NGZimmer's new office reflects industry shift

Mark Long

Mark Long

Mark Long doesn't mince words about his company's new office.

"It's the most perfectly designed space for selling commercial real estate that ever existed."

Newmark Grubb Zimmer, now a 100-person team, has settled into its new digs on the third floor of 1220 Washington - a building the firm developed decades ago when the west side of downtown looked drastically different. Zimmer has occupied different levels of the building throughout its lifetime there, but this time, its leadership took a leap and made an investment in the way its associates work.

The end product is a result of a number of forces: the influence of the tech savvy millennial generation, the changing nature of the real estate business, and the workplace solutions the firm was already pushing its clients to adopt.

We sat down with Long, a principal with the firm, to discuss the considerations that went into the new office. Here are the highlights.

Senior level executives at Newmark Grubb Zimmer lost their private offices in the move, instead shifting to corner nooks without doors.

Senior level executives at Newmark Grubb Zimmer lost their private offices in the move, instead shifting to corner nooks without doors.

How business is evolving

As we walk through the third floor of the new office, it feels vastly different from the firm's former cubicle farm just two floors down. Here, sunshine pours in across a wide-open office peppered with sit-to-stand desks, absent of executive offices and closed doors. It's representative of the evolving real estate business, Long says.

"Everyone is working in teams and everyone is truly collaborating," he said. "If you're expecting to handle sophisticated, institutional real estate assignments at the highest level and you're planning on winning that business on your own and servicing it on your own, you've got a bad plan. It takes a team."

The latest high-tech audio and visual equipped in the firm's glass-walled conference rooms showcase its commitment to teamwork, transparency, and innovation.

"Today, not only is it our local team but it's our Newmark partners all over the country working together to solve one client's problem," he says.

CEO Ellen Darling agrees that the new office is the antithesis of what the industry once was.

"It used to be in the old days that brokers didn't want other brokers knowing what they were working on," she said. "Everything was kept pretty close to pocket."

Even spaces like the break room, dining areas and outdoor patio are opportunities for collaboration. According to Long, that's where the best brainstorming sessions happen. And that's intentional.

"That's what's fun about being part of a dynamic group like this," Long said. "Half of the ideas I have are ideas that guys around here came up with that we run with."

A glass-walled conference room in the center of the floor is equipped with all the latest audio/visual conferencing technology and is soundproofed to allow for private meetings.

A glass-walled conference room in the center of the floor is equipped with all the latest audio/visual conferencing technology and is soundproofed to allow for private meetings.

Advising clients

Even before the team sat down with GastingerWalker& and formulated a design plan, it had recommended this type of office solution to its clients: less square footage per individual, a bigger emphasis on team gathering areas, and infusing tech and productivity boosting tools in a cost-efficient way.

With the plethora of considerations that go into modern office design - health and wellness, mobility, technology - it's hard to come up with a design that satisfies the most thorough of checklists.

"All of the details are important, so you can't pull this off without a whole lot of thought and effort," Long said. "It's easy to lose track when you're working with a budget. If we would have value engineered certain parts out, this space would be totally different."

On the various tours he's given in the past few weeks, he says people say the firm spent too much money and that the office looks as good as it can get.

"But this is all within reach of our clients," he says, pointing out the carefully chosen rubber-based trim and standard grey carpet, and the absence of expensive wall coverings or fancy light fixtures. "We did it responsibly."

A word cloud on the office wall reminds the firm's employees and clients what it stands for.

A word cloud on the office wall reminds the firm's employees and clients what it stands for.

On company culture

One thing is clear about the new space: it makes a statement.

"Part of reinforcing your brand is letting your employees and clients know what you stand for - and reminding yourself what you stand for, too," he says, overlooking a word cloud on the wall that highlights the firm's most prominent traits: creative, tireless, successful.

Whereas in the past, company culture centered on boosting morale and production, today it's about creating excitement and enthusiasm for coming to work everyday.

"You have to match the space with your business, and it's all about who your people are," he said. "We're made up of a bunch of young, energetic people. And the guys who aren't young by their years are young by their spirit. We've got the top real estate minds in Kansas City that want to embrace change and stay on the cutting edge."

And to be clear, it's not that the space drives culture. Quite the opposite, in fact.

"Culture is interesting," he says. "You can't wear jeans and have a barbecue on a Friday afternoon and instantly be cool. Culture isn't as easy as just stealing our space design. We were able to do this because of our culture."

But the firm doesn't owe its success to its culture, alone. It's about discipline, too, Long says.

"Historically, the top real estate minds in Kansas City would have great big offices that stroke the ego," he says. "But in a high performance sales organization like this, you also have to execute. It takes a right mind to maintain that discipline of always having to be planning, evolving, working our plan effectively, maintaining current knowledge and staying ahead of the curve. Culture is tricky, but it's also fragile. You have to protect it."

Preparing for the future

In a time where the industry is changing faster than ever, Long is making sure his team stays nimble, on their toes, and ready to adapt.

"Those who have not redesigned their workplace have missed a big opportunity to adjust morale. It's piecing the puzzle together: technology, operations, furniture, sound deadening, and the list goes on. But at the end of the day, it's the workplace - not the work space - that's really important and what we've paid attention to," he said. "It's a big investment, but I will say after making the investment, it's well worth it."

But he knows that there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

"As our company has continued to grow and evolve and succeed, our space needs have totally changed and we've bounced around several times since 1948," he said. "We plan on being here for the next 7 years, but we know by then, we may need a totally different solution."