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More open floor plans

Commercial brokerages taking the old office into an open venue

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CBRE will embark on a transformation of its 6,500-square-foot downtown office space in DiamondView Tower, and many commercial brokerage firms are considering or have done the same.

In January, the company will temporarily relocate its downtown offices to Wells Fargo Plaza until returning to a transformed space next April.

Paul Komadina, CBRE San Diego region managing director, said except for a single private office that will be reserved as needed, the corner offices are being removed from the floor plan, the cubicles are being removed in favor of workstations so people can interact, and paper file storage will disappear.

"The plan is to have a 100 percent paperless office," Komadina said.

Komadina said that 90 percent of the paper needs to be recycled. If the documents are sensitive, they will be scanned before that paper too is recycled or destroyed.

Without the paper files, combined with the trend of less space per person, Komadina said CBRE (NYSE: CBG) -- aided by the Gensler design firm -- will be able to increase the number of brokers in the space from 28 to 38.

"We wouldn't have been able to grow in the existing space," Komadina added.

The space will have other features such as an open kitchen/lunchroom called the Rise Café, located in the middle of the room.

In addition to a lack of cubicles and a single private office, the space will also feature "huddle rooms" around the perimeter, along with a conference room for larger gatherings.

"Our main board room will stay in the same place," Komadina said.

Along with height-adjustable workstations and ergonomic chairs that will go with them, the technology is also being upgraded. Plans include 22-inch dual monitors at every workstation for greater efficiency.

In addition, the personal computers are giving way to laptops, and telephones will have an extension mobility system allowing calls to be immediately transferred to a person regardless of where he/she is in the office.

Komadina added that printers are also changing with the times: new devices won't print a document until a person punches in a code at the machine, doing away with backlog.

CBRE, which eventually plans similar improvements to its 33,000-square-foot UTC and its 5,400-square-foot Carlsbad offices, has made some discoveries along the way.

For one thing, it found the office is only about half full at any given time, meaning workers can move around from station to station.

"The way people work has changed. They want to be more mobile, and they want the ability to collaborate more freely," Komadina said. "Less than 20 percent of our space is collaboration space, even though 33 percent of our time is spent collaborating."

Dan Broderick, president of Cassidy Turley San Diego, said his firm already made what changes could be made in the brokerage's new 3,000-square-foot space in Columbia Center in Downtown San Diego.

Broderick said some of this work included eliminating cubicles and placing an open kitchenette in the lobby area .

"We have more collaborative work spaces and not one panel of exterior glass is blocked by a wall," Broderick said.

Now, with leases coming due within the next 18 months and a chance to reconfigure space in its University Towne Centre and Carlsbad offices, Cassidy Turley plans to take the plunge once again.

The firm has about 25,000 square feet in its UTC and roughly 14,000 square feet in its Carlsbad offices, in addition to downtown San Diego.

"Absolutely we're going to open up the floor plans," Broderick said, adding that his company hired the LPA Inc. architecture and planning firm."The way it is now you have to work to see somebody."

Broderick said it only makes sense to plan 18 months ahead of the proposed changes, both to coordinate leases and work out any logistical issues.

"Plus, this is what we recommend to our clients," Broderick said.

Steve Rosetta, a Cushman & Wakefield vice chairman, said when his firm moved into about 24,000 square feet in the Hines-owned La Jolla Commons I building at 4747 Executive Drive in the University Towne Centre area about two years ago, the brokerage built out its offices from a shell condition.

"We built informal meeting areas, and our conference rooms are encased in glass," Rosetta said.

Jay Alexander, a Jones Lang LaSalle (NYSE: JLL) managing director, said the core of his office at La Jolla Commons I also underwent a transformation last year.

"We renovated the main space and we removed a bank of private offices," Alexander said, adding that new furniture was also carefully chosen to foster a collaborative space.

Alexander, who said some private offices still exist on the floor, said the collaborative space works well, even if the brokers don't spend most of their time in the office.

"If everybody works from home, you lose the synergy you get in an office, but you must have an office space that everyone wants to be in," Alexander said.

Not everyone is thrilled with opening everything up. Jim Spain, Colliers International regional manager, said senior members -- among the 70 brokers he has in Colliers offices in UTC and Carlsbad -- sit in glassed-in, semi-private offices without doors.

"It makes people accessible and available while also giving them a measure of privacy," Spain said. "These aren't for beginning brokers. It's considered a privilege to be these offices."

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