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WELL, WELL, WELL….DTLA embraces workplace WELLness

Deepak Chopra told a packed crowd of Downtown business people at the opening of CBRE’s and DTLA’s first WELL® certified office building, that our environment is our “extended body”. He went on to state that CBRE is the first company in DTLA to create a place of “biological sustainability”, a place where simply by showing up for work, your body can begin to repair itself of all the external stressors impacting its health.

Is corporate America really ready to embrace the global trend toward workplace WELLness? And are they really ready to pay just a little more up front to design it in? If you spend any time listening to Lew Horne, the President of CBRE’s downtown Los Angeles flagship WELL® certified office environment, you would have to agree that indeed, corporate America is drinking the (unsweetened and organic) Kool-Aid. Horne addressed a group of top business leaders and politicians at a Los Angeles Business Council Board meeting in January, and his passionate presentation felt more like an Agape rally, in a good way. Horne told the story of how his office became the first DTLA WELL® certified space where employees do not have their own desk, let alone corner office; designing in a concept instead, called “free addressing”. Horne and his team had to fly to Amsterdam for inspiration on just how efficient the rest of the world works. They are free of the constraints of paper, assigned space and that ubiquitous corner skyline view office that screams you have indeed “arrived”. Which reminds me of the famous quote from the Dalai Lama:

“Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. Then he is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present: the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Horne knew he would be facing some pretty tough egos, and with a goal to create a space that would make everyone happy, he decided to take the lead and ask his staff to do as he does, even if it means purging thirty years of files stuffed into twelve cabinets, half of which hadn’t been opened in years. His strategy worked. And he literally created an office with a heart. The “heart” is actually, in fact, a real space in the center of the office where technology- sheepish executives can discreetly go for help with things an eight year old does automatically – a brilliant way to allow top producers to still produce with a little help from the “heart”.

Not everything they tried worked. The glass “stretching room” was a bust. The yoga classes are a hit and so are the healthy company-provided snacks, organic juicing, height-adjustable work surfaces, treadmill desks, circadian lighting and nightly UV wands that eradicate those pesky flu germs, so the next day rotation has a germ free desk, phone and keyboard. Horne and his team collaborated with a New York based company called DELOS, who created and rolled out the new WELL® building certification process (version 1.0 was launched to a packed conference in New Orleans in 2014). Board members include names like Leo De Caprio, Deepak, former President Bill Clinton and entrepreneur Steve Bing. DELOS CEO, Paul Scialla, a former Goldman Sacks guy, is as passionate about revolutionizing the spaces in which we work as Horne is in sharing his own revolution. At last count, according to Horne, 15,000 people from all over the world have toured the CBRE WELL® certified space in Downtown Los Angeles. And he has the parking bill to prove it!

Skeptics and bottom line thinkers always ask how much does all this cost the company? Horne has a ready answer for those skeptics. “Energy costs are about $3.00 per square foot, rent runs about $30.00 per square foot, but it’s the people cost’s, that to Horne, make all this a no-brainer. At $300.00 per foot, per person, you could pick any cost percentage, and building space this way would pencil right down to the free-to-employees yoga and organic candy bars. And he has the occupancy survey after 14 months in the space to prove it. 92% of the people that work there feel healthier and 83% feel more productive. Ask if they would go back to their old ways of working and you will be met with a resounding “no-way!”

And the CBRE space is not an anomaly. More and more, Downtown LA companies are following their lead. The BLOC, a Ratkovich Development, is also WELL® certified, as are Shangri La Construction and the new Haworth showroom, opening in April 2015, all located in Downtown LA. DELOS has more than 9 million square feet of pending certification projects since it launched the WELL® Building standard (version 1.0) in October.

It makes sense that LA would emerge as the center of WELL® places to work. It is, after all, so Hollywood!

Lori Tierney, is an author (Cougar Yoga), freelance writer and avid yoga enthusiast and native Angelino

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