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Exclusive Q&A: CBRE's Lew Horne on Next-Gen Creative Space


A pioneer in the healthy building movement, CBRE created the world’s first WELL commercial office space at its Downtown LA HQ under the Delos WELL Building Standard pilot program as part of its Workplace360 launch. Last week, Bisnow caught up with CBRE president for the Greater LA and OC region Lewis C. Horne, one of the company’s primary advocates for this transformation, to find out more about the expansion of these concepts to other CBRE and client offices.


Bisnow: Which CBRE offices are being transformed to Workplace360? Tell us about the most unique or innovative features of the setting.

Lew Horne: We were among the first employers to create staff metrics around well-being, and we’re working with client companies to help them deepen their relationships with employees by creating an engaging, healthy work environment. We have more than two dozen offices today that have converted to Workplace360, including our Inland Empire office in Ontario, Downtown LA and two in San Diego, and another 18 are under construction. Among others are Tokyo (pictured), Singapore, Honolulu and Chicago offices.

This has become part of our corporate culture, and we’re now looking for ways to expand wellness to areas other than physical space. We’re always exploring new ideas for enhancing the health and wellness aspects of the office environment. For example, right now we’re looking at a new program that promotes incorporating physical activity into routine, everyday activities like walking or standing while in meetings.


Bisnow: Have you surveyed employees regarding their experience working in this new environment?

Lew Horne: Our Downtown office fluctuates between 190 and 270 employees daily, but measuring metrics like productivity and sick days is a challenge. We did conduct a survey, which indicated that employees highly value the wellness features, such as the adjustable desks that let them sit or stand and the ability to move to a variety of work areas.

Additionally, all of them reported feeling healthier at the end of the day. Looking forward, we’d also like to be able to measure blood pressure, blood sugar and other health indicators, but we’re not there yet. One thing we know for certain, the quality of this space has changed our relationship with our employees and has given us an advantage in recruiting talent. Our people love this space, and we’ve recruited 80 new employees at the downtown office over a two-year period.


Bisnow: Have you sold the healthy, free-address, paperless Workplace360 concept to CBRE clients?

Lew Horne: This has changed our narrative with clients. When we designed this space, we wanted to make it a showroom for our clients. We’ve toured more than 20,000 people through the Downtown office over the last two years. In the last couple of weeks alone, we conducted 20 tours with 300 CoreNet [conference] people, in addition to touring some groups from China. So two years in, our tour activity is still going strong. Virtually everyone we work with is impressed by our space.

We’re having conversations with clients about this concept, and a number of them have already integrated elements of what we have done to their work environment. Not everyone is going as deep as we did, but we do have examples of clients who have recognized the benefits of doing it fully.


Bisnow: Most office users today are moving toward creative space. In your experience, how do you think healthy building features could enhance creativity and productivity?

Lew Horne: It puts the focus back on the employee. When you look at a company’s investment in operational expenses, employees account for 80%. So we advise clients to invest in people and their workspace.

All of this continues to be an evolution. Take our furniture systems, for instance. We are looking into providing more privacy and adding electronics. If something isn’t being used, we remove it. We’re also helping our employees learn to access information through our cloud sharing and storage system, ensuring they are completely mobile and can access their documents from anywhere, at any time.

We take pride in knowing that while we’re the largest real estate services company in the world, we’re also nimble enough to be able to change our culture and the spaces we work in. Making these changes is about recruiting and retaining top talent.


Bisnow: Do you think these healthy and creative space concepts could be applied to other types of work environments, like retail and industrial? If so, how do you envision this could play out?

Lew Horne: Yes, I do think wellness can be applied to other real estate property types aside from office, and we’ve had those conversations with industrial space and warehouse and manufacturing managers. Their concerns center around room temperature and water and air quality control, particularly in regards to exhaust systems. 

Wayne Ratkovich is blazing the trail in retail, going for WELL Certification at The Bloc. (Pictured is the rooftop garden at The Bloc's office tower, where chefs from the hotel and retail restaurants will grow herbs and other ingredients.)


Bisnow: Are there any other innovative projects CBRE is planning to launch over the next year or two? You are leasing Rick Caruso’s Masonic Temple in Glendale, which is expected to open in December.

Lew Horne: Glendale is the most exciting development happening right now. We’re looking at the project as Workplace 2.0. Rick Caruso is providing enhanced services that free up time for our employees’ personal lives. The five-star concierge service being provided at the Masonic Temple is something we think is the next wave in workplace strategy. It will help cut down on what is often referred to as the "second shift"—the tasks that we all have to attend to after our day jobs are done. If we can get your grocery shopping done or pick up takeout dinner for you, that’s 30 minutes added to your personal life—we believe that is very important.

Learning by doing makes us a much better example to our clients. When we create an innovative new service, we have a showroom where we can test it and see how it’s working, before promoting it to others.


Bisnow: Is there anything you'd like to add?

Lew Horne: We had a street artist create a mural on one of our walls in our downtown office to make the statement, “this isn’t your father’s office.” It has become our signature—it says “we’re global, but we’re also local.” We’ve also done this in Tokyo and Honolulu and are currently interviewing artists to do something similar in Glendale and our other local offices.