CBRE’s “Free Address” Office Plan: Operations Unaffected by Flood
CBRE moved data to the cloud and took nameplates off of its office doors. The ROI was unexpected, and a lesson learned for earthquake preparedness
On an evening earlier this year, a four-inch sprinkler main broke on the 27th floor of CBRE’s offices, flooding 50% of the 26th and 27th floors. The incident happened during a routine testing of the building’s main fire sprinkler line when an accidental over-pressurization of the line caused a rupture. Thanks to the quick response by property management, water in the building was quickly shut off, limiting damage within the space. Even so, the cleanup rendered much of the office space unusable for three weeks, as water was drained and recovery teams cleaned up and returned the offices to top condition.
What was it like doing business after the main break?
For many companies this would have been complete disaster, but CBRE had put some creative operational strategies in place. There were several reasons why physical damage to the office never interrupted business.
First, there is the issue of data and systems: Prior to this event, CBRE had scanned its paper files and moved its data storage to the cloud. Email and other systems were running in the cloud too. Employees have notebook computers for mobility. In this scenario, even if computers at the office were damaged, or the building were shuttered, data would still be accessible and customer transactions could continue.
Second, CBRE had changed its office configuration from personal offices with nametags on the door, to a workplace based on “free addressing.” Employees can choose from several different types of space, including workstation offices, focus rooms, meeting tables, and media rooms. Some of these are available on a first come-first serve basis, while some workspaces are reserved via website, smartphone, or via a networked touchpad near the door.
The net result of free addressing is that damage to an office has no impact on an individual. A CFO’s office and computer are not wrecked, instead only an empty office and a data plug are unavailable. This office plan also encourages employees to keep important files online where they are backed up, rather than on paper. Not every type of business will find that free address offices are practical, but it’s an innovative idea that provokes some thoughts about business continuity.
The day after the main break, about a quarter of CBRE employees went to the dry side of the office and located an undamaged “free address” office to do their work, plugged in their notebook computers and connected to the cloud for email and data. Other employees could operate from other CBRE offices in the region or from home offices since data and email systems are in the cloud. Business continued.
LA County recently reflected on the 20-year anniversary of the Northridge quake. Given that another such event could shutter many buildings, how will your business enable employees to continue working, access systems and data, and support customers? Business continuity planning can be critical.