronto West, downtown Toronto head office and, now, Toronto North.

CBRE Office Space“By being early movers in pursuing and adopting WELL, we are in a great position to counsel our clients through the process and differentiate ourselves from our competitors,” said Lisa Fulford-Roy, CBRE Canada’s managing director of workplace strategy.

“That added benefit of WELL is that our employees feel like we are investing in them and their well-being, which is important for both employee attraction and retention.”

The WELL Building Standard is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. It marries best practices in design and construction to medical and scientific research.

Twenty thousand square feet of space was transformed into what’s now the new Toronto North office. CBRE has transformed more than 78,000 square feet of its office space in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and 130,000 square feet nationally. Lease expirations are generally the catalyst for the transformations.

CBRE’s Toronto North office

The Toronto North office is in the class-B Heron’s Hill building at 2005 Sheppard Ave. E., near the 401 and 404 highways, and is owned by The Redbourne Group. Since the WELL Building Standard requires adjustments to the base building, Redbourne was involved in the process from the lease negotiations.

“Our experience indicates a range of approximately an additional 10 to 15 per cent premium to create a WELL workplace,” said Fulford-Roy. “Our team worked collaboratively to value-engineer other parts of the project to achieve the savings needed to fit within our budget.

“We decided to invest heavily in the features and settings that will improve employee wellness and provide choice of highly functional, technology-enabled work settings. Rather than selecting opulent finishes such as marble floors, we opted for polished concrete.”

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Fulford-Roy expects that these investments will ultimately have a positive impact on CBRE’s bottom line through increased productivity, reduced employee absenteeism through sick days and improved staff retention and recruitment.

The office features meeting and huddle rooms for large and small group settings, as well as technology-enabled smart rooms with video conferencing capabilities. There’s a mix of focus rooms for more concentrated work, and open collaboration areas for informal meetings.

All employees have their own sit-stand desks and ergonomic chairs. An advanced technology platform that includes cloud-based solutions and a digitization program has reduced paper use by 85 per cent and enabled employees to work effectively beyond their desks. Free addressing stations in the office allow visiting CBRE employees and clients to plug in and be connected quickly.

Positive employee feedback

“We’ve had multiple people say to us that they feel like they have the best spot in the office, and the truth is no matter where you are sitting it’s a great experience as everyone has the same access to natural light,” said Adrian Lee, CBRE Toronto North’s executive vice-president and managing director.

“Our employees are more energetic and alert throughout the day. Thanks to the improved internal air quality, acoustic comfort features and circadian-relevant lighting, our employees are reporting that they leave the office with just as much energy as when they arrive.”

The heart of the Toronto North office is the RISE Café. Employee amenities and refreshments have been concentrated there so people no longer eat at their desks. It also drives connections across departments and senior leadership, adding to a culture of openness and transparency.

Lessons learned from past transformations

“With every location, we built on lessons learned to drive efficiency, reduce cost and leverage our successful employee experiences to validate the benefits of the new workplace,” said Fulford-Roy.

“Lessons learned regarding WELL were significant. With every transformation, we improved our ability to better assess and negotiate the best future workplace location, reduced time in planning for all the pre-condition requirements, and reduced design challenges, including the selection of furnishing and fixtures.”

Move management of more than 360 employees at CBRE’s three GTA offices was conducted with no hours lost to business downtime. Employees continued working in the old premises while the new offices were being transformed.

CBRE Canada employs more than 2,000 people in 21 locations from coast to coast.

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Steve McLean

About the Author ()

Steve McLean is a veteran writer, reporter, editor and communications specialist whose work has appeared in a wide variety of print and online outlets. He’s the author of the book Hot Canadian Bands and has taught reporting to college students.

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