Smaller Offices, Higher Productivity

How three companies reconfigured physical space to support the way agents work today.

When a Georgia real estate company decided to close one of its offices, management figured they’d reassign the agents to other locations. But the agents liked working together and pressed their brokerage not to split them up — even if the physical space where they worked had to go.

“They petitioned and they said, ‘We don’t care if we work out of our basements or the back of our cars or Starbucks. We want to stay together as a unit,’” said DeAnn Golden, ABRM, CRB, senior vice president and managing broker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties.

Golden and other managers were sympathetic to the agents’ concerns, so they began looking at ways to create a “smart office,” which would cut down on expenses but also maximize productivity. “We came up with a vision that our office was going to be designed for the highly productive, mobile-enabled agent,” Golden said during a session at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’s annual sales convention in Dallas.

The session featured representatives from three Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices affiliates that participated in the company’s “Office of the Future” project, which is aimed at identifying ways real estate firms can reorganize their offices, said Glenn Miller, director of business consulting.

Golden’s company opened a smart office about two years ago in a nondescript, aging building in Dunwoody, Ga., that has been entirely reconfigured. It is one of two next-generation offices the company has established in the Atlanta area.

“The outside may look like it’s still an antiquated or old-fashioned office, but the moment you walk inside, you start to see a whole different look,” Golden said, noting that the new facility features a flexible open floor plan. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties’ second smart office, located in Smyrna, Ga., has a similar design.

The new spaces each measure about 2,600 square feet — markedly smaller than the 9,600-square-foot office they replaced. But the number of agents in each has grown dramatically since they opened, Golden said. As a result, the number of square feet allocated to each agent has decreased from 282 to 39, but that has not been a problem. “We know that agents don’t come into the office the way they used to,” Golden said.

The company has even begun using new terminology to describe office space. Conference rooms are now called “client collaboration centers”; the bullpens are known as “agent central”; and the work room has become the “production room,” Golden said.

David Bracy, vice president and managing broker of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group in Chicago, said that an office where space is at a premium can be an asset. His company took out three desks in a 1,100-square-foot office to make room for meeting space, and the office now has just under 14 square feet for each agent, down from 92.

“We fostered a culture of collaboration and getting everybody to work together, with a lot of coaching and a lot of inspirational kinds of things,” he said. “Your facility should not limit your growth if you think beyond it.”

Player Murray, regional executive for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices York Simpson Underwood Realty in North Carolina, said his company downsized from an 8,000-square-foot office in Cary, N.C., to one just over half the size. It has a considerable amount of unassigned open space, as well as five private offices available that any agent can use. There are also five assigned offices for high-producing agents, each with two desks. There is now an average of 67 square feet per agent, down from 350 square feet in the company’s old office.

Only about a quarter of the agents are in the office at any given time, so “even though on paper it looks like we’re over capacity, we could probably add another 20 agents and still not feel the effect,” Murray says.

His company has four other spaces that share the general design concept of the Cary office but are all different sizes. The Cary office was the last to open and reflects the best mix of design characteristics, Murray said. “It seems to be a real magnet for agents. It’s a huge recruiting tool for us because it’s different from every other office in our area.”