As regular readers will know, we’re always intrigued to take a look at the working homes of the businesses we work with on a daily basis. Whether we’re visiting property developers, A&D, PMs, manufacturers or suppliers, there’s always a slight intrigue to see whether these companies genuinely practice what they preach. The vast majority does – and a perfect example of this is CBRE’s new Manchester home, which not only provides a fantastic space for its people, but also acts as a perfect showcase for the company’s expertise.
With 130 property specialists across its Manchester and Liverpool offices, CBRE provides strategic property advice in all commercial and residential sectors. The company consults its clients on a broad range of real estate areas, including investment, development, agency, asset management, valuation, building consultancy, rating and planning. Additionally, it offers specialist advice on alternative sectors such as leisure, student accommodation, healthcare, hotels and residential. Current key projects include advising Manchester Airport Group on the development of Airport City and Stockport Metropolitan Council on the regeneration and management of Stockport Exchange, while its largest transaction to date was the acquisition of Two St Peter’s Square on behalf of Deutsche AWM.
Speaking of St Peter’s Square, the Manchester office of CBRE has recently relocated its 110 Manchester-based staff to new offices at One St Peter’s Square, following a record year for the North West business.
CBRE has moved from the Belvedere office building on Booth Street, increasing its office space by 30% to over 11,000 sq ft on the 10th floor of the impressive One St Peter’s Square, in the heart of Manchester’s new civic and business quarter.
The Office Agency team at CBRE negotiated a 15-year lease, demonstrating the firm’s long-term commitment to the Manchester business and forming part of the company’s ambitious plans to support future growth throughout the city and the North West.
CBRE’s Building Consultancy team managed the fit-out process and appointed tp bennett as interior architect and Overbury as contractor following a competitive design competition.
On arrival at the 10th floor, we’re met by CBRE Associate Director, Andrew Flanagan, and tp bennett Project Director, Rachel Bishop. We’re not sure where to look first – such is the impressive nature of the open reception space in front of us and the amazing views of the city beyond. As first impressions go, this is a very, very good one!
‘The views are pretty special,’ Andrew admits. ‘We’ve split the office so that this space and the client facing meeting rooms have the best views – overlooking one of the city’s most iconic squares, with views of the Midland Hotel, Manchester Central Library and the Town Hall extension.’
The new workspace has been designed to support modern working principals, with a clear focus on both the staff and client experience – and, as we alluded to earlier, this starts right here in the reception space. ‘We’ve got touchdown areas here and spaces where our clients can just drop in and work or use for informal meetings,’ Andrew explains as we continue to admire our surroundings. ‘We’ve also got a coffee machine and drinks. We have a lot of bespoke joinery throughout – and also a lot of hidden ‘secret’ doors. For example, we’ve got a hidden door here through which we can access a client pitch room – which is a unique feature.’
We ask Andrew about the reasons behind the relocation and the process itself. ‘We went through an engagement exercise with all our staff,’ he tells us. ‘Our initial thoughts were that we didn’t have enough meeting rooms – but when we did the engagement exercise with tp bennett, it actually turned out that we did have enough meeting rooms, we just didn’t have enough quiet spaces or 1-on-1 spaces for staff to meet – so our meeting rooms were being occupied by one person on their phone. That has now completely stopped. The usage of client meeting rooms being occupied by our staff has dropped considerably because we’ve now have our own dedicated areas, private booths and quiet spaces.’
‘We introduced informal team meet spaces and places where people can take Skype calls or phone calls,’ Rachel adds. ‘We did find that the boardroom might be taken up by one person on a call – and that was really wasteful.
‘When were appointed to do the workplace consultancy, one of the things that immediately came up was that they didn’t want this space to be the corporate green – or to be a Google,’ Rachel confirms. ‘They wanted it to represent their culture and their stature, without being too flashy. Their old office didn’t have anywhere to meet and greet clients, there was very little daylight and it was very small – they desperately needed more space for these new facilities.
‘They wanted somewhere that they’d be proud to bring clients into – and to showcase what they do. This was a key space really – so we introduced a lot of different arrangements, from touchdown spaces and banquet informal seating, through to lounge areas. It’s great to seeing it being used so frequently.’
‘It’s a great introduction to CBRE – you can literally see everything that is happening in Manchester from this office,’ Andrew proudly tells us. ‘We can even use it as a point of reference for what we’re doing in the city!
Andrew takes us to the ‘secret’ door that leads to the aforementioned pitch room. ‘This is a different type of space,’ Rachel adds. ‘The idea is that you bring clients into here via the secret door and you have the curtain closed so that you don’t actually feel as though you are in the office – there’s a sense of theatre about it. It’s fully acoustic, you can change the lighting levels and it has fully interactive screens. You don’t really know where you are in the office until you open the curtain – and find you’re actually in the heart of the space.’
‘One of the design themes that you’ll see running throughout the office is the fretwork – which actually comes from the Town Hall clock,’ Andrew reveals. ‘It’s not CBRE corporate. We very much wanted to go with the designs that tp bennett brought to us. This is CBRE in Manchester. We are a multinational firm, but we wanted this space to feel local – to feel like it is ours. We’ve really taken that and run with it!’
‘This is a prestigious site but the budget wasn’t massive,’ Rachel admits. ‘We’ve used the budget in a way that we were able to bring in really nice Moroso seating, but then we’ve got standard ceiling products, which we orientated and rotated in a different way to take them away from that normal office look and feel.’
We walk through to the client facing meeting rooms, where we find smart acoustic products (one of the major points that came out of the staff engagement exercise), interactive technology and eye-catching bespoke joinery. ‘Technology, connectivity and acoustics simply weren’t good enough at our old space – and that was something that we were really keen to include here.’
‘We’ve used really rich, plush finishes and colours throughout the client suite – and then a fresh, vibrant palette for the staff areas,’ Rachel explains. ‘We also wanted to use honest materials throughout. We didn’t want to use ‘fake’ materials anywhere – which is part of CBRE’s Work Well philosophy.’
The relocation coincided with CBRE’s Work Well initiative across the UK, which focuses on employees’ physical, mental and social wellbeing. As such, key features around wellness were introduced into the office including sit/stand desks, fresh fruit and quiet spaces, where staff can take a break away from their screens.
As we walk through the neighbourhoods of the open plan staff areas, we can see all of this in abundance. There are a number of breakout areas for staff to ‘escape’ from their desks. There is an ‘anti-space’, where staff can hold informal meetings. There is fantastic bespoke artwork and a vibrant, attractive staff dining space.
Andrew points out that investment has also been made into high-end coffee machines for both clients and staff. ‘It’s touches like these that show we value our people.’
‘We also wanted the space to have an energetic feel, so that people would want to use it, would want to invite their clients in here,’ Rachel adds. ‘A sea of desks can be quite daunting, so we created these neighbourhoods – and people can then pick where they want to sit. We then have informal spaces and touchdown areas, which include height adjustable desking. Timber finishes denote touchdown space and white tops denote the fixed desking areas.’
‘It’s about flexibility and about offering that choice,’ Andrew points out. ‘People can sit, they can stand, they can use a booth – they genuinely can sit wherever you want.’
This really is a great example of how a modern business should work – and it’s also quite a statement.
‘We are the first firm of surveyors to locate to St Peter’s Square in recent times, which further endorses the area as Manchester’s new civic and business quarter,’ John Ogden, Executive Director and MD of CBRE’s North West Business, comments. ‘It promises to be an inspiring workspace for our staff and will provide a flexible platform in response to our evolving business needs, supporting our drive to lead from the front in terms of innovation.’
We’ll leave the final words to Andrew. ‘What’s really rewarding is seeing how staff have bought into the space, which will hopefully improve how we service our clients.’