In the fall of 2014, commercial real estate firm CBRE moved from their previous offices to the top three floors of 321 N. Clark Street in Chicago. The move not only represented a change in scenery for the company, it represented a change in philosophy.
CBRE, in tandem with the relocation, has launched its Workplace 360 initiative. The initiative represents a major change in the setup and practicality of the CBRE offices, doing away with assigned work spaces in order to promote more collaboration between employees. The initiative promises to facilitate the sharing of information, eliminate as much waste as possible, and inspire clients looking to engage in similar practices with their companies.
With 300 employees in the new 6100-plus-square-foot space, the company included 14 types of work spaces, including single day offices, huddle rooms, and open collaboration areas. Employees choose which spaces to occupy based on their to-do list for the day. The activity-based work model means that employees checking e-mail will be in the lobby, employees on phone calls will enter a focus room, and employees meeting with clients can reserve an office for the day.
As a result of this encouragement to collaborate, CBRE wanted to bring in equipment that was as cutting edge as the Workplace 360 initiative they had set out on.
“It started with a boardroom that existed that was underwhelming in terms of technology solutions,” says Taidgh McClory, Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning & Brokerage Operations for CBRE New England in Boston. “Our goal was to look at something that was engaging, we were thinking of video conferencing as an element, we wanted a solution that was more interactive than what we had.”
A vendor of CBRE introduced the team to Oblong Industries, and their feature commercial product, Mezzanine. Mezzanine is an interactive collaboration and presentation solution that allows for employees in different places to work on the same information. A remote, called a ‘wand,’ controls what is onscreen; pulling, opening, closing, and resizing. That same information is mirrored in linked conference rooms in real time, with employees able to manipulate data from any location. Aside from its videoconferencing capabilities, the system alone is a powerful and dynamic presentation and collaboration tool that utilizes multiple screens and pieces of data with simple, gesture based manipulation.
After a demo and a few months of hands-on interaction with the technology, CBRE was ready to install a Mezzanine room into their own office.
“If you’ve ever been in a Mezzanine room, the first impression walking in speaks for itself,” says McClory. “You walk in and you feel like you’re leaping forward a few years into the future. It’s like nothing else that I had seen before. Whether it’s a new business use case, or sharing and collaborating with internal clients or just employees in your company, it’s a really different way to create content, present content, and interact with content.”
For the install, the entire Oblong Mezzanine team came into the CBRE offices and installed the product in one week. They worked with CBRE’s IT Director to convey how the system would patch into CBRE’s existing AV closet, including an iPad system which controls the lighting and AV systems in the room. The install went with few hiccups (there was a problem with the screens out of the box but the Oblong team was quick to remedy the situation).
Employees have since utilized Mezzanine in different ways depending on their practices. The design team was thrilled to have a new and interesting canvas to help them rethink giving a business pitch and add capabilities they had never had before. Administrative and client service personnel, who do the bulk of uploading content and driving presentations on the system, took some time to get used to the navigation with the wand. Once they were practiced they latched on to the technology. The sales force, with a fair mix of technology-savvy youth and older, less technologically-inclined employees, used the simpler functions before branching out to further utilize the system.
The company plans to continue to utilize Mezzanine across their practices. “We went only about half way down the spectrum,” says McClory. “We installed Mezzanine but we haven’t fully installed the video conferencing capabilities of Mezzanine, because we only have one room here. Our plan this year is to venture into the video conferencing and sync up with our other offices that have installed the systems.”