Workplace MVP: Cynthia Milota, Ware Malcomb, and Kate Lister, Global Workplace Analytics
While many companies adapted to a fully remote work model last year, shifting to a hybrid, in-person/remote workplace this year raises many questions. Creating equitable arrangements among employees and bottom-line implications are just two of the considerations. Cynthia Milota, Ware Malcomb, and Kate Lister, Global Workplace Analytics, joined host Jamie Gassmann to outline issues employers must address, potential solutions, the responsibility of leaders, and much more. Workplace MVP is underwritten and presented by R3 Continuum and produced by the Minneapolis-St.Paul Studio of Business RadioX®.
Established in 1972, Ware Malcomb is a contemporary and expanding full-service design firm providing professional architecture, planning, interior design, civil engineering, branding, and building measurement services to corporate, commercial/residential developers and public/institutional clients throughout the world. With office locations throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, the firm specializes in the design of commercial office, corporate, industrial, science & technology, healthcare, retail, auto, public/institutional facilities and renovation projects. Ware Malcomb is recognized as an Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private company and a Hot Firm by Zweig Group. The firm is also ranked among the top 15 architecture/engineering firms in Engineering News-Record’s Top 500 Design Firms and the top 25 interior design firms in Interior Design magazine’s Top 100 Giants.
Cynthia Milota, Director of Workplace Strategy & Change Management, Ware Malcomb
Cynthia is the Director of Workplace Strategy & Change Management for the architecture firm, Ware Malcomb. Her practice focuses on employees and experience-based work environments. She partners with clients to formulate their unique objectives: mindful of wellness, culture, talent strategy and success measures. She has held roles as the consultant and as the workplace strategist for a Fortune 500 financial services firm. She has published and presented her research at academic and professional conferences, held adjunct faculty positions, served on juries and editorial review teams.
Global Workplace Analytics
Global Workplace Analytics (GWA) is a research-based consulting organization that helps employers and communities create and communicate the people, planet, and profit business case for strategies that involve workplace flexibility, mobile work, telecommuting, activity-based working, hoteling, well-being, and more.
In partnership with a handful of global product and service organizations, GWA provides on-call research and develops custom ROI calculators, white papers, e-books, and other authoritative content.
GWA’s specialties include: Workplace Strategy, ROI Analyses, Consulting, Writing, Stakeholder Engagement, Speaking, Research, Advocacy, Remote Work, Telework, Telecommuting, Activity-Based Working, Hoteling, Well-Being, Infographics, Marketing, Publicity, and more.
Kate Lister, President, Global Workplace Analytics
Kate Lister is a recognized thought leader on trends that are changing the who, what, when, where, and how of work. She is president of Global Workplace Analytics, a research-based consulting firm that has been helping communities and organizations optimize the employer, employee, and environmental outcomes of flexible and distributed workplace strategies for nearly two decades.
Kate has written or co-authored five business books including, the U.S. chapter of “Telework in the 21st Century” (Edward Elgar, 2019), a multi-country peer-reviewed study on remote work. She is a trusted source of insights about the future of work for news outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and dozens of others.
As a recognized thought leader, Kate was one of only three witnesses invited to testify before a U.S. Senate committee regarding the potential for remote work in government once the pandemic ends.
R3 Continuum is a global leader in workplace behavioral health and security solutions. R3c helps ensure the psychological and physical safety of organizations and their people in today’s ever-changing and often unpredictable world. Through their continuum of tailored solutions, including evaluations, crisis response, executive optimization, protective services, and more, they help organizations maintain and cultivate a workplace of wellbeing so that their people can thrive. Learn more about R3c at www.r3c.com.
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About Workplace MVP
Every day, around the world, organizations of all sizes face disruptive events and situations. Within those workplaces are everyday heroes in human resources, risk management, security, business continuity, and the C-suite. They don’t call themselves heroes though. On the contrary, they simply show up every day, laboring for the well-being of employees in their care, readying the workplace for and planning responses to disruption. This show, Workplace MVP, confers on these heroes the designation they deserve, Workplace MVP (Most Valuable Professionals), and gives them the forum to tell their story. As you hear their experiences, you will learn first-hand, real life approaches to readying the workplace, responses to crisis situations, and overcoming challenges of disruption. Visit our show archive here.
Workplace MVP Host Jamie Gassmann
In addition to serving as the host to the Workplace MVP podcast, Jamie Gassmann is the Director of Marketing at R3 Continuum (R3c). Collectively, she has more than fourteen years of marketing experience. Across her tenure, she has experience working in and with various industries including banking, real estate, retail, crisis management, insurance, business continuity, and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Mass Communications with special interest in Advertising and Public Relations and a Master of Business Administration from Paseka School of Business, Minnesota State University.
Intro: [00:00:03] Broadcasting from the Business RadioX Studios, it’s time for Workplace MVP. Workplace MVP is brought to you by R3 Continuum, a global leader in workplace behavioral health and security solutions. Now, here’s your host, Jamie Gassmann.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:00:24] Hi, everyone. Your host, Jamie Gassmann, here, and welcome to this episode of Workplace MVP.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:00:30] Making decisions on how flexible and accommodating a workplace is willing to be with remote or hybrid work is not a new decision that is exclusive to the COVID-19 pandemic. What the pandemic has done is made that decision even easier or more complex for organizations. Easier in that they discovered over the last year that their workforce can remain productive and thrive in a remote work environment, which is something that may have been an underlying concern pre-COVID. And, for others, they may be looking at organizationally leadership wanting something different than what their employees are wanting. And, how do you strike the balance? How can you approach this decision strategically with the best interests of everyone involved? Is there really a balance here and how can you obtain that?
Jamie Gassmann: [00:01:23] And, with us today to share their expertise and educated thoughts on the return-to-office opportunities and challenges, our SHRM 2021 presenters and Workplace MVP’s Cynthia Milota, Director of Workplace Strategy of Ware Malcomb, and Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics. Welcome to the show, Cynthia and Kate.
Cynthia Milota: [00:01:45] Great to be here.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:01:48] So, we’re going to go ahead and get started with our first Workplace MVP, Cynthia Milota, Director of Workplace Strategy of Ware Malcomb. Hi, Cynthia.
Cynthia Milota: [00:01:58] Hey, Jamie. Thanks for having me.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:02:00] So, let’s start out with you walking us through your career journey.
Cynthia Milota: [00:02:06] Well, I studied undergraduate in interior design in Cincinnati, and really the first half of my career I spent in corporate office planning and design. But after graduate school, my focus really shifted to strategy and change. I worked as a global strategy for a strategist for a financial services firm. And, now at Ware Malcomb, I lead the strategy and change practice where we’re really helping our clients navigate what’s best for their people and for the business. And, luckily, those two things generally align.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:02:34] Great. And so, can you share a little bit with our listeners about Ware Malcomb and what they’re known for?
Cynthia Milota: [00:02:41] Well, Ware Malcomb is an architecture and design firm with 800 people, and we have some 20 offices around North America. Our interiors practice specializes in workplace, which is the arena I’m in, as well as health care, science and tech, and retail. And, our architecture team is known for their industrial and their cold storage building types.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:02:59] Great. And so, in your opinion, looking at this last year with the COVID-19 pandemic and how it’s impacted workplaces, why is it an important time now for workplaces to be exploring new ways of working?
Cynthia Milota: [00:03:14] Well, I’m not the first to say that COVID has accelerated what was really already underway for the past decade. Many, many pre-COVID studies indicated that people wanted the choice and flexibility to work from home, even if only on occasion.
Cynthia Milota: [00:03:27] The fact that business really carried on without much disruption during this global lockdown was really the litmus test that executive leadership needed. COVID primed that pump for change and really an acknowledgement that many knowledge workers and many knowledge work jobs could be really accomplished, you know, outside of the office. So, we’re really encouraging our clients to keep this momentum of change going and really explore what’s next specific to their organization.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:03:55] And, you know, so in looking at your clients and kind of the recommendations, what should they be considering as they explore these new ways of working?
Cynthia Milota: [00:04:05] Well, let’s start by saying, let’s not underestimate the power of choice, not only for where to work, but when to work. More and more, we’re seeing our clients are setting up something called the core hours of operation, where you have to be available between certain times of the day but then they allow flexibility outside of those core hours.
Cynthia Milota: [00:04:24] We’re really working also on the equitability of the experience in and out of the office, fighting things like presence bias or gender inequality. Women want to work from home 50% more than men. No surprise. Yet, we know that out of sight can be damaging to career advancement. So, we’re asking and working with our clients to examine their culture to not penalize or stigmatize remote workers.
Cynthia Milota: [00:04:48] We’re also looking at planning for teams to be in the office, not just individuals, thinking about what’s the setting for people to do their best work. It might not always be in the office, but when it is in the office, we want to make sure that the workplace is really a destination. It’s memorable. Because right now the office is competing with all those amenities and conveniences of home and in your home neighborhood.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:05:10] Well, and a lot of workers are almost demanding that opportunity to have that choice. So, it really is putting, kind of, employers under a little bit of pressure to make a decision and really almost make a decision in favor of those employees to some degree.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:05:26] So, you know, when you talk about the employee experience, you mentioned that it’s important. Can you talk us through what makes that so important? What is it and what should employers really be thinking about when they’re looking at that employee experience?
Cynthia Milota: [00:05:44] Well, we would like to take the broad view of employee experience, and really, it’s essentially how people think and feel about their work journey, their interaction with their organization. It’s no surprise people cost ten times more than real estate. So, how can companies provide the best employee experience for, really, their most important asset?
Cynthia Milota: [00:05:44] In many studies, Gallup has made the notion of engagement famous but other aspects of employee experience include authenticity, optimism, purpose, and meaning. We know the younger generations are super interested in that, social connections and belonging. Employee experience is going to be especially important because of this phrase they’re calling the great resignation.
Cynthia Milota: [00:06:27] You know, Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index indicated that about 40% of the global workforce is considering leaving their employees. So, employers need to look at employees as individuals with different likes, different needs, preferences and really gather insights and turn that into action. It’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:06:48] So, what are some approaches that they can do to gain those insights? I mean, I know obviously that they can take a survey. Aut are there other ways that they can engage that employee in, you know, establishing transparency so they feel comfortable sharing with their employer their preferences?
Cynthia Milota: [00:07:05] Right. And, of course, there’s lots of ambiguity and uncertainty going on right now. So, the [inaudible] of employee sentiment are continuing to shift. But if we fall back on that old adage, you know, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Let’s just go out and collect some data and just start building a database.
Cynthia Milota: [00:07:20] So, you’re right, it’s everything from employee surveys to badge data who are really coming into the office, all manners of interviews and focus groups. It’s really been a bit more challenging gathering some of that data from the home workforce. But mobile tools are one way that we’re using. People might answer questions using their phones, or they may take some photographs.
Cynthia Milota: [00:07:45] But in any of these data gathering techniques, we’re really careful to set expectations with the stakeholders, right? You kind of ask the right questions. You don’t ask what you want but you ask what you need to do your job. And, I guess the most important thing is to be sure that you’re reporting back. There’s nothing more damaging to a change initiative than taking a survey and then never hearing anything about the results.
Cynthia Milota: [00:08:06] And, the last thing I’d like to say is that we’re doing lots of pilot plans to help them road test what some of these recommendations are. And, this level of transparency has really helped answer that question. How is this going to impact me, an employee, in these pilots? Employees have a firsthand ability to have some skin in the game by proactively commenting. And so, that’s been a super positive way.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:08:30] Yeah. If you want to influence the change, you got to speak up, right?
Cynthia Milota: [00:08:34] Exactly, exactly.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:08:36] So, in looking at new ways of working, you know, you mentioned this on a previous call that there’s been some environmental impacts as a result of more people staying at home, you know. What are some of the things that you’re seeing good or bad from that?
Cynthia Milota: [00:08:54] Sure. Well, the obvious positive environmental impact is that we’re driving less. You don’t need a study to understand that. And, obviously, we’re reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the consumption of fossil fuels. In 2020, the offsets for the reduction of the greenhouse gas emissions translated into planting 91 million trees just for that year. So, it’s pretty formidable. But we’re also printing less to the tune of 247 trillion sheets of paper, less paper printed in 2020. Or, you could just look at your procurement records for all the paper plates and the napkins and the plastic silverware that didn’t get purchased during COVID, right, and all that stuff never found its way to a landfill. So, that’s all good.
Cynthia Milota: [00:09:35] As for energy consumption, right, when you’re at home, you automatically turn off the bathroom light. But when you’re at the office, most of the time, right, you can’t do that. There’s been a really nice study done by Sun Microsystems found that the energy consumption was nearly twice as high at the office as compared to at home.
Cynthia Milota: [00:09:52] So, you know, not surprisingly, buildings account for 40% of CO2 emissions, and so, the fewer buildings that we have, the less emissions that we have and certainly the fewer buildings that we’re building and occupying. So, from an environmental standpoint, hybrid work is all good.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:10:09] Yeah. So, it sounds like, you know, from comparing the environmental to looking at the workplace experience to looking at just that great resignation, how do you find ways to keep the employees, you know, engaged in at your worksite, employers need to be looking at more than just productivity levels and getting things done. They need to be looking at a bigger picture, correct?
Cynthia Milota: [00:10:35] Absolutely. I mean, all of those are just pieces to a larger puzzle. And, you really have to look at what makes sense for your organization, what makes sense for your employees. You know, don’t get roped into the benchmarking [inaudible], you know, other companies and organizations are doing this or that but what makes sense for you, not what makes sense for someone else.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:10:57] Yeah, absolutely. Great feedback and advice there. So, now, we’re going to just shift gears to our next Workplace MVP, Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics. Welcome, Kate.
Kate Lister: [00:11:11] It’s great to be here. And, boy, Cynthia, great job. You said everything I would have said.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:11:17] Great minds think alike, right?
Cynthia Milota: [00:11:22] Great, right.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:11:23] Yeah. So, Kate, talk us through your background and your career journey.
Kate Lister: [00:11:28] Sure. Well, I started out as a banker, and I think that that really shaped how I look at the world, or maybe that’s why I became a banker, to begin with, you know, nature and nurture. But it also gave me the language of the C-suite, the language of talking to executives in terms.
Kate Lister: [00:11:46] I’ve run a number of businesses. I wrote three boring business books and kind of stumbled into this business almost two decades ago. After writing the last book, it was a consumer title on remote work, and when I’d first gone to John Wiley & Sons and proposed a title on remote work, I wanted it to be a business title. And, they said, “No, we don’t think that’ll be of any interest to anybody.”
Kate Lister: [00:12:12] But it was in doing the research for that book that I realized that nobody had made the business case to the C-suite for remote work. And, the more I looked at it, it wasn’t just about remote work that really H.R. and corporate real estate weren’t talking to the C-suite in terms that they understood. They needed a way to quantify what the expenditures on things like remote work or flexibility or health and wellness. What did that – what would that really do for the company and what would it do for the bottom line? You know, what’s in it for me?
Jamie Gassmann: [00:12:49] Great. And, Global Workplace Analytics, what type of services do you provide to them?
Kate Lister: [00:12:57] Well, things have shifted a bit in the last two years. As I said, I’ve been working in pushing that remote work rock uphill for about 20 years and it really has been a lot of that. And then, in the last two years, it’s kind of been chasing me down the other side.
Kate Lister: [00:13:15] So, working with large companies, 3000 employees, and over to, well, from the beginning of the pandemic, you know, just surviving, figuring out what technologies we need, figuring out how are we going to do this kind of triage almost through the last year of just making work work. And then, in 2021, hear more about, okay, now that we’ve done this, now that we’ve learned some lessons, what are we going to take forward? How are we going to operate going forward? What have we learned? What’s worked? What hasn’t worked? How do we get the best of both and then bring them into the office or not? You know, who do we want to return to the office? When are we going to do it? And, that’s kind of, like, the very right now question.
Kate Lister: [00:14:08] Last week it was vaccinations, but then the president answered that one. So, this week it’s return-to-office. Most of my clients had set a return-to-office date of January, and then that got moved out to September, then that got moved out to July and then that got moved out to September and then October. And, now most of them are really in the throes of deciding whether or not that’s going to move to beginning of next year.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:14:35] Wow. Yeah. Constant changes over this last year for sure in navigating that. So, you know, in talking about your clients, what, from your perspective, is keeping them up at night these days, if you will?
Kate Lister: [00:14:50] Yeah. As I said, it’s kind of a moving target. But really a lot of them, as Cynthia said, have now gotten over the question of will my people be working? You know, can they be productive? Can we continue to be profitable? And, this has been historically the way it’s worked. Once a manager has had the opportunity to work remotely themselves, then they’re much more accepting to it.
Kate Lister: [00:15:19] So, we’ve gotten over one really big hurdle for the most part. It’s still out there. We’re still making the business case, but it’s become a whole lot easier. And, you know, I guess what’s keeping them up at night, they’re thinking about all that empty real estate. They’re thinking about those big buildings that they’ve been paying for the last year and a half, almost two years, and practically nobody’s in them. So, what are we going to do about that going forward?
Jamie Gassmann: [00:15:52] Yeah, I suppose. Have any of your clients made decisions on that? I’ve been thinking the same question with, you know, thinking of some of the skyscrapers in my area and going, “Oh my goodness, they’ve got to be sitting empty.”
Kate Lister: [00:16:03] Yeah, yeah. All have decided that they’re going to go to some form of hybrid, that it’s going to be much more extensive use of remote work going forward. But they’re taking their time on the decision about getting rid of real estate, I mean, unless there’s, you know, a lease coming up this year that they have to make a decision on.
Kate Lister: [00:16:25] They understand that what people say and what they do is often very different. What people say they want and what they actually do is often very different. So, while 80% of the workforce now says they want to work from home at least one day a week, are they going to really? The ones that say they are going to come into the office. The 20% that say they want to be all in the office or at least largely in the office, are they going to come in the office? How are teams going to collaborate? How are we going to deal with some of the hybrid issues that Cynthia talked about?
Kate Lister: [00:17:05] So, really, taking kind of a wait-and-see attitude about, do we need to? Can we get rid of – excuse me. Can we get rid of real estate? Should we get rid of real estate? Do we need to restructure our real estate? Most are realizing that, you know, home is going to be the place for focus work and office is going to be the place for collaborative work and for community and for socializing.
Kate Lister: [00:17:31] But that’s not the way offices were built. Offices were built with primarily, you know, I’d say, probably in the 70-30, 80-20, the high number for heads-down work and then the other for social so that pendulum may swing and that may mean that we need to reconstruct those office spaces. A lot of my clients also are looking at the potential to go to hoteling where employees don’t have an assigned seat at the office. They reserve a space on their iPhone or on their desktop when they come in, or there are drop-in spaces when they come in. As Cynthia said, these were all trends that were happening before the pandemic. But now there’s this acceleration. Some of my companies even sent all of their employees’ stuff home last year. They just cleared out the offices, got rid of it, with the intent of perhaps moving to this hoteling approach.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:18:33] Interesting. So, in terms of, like, how they would prepare for that, you know, and thinking, I mean, obviously, they keep, you know, a number of your clients, you mentioned, are extending their return-to-office date. You know, what are some of the things that might be happening in the background in terms of preparing for that date? Because I know it’s probably feeling like a moving target, but eventually it’s going to stick and it’s going to be one that now it’s implementing that return to office. So, how do they get ready for that?
Kate Lister: [00:19:02] It’s kind of been just – it’s been a bit of a breather for me thinking that we might actually get to wait until the beginning of next year because we have just been rushing through the change process when companies, I mean, I’ve got one client that accelerated a program that probably we would have done prior to the pandemic but what probably would have rolled out over six months to a year, maybe even more, and we had to accelerate it into eight weeks. So, you know, it was a bit of a crunch and everybody’s kind of in that bit of a panic to meet that next deadline.
Kate Lister: [00:19:38] One of the things that I think has really been maybe a silver lining is that it has lofted this whole conversation about people and place to the C-suite. Before the pandemic, companies were either allowing remote work, kind of on an ad hoc basis. You know, we’ll let Jamie do it. We’ll let Cynthia do it. But not really in any formal way. And, either that or they were deploying it tactically kind of as a solution to the problem du jour.
Kate Lister: [00:20:09] So, if the problem was trying to reduce your costs, then real estate handled it and then they were running the show. If it was about attracting and retaining talent, then that went through H.R. and they were running the show, but they didn’t really talk to each other.
Kate Lister: [00:20:24] And, now that we’ve got the C-suite involved and they’re saying, no, we see this not tactically. We see this as a new way, a new strategy for working in the future. All of those functional areas are coming together. So, one of the things that you know we do as soon as we get into an organization is to form that cross-functional team that includes H.R., I.T., real estate, but also marketing, sustainability, risk management, finance. They all have to be at the table. Everybody has a stake in this, and it’s only when they’re talking together are we going to get the sort of optimal solutions.
Kate Lister: [00:21:02] So, as Cynthia said, you know, we’re looking at the across cross-functional teams at leadership readiness. So, we’re doing interviews with the leaders and seeing where they sit. You know, how open are they? How ready are they? Because, if the leaders don’t buy in, and we’ve known this for decades, it’s just not going to happen. I mean, they can’t just talk the talk even. They’ve got to walk the walk. They’ve got to live the vision.
Kate Lister: [00:21:36] For the employees, we are typically deploying a company-wide survey and getting higher participation than companies have ever seen in their employee surveys because this is something that they are really passionate about. I mean, we’ve been getting as high as 90% participation in surveys. In one company, they actually did a contest to see which group would get the highest and they were going to get an extra day off, which was cool.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:22:02] A great incentive.
Kate Lister: [00:22:04] Yeah, exactly if this group won. And, they came in with 100%. They got 100% of their people to participate. Then, we go in and we actually get talking to the people. We sit them down in focus groups. We ask them, what’s working? What isn’t working? What training do you need? What training does your manager need? Do you want to come back? How often do you want to come back? So, that we have a kind of a read on the whole organization, and with that we recommend a strategy and put together policies and put together change management and communications to keep employees informed and involve them in decisions, to be part of the decisions. And, you know, going forward than looking at how will they actually use the space. And, you know, that’ll be the next step.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:22:56] Interesting. Yeah, I’ve spoken to other business leaders and there is definitely power in involving those employees into some of that decision-making. You know you get it almost like instant buy-in if you will.
Kate Lister: [00:23:12] It’s being done with you and not at you. And, unfortunately, most organizations don’t share the findings of their surveys with the employees, and that’s terribly frustrating.
Kate Lister: [00:23:25] Another thing that I’m seeing companies do that is just a huge mistake is failure to communicate. At first, for the first six months, they were doing town halls. They were doing, you know, weekly conversations with the CEO. They were really on it. But that’s kind of gone by the wayside in 2021 for the most part, and it’s really showing. You just can’t leave that ambiguity out there of, am I going to come back? When am I going to come back? Are you going to force me into the office?
Kate Lister: [00:23:55] And, It’s not until the CEOs start seeing the people leave, you know, because they don’t. If they can jump to something where they know they’re going to have the flexibility they want when they have an answer, then they’re going to do that. I mean, even if CEOs don’t have the answer, it’s just critical that they say, “Hey, look, we don’t have the answer, but these are the things that we’re looking at. And, here’s, you know, here’s what, here’s how we’re trying to make those decisions. You know, bear with us.”
Jamie Gassmann: [00:24:26] Yeah, interesting. So, in looking at, you know, hybrid versus remote, you had indicated previously in a conversation we had earlier that hybrid is harder than remote. Can you talk me through what makes it that much more harder?
Kate Lister: [00:24:45] Sure. I guess. Let’s take meetings as an example. We’re all these same squares on the screen. You know, it’s become very egalitarian. It’s even become more empathetic because you’re seeing the CEO in kind of their home setting with their dog on their lap or their kids running through the background or whatever. And, it’s kind of brought us together on an even playing field.
Kate Lister: [00:25:13] Now, we go to hybrid and we’ve got 10 people sitting in a conference room and 10 people or three people that are not there. I’ll actually give you an example. I was just wrapping up an engagement with a 65,000-person manufacturing company and we’d gone all through those things that I talked to you about the change management, training, and all that. And, I was presenting to the board of directors what our findings were, you know, kind of closing out the engagement. And, 12 of them were in the conference room and I was not. And, at the end of the meeting, I said, okay, I think we should rate this meeting. Everybody gets to rate this meeting, but I go first. I’m going to give it a three. And, here’s why. You were all in the room. You all could all see each other, but none of you had your laptops open so I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t see your faces. I couldn’t see how you were responding to what I was saying. I mean, I was talking for 40 minutes. You only had one screen in the conference room and all you could see were my slides, so you couldn’t see my face, you know. You couldn’t see me gesticulating. You couldn’t see when I wanted to say something.
Kate Lister: [00:26:26] In fact, there was a question that was asked that I had an answer to. And, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I wound up texting the CEO or the chairman and say, “Hey, you know, I’d like to answer that question.” And then, he brought me into the conversation. You all took a break for five minutes and you turned off the sound. I got excluded there.
Kate Lister: [00:26:52] And, you know, it was just an altogether bad experience for me. The room went a little silent for a minute, and then one of the directors said, “You know what? Didn’t we just go through a consulting engagement that told us how to have better hybrid meetings? And, I think we talked about all these things.” And, we all had a good laugh about it.
Kate Lister: [00:27:13] But, I mean, it just demonstrates how intentional it has to be. This is not something that comes naturally. Inclusiveness, including the people that are not in the room, and that’s just in meetings. The bigger issue goes to, am I going to be passed over for promotion if I’m a remote worker or if I’m a possible remote worker? And, am I going to get the same salary or compensation? Am I going to get the same projects if I don’t walk down the hall and see Jamie, and say, “Jamie, oh, you’re just the person I need to see.”
Kate Lister: [00:27:47] So, all of those things make it very difficult to be hybrid. You know, we were doing it before. Sure. I mean, people were working outside the office. We’re global organizations. We’re talking across the world, but not to this extent. And so, we just have to be very, very intentional when we go back of keeping that in mind that we all are, you know, one organization and we need to treat one another as such.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:28:16] Yeah, interesting. And, some of those things that you described, did that meeting happen pre-COVID? But it wasn’t unlike, to your point, the scale of the number of individuals that we would be working through that. Now, it’s you’re on mute, unmute your –
Kate Lister: [00:28:29] Exactly.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:28:30] And, it happens at least two or three people in a call, you know, every day, right?
Kate Lister: [00:28:34] You know, doughnuts. We don’t get any doughnuts here at home. You’ve got that wonderful plate of doughnuts in the middle of the table. I want a doughnut.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:28:43] That’s the truth. You’re like, really? Oh, I’ll go heat up my, you know, my lunch meal while you guys eat, you know, the nice, fresh stuff that just came in.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:28:52] And, if you had, so, speaking of like, you know, talking to that C-suite and some of the CEOs and chairmen, I’ve seen in some articles where there’s some that are just really, you know, hard-set on, their people are going to come back into the office. This is going to be the model. But then we’ve got this, you know, the people that are speaking and saying, that’s not what we want. How do you talk to that CEO? How do you convince them to have more of this open mindset into either a hybrid or a remote working environment?
Kate Lister: [00:29:31] Well, my natural instinct is to just slap him or her. But I can’t do that because I wouldn’t get very good reviews. So, I go back to the business case. It’s got to be, you know, what’s in it for them.
Kate Lister: [00:29:46] Typically, there are two things that that person’s worried about. It’s a control thing. You know, they want to feel like they have some control over the organization. I picture the supervisor standing on the balcony, looking down over his minions, all working on the factory floor, and we still sort of have that mindset even after almost two years of doing that. So, it’s kind of getting to those fears. What is it that this person is afraid of?
Kate Lister: [00:30:17] Another thing that I’ve seen and there have been some very public cases of this, CEO just lives in their own world. They in fact believe that everybody wants to come back. They believe that everybody is like them, and it’s not until you show them the numbers.
Kate Lister: [00:30:36] I won’t mention the name, but a very large company of CEO came out and said, “No, we’re all going back to work. This is just the worst thing, this remote work thing. We’re all going back to work.” I happen to have the person, head of H.R., on a podcast that I was doing the next day. And, before we got on, I said, “Am I allowed to ask you about this? Because, you know, here you are talking about workplace flexibility, but your CEO just said no way.” And, she said, “Yeah, well, we had a bit of a conversation about that.” And, truly, he did not realize. He thought everybody was like him and wanted to be back in the office. And, when they showed him the surveys, you know, he was just blown away. He had no idea.
Kate Lister: [00:31:22] So, sometimes it’s really just, you know, bringing them back to reality. And, you know, if they don’t, and showing them what’s there is to lose and what there is to lose is good people and what that means is a real hit to their bottom line. And, that’s the language of the C-suite.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:31:45] Yeah, interesting. Yeah. And, a lot of them probably don’t because they may be not as in the thick of the day-to-day as much or kind of in the details to see what some of the people in their organization are actually feeling and thinking at that time, you know.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:32:01] And, looking at, you know, we talk a lot about the productivity and the inclusiveness and engagement. Let’s talk a little bit about innovation and the remote work environment. Do you feel from your opinion that being in a remote or hybrid setting will impact or hurt innovation?
Kate Lister: [00:32:23] I try not to speak from opinion. I speak from research, and the research just does not prove that face-to-face improves innovation, has any impact on innovation. The New York Times, just maybe two or three weeks ago, had a large article that says there is no proof, and I’ve been saying that for years. But now the New York Times said it. So, that’s great.
Kate Lister: [00:32:52] There are two parts to innovation. First is creativity and the second is innovation. So, creative concept. People are most creative when they’re in private. You know, think about when you’re at your most creative, in the shower, in the car, when you’re walking in the woods. And so, even in all of the surveys that we’re doing, people are saying that they’re more creative working at home. Innovation often, you know, that means taking that creative thought [inaudible].
Kate Lister: [00:33:27] It’s often done in groups. So, there are two parts to it, but not necessarily. There are a lot of lone inventors, and it doesn’t necessarily mean face-to-face interaction with groups. Innovation is really founded on trust. It’s do you trust the people that you’re working with enough to throw out a crazy idea and not feel like you’re going to be told that’s a crazy idea. That’s what’s really fundamentally needed with a team. And, once they’ve got that trust, once they have that trust bond, they can do it remotely, just as easy as they can in person.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:34:08] Great. So, we’re going to take a word from our sponsor. Workplace MVP is sponsored by R3 Continuum. R3 Continuum is a global leader in providing expert, reliable, responsive, and tailored behavioral health, crisis, and security solutions to promote workplace well-being and performance in the face of an ever-changing and often unpredictable world. Learn more about how our R3 Continuum can tailor a solution for your organization’s unique challenges by visiting www.r3c.com today.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:34:41] So, now, I’m going to bring Cynthia back into the conversation, and I have some questions for the two of you. Starting out with as workplaces move to making decisions on their new work approach, how can they make the business case from a financial perspective that supports their decision? And so, let’s start with you, Cynthia. Can you talk us through kind of your thoughts on that?
Cynthia Milota: [00:35:05] Well, I’m going to start with a couple no-brainers that are really easy to start, and then we’ll let Kate talk about some of the great financial measurement tools that she offers. But I’m sure you’ve been a part of many conversations about work-from-home stipends. And, as employees are really sort of settling in for the long run on this home-office gig, they’re looking to upgrade. No one wants to be sitting at the dining room table anymore, and there’s been lots of, lots of studies about all the success that people are having, depending on where they’re working. So, clearly, we need to upgrade where we’re sitting at home.
Cynthia Milota: [00:35:40] So, we like to talk about the idea of monitors and a good ergonomic chair at home. That’s sort of the low-hanging fruit that a lot of these work-from-home stipends talk about. So, if you just take a break-even approach regarding providing dual monitors, assuming each one costs a hundred bucks, they have a three-year lifespan. If the monitor saves someone 95 minutes a year, which translates into 23 seconds a day, it’s worth the investment. So, we really are advising our clients. And, I know at the beginning of the pandemic, many people brought their monitors home from the office, and now some of those monitors are being recalled. Folks are asking them to bring them back, but we’re advising our clients just to allow folks to have monitors at home.
Cynthia Milota: [00:36:27] The second thing is the idea of a chair. So, if you look at, put it in the context of a workman’s comp. That an average workman’s comp claim is $28,000. So, if you assume a chair is $500, it has a five-year life, you could purchase 1400 chairs if you avoided one workman’s comp claim. Like, the math is definitely there. So, when we also – I think there’s also sort of a sustainable circularity thing, right? We don’t want people buying chairs, you know 100-dollar chairs from the office supply store, which are just going to break and go into the landfill. But we want to get higher quality, good products so that it withstands the test of time.
Cynthia Milota: [00:37:15] So, employers that do provide some significant or/and significant work-from-home stipends I think really are going to help the planet as well as their workforce. But Kate, I’m going to let you talk about some of the financial tools, measurement tools that you guys are doing with clients.
Kate Lister: [00:37:32] Yeah. This is where we really got started emerging. The banker in me came out, trying to figure out what the bottom-line impact of remote work is. About 12 years ago, maybe more, we came up with a remote work savings calculator. We called it the Telework Savings Calculator at the time that shows a typical employer can save about $11,000 per halftime remote worker per year. And, that is a combination of increased productivity, reduced turnover, reduced absenteeism, and reduced real estate costs, also the continuity of operations being able to operate in the event of a disaster. And, in our standard model, it included one day a year, like one snow day a year, that people would be able to work other if they weren’t able to get to the office. Never did we consider putting in 700 whatever days.
Kate Lister: [00:38:35] Just imagine what dent on global productivity if we hadn’t been able to make this transition. And, that calculator, about six years ago, the federal government came to me and they were responding to an inquiry from Congress who wanted to justify the amount of money that the government was saving in their telework program. And, they were asked to find tools that could help them do that. So, they asked and I gave them a peek behind the curtain of what’s behind the calculator. We’ve got 125 variables and 600 calculations, and they went back to Congress and said that it was comprehensive and thoroughly researched.
Kate Lister: [00:39:20] So, that was a very good endorsement for us. It’s available free on our website. It has been for, as I say, more than a decade. So, companies can quantify their own impact, not just on the employer but on the employee who typically saves 11 days a year when half-time remote work, the time they would have otherwise spent commuting and typically saves between three and $5000. And, it also calculates the environmental impact, as we talked about earlier.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:39:54] Interesting. And, you know, when you think of the ergonomics, I can give a personal testament. I was sitting at my kitchen table and I’m a runner and I started to have really weird leg cramps and I switched to my ergonomically, you know, I brought my chair from my office, actually rolled it out the elevator and took it home, and the leg cramp stopped. So, there is definitely something behind having an appropriate chair when you’re sitting for the amount of time that we sit for work.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:40:26] So, it’s really interesting to hear some of the financial savings that these organizations can have just by simply these easy modifications that can help those employees at home, especially now that it’s become a lot more of a long term solution as opposed to the short term solution that it was probably back in March of last year for a lot of these organizations. And, I know, we’ll put that link to Kate’s financial tool on our page, on the Business RadioX page, as well as on the Workplace MVP page, so our listeners can access that.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:41:04] So, looking at the benefits to hybrid remote work and back office, you know, what are your thoughts around the benefits of each of those that employers should be considering?
Kate Lister: [00:41:19] It’s funny. For years, the conversation has been polar. People, particularly in the media, it’s you know, “Oh, remote work, it’s going to ruin the world,” and, “Oh, nobody likes the office.” It’s both. One’s good for one thing, one’s good for another thing. So, the best of both is to allow people the flexibility to work at home some of the time if they want to and there’s about 15-20% of the population that typically does not want to and to come to the office for the kinds of things that are better done in person.
Kate Lister: [00:41:58] One of the things we learned from a number of the surveys during the pandemic was that people felt they could collaborate just as easily, just the same remotely as they did in the office. But they preferred doing it in the office so, you know, we can get it done. We can have our meetings, but we would really prefer to be in person. So, it’s really just taking the best of both.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:42:23] Great. How about from your perspective, Cynthia?
Cynthia Milota: [00:42:30] I think our clients are understanding this is a unique opportunity to embrace hybrid. You’re right, we’ll talk a little bit more. We have talked about the difference between the C-suites perspective and the average employee’s perspective, but we are encouraging and I would say, by and large, they understand that they’re at a unique time right now and they’re moving forward.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:42:55] Interesting. So, as an organization, you know, if they have differences to what you just kind of alluded to, Cynthia, you know that work environment preference between senior leadership, you know, and what they’re looking for versus what the employers are looking for, how can they approach it and find a balance between both sides that really benefits the entire organization? So, we’ll start with you, Cynthia.
Cynthia Milota: [00:43:23] Yeah. Well, I guess I’d like to pick up on something that Kate said. Let’s go back to the data, right? Perhaps some executives have a command and control thing going on. Perhaps they’re in their walnut row and they don’t see it, but we’ve done a few executive listening sessions, which are a really great start, right. It’s almost – and that has sort of opened the eyes, as we’ve said before. And, I think every H.R. person on the planet now is telling their C-suite, 40% of the workforce is considering changing jobs added at the cost of between one and three times your salary to replace every position, depending on the nature of the job. Employees are really emboldened. They have the upper hand to have their voice being heard. And, I think most of the C-suite is getting it. So, I don’t know, Kate, if you want to add anything to my perspective.
Kate Lister: [00:44:20] Yeah. I mean, it also opens the opportunity for a whole new talent pool, you know. I’ve got a law firm that I’m working with right now and finding top law talent is really difficult. The law firms are poaching one another like crazy.
Kate Lister: [00:44:38] But, now, they don’t have to limit themselves to somebody that’s near their San Francisco office or their Philadelphia office, or whatever it is. They can hire somebody from all over the world. They can also hire a better opportunity to hire disabled military spouses, people living in rural areas that, you know, didn’t always have the opportunity for these kinds of jobs. So, it really does, not only stop people from leaving but opens up the talent pool so much more.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:45:15] Yeah. Did you ever [inaudible] you wanted to add to that?
Cynthia Milota: [00:45:18] No, I’m good.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:45:18] Oh, okay. Yeah. No, I would agree. I mean, that’s kind of – in a previous episode, we were talking about that, you know, how, really, there are no boundaries anymore to where you can obtain your employees when you have that remote work environment. So, it really does open up the prospects of different candidates that they could have across, you know, not just the U.S. but really the globe. And, you know, and I love the point you made about military spouses and others that maybe wouldn’t have had that flexibility before and now being able to give that opportunity to have a career themselves where previously they maybe wouldn’t have been able to. So, that’s a great point to make on that.
Kate Lister: [00:46:01] I also typically show them a spreadsheet of what their competitors are doing. A little peer pressure never hurts and not just their direct competitors, you know, so that if I’m talking to an insurance company, I’m not just showing them what other insurance companies are doing but what tech companies are doing, because the people that they’re trying to hire these days are getting, you know, have to be more and more tech-savvy and jobs are getting more and more tech-oriented. So, they’re not just competing with the guy across the street. They’re competing with Silicon Valley and some of those other places, too.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:46:41] Yeah. Very interesting. I bet that’s a very effective approach to show kind of that kind of data. So, looking at our listeners, what can they do today? What are some simple approaches that can make a difference with their workforce and with the organization?
Kate Lister: [00:47:00] For me, the word sludge comes to mind. Get rid of the sludge. There are so many things that we do that keep us from doing our best work, not the least of which is doing stuff that we’re not good at or that we don’t like. You know, I’m waiting for the day when I’m doing a PowerPoint presentation and my keyboard starts to jiggle and it says, you know, you’re not very good at this. Did you know we have 10 contractors that are already vetted that are better at doing this than you are? And, by the way, do you know that Joe, you know over in the other department, just did a presentation on this? Maybe you should talk to Joe.
Kate Lister: [00:47:33] That’s not something they can do immediately, but it is something that’s coming, kind of the disaggregation of work so that we can all work on what we’re best at. But just the little things, the meetings, and how stressful meetings are, and how much of the day they occupy. Start to think about. Does everybody really need to be here at this meeting? Does it have to be a meeting at all? I’ve got one executive who said, “If there’s more than nine people in a meeting, it shouldn’t be a meeting. It should be something that I record and they can listen to.”
Kate Lister: [00:48:06] One of the things that all remote companies, you know, companies that are all remote get right is using asynchronous versus synchronous behaviors. And, this is something that the companies that Cynthia and I are working with are just learning.
Kate Lister: [00:48:22] So, you don’t always have to have a meeting. Maybe you just need to send a memo. Maybe you only need a few people in that meeting and you can record it and other people can listen at another time. Maybe they’re in a different time zone. They don’t have to get up at 4:00 in the morning to be a part of this meeting. When to use chat, when to use email, when to use Slack, and when, you know how to use those tools so that we’re more efficient in how we work.
Kate Lister: [00:48:51] I’m looking at – and this is also a time for looking at every process and every practice. I think one of the stressors out there right now is that we’re trying to work in new ways, using old processes, practices, and technologies. And, it just drives me batty when I hear somebody say we need to replicate the water cooler. It’s like, who said the water cooler was that great to begin with? First of all, it excludes everybody who’s not at the water cooler. So, you know, we need to use technologies to do things better, not to replicate things that were broken to begin with. Like, people always talk about, “Oh, it’s been really hard onboarding during the pandemic.” Excuse me, 60% of people quit in the first two years, and half of them quit in the first six months. So, let’s not say that onboarding was working that great before the pandemic. Let’s find out, let’s figure out a better way to do things.
Kate Lister: [00:49:46] And, you know, even for just some very, very simple tips. When you’re having a hybrid meeting, everybody has to have their cameras on. Assign somebody in the room to somebody that’s out of the room, kind of a buddy system, so that they can chat back and forth if one person feels like they aren’t being heard. Call on every person. Use polls instead of, you know, hands up and that kind of thing.
Kate Lister: [00:50:17] One of the things that we’ve learned during the pandemic is that introverts are performing better. I’m an introvert and, you know, I don’t think as quickly as extroverts. You know, when I’m in a meeting, you know, people are blurting out their thoughts and their answers to questions. I take time. I think about it after we get off the meeting. And, that means that we’re not hearing a lot of voices and I think there are opportunities that we can exploit in what we’ve learned over the last couple of years that can really bring more equality to the voices in the room and make sure that everybody’s heard.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:50:58] Great. That’s great feedback. I love that. Cynthia, how about you?
Cynthia Milota: [00:51:03] I guess I would go back to the employee experience and I would go at it from two perspectives. One is the stakeholders. I know many of our clients are engaging their stakeholders, but it seems like many that you [inaudible] are not. Leadership has made some plan and they’re going to send a bunch of memos and say, this is how we’re going to do it.
Cynthia Milota: [00:51:25] So, for sure, it’s more complicated. For sure, it’s fraught with more complexities. But the more we have stakeholders involved, the better that’s going to help, the bigger change, whatever it ends up being. So, that’s the first thing.
Cynthia Milota: [00:51:25] And then, I guess the second thing is don’t stop collecting data, right? Don’t stop, you know, even once. You know, in my world, we do something called the post-occupancy evaluation, which is like, you did it like three months after people moved in and then you close that off, and then you’re done with it. Really, we’re seeing continuously collected data whether it be pulse study, pulse surveys. Now, technologically, there’s a tremendous amount of data, everything from badge data to utilization data and I know we’re not doing that much because we’re not in the office much. But once we’re back, I think data informing decisions is going to be the future of what’s happening, and I think we can’t, again, have that data without communicating to our stakeholders what it is that we’re learning and how that’s going to potentially impact and let them have a seat at the table. So, that’s where I’d like to leave it.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:52:37] Fantastic. Great advice and thoughts to leave our audience with. So, if any of our listeners wanted to get a hold of you. And, I’ll start with Cynthia, how can they do that?
Cynthia Milota: [00:52:49] Well, I’m on LinkedIn, so search me on LinkedIn. My email’s on there and my company is Ware Malcomb. If you go to the Ware Malcomb website, you can get my phone number and my email that way too.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:53:01] Great. And, how about you, Kate?
Kate Lister: [00:53:03] I’m there on LinkedIn, as well. I’d be happy to link in with anyone. You can message me. You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And, we have probably a dozen white papers on our website that say things more elegantly than I do in person, so you could just download them there.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:53:27] They’re fantastic. Well, thank you both so much for letting us celebrate you. I’m sure your presentation at SHRM went really well and was well-received, and thank you for sharing your stories and your great advice with our listeners. And, we appreciate you and we’re sure that your organization and your staff do as well. So, thank you so much for being a part of our show. We also – yeah, thank you.
Jamie Gassmann: [00:53:52] We also want to thank our show sponsor, R3 Continuum, for supporting the Workplace MVP podcast. And, to our listeners, thank you for tuning in. If you’ve not already done so, make sure to subscribe so that you get our most recent episodes and other resources. You can also follow our show on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter at Workplace MVP. And, if you are Workplace MVP or know someone who is, please let us know. Email us at info@workplace- mvp.com. Thank you all for joining us and have a great rest of your day.