Ryan Anderson: Bürolandschaft, Activity-Based, Design, Neighborhoods | Work 20XX #03

Jeff Frick
March 9, 2022
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Welcome to Work 20XX. A show focused on work as we continue to navigate these transformational times. I am your host, Jeff Frick.

In this episode, we explore the world of Design, Real Estate, and Facilities through the eyes of long-time industry veteran Ryan Anderson, Vice President, Global Research & Insights, MillerKnoll. No surprise, these professionals are moving from cost center/efficiency thinking to a more human-centric, and ‘seat-at-the-table’, rethinking their resources.

How can we use our portfolio of resources?
(real estate, facilities, interior design, remote support, etc)
to help our People CREATE the BEST WORK of their CAREERS.

It’s hard to attract talent, you want to retain good people, you’re looking for engagement. I invite you to take raise your expectations by changing the focus to the small discrete things Ryan and the professionals at Herman Miller Labs have been studying and documenting and reporting for decades.  

I didn’t realize how much the tethered-PC infrastructure of the last several decades inhibited the execution of Activity-based spaces, something on design boards long before the PC. The infrastructure has caught up with the vision, with advances in Mobile and WiFi technologies, powerful handsets, and the proliferation of the cloud as an application delivery method. No department wants to be a cost center, and by shifting the focus to human productivity, from spreadsheet-centric optimization and utilization, Real Estate and Facilities are stepping up to do their part, in collaboration with HR and IT. ‘Average’ offices spaces, where everyone got the same ‘here’s your computer here’s your chair’ regardless of function aren’t good enough anymore. A single space built to accommodate all can’t be optimal for the individual, doing all types of work, in all kinds of conditions.  

Historically, organizations, over-indexed ‘private desk/cube/office’ and under-indexed in meeting collaboration space, even as private desk utilization rates continue to drop, even before the pandemic. In fact, offices should invest in places that support these activities including Community Socialization, Team Collaboration, and Individual Focus work.

In this far-ranging conversation, Ryan shares his deep data-based expertise and best practices. The pandemic showed that work could get done outside the office, and on closer inspection of workspaces (COs, Air Quality), there are environmental improvements to be made. Most importantly, the promise of Activity-based spaces and concepts like ‘neighborhoods’, and a more agile/flexible mindset, will make the spaces and places of the future much more attractive, and productive than the rows of desks and tables and cubes of cabled computers in the past.

My conversation with Ryan Anderson.

'Work 20XX' with Jeff Frick
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Episode Transcript

>> Three.  

>> Hey, welcome back everybody. Jeff Frick here coming to you from the home studio for another episode of "Work 20XX," the future of work. But I'm not calling it the future of work anymore, it's just work. You know, we're going forward, we're not going back, stop thinking we're going back, we're going forward. And I'm really excited about this next guest. You know, it's so great to bring in a different set of perspectives and a different filter and a different lens in which to view the world and we all can't help but see it through our own. So to go out and seek out other points of view is super important. And this guy's got a completely different point of view, but he's super passionate about the same topic. So welcoming in through the magic of the internet, the magic of Webex, all the way I think from Michigan, he's Ryan Anderson, the Vice President Global Research and Insight for MillerKnoll. Ryan great to see you. 

>> Thanks, Jeff. It's great to see you too. And yes, I'm coming from Michigan. 

>> Has spring sprung, or I think Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and got scared, right? He had to go run back in. 

>> We would be thrilled for enough sunshine to have a shadow. No, it's freezing cold here. And that's what we signed up for 'cause we live in Michigan. 

>> There we go. Well, let's jump into it cause Mil, Herman Miller's been in Michigan for a long time, what is MillerKnoll for people that aren't familiar? Kind of give us a breakdown between Herman Miller, MillerKnoll and how it all ties together. 

>> Sure, yeah. Herman, Miller's probably a better known name as is Knoll than MillerKnoll because basically we brought these great brands together just last year in 2021, created MillerKnoll as a family of brands who basically are involved in the creation of various things to make great spaces. It's furniture, but also textiles, some work tools support, really heavy focus on modern design. Most importantly we want to make sure the spaces we help to create serve people well, you know, help 'em work, help 'em live, learn, heal, learn, play. All the other activities that we so value in life, our spaces play an important role in that. 

>> Right. Now MillerKnoll interest or, I'm just going to go back to Herman Miller, you know, and I told like my wife about this interview and my mother-in-law, everyone has in their mind a Herman Miller favorite thing. You know for me it was the Aeron chair, which, you know, represents kind of the go-go days of the original internet boom back in 2000. And I think for my wife it was a, more of a contemporary living room piece of furniture, but you know, everyone has this perception. What I don't think people really appreciate is the degree as in, is reflected in your title that you guys are doing research, and original research and insight and really investing in work at a much higher level than simply ergonomics and a really nice chair. 

>> Yeah, no, I don't spend my days staring at the leg of a desk, thankfully no. We're carrying on a tradition that goes way back in terms of looking at the future of working and living. So at Herman Miller, the research team in the early 60s, major focus on future of work. In fact one of my favorite stories is that, when Stanford showed the world the first personal computer in 1968 at an event known as Mother of all Demos, 'cause it was the mother of seeing where this was going, Herman Miller designed the environment for it. First kind of workstation, first monitor arm for the first monitor, first mouse pad for the first mouse. Likewise, Knoll, one of the other key brands within our family, back in the 1940s created something called Knoll Planning Unit which basically became what today is architecture and interior design firms with a focus on space planning. So, the goal has always been to try to understand who we serve and what are they doing then, then how does the space support that and from there we can get to a furniture object. But all the things we do are designed with some degree of user insight making that happen. 

>> Right. Well, what I found interesting in doing some research for this is the conflict that came up between technology and design. When I, one of your podcasts you talked about there was already a lot of innovation, kind of thinking about activity based workspaces and we'll get into some of the vocabulary. But then this PCs came along and PC based work and at that point in time they needed two really important wires, right? They needed a power drop, (chuckles) they needed an ethernet cable. So what if you can talk about kind of that conflict and how, you know, kind of the realities of the technology infrastructure of, well, you say when the PCs launched impacted the design and kind of the limitations that you guys could do and how that's moved over time. 

>> Sure. And I'll try not to get total geeky on you here, but I do have research on my title, so I get to be a little bit geeky. 

>> And you can, we have a tech audience, you're good. (chuckles) 

>> That's good. In Germany, post World War II, there was a movement called  Bürolandschaft, which was 'office landscape', it's really the origins of where open office came from. But it was an idea that an office should have, like a little landscape, like a variety of spaces that people could go do for different things. Herman Miller, when the research team really started to look at workplace in the early 60s, felt like we could take that to the next level, created the first modular furniture, what, basically what I'm talking about is what became cubicles. We didn't design it to be cubicles, but movable walls, desks, I mean it featured standup workstations, a variety of things that we only recently have come to really appreciate. But the whole idea was that people would move throughout these spaces, throughout the course of their day and they would experience a variety of cool spaces to support whatever they were doing. 

And as I mentioned the team at Herman Miller helped to design that first environment for the first personal computer in 1968. I don't know and I actually have gotten a chance to talk with one member of the team who was involved, I don't know that they saw just how drastically desktop computing would change offices as we know it. Because what happened is that eventually got a desktop computer to your point, power and cabling infrastructure. Like the furniture that was meant to be highly modular, move around, it basically became a pathway for these cables to get from the closet to the PC. And when I entered the industry in the mid 90s, I didn't know a lot about the design of office space or workspace. What I basically learned was that you designed it around IT networks. I mean it was really there to support infrastructure and desktop computing. 

The people just went in at the end, (chuckles) they just sat wherever the chairs happened to be. By the way, I'll be transparent when I say it was very profitable for those making office furniture. Because if a company went and hired 500 people, they'd, you know, they'd buy 500 desktop computers and desktop phones and 500 chairs and 500 cubicles, but it wasn't at all the vision. And so when mobility really started to become a reality, when, you know, we'd had laptops for a while, but when wifi started to become more ubiquitous, 2004, 2005, I remember thinking, this is going to change everything. And to some extent it has, but so many of the assumptions about the way work is done actually are still rooted in that era of desktop computing. And only now in the midst of, you know, this craziness, the last couple years of organizations rethinking it, desktop computing and network infrastructure had a massive impact on life in the office and our assumptions about what working even means. 

>> Right, right. So then, you know, mobile phones come out, right? The, iPhone, you know, arguably the seminal moment, as said laptops, but it's been kind of a slow role. So why do you think the perception, you know, pre COVID, that this was a viable option was so slow to kind of catch up to the technology or was the technology just not there? Do we need, you know the speeds of 5G and the like to get there? 

>> I think the technology was there much sooner than the awareness of what was possible. So IT teams by and large made an important shift in mindset a long time ago that they were going to support users wherever the users were. Facilities and corporate real estate people did not make that shift, many are still making that shift. It was very much viewed as no, our remit is the portfolio, the corporate real estate portfolio. And so what we can think of as distributed working, which is for me a really useful term, it just means the spreading out of work. It started with mobility, first we started seeing it just within the floor plate. I remember when wireless handsets for desktop phones came around, I would see people like maybe doing a little bit of pacing, they'd walk about 10 feet away from their workstation, oh the signal broke up, they'd start to come back. They were using whatever autonomy they could have. 

And then eventually our ability to work in other locations really amplified, the work was spread out beyond the building, it was across cities, across the world. But organizations could not get past this binary view of you're an office employee, or you're a telecommuter, which that word to me feels so old at this point. But for everybody who was considered an office employee, they'd still give everybody a desk, they'd assume that all the work that person did was at that desk. We've used sensors at Herman Miller, by the way, for more than 10 years looking at the use of space I can show you 10 years of decreasing desk utilization before the pandemic (chuckles) 'cause people were, they're doing their work other places but organizations generally thought things were fine. Wasn't a great return on real estate investments, wasn't great for the earth because of the energy put into buildings. And it was like when the pandemic hit, there was this massive pendulum shift in 2020 where people didn't think that remote work was sustainable, by the fall, like by October of 2020, I was getting calls, "Do you think we still need offices?" And by the way we had studied remote first companies years before we said, "Yeah, actually I think you probably will still want your offices, but I'm guessing you're not going to want it to just be filled with a bunch of boring desks," like let's go back to the vision of people can move around. 

>> Right. 

>> Give 'em a whole variety of options that are more desirable. But I got to tell you in some ways, this many years in now, two to three years in to kind of thinking about this, there are still many organizations beginning to realize that whether they consider themselves remote first hybrid or office first, that the employees are free to move about and that distributed working's been a reality for a long time and it needs better support. 

>> Right. Well, one of the themes I want to pick up on for the progressive ones that I do understand, a lot of the people that have appeared on your show and your podcast is that, and we hear it on IT, right, that IT no longer wants to be a cost center, right? They want to, they want to have a table to help the business and in all your podcasts I hear the same thing over and over, whether it's facilities or real estate, which then begs the question, you know, how do you measure success? And I think you talk about it in a number of your broadcasts that to move from this kind of spreadsheet, optimization, utilization, square footage, cubic meters, kind of centric view of the world versus, you know, how do we enable people to be more productive and even this higher standard as you said, the great resignation, how do we help people do their best work in this location? And I just want to back up a step and talk about space and place and get your take on those two words and what they mean to you and what they should mean to all of us at a little higher level than, you know, just a number on a door on a street someplace. 

>> That is a very good question. That is a deep question. I love that you asked that. We do view space and place differently and it's helpful to understand the concept of place making. So a space is an empty box, typically. And it can be designed with a whole variety of assumptions, but a good place and places that are well made take into account the people that use them, it helps to strengthen the community of people that are within them, it should take on the character and the attributes of the people rather than the person who designed the space itself and should at least on some level evolve and move over time with the people that are there. And we can look at homes as an example, it's really easy to take a look at how we might shop for a home. 

We might go into a new home and say, "It does have three bedrooms, it does have a roof that's decent, it feels like the appliances are fine, we're good." But most people don't do that. What they do is they go into a home and they say, "What are the things that we're going to want to do in this place?" We're going to want to, you know, have drinks on the patio, maybe shoot some hoops in the front yard, we're going to have kids doing homework on the island and will the place support kind of how we imagine our family unit, whatever that is growing over time? Those are the same lenses that can be used to think about a school, a hospital and an office. And so if I look at the most progressive organizations, it wasn't just about having a captive portfolio of real estate, making sure their lease explorations were, you know, scheduled appropriately, it was more around what exactly is the space doing for us? 

Is it strengthening the culture, is it helping people to be productive? Now, the interesting thing about productivity metrics, and this is so interesting to me, if you go and you ask people about their productivity they almost always will only report on their individual activities. So, (chuckles) they'll say, "I was really productive today, meaning I didn't spend hardly any time with anybody else and so I got stuff done." But we need a little bit broader view of it. If we think about the health of the communities that make up organizations, that make up companies, they're strained and they need help. And so these days the most progressive organizations are looking at their spaces saying, "What does it look like to actually build some trust?" "Create connections between people that don't have reason to be on zoom calls together, just really bolster the health of the network." 

>> Right, right. You've highlighted a bunch of problems when people have tried to kind of lift and shift the old into the new. And the biggest problem is when people default to sync as the default way to get work done and that happens, and then what happens is we have calendars full. I mean some people post their calendars on Twitter, it's a crack up all the big blocks, there's, you can't even breathe much less have any productive time. You guys are recognizing this and getting behind kind of the sync and the async for specific reasons, one is to avoid burnout, right? Because if you can move more stuff to async, that means you can do higher value stuff in sync. And I think there's also a lot of confusion in this word flexibility which is so important, it's not just flexibility in place, it's flexibility in time. So I wonder if you can unpack that based on some of the research you've done about flexibility based on time, not flexibility based on space, that's a much less significant component in terms of importance. 

>> Yeah. And you're honing in on the right question which is flexibility. So first I'll just say, I think personally I was really naive that organizations would figure out the balance of synchronous and asynchronous much sooner. So much so that from Herman Miller's YouTube channel, I think we released a video in like July of 2020 saying, "Hey, you're working in a more distributed way now, make sure you consider asynchronous collaboration." A year later I was realizing that people still hadn't even really begun to ask that question. We had, as I mentioned, studied so many organizations that had worked in really distributed ways before, so I knew it was important. Lately, it's been really interesting to see how people that say, "Well, yeah, I'm hybrid and I might enjoy some coffee colleagues at the office, but if I've got seven hours of video meeting a day, I don't have the freedom to go there and if I did go there I'd just be sitting there on a video call all day." So the need to bounce, that is really important. 

If we hone in a little bit more deeply on the topic of flexibility, MillerKnoll is a founding partner of a group called Future Forum. And we survey 10,000 people every quarter and the need for flexibility, the desire for flexibility is so pronounced that it's worth noting that 76% of the people say they do want more flexibility with where they can work. Now, 80% say they still want to come into the office. So, it's not that they don't ever want to to go, but they don't want to come in every day. 95% want more flexibility with when. So for them, the focus on basically moving beyond the traditional work week is really important. And I'm just not sure if we lock people into eight hours of video meetings a day that we really enable anybody to get past the traditional work week. 

>> Right. 

>> We need the freedom to work in more flexible ways and I of course think it's much more productive to do that. If you've got a globally distributed team, and I do, I have team members in Dallas, I have team a member in Dubai. Like there's no way that I could possibly rely on just synchronous technologies, but I think it's a matter of taking whatever platform you've got and helping the users to actually understand that scheduling video meetings all day is not distributed working, like it's just one facet of it. 

>> Right, right. And it doesn't make any sense at all. And the other piece that I thought was pretty interesting is it's now this kind of collaboration between, you know, again what might have been considered SG&A together to actually co-learn. And you said, I think one of your things, you've had more conversations with HR because the other piece that has come up in the research years and everyone else is is that, you know flexibility is a D&I issue as much as anything because most of the time it's because of care giving, whether that's their kids or their parents or a sick relative or whatever it is that it's had a real disproportionate benefit to people that have really been able to change their world with that flexibility. 

>> Well, the fact that you put those two together, flexible working and DE&I show that you're beyond where most organizations are at, I do believe that's where they'll get. If we look at the most progressive organizations, that's what they're thinking about. And it's like we talked about this before, you can't just think of employees as binary office or remote. But likewise, we can't look at someone's job title and assume we know what's best for them in terms of when, where or how they work. If you look at the number of facets that impact a person's productivity and their health on a given day and you say, "Well, where would this person work?" You're going to take into effect the nature of what they're doing, their team dynamics, their technology use, their state of mind. But also innumerable things in their personal life, their caregiving responsibility, do they have a neurosensory physical disability of some sort, is their wifi crappy today, how's their relationship with their partner, is their dog driving them nuts? 

I mean they can be any number of things. So, ultimately a lot of organizations I believe will get to this epiphany, that to create equitable experiences you have to turn more control over to the employee to say, "This is where I'll be most successful today." If we look at specific user groups and we have, we've spent years looking at this, working parents rise right to the top. And it's always interesting to me when I hear organizations talking about hybrid as the number of days in the office. For a lot of working parents it's not number of days, it's, I don't want to come in until 9:30, but I'm going to leave by 2. 

>> Right, right. 

>> It's all about pick up and drop off of. But people of color who may have challenges with code switching, women, menopausal age, everything from thermal comfort to what is sometimes known as brain fog, all these different things can cause a person to say, "I just think I'd be so much more successful, so much more happy if I was in this location versus this location." And sometimes it is in the office. You know, 58% of the people that have used Herman Miller's work from home tool, I think we read about 23,000 people that have used it, said they face consistent distraction at home, they appreciate the chance to go focus somewhere other than home sometimes. 

>> Right. 

>> That doesn't mean they want to come into the office every single day, I don't want to come into the office every single day. So yeah, this focus on equity is really rooted in having more choice and having better choices. And I do think this is one of the most exciting things about how HR is getting involved. I'll spend just, I know I'm talking at length there but I'll spend just a minute on this. Before the pandemic, we were thrilled to see IT leaders and real estate leaders getting together more. Smart build technology, prop tech, different sort of user tools that bridge the spacial environment and the IT suite were bringing those groups together. And then when the pandemic started every IT person I know was swallowed into their digital transformation strategies and stopped paying attention to the physical environment and HR. I will say this kind of surprised me, HR massively dove into the topic of workplace experience as a subset of employee experience are asking wonderful questions. 

We're seeing some of the people that we've historically called on in facilities of real estate now reporting into HR, which is cool. And I do think ultimately there's a, at the very least there's a trifecta there between IT, real estate and HR to ask the question, how do we help our people work? And I know it's a big question, but the more you can dive into that, the better the results. 

>> It's huge. I mean I will not name the company that I once worked for when they would do compressions over the weekend. Do you ever, I'm sure you know that. I mean, I don't know, why you should squeeze two more inches out of my cube and you get an extra one at the end of the row. I mean, you go home, it got to the point where to have a, to have someone look over your shoulder at the same PowerPoint at the same time, you had to sit in the hall, which was probably a fire hazard. I mean it's so interesting 'cause people didn't, you know, they weren't measuring these things, they were measuring optimization and utilization and all these types of stuff. 

I want to shift gears, so many places we can go and talk specifically about the management and the experience within kind of the tiers and levels at the company. So you've got kind of the individual contributor who we talked about is going to be happy with that flexibility. Then we've got this tier of mid, you know, kind of mid tier line managers who are really suffering the brunt of this thing, as is often spoke. 

They don't necessarily have the networks, they certainly don't have all the information they need, the dynamics were changing, you know, weekly. And they had, and most importantly what I really want to get into on those people is they didn't necessarily have the tools or training or experience to understand how to manage work without looking over somebody's shoulder. And then you've got the leadership group who again, probably didn't grow up in a world where they had to use different ways to indicate whether work was getting done, whether work needed help. And then it begs this thing that you've talked about at length, you know, the status meeting, which unfortunately becomes the great monster that eats you up. And then now that we're offsite I can't see you and I'm even more nervous about whether you're getting your work done, I'm adding more status meetings. So I wonder if we could talk about, you know, first kind of the mid tier managers, what do we need to do to help them be successful and give them specifics help? And then what do we need to lean on from leadership to make sure that they're sending the right signals that companies are moving forward? 

>> Well, I think you described it really well. For those team leaders, people leaders that weren't trained on supporting a distributed workforce and who have managed very well over the last couple years, we have to shift towards what a long term picture of this looks like. I like to do a couple things and I do talk with people daily. And by the way, that includes our own employees. You know, we're a collection of mostly manufacturers, some of our leaders are still working through this too. And I like to highlight what this looks like in terms of a new agreement or a new covenant or a new bargain between the employer and the employee. One of the reasons I frame it that way is sometimes there's a thought that hybrid or more flexibility is a concession that we're giving into the employees in the context of the great resignation we have no other choice. 

But really if you look at the dynamic between employer and employee when work is more flexible, it's a two-way street and more of the responsibility usually falls on the employee. So yeah, you've got more autonomy, you can figure out when, how, where you want to work to a greater degree. It doesn't have to be a free for all, you can put guardrails on it. But, you have to move towards a more goal-based performance management system. So that means that the employee now knows what they're accountable for, they're responsible for reaching those goals, they're responsible for communicating their status, being inclusive of team members, like they're picking up a whole lot of new responsibilities here with the, you know, the old saying that to whom much is given much is expected. And so it is a new relationship, sometimes a person will say, "I have an employee that might not be able to thrive that way." The unfortunate reality is that is where work is going. 

And so you can help that employee get there, but constraining the entire group to having to focus on presenteeism, which is a terrible form of performance management, for everyone, because there may be some that don't pick this up as well is not a good idea. Now I do think we owe a special responsibility to new employees, to recent college graduates, to those who are kind of acculturating within the organization to be closer with them, help them be successful over time. But it really is a process of ideally helping them to achieve greater autonomy and for those organizations that want to talk about this, really embracing servant leadership, which, if you know Darren Merf, that's one of the topics that he and I like to talk about. Servant leadership and distributed working are very closely tied to one of the there. Because a team leader at that point is really saying my goal is to make sure you know what you're accountable for and to equip you to get there, I cannot be sitting here watching you all the time, nor do I want to. 

So it's different. And for those organizations that originated themselves as remote first or highly distributed, take consulting organizations, consulting organizations been doing this for years, you know what I mean? And their office spaces, they've build spaces, knowing their consultants were at clients four days a week and they just want 'em to come into the office on Fridays to have a beer and connect, like they're way down the path. Tech companies, not, interestingly. Generally they were the ones that expected everybody in the office from 9 to 9, look, free laundry 'cause you're here from 9 to 9. Other are organizations it's really different. And so we have to help those that didn't start off that way, grow into it and know what success looks like. As far as the executives go, it's really a mixed bag. You know, it's kind of funny, sometimes we find senior leaders who are like, I have 20 years worth of network in this company, I don't feel like I need to be in the office that much, I feel like I can call whomever, but there is definitely a disconnect with a lot of executive leaders who find a degree of stability and assurance and risk mitigation in knowing that everyone's in the office. 

And that's become a, you know, a contentious point these days because all of us gravitate towards patterns that create stability and security for us. For a working parent, it might be knowing that Jimmy's going to get picked up at 2:30 and not going to have to stand there. For the executive I might be knowing that the team is all together in a meeting room. And so somehow if we're going to make this work we have to seek out an appropriate balance. 

>> Yeah, but it's interesting, you talk about something called false flexibility, which is kind of, you know, if we put all the rules in place and we put all the procedures in place and yet the big cheese stills coming in Monday through Friday and their top lieutenants are in the room when they have those meetings, you know, people are going to regress back, right? Because it's what I do not what I say. 

>> Yeah. The term false flexibility came from Brian Elliot, the founder of Future Forum and it's a really interesting concept and I think now we're also looking at the opposite of it. So you described false flexibility well. Sure, you can work more flexibly, maybe go, you know, home for a couple hours on Thursday, but all the meetings are in person with the bosses there and you know, the remote experience isn't very good so the message to the employee is if I want to be taken seriously, if I want promotion, if I want to be in the hallway where the decision's really being made, I better be there. But, then we're also seeing the opposite, which is there are some organizations take some of the big banks that have said, "Be in the office every day 8 to 5." And the managers, the people managers know that that immediately puts losing great talent at risk. And they're quietly saying, "Like show up for now and then another couple months, let's not worry about it so much." 

>> Right, right. 

>> Because like I said, there's an equilibrium in here somewhere. I do think if I can just pivot onto this a little bit, that for me one of the most important things that organizations can do is make sure they don't reverse their digital transformation strategies, which might not be an immediate link but here's the logic. If the content and the conversations of our work have moved to the cloud in the last couple years, it's really important that they don't migrate back into a room, so the decision should not be made in the hallway. The content shouldn't be on a physical whiteboard if it's not already somewhere on mural or mirror. As the work becomes more digitized, the physical spaces can play an enormous role in helping people to be productive. But as long as the work remains accessible to people wherever they are, it really helps to ensure that they can be flexible, they don't have to be in a particular place at a particular time. If they know that they can tap in to the most current work, whenever they have a few extra minutes, right, that's the benefit of asynchronous. 

>> Jeff: Right. 

>> So yeah, we need to make sure that in the next year, whether it's the IT strategy or whether it's managerial behaviors or other things that we don't accidentally reverse all the progress that we've made. 

>> So let's talk about kind of the opportunity in return to office, not return to office February, 2020, but return to office with the knowledge that we have today. And as you've, as you outlined there's real concerns that people have certain types of work they can't do at home and the office is really the right place. So, you know it falls purely in line with, you know, kind of micro segmentation and everything that we do in our lives these days, which is, you know, horses for courses, do your expense reports at home, do your stupid emails at home before you come into the office, but when you come into the office there's really cool opportunities that you guys can design into space that make it special. So I wonder if you can talk a little bit about, you know, now that you're not so dependent on a desk centric world, what are offices of the future going to look like, what are the types of activities in spaces? And then we are a tech show and like you said you guys have been using sensors, so you're not just making stuff up, you know where people are, how they're utilizing space, how they're moving through the space. What is that showing us and how is data and AI going to, you know, kind of improve this on a continuous basis over time? 

>> Sure. Well, first I'll say we use sensors to measure the use of space, we don't ever track people, But by using sensors in this way, because we have a knowledge of what the various types of spaces we're designed to support, I have the benefit of seeing the aggregated anonymous data, not just for how many people might show up to a facility, but what types of spaces are they gravitating towards which is a great proxy for saying, what are they trying to accomplish here? Not surprisingly, today we're still 30 to 40% of pre-pandemic occupancy levels. And when people are, have been going in for the last several months, surprisingly, they've been gravitating towards individual desks, which is not what we thought. Because people say they want to go there to connect, but it gets back to the video situation we talked about before which is (chuckles) they're going to the desk 'cause they were supposed to be six feet apart from somebody and they got to be on a call. 

>> Right. 

>> So people have been going in and sticking the air AirPods in and just taking their video calls, which I don't think is a great use of office. 

Here's my take. And it's rooted in a lot of years of research and I think most of my team shares the same perspectives. We're feeling quite optimistic that the next era of office will be far better than the one we had pre-pandemic, it may in fact be smaller. So some of our customers may have slightly smaller footprints of space if they're supporting work, wherever, but the nature of the space is already so much more interesting and so much more desirable and dynamic. So like brass tacks, get rid of rows and rows of tiny desks. You know, what is known as benching or a rows of open desks in the environment was a result of the compression reference you made before. Everybody needs an assigned desk, real estate's expensive, let's make those desks smaller and smaller to the point where you look at 'em and go, "What is this good for anymore?" Like- >> Right. 

>> Are you literally just giving me a surface to do email? Because if you're using 80% of your building for desks, even nice workstations, it's just not reflective of the range of things that people might want to do. So if I get more specific, seeing a lot more social community spaces, like maybe one part of the facility where it's a natural intersection where it feels like it's got more of a hospitality vibe, a restaurant vibe, a living room vibe, where people are meant to spend a little bit of time reconnecting with those that they haven't, had any reason to be on a call with, other facets that we might see are just the opposite, we might see shared private areas. I mean, we have a library, heads down library space in our facility that I primarily go to. It's a place to know that you have a variety of spaces for really heads down, concentrated work. 

I can go, I can be social, coffee, coffee, coffee, how you doing, I need two hours on a spreadsheet, I'll see you later and it's right there. In between we see a lot of emphasis on what's known as neighborhood based planning, I won't get super into interior design for you and our viewers and listeners right now. But in parts of Europe, we used to see and other places, Australia, something known as activity based working where every space in a facility was shared, nobody had anything assigned to them, there were desks, there were conference rooms, meeting rooms. It hasn't gone that well for activity based working in North America, too disorienting. It just feels like kind of chaos when you get somewhere. In North America we saw assigned desking become kind of the norm and we never really shifted from it. But there are some places, I've experienced this best in Australia, neighborhood based planning says, "All right, we're going to give this team a little mix of spaces." "They're going to have some desks, some little huddle spaces, maybe a couple phone booths and a meeting room." That team may have 40 people, it may have 20 people, but they know where their people are so that if they go into the office, they know where to find their peeps. 

If they want to spend something longer than an hour long video meeting, they've got a space that supports that kind of immersion and they can still do heads down work or email if they want to but in the same footprint or maybe even slightly smaller. Much better variety, much more interesting, much more desirable, not surprisingly the more desirable, sometimes you see an uptake in utilization and in fact the organization decides to take on more space. And that's what we saw pre-pandemic for organizations that went this route. I mean the good news is, this is not brand new, there were organizations doing this well before 2020. Now the big challenge is helping to share these best practices with organizations that just have to change their mindset about this. But as far as I'm concerned, future of workplace is not synonymous with office, it's office, it's home, it's coworking. Organizations should have their facilities and real estate people think like their IT people do, we're going to support work wherever it happens. And that range of choices is the key to unlocking equity and productivity. 

>> Yeah, I, it comes back to flexibility and you know, not only flexibility in time and where the individual does their work, but flexibility within the organization with, even within the spaces. And I there was one of the interviews I think you had with the guy from Nasdaq talking about, you know, just more different space. You know, like, he had a great example, if I want heads down work, I want something I don't have to commute for four hours to get to, if I want to meet with my team, let's meet someplace near transportation hub, if I want to show off to a customer, let's have a nice showcase facility in a downtown location or a high end facility that represents what we want to represent to the customer as opposed to bringing 'em into, you know, a shared a shared space. So I think it's, again, it's kind of this micro segmentation around the behaviors that's so different than just a big general purpose one size fits all and it doesn't really fit anybody, which, you know, hopefully we're kind of getting away from. 

>> Well you nailed it when you said a micro segmentation around the behaviors. That is a major shift from a micro segmentation around the job title or anything about the person because that's the key. And if we use that home analogy, it's exactly the same thing. What are the series of experiences or activities this group is trying to do? Will the space here accommodate a majority of 'em and do so in a desirable way? You asked about data. That's a topic I could go on and on about, but I'm going to give you just a brief moment here. And you mentioned somebody that I got a chance to interview on Herman Miller's podcast, Steve Todd, who's head of workplace at Nasdaq, excellent example of somebody who's bringing pioneering data thinking to this world. In the past people leading real estate teams or workplace teams had very little data, maybe bad swipes in the facility. 

So if you look at security systems, they'll have people badge in. They won't even badge out so sometimes we had leading organizations say, "Well, the only data I have is that 194 people showed up at some point today. We've moved beyond that, the utilization data is much more robust, but interestingly sometimes I have to caution everyone, the use of the facility is not the only metric. In fact, we need something that gets after a sentiment or value to describe what it actually means to someone. So Nasdaq as an example does a great job of getting out there and asking their employees, "Tell us what you value." And we might find as an example, that there's a type of space that may only get used 20%. Let's just say it's a one-on-one space for two people to have a, like maybe it's an employee and a manager to have a conversation, it might not get used all day long, but if you try to take it away everybody go, "Oh, hang on, really value that space." So it's a mix in terms of the data on the use and the value or the sentiment around that space. 

What's really interesting is that there is this whole new wave of technology often known as prop tech or property tech that is creating smart building, smart workplaces, that are helping people to book spaces, navigate spaces, maybe it's managing the efficiency of the heating and cooling. When you start to put all that data together, you start to get a much clearer picture of, to what extent a facility is operating well. Where we need to go is something that's more integrated, whether it's a digital twin or some sort of model that helps someone, and this could only be done in partnership with IT to say, "I generally know how successful my spaces are, how efficiently they're operating, are they green from an environmental standpoint, are they desirable from the employees standpoint?" We're on a journey, but we've got a long ways to go. 

>> Right. 

>> It's one of the reasons why I encourage real estate and IT people to talk frequently, not just when there's some new projects, some new headquarters and there's a budget and a timeline, but to start at an earlier point and just say, "What does this look like, how can we be working together to help create smarter spaces?" 

>> Right. So I know we're getting towards the end of our time and that kind of brings it back back full circle, right? Which is ultimately everybody should be in support of helping people do their best work and they haven't thought about it and it gets into the very specific thing of, you know, how do you attract it to balance? How do you retain good talent? But a lot of people forget the part in the middle, which is engage the good talent while you have them. And I found it really interesting both in your bunch of the pieces that you did as well as Darren, this concept of safety, which is so fundamental to success in this environment. Because if I'm not looking over everyone's shoulder all the time, I have to have this safe space where people feel comfortable being vulnerable and asking for help. They have to feel comfortable saying I'm not doing well, or I need some help or whatever. 

And it's from that safety that then you get the engagement and you get the belonging and then you get people that are hanging out. It seems so simple and basic. And I think one of the other conversations that you had actually with Scott, and don't forget the basics, clean air, coffee, tea. Really interesting when I, and you may have said or somebody said, you know, when everyone became a, you know, a microbiologist in the facility space, suddenly the knowledge of, and awareness of things like air quality, and I think the MIT lab lady said, 'You know, CO2 does build up in the afternoon that is why you get tired and want to fall asleep at 3." So, you know, again, I, this kind of aggregation of data, you know, kind of a changing objective set, if you will, productivity versus utilization is really changing the way that you guys are applying the design to help people be their best productive self. 

>> It is. I think leading organizations we're thinking this way, but now that people are realizing that offices are on demand assets they're beginning to say, "What does it look like to make sure they're healthy and desirable?" We often come back to the phrases that we want to to promote belonging and wellbeing. Those two are greatly related. I know it sounds soft and squishy to some people, but if you peel back those things, it is, it's about making sure that you feel like you're fostering a sense of community, that people can be their whole selves there, that the space is designed to be inclusive. That's a complicated, challenging topic, but I'll give you one example. Today, I was in one of our facilities, it has a beautiful, quiet, wellbeing room with a little refrigerator. 

It's a great space, yes for a nursing mom who might want to store breast milk there and would not feel comfortable doing so in the refrigerator, so that would be uncomfortable. It could also be a space for somebody who's struggling with anxiety, code switching, any number of things could find a little bit of respite. And so there are things that you can do with the actual design of the space to say to people, "we get it, we gotcha," (chuckles) "we know you're struggling with this or that, we're not unaware, we're going to try to support you as best you can." And then in terms of actual physical cognitive social wellbeing, there's a variety of really interesting things you get into. I do think the topic of indoor air quality is a great one to start with. We learned early on, like from Dr. Joseph Island at Harvard, that COVID was spreading due to indoor air, shared air, not shared surfaces, that this was going to be a problem. 

We had already known from previous research that elevated CO2 levels are an indication that there's not good enough air exchange and filtration. And a lot of organizations didn't take it seriously. What's really interesting to me is, if you look at the data on CO2, the higher levels of CO2, cognition goes down. (chuckles) It actually, it inhibits your ability to think. 

>> Right. 

>> So, there's all sorts of reasons to keep the air in your facility a little bit better, but it took maybe a airborne virus in the midst of a pandemic to get people to focus on it as well as to have this very new appreciation for being outdoors. So, as an example, one of the biggest facets we're seeing in office design, much more outdoor space or biophilic design, bringing outdoor elements like plants, natural lighting into a space. Yeah, there's so many opportunities to take a space and make it better. Organizations don't need to gut their facilities, it might be a little bit of tune up to the HVC, it might be some changes to the layout. But the good news is I've never in 27 years, seen a stronger interest in this and it's because the office has competition, people don't have to work there and in order to really support organizations well, they need to be designed well. 

>> Yeah, it's fascinating, So much good content in your pocket, I still enjoy it. I'll give you the last word before we wrap. You talked about, you know, HR is now calling you and you know, all these other people are calling for help to try to figure out how you could work together with design and they're other components to help people do a better job. What do most people just miss that aren't in your world? What's the like, come on, let me tell you, you know this is a really couple simple things from our space that are going to help you in what you're trying to do. And the one that jumps up to, you know, chasing the light, I mean, the democratization of sunlight, I love that. You know, so simple but so powerful. 

>> Yeah. I think the simplest thing is that we should do a gut check on the spaces we inhabit and whether or not any of us really appreciate or value them. And that may be, you know, putting some spaces and putting some facilities teams on the spot. But, we have to almost think of our workspaces as a product and all of us as product managers. And think like marketers, the employees or our customers, we can measure their demand, we can understand their demand. Once again, it's not just for their sake it's to boost organizational outcomes 'cause if you do it right, you do get employees that are, they'll stick around longer, they're more engaged, we know that they are more productive. But for some reason, and I think it goes right back to how we started the conversation Jeff, there is this just basic assumption for so long that you give people the basics, a desk, some conference rooms, and that's what constitutes a good office, we need to move beyond that and really do a gut check on, is this a space I want to be in? 

Is it a space that I find enriching to my work and do other people feel that way? And collectively like I said, it doesn't have to be redoing everything, it can just be a small move towards making things better and better over time. But ultimately we should do that gut check to say, "Is the space in service to the people and is it serving them well?" If not, if we were product managers over a SAS platform, we'd make some changes. 

>> Right, right- >> Same with space. 

>> Right and change it. Like agile, right, change it and that's the whole flexibility even to be able to change, even move tables around. I love that, that wasn't one of the interviews. (laughing) 

>> Well that's true- >> More about flexibility. 

>> Well, and because real estate and buildings are designed with such permanence, we have to move beyond the idea that the space doesn't evolve. Actually the interior has to bridge the clock speed between people and what they're doing and the building shell. And so this whole sign a lease, make it look pretty, we'll visit this again in seven years when the lease is up, that's just not going to work anymore. 

>> Right. Right. 'Cause everything's changing and the market's changing and the people are changing, right? And probably the company is changing as well. So, so much great stuff, Ryan. I'm just going to close on one, I'll give you one more thing. Just in terms of sharing information, I mean, you guys share so much information. You've got kind of this open source ethos within your research and you're communicating, you know, where's that come from? You know, it's kind of nice, you know, you see that in security, we saw that obviously with the pandemic, people trying to help each other do better even if it's, you know, it's not necessarily directly competitive, but it is the sharing ethos. You got to love being a part of that and being able to actually not only have the information, but to get it out there to help other people put it to use. 

>> Yeah, I do. And once again, carrying on a long tradition here. I mean, the reason why Herman Miller was involved with that first computer is 'cause they knew the team at Stanford research Institute. The reason why our friends at Knoll, historically were so involved in the creation of space is because of their relationship with leading architects. And so our feeling and my team we live within this parent brand, MillerKnoll, is that we are basically at a cocktail party where we want to be serving the wine. (chuckles) So we're not the center of the party, but we need to be in deep connection with a whole bunch of people internally and externally. So whether it's Herman Miller's podcast or whether it's a series we do through Knoll called "K Talks," you'll just see us constantly try to bring in different perspectives, including a lot of technological perspective, HR, we lean heavily on social sciences. 

I've learned so much from sociologists and psychologists who have something to add about the nature of this. I'll say I personally try to put as much of it on LinkedIn as possible. You know, you'll see me sharing constantly and increasingly, we want to make sure that we're doing that through all of our digital channels as well. But I think we're past, and I don't think we were ever guilty of this, but I think the world of architecture, interior design facilities is past the notion that some expert is going to come in and whip something up that is the perfect space. Really it's about are we communicating to understand the people we're serving well enough? Can we create something that changes and adapts over time? And are we learning together? Because if we go back to the very first thing we started talking about, the work's been changing for a real long time. The conversations happening right now are trying to fit 10, 15, 20 years worth of change into like some sort of six month RTO process. 

By the way, I don't ever use the return to vernacular 'cause it sounds super aggressive to me. But organizations are trying to catch up this much lost time right now. And the reality is we just need to broker a conversation collectively, you, me, Darren Murph, Steve Todd, all the rest to say, "What does this really look like? And we'll get there. We'll we'll amplify the velocity towards getting there and shorten up that timeline overall. But we just need to be cognizant of the fact that it's an overwhelming pace of change for a lot of organizations and we're just better off together. 

>> Yeah. Yeah. It's crazy, forcing function. Well, Ryan, thank you so much for your time. I've really enjoyed today and I've also enjoyed, you know, kind of getting ready for today and digging into digging into all your content. I go full Sean Evans and just become Ryan (laughing) for a couple of days. So really, you know, really some great content and I just love the perspectives, I love, you know, the behavior psychologists, I loved what the MIT Real Estate Lab is doing and big data. I mean, it was such a really fun exploration for me to hear all the different perspectives and hear how they still add up to, you know, being flexibility, being flexible, being more human centric, focusing on outcomes, focusing on communication and you know, kind of good human stuff. So thank you very, very much. 

>> No, thank you. And it's a privilege to spend time with you and to be on this 'cause that's what we're doing right now. And it is really an awesome thing to be able to in network with other people that are thinking about this and sharing, so let's keep it going. 

>> All right, well thanks a lot. All right, well he's Ryan, I'm Jeff, you're watching "Work 20XX." Thanks for watching. We'll see you next time. 

>> Ryan: Awesome. All right. Awesome.

Links and References

Ryan Anderson, VP Global Insights and Research, MillerKnox

LinkedIn Profile, HermanMiller Bio, Work Design Author ,

MillerKnoll - A merger of HermanMiller and Knoll, completed July 2021


HermanMiller - The Future of Work - Resources Website - The Report

HermanMiller - Looking Forward - Resources Website

HermanMiller - Looking Forward: Conversations about the Future of Work, by Herman Miller, hosted by Ryan Anderson, Podcast  

A few of Ryan’s Guest Appearances on other shows

Six Feet in the Six 3 10 Ryan Anderson, Herman Miller, Business Interiors Ontario, Inc. Oct 2021

Is Asych communication the future of work? Ryan Anderson, Herman Miller, Open Sourced Workplace, Dec 2020

MIPIM PropTech New York: Ryan Anderson, Herman Miller, PlaceTech, Nov 2019

Ryan Anderson, VP of Global Research & Insights at Herman Miller, The Remote Show from the Folks at We Work Remotely

Select Vocabulary

Activity-Based Space Planning (vs general purpose), Agency (fully functioning adults)  Autonomy BEST WORK (it's not enough to support average performance, talent is too hard to attract and retain NOT to get their BEST WORK of their CAREERS, that which they're most proud of)  Dynamic (flexible, energetic, attractive, active verb, nothing is static, every thing is in motion), Engagement (via communication, demonstrated listening), Empathy (look through another's lens) Facetime (not a good indicator of output), Focus on the problem, (not the solution) False Flexibility (in words, but not actions), Flexible (in time and place), Flow (one of the magic productivity states of mind), Intentional (things just don't happen by magic), Human-centric (not spreadsheet optimized), Listening - (demonstrated - like when they ask, they can see the response in the results), Neighborhood based space design (our place, will see my people, not a gated community) (On-Demand space (for specific purposes, competing, with options), Optimize People Productivity not Spreadsheet Utilization (change to human centric metrics) Participatory User-Centric Design (Agile everywhere, get feedback, adjust, repeat before finalizing), Presentee-ism (again, not a good indicator of actual work getting done, or productivity), Productivity (not generically, but help people do their BEST WORK), Responsibility (comes with flexibility and agency and autonomy) and Seat at the Table (not a cost center any more, how can we use our resources to increase people productivity), Servant Leadership (how can I use my resources to help you do your job better?) SG&A - NOT (no one can afford it, EVERYONE must work together towards that BEST WORK objective, not departmental financials optimization), Static - NOTHING, those times have passed, Trust (top of the list with Empathy?), User-Centric (what's the experience, what's the compare?).  

Recent Episodes of Looking Forward with Ryan Anderson Podcast

Episode 9 - Everyone wants belonging with John A. Powell, Director of Othering and Belonging Institute, University of California Berkeley

Episode 8 - Rebuilding our organizational networks, Andreas Hoffbauer, Founder & Director, Atelier Kultur

Episode 7 - Putting our insights to the test, Matt Stares, SVP Real Estate, HermanMiller & Gretta Peterson, SM Global Workplace Strategy, HermanMiller  

Episode 6 - Architecting interaction, Stephanie Akkaoui Hughes, Founder, Lead Architect AKKA Architects

Episode 5 - Know your customer, Steve Todd, AVP, Global Head of Workplace, Nasdaq

Episode 4 - Better Experiences through smarter buildings, Andrea Chegut, Director, MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Episode 3 - Rethinking the concept of workplace, Adrienne Rowe, Head of Workplace Strategy, Raytheon Technologies

Episode 2 - Remote work for inclusivity and better living, Darren Murph, Head of Remote, GitLab

Episode 1 - Embracing a more flexible future, Brian Elliot, Executive Leader, Future Forum, SVP Slack  


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Jeff Frick
Founder and Principal,
Menlo Creek Media

Jeff Frick has helped literally tens of thousands of executives share their stories. In his latest show, Work 20XX, Jeff is sharpening the focus on the future of work, and all that it entails.