Decision Vision Episode 89: Should I Allow or Require Employees to Work From Home? – An Interview with Jason Jones, Cresa
Jason Jones, Cresa, joins host Mike Blake to discuss the issues raised by a work from home workforce, including managing people, workforce productivity, talent recruitment, and, of course commercial real estate lease and ownership implications. “Decision Vision” is presented by Brady Ware & Company.
Jason Jones, Principal, Cresa
Raised in Atlanta, GA, Jason Jones attended Duke University in Durham, NC on a Navy ROTC scholarship. After graduating from Duke in 1991 with a degree in political science, he traveled to Pensacola, FL and enrolled in naval flight school. In 1993 upon moving to Virginia Beach, VA, he learned to fly the A-6E Intruder as a Bombardier/Navigator and was subsequently assigned to a fleet squadron, deploying on the USS Enterprise.
In 1997 Jason left Virginia Beach to begin a tour of duty as a navy medical recruiter in Phoenix, AZ while attending Arizona State University’s Evening M.B.A. program. After leaving the Navy in 1999 he worked for one and a half years as a civilian headhunter recruiting senior executives for health insurance companies.
Upon finishing his M.B.A. in August of 2000 and before entering the business world full-time, Jason departed on a 15-month world trip on September 18th, 2000, returning to the United States on December 18th, 2001. He later documented his travels in the book Nomad: Letters From a Westward Lap of the World.
After returning from his trip, Jason entered the commercial real estate industry, ultimately landing at Cresa.
Jason Jones leads two service lines at Cresa: Technology Advisory Services and Remote Advisory Services. Technology Advisory Services helps clients select and implement Communications (voice, video), Connectivity (Internet) and Cloud computing strategies – especially during a relocation. Jason and his team help clients filter the confusion of evolving technologies and ensure coordination between the real estate and IT departments. Cresa Remote Advisory Services helps companies evaluate all the critical requirements of a remote work strategy. This leads to sustainable workforce strategies that balance working remotely with working in the office. Both services leverage human resources, technology, and real estate to maximize operations, improve talent attraction/retention and accelerate financial performance.
To contact Jason, follow this link.
Michael Blake, Brady Ware & Company
Michael Blake is Host of the “Decision Vision” podcast series and a Director of Brady Ware & Company. Mike specializes in the valuation of intellectual property-driven firms, such as software firms, aerospace firms and professional services firms, most frequently in the capacity as a transaction advisor, helping clients obtain great outcomes from complex transaction opportunities. He is also a specialist in the appraisal of intellectual properties as stand-alone assets, such as software, trade secrets, and patents.
Mike has been a full-time business appraiser for 13 years with public accounting firms, boutique business appraisal firms, and an owner of his own firm. Prior to that, he spent 8 years in venture capital and investment banking, including transactions in the U.S., Israel, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Brady Ware & Company
Brady Ware & Company is a regional full-service accounting and advisory firm which helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality. Brady Ware services clients nationally from its offices in Alpharetta, GA; Columbus and Dayton, OH; and Richmond, IN. The firm is growth minded, committed to the regions in which they operate, and most importantly, they make significant investments in their people and service offerings to meet the changing financial needs of those they are privileged to serve. The firm is dedicated to providing results that make a difference for its clients.
Decision Vision Podcast Series
“Decision Vision” is a podcast covering topics and issues facing small business owners and connecting them with solutions from leading experts. This series is presented by Brady Ware & Company. If you are a decision maker for a small business, we’d love to hear from you. Contact us at email@example.com and make sure to listen to every Thursday to the “Decision Vision” podcast.
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Intro: [00:00:01] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast series focusing on critical business decisions. Brought to you by Brady Ware & Company. Brady Ware is a regional full service accounting and advisory firm that helps businesses and entrepreneurs make visions a reality.
Mike Blake: [00:00:21] Welcome to Decision Vision, a podcast giving you, the listener, clear vision to make great decisions. In each episode, we discuss the process of decision making on a different topic from the business owners’ or executives’ perspective. We aren’t necessarily telling you what to do, but we can put you in a position to make an informed decision on your own and understand when you might need help along the way.
Mike Blake: [00:00:41] My name is Mike Blake and I’m your host for today’s program. I’m a director at Brady Ware & Company, a full service accounting firm based in Dayton, Ohio, with offices in Dayton; Columbus, Ohio; Richmond, Indiana; and Alpharetta, Georgia, which is where we are recording today. Brady Ware is sponsoring this podcast. If you like this podcast, please subscribe on your favorite podcast aggregator, and please consider leaving a review of the podcast as well.
Mike Blake: [00:01:04] So, today, we’re going to talk about, I think, a very timely decision. It’s certainly all over the place. The decision to allow or perhaps even require employees to work from home. So, just as a recap and spoiler alert, we started off 2020 – what sounds like 298 years ago – minding your own business when, all of a sudden, we have been cold clocked by a global pandemic known as the novel coronavirus-19. And as a result, extraordinary things have occurred in the day-to-day lives of most people and have impacted businesses in some fashion. Some businesses have been very positively impacted. If you’re in the mask business, I think you’re probably doing pretty well. And some have been very negatively impacted. You know, examples of that are going to be in hospitality and travel.
Mike Blake: [00:02:16] But for a lot of companies, you know, maybe you haven’t necessarily been all that financially impacted directly. But because of the way that experts have recommended -and I’m trying to keep this as nonpolitical as possible. I don’t understand why a virus has become political, but it has. But experts have recommended that we, basically, keep our distance from one another. The best thing that we can do to prevent ourselves from getting sick and being a carrier to others is to simply keep our distance, and to create barriers, and to limit our contact with strangers. And the more we can do that, the better.
Mike Blake: [00:02:58] And as a response to that, many companies have either created an option for their employees to work from home, where they previously hadn’t done. There are companies, like ours, that have kept the offices open but are not necessarily encouraging employees to come back. I think in our Dayton office, it’s probably a little bit more populated than our Atlanta office. I think, again, the doors are open, but we’re not exactly sending engraved invitations for people to come back in. And then, there are companies that has simply sent all their employees home, lock, stock, and barrel. Whether you want to come in or not, too bad. We don’t feel like we can make it safe. We don’t think it’s a responsible thing for our employees, for our customers, and for our community.
Mike Blake: [00:03:53] And this is created overnight. Massive challenges in terms of leadership, in terms of management, in terms of personnel development, in terms of a lot of the ways that we have been taught to lead and manage have suddenly been rendered inert and moved to the sideline. And we’ve talked a little bit about this in some of the other podcasts. We have talked to people about managing remote teams, and how do you support somebody working from home, and how do you support the work from home person. But those are very early in COVID. Those are very early in this experience in March and April in the heavy days where, I think, a lot of us thought that by now, as we record this in mid-October of 2020, if we hadn’t put this behind us, we would at least have seen a bright light at the end of the tunnel. And to that end, this is proving elusive.
Mike Blake: [00:04:58] And so, you know, we have to think now and companies are thinking in longer term. This isn’t a short term thing. And we’re finding also that some companies are doing very well with work from home. Some companies are contemplating making this permanent. And one of the upshots on this is it creates a cloudy outlook for the commercial real estate space. We don’t know if we’re going to need real estate as much as we did. Or if we did, it may be configured differently. It may be a different kind of real estate altogether. For example, I just read an article yesterday, it was on LinkedIn. I want to say it’s on The Wall Street Journal, but I’m not entirely certain. That skyscrapers are now very much out of vogue because you don’t want to stick people in elevators. And if the elevators are going 100 floors, that’s tough to do two people at a time. You’re going to have a lot of people getting sick in a lobby instead of the elevator. So, it’s opening up all kinds of unanticipated and strange kind of gyrations about decision making in this regard.
Mike Blake: [00:06:06] And so, I think, every business decision maker does have a decision in front of them, whether they’re actively pursuing it or whether they’re deferring it. At some point, you are going to have to decide whether or not you’re going to send your team, your workforce home, whether intentionally or comprehensively or whether by some sort of option. Most employees seem like to work from home, although some do not. And there’s increasing information available that suggests that working from home is, on the whole, a boon to productivity. So, that’s a long preamble, but a long preamble because this is a complicated and a very important topic.
Mike Blake: [00:06:53] And joining us today is our first repeat guest. And he was on earlier this year to talk about hiring veterans. Also, a very important topic. I’m fortunate I have a veteran working on my team now. A Marine who is extremely effective. We’re happy to have him. We’re very lucky to have him. But he came on really not to talk about his professional capacity, but Jason Jones, you know, he’s done something very, very interesting. I think very courageous. I think it’s going to be a case study someday. I really do. And that is, that he is a tenant representative, and he’ll talk about what exactly that means. But, in effect, he helps companies find commercial real estate. And he’s taken a step where he’s decided that he sees the world roughly the way that I’ve described and he’ll speak for himself in a minute. But he’s done something really interesting where, you know, the temptation would be to find all kinds of arguments why you should still come back into the office, because that’s how he makes his living.
Mike Blake: [00:08:09] But, instead, he’s taken the extraordinary step of risking cannibalizing his own business and making himself an expert on working from home, and remote management, and remote work services. And, frankly, I don’t know of anybody who has made themselves the expert on this. There are people who have written about it, but Jason has really made himself a student of it. So, we’re taking the extraordinary step. We normally like to have about a couple of years between appearances by guests. But I decided to break this rule because it’s depriving you, the listener, of the opportunity to benefit from his specialized expertise, where, frankly, there isn’t a lot of it out there.
Mike Blake: [00:08:53] So, I’m going to reintroduce my friend, and now holds the world record for appearances on the Decision Vision podcast, who is Jason Jones, who is now head of technology and remote advisory services at Cresa. And just as a reminder, Cresa is an international commercial real estate firm headquartered in the City of Washington. They represent tenants and provide real estate services, including corporate services, strategic planning, transaction management, project management, facilities management, workforce and location planning, portfolio lease administration, capital markets, supply chain management, sustainability and subleasing distribution. Formed in 1993, Cresta now has more than 60 offices and 90 employees.
Mike Blake: [00:09:39] Jason graduated from Duke University before serving in the United States Navy as an A-6 Intruder aviator. After departing the Navy, Jason got an MBA from Arizona State University and completed a 15 month solo trip around the world about what he wrote and published a book, Nomad: Letters from a Western Lap of the World. In response to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on how businesses are thinking about real estate, Jason founded the Remote Advisory Service Practice. The Remote Advisory Service Practice helps clients leverage advances in technology in a new culture of acceptance for work from anywhere to attract and retain talent, reduce expenses, and reimagine the workplace. Jason, welcome back to the program.
Jason Jones: [00:10:24] Thank you. It’s great to be here, Mike. And I am thrilled to hold a new world record. That is amazing.
Mike Blake: [00:10:31] Yeah. We’ll send it to Guinness.
Jason Jones: [00:10:34] That’s what I was hoping. Wonderful. It’s great to be here and it’s always good to see you. I just enjoy being with you. And I really have a high regard for what you’ve done with Decision Vision.
Mike Blake: [00:10:45] Well, thank you. I do appreciate that. As I said, it’s nice to hear there’s at least one listener out there. So, we didn’t really get into this in the last program because that wasn’t the topic. So, we’re going to get into it now. And the first question is, describe your day job and, maybe, from a perspective pre-coronavirus in particular, what was your day job then? And kind of what did your service profile typically look like?
Jason Jones: [00:11:12] Sure. And I will tell you that I, personally, I’m a bit of an odd duck in the commercial real estate industry. But what I’ll do, I think, is most relevant is describe the business model of my company and then how I fit in. But the business model of Cresa, as you so well described, is, we are advocates for the occupier of space. Cresa is an acronym, Corporate Real Estate Service Advisors. So, we serve and advise our clients who are the occupiers of corporate real estate. And that’s 99 percent, for us, means office space and warehouse space.
Jason Jones: [00:11:51] And our job is to act as an advisor helping companies and nonprofit organizations develop their strategy for where they should have an office or a warehouse. How much space should they have? How should it be designed? And then, once we figure those things out, we go to the market. We help find the best fit, maybe three to five options, allow them to compete for our client’s business in an ethical manner that drives prices down, that drives concessions up. And then, ultimately, we help them implement moving into that space by managing the relocation project or the construction project. And then, once that’s done, or perhaps even at the very beginning of the process, if they’re already in space, we help them go through that process and renew their office or warehouse at better terms than they would be able to otherwise. So, it’s a real estate strategy and implementation business.
Mike Blake: [00:12:53] So, all the years I’ve known you and as long as I’ve known you’ve been with Cresa – I think I’ve known you since you started – but I don’t think I ever knew what it stood for. And I should have known it was an acronym, but I never asked. That’s a bucket list item that’s been ticked off.
Jason Jones: [00:13:10] Yeah. Perfect.
Mike Blake: [00:13:13] So, we’re going to get sort of a second piece of value out of you here, because this story intersects with something that I think a lot of people are facing in the coronavirus environment, which is, your business has clearly been – or at least it seems to me – has been disrupted. So, March, April rolls around, the world changes rapidly, and it’s unclear where it’s going to change to. People start being sent home en masse. What starts going through your mind as a real estate adviser and as somebody who, frankly, makes a living on helping people find the right space and getting square footage settled?
Jason Jones: [00:13:53] Yeah. Well, immediately, the very first thing that went through my mind was business continuity, which is how are my clients, our firm’s clients, and just other companies and nonprofits going to be able to maintain business continuity? How well set up or how well prepared are they for sending everyone home? And it was, practically, overnight and it was, as you recall, mandates, government mandates, which really kind of mercifully took the decision away from leaders as to whether or not to send people home and they had to. So, that very first thought in my mind was how are companies and nonprofit organizations going to be able to continue to operate with everyone working in a totally different environment than they normally did. Do they have the technology that’s available? Because this is going to now require technology that perhaps they have and perhaps they don’t. So, that was thought number one.
Jason Jones: [00:14:53] But thought number two, very soon thereafter, Mike, just a light bulb went off in my mind right away was, “Wow.” I think that this is going to be long lasting. I certainly didn’t think it was going to be a year or more, but I did think it was going to be several months. And I thought to myself, companies are going to need help understanding how to get this balance right between working from home and then one day returning to the office when that happens. And I thought maybe it would be six months. That was my personal thought at the time. But the idea of companies now experiencing a remote workforce – and by remote, in this case, remote at home. Although, remote can mean also another office location or a coffee shop. It could mean any number of locations. But remote at home, in this case, how are they going to balance that with their central office, which they still have, they’re still paying for, and now has in a large way become a nonperforming asset. So, how can we help them balance those two things and get the right blend when the day comes that they will have no restrictions, no health care restrictions on returning to the office.
Mike Blake: [00:16:22] So, you started thinking in advance about the needs. At one point, did you start to come to a realization that this is not just a service imperative for your clients, but also probably the right business move for you personally and for the firm?
Jason Jones: [00:16:42] And, again, that was very, very early on, because I recognized – and you have to understand, if you go to the landing page for Cresa’s website in big, bold letters, it says, “Think beyond space.” So, that’s our mantra. And the reason that we can do that is because we only represent or advocate for the occupier of space, never landlords. So, we’re not solely focused on how do we fill buildings? Which a landlord, that would be their interest. The owner of property wants to fill that building. That’s their business model. Our business model is advisory services for the occupant, which includes leasing space or owning space, warehouse space, office space. But it also includes helping companies with their bigger picture business strategy that leads downstream to the support infrastructure of corporate real estate.
Jason Jones: [00:17:37] Real estate is simply support for the larger business model. So, we help companies understand how are they going to manage multiple leases? How should that space be designed to maximize the benefits of culture and help to enhance their culture? How can they use space to maximize the retention and recruitment of talent, bringing in the best and the brightest? How can they use technology to enhance the workforce experience so that they can have higher productivity and greater engagement with their employees? So, there’s a bigger picture that our company takes. And it’s not just focused on space, it’s focused on the holistic approach to a company’s business. And then, we solve a lot of these business problems by leveraging real estate and beyond, which gets into how I’m a bit of an odd duck in the corporate real estate industry, which is through technology, where I have a specialization. And, now, through workforce strategy, which includes remote work as one component of a larger workforce strategy.
Mike Blake: [00:18:58] So, if I’m understanding this correctly, I want to make sure this is really clear because it is an instructive piece of the conversation. It sounds like to some extent, you’ve always seen yourself, and it sounds like you believe your firm sees itself, as a consultant on optimizing real estate as an asset – well, as an operating asset and not just trying to put bodies in square footage.
Jason Jones: [00:19:27] Absolutely.
Mike Blake: [00:19:27] And that made this – I don’t want to say transition – maybe this evolution, if I can use that term. It sounds like it made that evolution more natural than it might seem on the outside.
Jason Jones: [00:19:41] Absolutely. Because, Mike, when you think about it, and every company listening, everyone making a decision out there about their workforce, my question that I pose is, how can you possibly design your office space and commit to a certain footprint, a certain amount of office space, if you don’t first know where your employees are going to be working and how they’re going to be communicating, collaborating, and ultimately using that space. You’ve got to do the work upfront on the workforce strategy, which includes remote work and includes a central office. There’s tremendous benefits to both and there are challenges to both. But you’ve got to figure that out before then you go downstream and say, “Okay. Now, that we understand and have confidence in our workforce strategy, where people are going to be working, how they’re going to be communicating, collaborating. We’ve got the right technology in place. We have the right policies. We have compliance in place.” Then, we can design the space to fit that need and commit to a certain expense, a certain amount of space.
Jason Jones: [00:20:54] And, by the way, that commitment in real estate and understanding the nature of real estate is very important. It’s inflexible. You’re going to commit for a minimum of three years, but, typically, five to ten years to a certain amount of space. And while there’s some flexibility with sublease rights and expansion rights and rights of first refusal, it’s cumbersome to make changes. So, you want to get it right upfront and you want to have confidence that your plan for real estate fits the precursor conversation of what is your workforce strategy, where are people going to be working, and what is most advantageous for higher productivity, better recruiting and retention of talent, and better financial returns.
Mike Blake: [00:21:41] So, you’re typically talking to your clients at the sea level, whether it’s the CFO, COO, or CEO. What concerns are they most expressing to you about work from home/work from anywhere?
Jason Jones: [00:21:59] I think one of the biggest things that we hear is, I want to protect the culture of my organization. And there is a concern that extended work from home will have a deleterious effect on their culture. Because culture is best established within personal relationships where you’re face-to-face, you can see each other. And there’s just something that’s intangible about how that relationship is developed in-person versus remotely. But my counsel to them, and I think the real concern is, 100 percent work from home, which is basically what we’re still experiencing right now. I would say on average and this is anecdotal and we see a few statistics here and there that it’s approximately 10 to 20 percent of people are occupying their office space generally across the U.S. and Canada.
Mike Blake: [00:22:57] That’s true for us in Alpharetta.
Jason Jones: [00:23:00] Yeah. So, that’s about right. I think that’s a fair number right now. So, that’s a very large percentage that are not coming into the central shared office. And the concern is that that’s going to have an effect on their culture long term. How can they be creative? You’re missing serendipitous moments. Tim Cook of Apple was just interviewed by The Atlantic a couple of weeks ago. And he said that’s one of his great concerns. And that they have designed their office space at their headquarters to have common areas where people hangout and interact and mingle so that you can have serendipitous moments, you can have creative moments, share creative thoughts. And you can’t schedule those things.
Jason Jones: [00:23:43] But I think what’s going to happen is, as we cross the hurdle, eventually, of a post-COVID environment, now you’re going to have an opportunity for what I call purposeful collaboration. And that is a leader or a manager making a purposeful decision about when and where that person’s team collaborates, either works together or works independently. And that collaboration can occur in person or that collaboration can occur virtually with someone at home and someone at the office, or two people at home, or whatever the case may be. And I think that when you can blend those two things and find the right balance – this is back to culture – you’re going to be able to really make sure you’re getting all the benefits of the central office as well as leveraging this newfound cultural acceptance for working from home.
Mike Blake: [00:24:45] So, I think implicit in that is the glue that holds that culture theses together is communication. Without communication, there’s no community. There’s no culture. What are you seeing emerging in terms of best practices that allow easy communication among workers and across different platforms of the organization or different segments of the organization versus being overly intrusive and, you know, getting into nearly spying on your employees, basically? What are some best practices you’re seeing there?
Jason Jones: [00:25:33] Well, again, this comes back to leadership, leadership and thoughtful planning. There are many tools, software tools, telecommunication tools, to allow for communication between remote employees. We’re using one right now. This is a communication tool. And there are collaboration tools as well, software. But it’s how you choose to use them that’s most important. And I think one of my pieces of advice for organizations out there is to come up with cultural norms for how you, as a team or as an organization, communicate with each other. And examples of this would be, what are our hours when we are expected to respond to either voicemails and email and text messages so that we keep some structure and boundaries on our personal life and our home life? So, it could be, “Hey, from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., it’s fair game.” Or 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., whatever the case may be. But after that, we have no expectation that you will reply to communication.
Jason Jones: [00:26:47] It could mean we, as an organization or as a team, are going to agree that we’re going to have our cameras on when we have a Zoom call or a RingCentral call. But on certain calls, perhaps just phone ones at the end of the week, you don’t have to have your camera on. So, we’re going to side culturally how we’re going to communicate. Visually, where we can see each other. Or where it’s okay to be walking your dog around the neighborhood while you’re on your conference call. You can do that now. Why shouldn’t you? Let’s have a cultural understanding of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Jason Jones: [00:27:23] So, there’s a number of things that I think people can agree to. But the other key piece for communication is, making sure that you’re giving appropriate and consistent feedback to the remote employee. That’s very important. Because, otherwise, someone who is working remotely can feel they’re on an island. They can feel isolated. And they’re just not sure, “Am I meeting standards? Am I doing my job the way people want? Give me some feedback.” So, consistent, frequent, informal feedback – and everyone has to define what frequent means for them and their team. But I think that’s a key part of communication is making sure – and it goes both ways. The manager needs feedback also on how they’re doing sort of in a 360 view. But that’s what I would advise, is to really focus on good feedback, consistent informal communication, and then planned formal communication that perhaps is a little bit more often business reviews, for instance, than they may have been when everyone was in the office together.
Mike Blake: [00:28:37] You know, your comments here strike me as something that I’ve observed. Personally, I’m curious how you’d react to this. A lot of what you’re talking about, I would argue, are best practices even as of January 1st, 2020. You know, providing consistent feedback, providing protocols for communication, setting realistic boundaries. It’s interesting to me how coronavirus and the pandemic are, in a lot of ways, it’s what’s old is what’s new. It’s forcing us to revisit the fundamentals, I think, of leadership and management and be much more intentional. I guess, because being in person, maybe, sometimes gives us some margin for error that we wouldn’t ordinarily have. I’m not sure what it is, but I hope you get my meaning is that, a lot of these things you’re suggesting – I’m not denigrating them at all – but merely pointing out that these have been best practices before. But I think one of the lessons is that if they’re important before, they’re ten times as important now.
Jason Jones: [00:29:55] Yes. They’re accentuated for sure. Because if you’re in the office together, there’s a feeling you can manage by walking around, just kind of you feel it. Whereas, here, you have to be purposeful about the communication and the feedback. And, frankly, it can sharpen a leader, it can sharpen a manager to be more effective than they may have been otherwise.
Mike Blake: [00:30:22] I think that’s a great point and it gets into my next question beautifully, which is, how managers had to adapt to work from home or work from anywhere? And I think you just nailed it. And I’ll ask you to add to it if you would like to. But that ability to manage by walking around is not there. And, you know what? It reminds me, as you know I’m a big baseball fan. There used to be a player for the Yankees, Bernie Williams. He played centerfield for them. And he was not the greatest center fielder in terms of anticipating where the ball is going to hit. But he’s such a great athlete. He could basically outrun his mistakes. And with work from home/work from anywhere, you can’t sort of outwork your mistakes by managing by walking around, because that tool is not available. You must be more intentional because one of the tools for kind of making up for that just simply has been removed.
Jason Jones: [00:31:25] Yes. It’s interesting. I’ve done a lot of reading – as you mentioned, I really have become a student of this over the past several months. And there was a very interesting article about different qualities are now being rewarded and are more advantageous in a leader than there were when everyone was in the office together. So, previously a charismatic, gregarious leader had a lot of sway, had a lot of pull. But maybe, perhaps, they weren’t the most effective at actually getting things done and staying on course and staying on schedule. Now, getting things done, staying on course, staying on schedule is so important. And those interpersonal, gregarious, charismatic qualities are not as effective virtually as they are in person. So, it’s requiring different aspects of a leader to be successful. And what’s going to be really interesting is, when you get into a place where we can find the right balance between the two locations, remote and in office, and allowing both of those personalities to be successful.
Mike Blake: [00:32:40] That’s a really interesting point. So, I’m going to go off script here because I think that’s such a smart point. At least, I think so. I haven’t thought of it, but I think you’re dead right. And that is, that coronavirus really does play into the hands of the technical manager, not the technician per se, but the technical manager that understands, embraces, likes, is good at the nuts and bolts of managing, which is coordinating resources to produce the desired result within the desired constraints, whether there’s a time budget, whatever they are. And there’s value to that, the charismatic leader for sure. But the charismatic leader – I think I agree with you – because of how communication is, has to work a lot harder for those charismatic qualities to be effective. And even in the short term, they’re not even as valuable. They’ll eventually come back. But there is a point in a crisis where it’s not about charisma, it’s about execution.
Jason Jones: [00:33:49] That is correct. And so, what’s interesting and what can be helpful for organizations who are out there listening is, there are personnel assessments. So, in our consulting, we have partnerships with multiple organizations. And there’s a few that leverage personnel assessments that they’re, basically, psychological tests. Kind of like a Myers-Briggs, I mean, think about that. Although, it’s different because it’s geared towards the remote work environment. And these are important because they help organizations understand. They help people understand themselves. And they also help managers understand those who are reporting to them, those who they are leading, so they can best manage them based on their aptitude for remote work. How well they tend to focus? Are they an introvert? Do they like to work alone? Do they really need or thrive on interpersonal communication? So, you change your management a little bit depending on the employee and their personnel assessment.
Mike Blake: [00:35:03] So, we’ve talked about how managers are having to change. What changes are you seeing in how employees operate, carry themselves, seek to add value to the organizations with which they work?
Jason Jones: [00:35:17] Well, I think that really goes back to just making sure that they are having expectations set. So, asking for feedback from their managers, understanding what the expectations are so that they can meet or exceed them, and making sure that they are getting those things done. I think that’s really important. And, you know, it’s also really important –
Jason Jones: [00:35:47] I want to go back to the manager just for a second. It’s important for leadership at the top of the organization to do a good job of communicating larger mission and larger goals. And this goes back to my time in the military. This is very much of a military concept. So that the remote worker who is operating unsupervised throughout the day can make independent decisions that are congruous with, they’re in alignment with, the larger goals of the organization. So, there’s a leadership challenge here. There’s a leadership requirement to do a good job of communicating big picture goals and mission, so, again, that the unsupervised independent worker can make those decisions real time on their own that supports the larger mission. And that’s the same thing as, you know, you want your fire team out in the field understanding the big picture strategy that the battalion commander has back at headquarters so they can make decisions at the tip of the spear.
Mike Blake: [00:36:53] Right. So, let’s shift gears a little bit. You know, the office is changing, but it’s not going away. We’re still going to need and want, I think, office space. I’m going to ask you to put your futurist hat on a little bit, think a year or two from now, how do we think about office space differently? How do office spaces look and function differently a couple of years from now?
Jason Jones: [00:37:23] Sure. Well, a lot of this will depend on the organization and how they use the space, because a law firm is very different than a software development firm. So, probably, it really needs to be customized to the organization. But I think what you’re going to find is, as work from home or remote work becomes more deeply ingrained in the everyday fabric of the corporate America, nonprofit organizations, et cetera, you’re going to find the design of space to be different than before and the technology to be different than before. And so, specifically, I think you’re going to find a lot more flexibility in the way the work space is designed. You’re going to want to be able to move things around as organizations grow. And they have some people that now, maybe, they need to be in the office more often during a certain project. And then, they want to be remote during another project. So, you’re going to want some flexibility in how the furniture can be arranged.
Jason Jones: [00:38:36] So, actually, I think furniture is going to be a very important part of this. Creating environments not just through hard walls, but through the way furniture is arranged. And creating different environments for more casual, I’m going to say, coffee shop type environments. Because people are working in real coffee shops right now and they want to have that feeling and environment at the office as well. That’s what will woo them to come into the office. So, I think space will need to be designed to woo employees to want to come there, as opposed to preferring to be at home where they have their set up, and they’re very comfortable, and they feel very productive there.
Mike Blake: [00:39:23] So, that is interesting to me, because I did not anticipate you would say that. Only because before this whole thing started, I’ve read so much about how open workspaces have generally been considered to be a management experiment that has failed. They’ve been enormously disruptive. While they’ve perhaps facilitated collaboration on the margin, they’ve completely destroyed the potential for so-called deep work and deep thought.
Mike Blake: [00:39:59] But on the other hand, I mean, you’re right. Even, now, I imagine people are still working at Starbucks and people love to go out. I think people miss being able to go out to a place where they can just hangout for a couple of hours in an open space by themselves with a pair of noise canceling headphones. And that just occurred to me kind of what kind of a paradox that is. And that really sounds like you’re dancing on the head of a pin there of how do you create a space that is both open and welcoming, but also not chaotic.
Jason Jones: [00:40:33] Yes. And this is all about culture and leadership, which I go back to every time, is, it’s kind of like when I go to Starbucks or an independent coffee shop that I particularly like that’s not a Starbucks, people don’t come up and interrupt me and ask me questions. And when I go to the library, there’s a culture that it’s, “Shh. We’re in a library.” It’s quiet. And I think you can create those areas in office space. And then, there’s going to be other areas that the culture is, “Hey, you’re in the Romper Room over here.” You know, you’re going to get interrupted or this is where we’re playing games. And then, there’s going to be other places that are dedicated to heads down work.
Jason Jones: [00:41:16] And I think there’s going to be a lot of – I’ll go ahead and use the corporate name – Zoom room, which could be any type of technology. But, basically, they will be smaller rooms where people can gather together, teams, to have a video conference call and a collaboration working session with another office. And people who were doing that before COVID, it’s just going to become more prevalent now that there’s a greater, broader, cultural acceptance for using this type of technology and working remotely.
Mike Blake: [00:41:56] A management challenge has started to come to light, which is work from home/work from anywhere dress codes, where you see a lot of of jokes. I certainly use the tortured stereotype enough. You know, you see me in a three piece suit above the line. Below the line, you just don’t know what is there. And, frankly, you don’t want to even imagine or go there, right? And as people have slipped into a work from home, their personal morning routines have changed because they don’t feel like there’s a certain level of preparation. I think some companies are worried that’s gone kind of too far. Are you aware of that trend and that concern as well? And what do you see evolving in that regard in terms of work from home/work from anywhere dress codes?
Jason Jones: [00:42:53] Well, I think this goes back to two things. Again, it’s culture and leadership. So, what is the culture of our organization? What do we wear when we go into the office? That’s different for every company. But we have a culture that we all agree this is what we wear. And that same culture should apply or should be set for video conference calls. And that’s just leadership deciding either you can mandate or you can come to a collective consensus. And that’s a leadership decision as to which path you want to take. But that’s what that comes down to.
Jason Jones: [00:43:29] And that’s why I think people need to be thoughtful and purposeful. This is why we guide companies through a road map where there is a step-by-step process through which they cover all of these decisions. Everything that we’re talking about are so important to creating a thoughtful, balanced, and sustainable workforce strategy that includes remote work. So, I think people should go through that roadmap and ask these different questions of themselves and be a leader and take initiative to set those standards.
Mike Blake: [00:44:02] We are speaking with Jason Jones from Cresa on the Decision Vision podcast and talking about work from home/work from anywhere arrangements for a workforce. Jason, we’re running up against our time here. But I do have a couple of questions I want to get in here and one is, you know, as you have self-described or you described yourself as a student of this work from home/work from anywhere phenomenon, is there a company out there you think is really getting it right? Is there somebody that you say, “You know what? As a good kind of role model, this is a company that is kind of setting the standard for best practices.”
Jason Jones: [00:44:43] Well, what’s challenging about that question is it’s hard to know who is getting it right from a balanced perspective. Because most companies aren’t able to have the balance yet because there’s still a health care restriction. And, by the way, that is where the rubber is going to hit the road from a leadership perspective is, once that is removed, leaders are going to be challenged with what’s the right balance. What’s the right decision? How can I be purposeful in my collaboration? And I think that forward thinking organizations are looking at that now. They’re looking over the horizon. And there’s other leaders that are going to get caught flat footed.
Jason Jones: [00:45:29] But one company that I will tell you that is of interest and you can Google them and read, they’ve got a lot of information about work from home. It’s a 100 percent remote company, so that’s a little bit different, a little bit of an outlier. But they’ve got some good information about working remotely and they’ve done it very well, very successfully. It’s a company called Zapier, Z-A-P-I-E-R. They’re 100 percent remote. They’ve been around since 2011. So, they’re successful. They have over 300 employees in 28 countries. Now, they have a business model. It’s software development that lends itself to that. But if you want to read some interesting information about how they do it, I think you could pick some nuggets out of there for your organization that very, very likely will need a balanced strategy to be sustainable.
Mike Blake: [00:46:26] Jason, it’s been a great conversation. We could make this an all day seminar. But, of course, we don’t have the ability to do that. If somebody has questions about this work from home/work from anywhere phenomenon, either as an employer or employee, can they contact you with a question? And if so, how best can they do that?
Jason Jones: [00:46:45] Absolutely. And I want to say two things. You can always Google my name, Jason Jones, Atlanta, and I’ll pop right up. So, that’s probably the easiest to remember. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. And I do a webinar every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 2:00 p.m., Eastern. We’ve been doing it for three-and-a-half months now, where we talk about the challenges and the benefits of remote work and the road map to navigate your way to a successful strategy. So, if that is of interest, it’s free. There’s no charge. We have people come on all the time. And, again, it’s very easy to schedule, it’s every second and fourth Tuesday of the month.
Mike Blake: [00:47:32] Well, thank you, I have a feeling you’ll get some takers on that. That’s going to wrap it up for today’s program. I’d like to thank Jason Jones so much for joining us and sharing his expertise with us. We’ll be exploring a new topic each week, so please tune in so that when you’re faced with your next executive decision, you have clear vision when making it. If you enjoy these podcasts, please consider leaving a review with your favorite podcast aggregator. It helps people find us that we can help them. Once again, this is Mike Blake. Our sponsor is Brady Ware & Company. And this has been the Decision Vision podcast.