I help clients collect and assess quantitative and qualitative data to better understand the resource needs of employees. This guides leaders in making workplace choices that support individual employee needs as well as the needs of the business.
My title is Vice President Workplace Strategies but typically I don't use it and here's why: We are all Workplace Strategists because we each know what we need to do our jobs. I think of myself more as a data and design strategist in that I guide clients through discovery to seek comprehensive and valuable data to develop good solutions that have longevity.
I don’t use the "H word" as its root definition is the offspring of two plants or animals. If we use that term, we are continually focusing on two zones, two places, home vs. work which makes it easier for leadership to say, “Come back to the office.”
Work-life balance and harmony have two very different approaches:
But if we look at education, we see that although bullying was never part of academics (the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic), it had a dramatic impact on how students learn, the quality of education, and culture of place including the playground. So bullying, or micro-aggressions, have little relationship to the bottom line but have a huge impact on employee culture, comfort, and productivity. It does impact work.
Data plays a huge role. And that's where I think we go back to the quantitative and qualitative discussion.
As we look at what reimagined work and workplaces look like, lots of people have said you have to start with surveying employees. I disagree and here's why.
We have to remember that leadership has paradigms and parameters, many of which do not acknowledge the agency employees have gained in the past couple of years. Without understanding those guardrails and what is acceptable to leadership - at least in the beginning - we send out surveys to employees asking what they want, often with arbitrary notions of office-first, home-first, hybrid-first. It’s meaningless without leadership’s support, and it sets us up for failure. Because if an employee says I want to come in three days a week and leadership says no, you have to be in four days, trust is broken.
So I think we start at the beginning, with leaders:
Then go to the employees, and say, “Here's what leadership said”:
We can bring these two together by creating parameters first, defining existing paradigms, and then asking employees for their input to find common ground. The result is employees who can produce results for the company as well as themselves. Foundational paradigms and culture of a business are crucial because ultimately leaders are still accountable to shareholders, revenue projections, profit margins, p&l ratios, etc.
I think we have to allow employees to identify the resources they need to complete work, and respond with those resources as long as they’re reasonable. Place is now one of those resources, one of several, and not the first one we choose. We start with skills, data, and technologies, and then identify the best place to bring these together.
That's the new model. Then, if they indicate that by giving them these resources, they can produce the work, we now have a measurable objective.
At what level are those decisions being made?
In the past, these decisions were made by managers predicated on job descriptions. Today we talk about bringing HR, IT and FM (Facility Management) together. How do we bring them together when they don't speak a common language?
We allow employees to define their resource needs (skills, data, and technology) and then choose an ideal place to work with these needed resources. HR can now lead the talent, skills, and education development conversation with the employees, IT understands what sorts of technologies and data are needed by project, and FM can create workspaces that optimize bringing these together.
Most organizations are advancing space and governance, and more specifically policy around how to define and use new space types. With culture, we acknowledge that by nature, culture exists anytime people are brought together. The challenge is reshaping or nudging culture to best support our new modes of work. This often requires a new role in HR that leads workplace culture including DEI. I wouldn't say there's a standard yet, or well-defined roles as I think the type and the size of an organization defines these emerging responsibilities. We need to ask, “What would help our organization” and think of ourselves as peers. Whether we're managing the space, the culture or the organization, we've got to come together as peers and say, “This is what I can contribute to the employee experience.”
Culture is not created. Culture exists. Culture is individuals coming together and finding common ground, where they might clash, and how they learn from each other. Culture is a creative entity that can be influenced and shaped over time. I don’t think you can just build a culture or flat out change one because every person's story is going to influence that organization's culture.
In 2018, the World Economic Forum forecasted that by 2025, machines will perform more current work tasks than humans. That's computers, AI, mechanical devices, etc. So I think in five years, there will be a sea change in synergy between human contributions and technical contributions to work. I think that will be one of the greatest influences on workplace design since these bots will need specialized areas, mechanical shop floors, special equipment, or might reside in the cloud.
As far as the office itself, it’s going to be a very fractured concept. I think it’s no longer an individual entity, but four separate things that each person will need a component of, depending on work; they won't necessarily need all of them:
Imagine someday being able to travel with only your interfaces (keyboard, mouse) and as you near a computer you are authenticated and your personal applications and data appear for you. Not only do you have ease with which to choose a place for work, you can test different settings until you find your ideal office and can use the elements that you need to produce work given at any time.
Employees want the authority to engage in contracts: if given the skills, data, technology and place needed to do the job, they will produce valuable work. Success won’t come from managing where work takes place. It will come from supplying the right resources to support the work that produces results. Leadership might not feel they have to dictate place if they can advance from managing processes to contracting for results.