By: Kevin Litten, Baltimore Business Journal

Commercial real estate firm CBRE Group Inc. is moving into new office space at 100 E. Pratt St. that is designed to be a showroom for clients as much as it is a modern, functional workplace for the firm’s 90 employees.

The 16,000-square-foot space will span the entire 17th floor with sweeping views of the Inner Harbor, but it’s the design of the space that’s supposed to wow employees and potential clients (click through the slideshow to see more renderings).

That design is part of what CBRE’s international brand is calling “Workplace360,” a collaboration with the Gensler architecture firm that is aimed at winning CBRE business by putting it at the forefront of the modern office.

“Revolutionary may be too strong a term, but this space is changing our industry,” CBRE market leader Chip Olsen said in an interview. “We’re the only company that’s doing what we’re doing. Everything we looked at was based on a new office experience.”

Workplace360 is driven by collaboration, and many traditional facets of office culture such as assigned desks and private offices have been jettisoned. Instead, CBRE will group its workers into “neighborhoods” to encourage interaction among the company’s groups providing various client services.

Those neighborhoods will include work stations positioned along long desks, and are ringed by small conference rooms, small offices where employees can seek privacy and “focus rooms” designed for private meetings.

Gensler associate Bill Brown said the smaller conference rooms were chosen because CBRE’s larger conference rooms at 250 W. Pratt St. were underutilized, and the private office-for-a-day concept was added to allow employees a refuge from outside distractions.

“What they’re striving for is for people to unplug from the desk,” Brown said, and move their laptops to other areas in the office. “Every desk has the same tech input,” he added, and phones can be reassigned to accommodate the employee’s direct-dial.

But the real attraction in the new CBRE office is the “heart,” a gathering space where workers can get a coffee, have lunch, or work at high-tables and counters and small seating areas. The heart overlooks the Inner Harbor, and Gensler has sought to reference Baltimore icons by constructing seating areas to look like front stoops.

“The point of the whole coming into the heart area is not just make it a coffee area, but turn it into a neighborhood and client hub,” said Gensler senior associate Ehren Gaag. “It’s multiple uses and more than just employees and clients. They have to look at it through the lens that everyone is a client eventually.”

Olsen said that CBRE views Workplace360 as a way to attract clients and business it might not otherwise win.

“We competed for business with a law firm that had eight offices and we were supposedly the outsider with no shot,” Olsen said.

CBRE won the business after it “sold hard on this concept," Olsen added. "Their biggest concern was retaining and recruiting young lawyers, and the young lawyers didn’t care about offices. You used to have lawyers sit in their offices counting ceiling tiles to compare how big their offices were, but that’s changing.”

Gensler’s managing director in Baltimore, Jim Camp, said millennials are indeed driving the change behind modern office design, but he said it’s also about smarter use of office space and the new technology that allows offices like CBRE’s to go paperless and mobile.

“A lot of it is just the ability to use your real estate better,” Camp said. “Being collaborative increases the opportunities for people to meet where they normally wouldn’t.”

CBRE expects the build-out of their new office space at 100 E. Pratt St. will be complete by August.