Crafting the Future of Work: Omar Ramirez, Collective Inc.

Omar Ramirez is a Future of Work leader, Workplace expert, and now Co-Founder & CEO of Collective Inc.   

With over 16 years of experience in workplace design and construction for companies such as Miro, Atlassian, Stripe and Netflix, he's now building Collective, a platform that connects workplace experts, practitioners, and enthusiasts, and provides them with resources, insights, and opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other.

In this interview, he discusses the current challenges around workplace experience and office space, and shares his insights on emerging workplace trends.

Can you tell us your title and describe your last role in a few sentences? 

Before founding Collective my role was Global Head of Workplace.

I was responsible for everything that involved the Workplace experience of employees at the company: from safety and security, to finding and leasing spaces, building and designing those spaces, enabling people through technology and other systems and programs… So everything from events, to security, to physical workplace. I was also working with the IT team to make sure that all of our efforts aligned properly as well.

When I say workplace engagement, what do you think about? 

When I think about workplace engagement now it's a lot different than it was five years ago. Workplace engagement is not just how engaged the people who work for your company are - whether they're full time employees, contractors, ancillary staff... It's also how you engage with them - both in physical and digital locations. All those points of interaction from hire to retire form a workplace engagement and I think that it's very different from how we used to think of it, when it was just a singular physical workplace with programs built around it. Even though we were already online and using digital tools, it just wasn't as much of a focus for companies.

You said we approach spaces differently now, what do you think has changed? Compared to the old ones, pre-pandemic. 

I think the way we are approaching digital and physical spaces as a society has changed a little bit because of the pandemic: now people are more willing to say what they want or don't want. People are being a little bit more honest about what they're willing to bring back into their lives and what they're allowing into them. So we are interacting with physical and digital spaces in a very different way because people are saying “this isn't for me, I'm just gonna opt out of this one". They're being more transparent about what they want to be interacting with. And I think that's very different than before, when I think people felt more obligated. Because we stopped everything for a little while, people are resetting expectations for themselves in some ways, and we still haven't finished resetting expectations.

When you're thinking about distributed work and the overall new experience, how do you think companies and leaders should integrate culture both within the office and beyond its walls? 

I think distributed work is a huge opportunity to gain better access to talents and people from all across the world who might not have had access to those roles previously.

When you think about building culture and building connections - especially in a distributed environment, you have to set up and make sure that it's intentional and that you are bringing together people with a sense of wanting to build connection by design.

You can't just get some people together in a digital platform or a physical space and expect connection to happen. Because great connections and great events that build connection are by design, they're not just accidental. So companies who want to build connection between their employees should be very intentional about creating opportunities for those connections.

And whether that's bringing people together at different intervals or bringing them together at co-located facilities, they have to make sure everyone feels included in that way. Building those opportunities for connection is really important in a distributed environment because if your team members don't feel connected to the company or connected to the mission, they could be working quite literally anywhere. The more connected people feel to the place that they work, the more likely they are to stay long-term and feel like they're a part of that mission of that company.

How do you think connection is linked to that sense of belonging? And has a direct impact on whether attrition or retention? 

Studies have shown that connection directly leads to a sense of belonging within a company, and that people who feel excluded are less likely to stay. It's one of the reasons why you see people who have typically been excluded or not in positions of power pushing for distributed work so much more.

And distributed work has directly benefited people who are minorities in the US because they feel more included and less excluded. They have a better sense of belonging in a distributed environment. The future forum had some really interesting information and studies on this back in 2022 and 2023.

But I think for people in distributed teams an essential part of it is making everyone feel connected, it's a critical factor.

How would you say that? Workplace teams and all the different leaders should be working together with other departments, so how do you think this collaboration should exist between the different departments? 

It's critical if you don't have all the different teams who form a holistic employee experience working together.

In the life cycle of a team member, from their first phone call or email from a recruiter to the last day at the company, all of those events are linked and should have the same level of experience. If you're not coordinating with HR, IT, benefits, diversity and inclusion… and all the other teams that make up a holistic employee experience, it's just not going to work.

And I think some people who have been in a corporate real estate or more siloed roles might not have had to coordinate as heavily previously.

You might have a quarterly meeting or every six month meeting with those folks on the other teams to regularly synchronize and make sure that the entire employee life cycle is well planned out and well synchronized.

It is really important and you can tell when companies don't focus on this by just the fact that things don't run as smoothly.

So you need to have teamwork, but you also need to have some kind of metrics and indicators. What do you think are the metrics that any workplace leader should track in order to craft the best experience? 

Surveying your employees and getting to understand them more deeply is really important, surveys help.

I think measuring employee sentiment and employee engagement are really important, and understanding the difference between those two things, as well.

But also a lot of this depends on your work model:

  • If you're an office centric company you can still do things the way you did pre-pandemic with some adjustments like better surveying or new onboarding but it's still the old way of working.
  • If you're a more distributed company, your metrics should be different. Some companies are distributed “hybrid” you're in and out and have people working in different modes, so you are going to have a multitude of metrics you have to work with.

But again, employee engagement and employee sentiment surveys will be critical because not everyone is going to be in a physical space.

For example, we were doing an interview at a company a few months ago, they are a structured hybrid company. They had 20% of remote employees and it's interesting because they still have to serve all those different audiences, so what metrics capture everybody?

It's probably surveys and engagement surveys, because you're not going to get a physical space survey from all of those remote employees. Some of them might never come to a physical office.  That’s not to totally discount space related metrics, because if you have a robust enough events program you can likely capture 90% of your people coming and going over a long enough period.

It's a perfect transition to my next question: In this new era of work, what do you think is the purpose of the office? And what do you think will be its outlook in the upcoming years? 

I think it depends heavily on the type of company you are and the physical location or the country/state you're in, because those are huge factors.

  • For some people it's a place where you can go to get heads down work done or collaborate with folks in your team.
  • I also see a lot more teams using them for off sites so they're taking the off sites and moving them to the office space for the company. So they're on sites which is interesting because they do want to bring teams together to collaborate and to have deep work sessions.
  • But at different intervals, I think for a lot of people who might not have the physical space or setup they need at home, it's a good place to go to and get work done. Does that need to be a dedicated corporate office? No, it might be a co-working space, a pass for a number of working spaces within your city…
  • I think the purpose of the Office (or of a dedicated space) is kind of the same as it always was: it's a space that's for your company and for your employees only, where you can discuss confidential information, collaborate, innovate, hopefully move your company forward.

I think it just depends on the frequency of use, on whether you need a dedicated space, the type of company you are, or again your state and your industry. And that was never really a consideration before: you'd start at a company, get an office space and work from there. Now it's a more tailored experience.

But I think the way we think of office space will continue to change over the next 10 years. We haven't seen the end of the revamping of office space and of that entire vertical of how we think about the physical space and our proximity to home and work.

That's something people are reconsidering too, and that'll be interesting to watch as people start to reconsider, where they live, and where they work, and how those two things intersect.

Why do you think so many companies are asking people to return to the office without mandates these days? Is that a new trend? 

I think it's natural for companies and managers to fall back into what they know when things suddenly are not performing the way they want them to.

We've had three years to retrain people, learn new management skills and re-onboard everybody and I think that in some ways you default to what you know when things are not going the way you want them to, and a lot of companies are just defaulting to office.

But it will be interesting to watch the attrition and retention numbers for those companies as time goes on, because we've already seen some early signs that companies who have mandated returned offices or mandated structured hybrid are experiencing worse retention and more attrition. We know from the studies from Stanford, from Future Forum from and other sources that employees overwhelmingly desire flexibility and work arrangements in both how and where they work.

So I think it's a critical thing for employers to understand.

Do you have any reading to recommend or any people in the workplace industry that you suggest to follow? 

There's a few great researchers, so Dror Poleg, who just has amazing writing on the future of work and real estate, he just has fascinating takes all the time.

Obviously, Nick Bloom is really, really good. Also Brian Elliott is awesome, he was one of the founders of the Future Forum and he's one of our advisors for our company.

Very similarly, Denise Brouder is also really great. What she's doing for the workplace and helping companies is really functionally thinking about how to do hybrid properly and how to change what they're doing.

Darcy Boles from the remote community, is also doing a fantastic job of helping companies move forward and helping people think differently.

And the last one is probably Melissa Fisher from NYU. She's an anthropologist, she's doing some interesting work with the intersection of work and real estate, and thinking about it from that anthropological perspective.

More about Omar Ramirez: 

Learn from Industry Leaders Crafting the Future of Work: 

Request a Demo


Author's picture

Timothée Bourcier

LinkedIn logoTwitter logo

Users talk about Café

Product Hunt Golden Kitty Winner 2021
Café is a leader in Online Community Management on G2

Seamless integration with all your favorite tools

Request a Demo