Kate Lister | Research, People, Trust | Work 20XX Ep12

Jeff Frick
April 8, 2023
Listen this episode on your favorite platform!

For decades,  Kate Lister,  President of Global Workplace Analytics, has been studying human productivity, workplace, and the benefits of employees spending less time in traditional offices. She reminds us that  ‘telecommuting’ was coined by Jack Nilles in 1973.

Her specialty is research… she and her team have been mining thousands of research reports, the highlights of which she shares in the next 50 minutes. We cover the Mount Rushmore of remote-work issues:   productivity, culture, innovation and employee engagement plus more in this extended conversation.

My Conversation with Kate Lister

Episode Transcript

00;00;01;11 - 00;00;26;21

Jeff Frick 

All right, in three, two, one. Hey, welcome back, everybody. Jeff, Rick, here. Come to you from the home studio for another episode of Work 20 x X. And I'm really excited about this episode. You know, there's people that have been in this business and remote work is hot, hot, hot. But there's other people that have been studying and really investing in better workplaces long before COVID, long before kind of the current trends.

00;00;26;21 - 00;00;42;24

Jeff Frick 

And we're really excited to welcome in via the magic of the Internet. One of the OGs, I think she was recently introduced at another show. She's Kate Lister, the president of Global Workplace Analytics, joining us today from Carlsbad down by beautiful San Diego County. So, Kate, great to see you.

00;00;43;11 - 00;00;44;12

Kate Lister 

Great to see you, Jeff.

00;00;44;22 - 00;00;48;01

Jeff Frick 

Absolutely. So that beautiful day in San Diego today.

00;00;48;08 - 00;00;51;03

Kate Lister 

No, we're just about to get a thunderstorm.

00;00;51;10 - 00;00;53;11

Jeff Frick 

Oh, my goodness. Well, that's what.

00;00;53;11 - 00;00;54;01

Kate Lister 

We need, the water.

00;00;54;22 - 00;01;28;29

Jeff Frick 

Let's jump into it. I can't help but think of people like you and Adrian Roe and some of the other workplace professionals that I've met along this journey and this kind of whipsaw thing where, you know, you guys are out ahead of the curve. Years ago and some of the benefits and some of the opportunities afforded by distributed work and remote work COVID hits overnight with no prep, everyone is suddenly thrown into this thing over two years, pass with a lot of new data, a lot of, you know, thankfully systems in place that weren't necessarily there before.

00;01;29;09 - 00;01;50;28

Jeff Frick 

And now suddenly 20, 23, really 2023 and recording this, the return to office mandates are coming back. And, you know, we've kind of shifted from this great resignation to the great layoffs. I think it's going to be the great reshuffle. Just kind of take a breath. I mean, this kind of a whipsaw last couple of years that you've been through.

00;01;51;24 - 00;02;08;17

Kate Lister 

It kind of feels like Groundhog Day actually. We just keep having the same conversations over and over again. I dug out a report that I did in 2012, and I could practically just dust it a little bit and issue it again. Yeah.

00;02;08;23 - 00;02;23;04

Jeff Frick 

Well, let's talk for a minute about the research and what you guys have and what you do. A global workplace analytics because you're all about first person research and you're all about data, data, data. So give a quick overview of what you guys do and how you do it.

00;02;23;26 - 00;02;48;05

Kate Lister 

Yeah, I started out as a banker and I think that always gives me that C-suite perspective. And so when I first got involved in this about eight years ago, it just struck me that nobody had made the business case, made the financial case for why remote work, telework, as we called it. Then, was good for companies and good for people and good for the planet.

00;02;49;01 - 00;03;15;22

Kate Lister 

And so I set about doing the research to quantify that. And the more I looked at it, the more I became convinced that this is just something that has to happen before me. There was a couple decades of people also pushing that rock uphill. So, you know, this has gone on for three decades now. And, you know, were it not for the pandemic, I think we'd still be growing at that ripping pace of 10% a year.

00;03;16;25 - 00;03;31;19

Jeff Frick 

But what was the focus before? Was it mainly cost savings? Was it mainly the opportunity to expand your TAM, you know, for your talent pool? So kind of pre the modern digitized work tools that we have today, What were some of the leading drivers, even back then?

00;03;32;11 - 00;04;15;19

Kate Lister 

Well, it's been a pendulum, you know, it just it's kind of the solution to the problem du jour. So if it's talent shortages, then, you know, then that's the focus. When we go through a recession, when the economy gets bad, it tends to be focused on cost savings and the potential to you to reduce real estate costs. Sustainability swings in there sometimes, unfortunately, not as much in the U.S., but certainly in Europe, too, to reduce gender mixing in some Islamic Islamic countries, in some Asian countries to be able to keep their talent local and not have to lose them to the big towns and cities and they can take care of their elders.

00;04;16;00 - 00;04;22;16

Kate Lister 

There is a whole host of reasons, but primarily it's been cost savings and talent and talent.

00;04;23;02 - 00;04;44;15

Jeff Frick 

And now we've had, you know, basically the promise of of of an tethering, you know, is finally kind of here with cloud and cloud based applications and superfast. So I think that was a, you know, a really big change. And then too, so much work now is digitized so that you can, you know, kind of log in wherever you are and get back where you were and get those tools.

00;04;44;15 - 00;05;02;12

Jeff Frick 

You know, you really think about the office used to be the place where your file cabinet was. I mean, that was where the work was and that was where that printer was. And that was the only computer that you had access and an Internet capability. It's really interesting to think that we haven't moved but moved away from that mentally.

00;05;02;12 - 00;05;07;07

Jeff Frick 

A lot of people, when, you know, those tools, have all basically been rolled up into our telephone.

00;05;08;01 - 00;05;28;09

Kate Lister 

Yeah, but let's not forget that they were doing this 20 and 30 years ago. Call centers were one of the first to move in this direction. Were probably what using pagers back then. And in the federal government, it's actually been a mandate since the year 2000 that every federal worker is supposed to work from home to make to the maximum extent possible.

00;05;28;18 - 00;05;35;06

Kate Lister 

And in their case, it's for continuity of operations in case, say, a pandemic hit and people weren't able to go to work.

00;05;35;17 - 00;05;50;18

Jeff Frick 

Wow. I didn't know that regulation. Let's address some of the just simple kind of one on one challenges I had as guest on the great show with Richard. He is he's and he he just went through the basics so I'm going to give you the basics. But you got the benefit of a lot more data than I have.

00;05;50;29 - 00;06;11;26

Jeff Frick 

So first off, let's talk about culture. And people think you can't have a culture if people aren't hanging out in the office. And I think one of your great lines and it's something I watch getting ready for this, right? I think you're nine floors, nine miles are nine time zones away right? People have not been sitting next to each other for a long, long time.

00;06;11;26 - 00;06;18;26

Jeff Frick 

So what some of the data say about culture when some proportion of the workers are remote or distributed?

00;06;19;16 - 00;06;48;10

Kate Lister 

Yeah, that's something that we hear a lot from the C-suite right now, that they're worried that they're going to lose a sense of culture. So often companies are making decisions on based on gut, based on feeling, and the research points to the exact opposite culture is one of those. Gartner did a study that showed that culture was in the decline long before the beginning of the pandemic, and that in some ways we substituted the the physical workplace as a proxy for culture.

00;06;49;12 - 00;07;18;26

Kate Lister 

You know, those pictures on the wall of all the grand things that we're doing, we're supposed to infuse us with culture. When culture is really about people and it's about how we interact and it's about trust. In fact, the research shows that employees largely feel that culture has improved since the beginning of the pandemic. They got to know the CEO sitting in her suite, her her armchair, you know, and got to feel closer to them.

00;07;19;03 - 00;07;42;14

Kate Lister 

People that felt they didn't have a say in the office because they were introverts, because they were neurodiverse, because they were shy, you know, whatever reasons, they couldn't break into the conversation when we were on calls. Now they have all kinds of opportunity days we can do, you know, we can include them through polls, we can include them through chat by putting their hand up.

00;07;43;07 - 00;07;55;24

Kate Lister 

They feel like they they've had sort of more egalitarian with all of those same sized squares right on the screen. I mean, that's what culture is about, is do I feel like I belong? Do I feel like I'm being listened to?

00;07;56;09 - 00;08;26;15

Jeff Frick 

Yeah. And I think it's such a big piece of this is, you know, freeing up time from the mundane, from monotonous, from the garbage. You know, by automation, through digitization, through asynchronous and other ways, so that you free up time and even more importantly, energy and focus for one on one meetings and, you know, increasing the frequency of human connection, even if we're not necessarily in the physical proximity and really focusing on the communication aspects of culture rather than the physical location or the beautiful painting up on the wall.

00;08;26;28 - 00;08;40;17

Kate Lister 

Yeah, I mean, minorities, for example, are more likely to work from home, are more likely to want to work from home, as well as women because they feel like they're avoiding the microaggressions. Those microaggressions are part of the culture, right?

00;08;41;16 - 00;09;03;22

Jeff Frick 

Another big when people like to talk about productivity, right. Hot topic. And you know, a lot of people still managing tasks. Some people are managing objectives. Some people are basically giving a charter permission to run and asking, how can I support you in your in your journey? A lot of different takes on productivity, what to measure, what not to measure.

00;09;03;22 - 00;09;12;15

Jeff Frick 

How are you seeing again, what does the data show in all this? Thousands of research reports you guys have in your back pocket.

00;09;12;15 - 00;09;42;08

Kate Lister 

I couldn't show you one study of the hundreds that I've read that shows people say that productivity has declined and that's includes managers and employees themselves, where a majority say that it's declined. The majority do say that it has increased, and that's true of both managers and employees. But again, it's that CEO sitting there saying, I feel I feel like productivity has declined.

00;09;42;08 - 00;10;04;10

Kate Lister 

Well, that's always my first question to a client. Well, how do you know? Have you measured it? Did you measure it before? Are you measuring it for the people that are, you know, sitting in the office? The highest time shopping is around noon on a weekday before the pandemic. So how did that work out? You know, we've known since the fifties or maybe even earlier Maslow.

00;10;04;19 - 00;10;29;27

Kate Lister 

Do people want to be given the opportunity to do their best, give them the tools to they need to do their best and then given the autonomy to do it? And that's what people got during the pandemic and that's why they're they're balking so bad about giving it up. It's about trust. And it's been about trust since Jack Nicklaus invented the term teleworking in 1973, 1973.

00;10;31;03 - 00;10;40;18

Kate Lister 

It's that managers simply don't trust their employees to be untethered, and they somehow substitute the back of seeing the back of their head as some measure of productivity.

00;10;41;13 - 00;11;05;14

Jeff Frick 

Why didn't you think two years past the beginning of this thing of the COVID era, you know, business has been functioning for two and a half years and as is often expressed, and that wasn't a planned you know, that wasn't a planned rollout. That wasn't necessarily something that we, you know, had resourced for and trained for, and yet that a lot of the companies kept clicking along.

00;11;05;14 - 00;11;23;16

Jeff Frick 

So why do you think the productivity narrative continues to hang around? Is it just it's just the last vestiges of of gray haired people like her, you know, holding out the other great line I like to hear is, you know, the only people that want the work to return back to the physical whiteboard are the people that used to hold the pen.

00;11;24;16 - 00;11;25;07

Jeff Frick 


00;11;25;15 - 00;11;48;20

Kate Lister 

So now the typing tool with the guy on the balcony, you know, looking at all his minions, being being busy, you know, we're past that. We're knowledge workers now and you can't manage knowledge workers in the same way that you can typist. But you bring up a good point. We didn't do the things that we should have done to make this transition.

00;11;48;20 - 00;12;14;03

Kate Lister 

If I was working with a company prior to the pandemic, we would have spent six months to a year rolling it out in some kind of organized fashion with training, with change management, with a cross-functional team of h.r. I.T. real estate and sort of done it right. We didn't do that. And we've had three years to to do it since, but we kind of at least for the first two years, we were in triage mode.

00;12;14;22 - 00;12;37;26

Kate Lister 

We're going to go back. We're going to go back. We're going to go back. It's only it's always three months away, right? So we never put those foundations in place to actually, you know, change the practices and processes in a way that makes us most effective. You know, there's still a lot to learn. And the companies that I'm working with now have realized that, you know, we have to train managers to to manage by results.

00;12;38;04 - 00;12;46;16

Kate Lister 

Most managers, I think that's true. Most managers are just promoted out of a job that they were good at and they may not be good at management.

00;12;46;16 - 00;12;46;26

Jeff Frick 


00;12;48;05 - 00;13;21;17

Kate Lister 

And they need training for how to use the tools, for how to in particular, how to be equitable in a distributed environment. We need to be very careful not to create a second class of employees, those that are remote, who don't get considered for promotions, who who don't get the best assignments, who 70% of managers say they would prefer people in the office for promotions and compensation considerations and those kinds of things.

00;13;21;27 - 00;13;37;27

Kate Lister 

You know, that's that's very real. And we have an opportunity to take the good things that we learned during the pandemic, those, you know, how to engage people, how to bring the voices into the room that work in the room. We really we really need to focus on that.

00;13;38;07 - 00;14;05;15

Jeff Frick 

Right. Right. Another another hot topic that comes up all the time is innovation. And how do you drive innovation if you're if you're separated? And to me, the innovation secret is it ties back to psychological safety really directly. And I don't think a lot of people tie that together because I think the behavior in the middle is risk taking, and it's the response to risk taking, which is going to drive more risk taking.

00;14;05;15 - 00;14;20;23

Jeff Frick 

And I think innovation is a simple math game in a lot of ways. If more people are taking more risk with more data and not the risks that are going to bring the company down, but trying things with the confidence that a lot of those things aren't going to go right, then guess what? You're going to get innovation.

00;14;20;23 - 00;14;29;21

Jeff Frick 

You're going to get more people applying their processes, their brainpower to more data, to experiment, to hopefully drive that innovation.

00;14;30;13 - 00;14;58;00

Kate Lister 

Yeah, I mean, you nailed it. It's it's it's about trust. The the other all of the research points to the fact that innovation is a two part process. It involves creativity and the end innovation, bringing that taking that creative idea and turning it into a commercial opportunity. And creativity happens best when we're alone, right? When we're in the shower or in the car taking a walk.

00;14;58;00 - 00;15;30;27

Kate Lister 

The you know, that's where creativity happens. And ideas are not best vetted in groups, but they're often vetted in groups. There was a couple of recent research reports. One was from Harvard that showed that people feel like they come up with more creative ideas when they're in groups and they do, they come up with more creative ideas. But when they come up with the ideas as individuals, they come up with more commercially potential, potentially successful ideas.

00;15;30;27 - 00;15;57;07

Kate Lister 

So it's again, this this feeling, it feels good. It feels better when we're innovating in a group, but we're actually more effective when we're not. The one thing that did come out of the research in the pandemic is that our are weak ties got weaker and our strong ties got stronger. And we need both for innovation. So the strong ties are the people I work with every day, the people in my unit, you know, people on my team.

00;15;57;18 - 00;16;26;20

Kate Lister 

But the weak ties are those people that are in a different function, in a different location with a different that have a different perspective. That's what really triggers the innovation process is having those different minds together. And so we need to be it doesn't mean we have to throw it out, right? Like remote works no good. We need to be more intentional about how we cultivate those weak ties and in some ways we can do it better.

00;16;27;26 - 00;17;05;24

Jeff Frick 

I was going to say it's the opportunity for wheat tie creation and engagement is stronger than it's it's ever been. Right? We have so many of these digital tools that we could reach out and touch each other. I mean, we touch each other through an instant message. I think on LinkedIn, you know, the tools are available. I guess it goes back to my my favorite Darren Murph word, right, is intentionality and actually thinking about these things and not expecting them just to just to happen because you show up in the room and it's it's very odd that it's still so mysterious that this intentionality piece is so critical.

00;17;07;14 - 00;17;10;27

Kate Lister 

It yes, it is. It's kind of weird.

00;17;11;03 - 00;17;12;01

Jeff Frick 

Yeah, kind of weird.

00;17;12;20 - 00;17;18;26

Kate Lister 

I have to temper myself sometimes when I'm starting with a new client. It's like, really? You really think that's right?

00;17;18;28 - 00;17;44;12

Jeff Frick 

Right. And then let's let's just double down on the DNI, because there's so many elements to that that have been empowered. You've talked about microaggressions. We've talked about a lot of times for flexibility. It's flexibility in time, not necessarily in days, a lot of time that has to go back to caregiving, whether that's caregiving for the kids or caregiving for the parents or caregiving for somebody in between that needs some help.

00;17;44;12 - 00;18;07;02

Jeff Frick 

And so the that flexibility as well as kind of the microaggression thing has really been a huge impact on underrepresented groups and their ability to really feel like they can contribute and to contribute and not necessarily face some of the the negative negative things that were a downdraft on their productivity.

00;18;07;15 - 00;18;43;21

Kate Lister 

Yeah, exactly. And I worry that I guess one of my biggest worries is that if we allow that divide to occur so remote and non remote and we know that minorities are more interested in working remotely and women are more interested in working remotely, then you know, we're just going to increase that gap if, if in fact managers are treating those people differently, not giving them the opportunities for promotions and for compensation increases and for the best projects.

00;18;44;21 - 00;19;05;00

Kate Lister 

So it just again, goes to intentionality. It's funny, there's some tools coming along, right? You can have a haptic watch that tells you the we haven't heard in a minority of voice voices in the room. We haven't heard any women's voices in the room. Did you know that you've done 40% of the speaking during this meeting, Right. To sort of coach people.

00;19;05;00 - 00;19;25;10

Kate Lister 

So maybe maybe that's going to be the answer. But the fact that, you know, we know there's strong evidence to suggest that a company that the more diverse it is, the more successful it will be. And now we have this global opportunity to hire people, the best and the brightest from wherever they are, and bring those insights in.

00;19;25;10 - 00;19;28;11

Kate Lister 

You know, we talk about innovation. That's what it's all about.

00;19;28;13 - 00;19;56;12

Jeff Frick 

Right. Can you speak a little bit on some of the specifics about MIT manager training? What are some of the tools and techniques and some of the easy wins? Because, you know, what's what's kind of tricky is A, the world's moving very, very quickly. But also their managers didn't necessarily grow up in this world, so they can't really look upstream to try to get advice and tips and tricks because they weren't working on Slack and they weren't they didn't have mobile phones and they didn't have remote teams.

00;19;56;12 - 00;20;03;17

Jeff Frick 

So what are some of the things? You know, I'm a willing and able and happy to do this manager, but I just need some help.

00;20;03;17 - 00;20;36;04

Kate Lister 

Yeah, middle managers are really caught in the middle of all of this because you've got a senior leadership that's largely resisting and you've got your people who largely, you know, want to increase this flexibility and you've got it. You've got to serve that mandate. So they're really stuck in the middle. And you know, the the biggest skill they need is to learn to manage by results and, you know, if we're not managing by results, then we're just babysitting.

00;20;36;16 - 00;21;06;25

Kate Lister 

You know, we're just watching people work, which unfortunately during the pandemic became even more prevalent. You have these surveillance systems that, you know, watch my face and count my my fingers, strokes and all of that. Just absolutely crazy. So how do how do how to set goals, how to give people the tools and the space that they need to meet those goals, and then how to step back and be a coach versus a here's what you need to do.

00;21;06;25 - 00;21;44;04

Kate Lister 

Manager. I mean, that's that's the biggest one. There was a lot about communications and using asynchronous communications, which is also a lot more inclusive, right? Right. I'm an introvert, so I keep coming back to that. We, we think more slowly. And so we're not the ones that are going to blurt out ideas in a conference room, but give me an asynchronous document that comes out of that meeting and allows me to to give it some thought and then add to the document that, you know, again, it brings in a whole new voice in the room right?

00;21;44;04 - 00;21;50;28

Kate Lister 

Those are tools that are not typically known by the middle manager. They're not they're not ingrained. Right.

00;21;51;05 - 00;22;15;03

Jeff Frick 

I'm curious, when you get a willing student who wants to do better, do they know what the real objectives are that they should be managing to? And they just have they not been managing to them? Or do you just kick into a big giant hornet's nest where, you know, it's kind of maybe, maybe goals and and objectives aren't that great?

00;22;15;03 - 00;22;30;29

Jeff Frick 

Leigh defined for me and my team because I haven't had them passed down from on high. I can imagine it's very different if I kind of know it and I just need to refine my talent versus you're you're kind of pulling back the onion on some nastiness that we don't necessarily want to go to.

00;22;31;18 - 00;22;56;14

Kate Lister 

Yeah, Martha Johnson was the head of the U.S. GSA. Oh, gosh, It's got to be ten years ago now when they redid their downtown offices, a historic building into a one that recognized the ability to work remotely. And so they took a building for 2500 people and eventually accommodated 4000 people. And she just has a line that I love.

00;22;57;04 - 00;23;00;06

Kate Lister 

Remote work doesn't create management problems. It reveals them.

00;23;00;11 - 00;23;00;20

Jeff Frick 


00;23;00;24 - 00;23;24;09

Kate Lister 

Right. The pandemic didn't create these met that management problems it revealed them. Right right. And so we've done a lousy job of of cascading goals and sort of being on the same page from the leadership on down so that one person that that at the end of the chain they know with how they contribute to the organization. And that's what culture is all about.

00;23;24;09 - 00;23;48;00

Kate Lister 

Right Right. Believe in the values and that just it has to come down. It has to cascade. Everybody has to understand that, you know, they're part of the bigger picture. The there's a story about Kennedy walking into an office, John Kennedy, and saying to the custodian, So tell me about what you do here. And he says, I'm helping put a man on the moon.

00;23;48;17 - 00;23;51;07

Kate Lister 

Right. You know, that's all about.

00;23;51;07 - 00;24;10;09

Jeff Frick 

I love that story. I've heard you say that before because it really ties it back together to your point as all three of the things it has, what is the great mission? Right. I'm not here to be a janitor. Just be a janitor. I could be a janitor anywhere. Right. So what's the mission was? And then what's your contribution to that mission?

00;24;10;09 - 00;24;33;21

Jeff Frick 

And do you feel a connection between those To me? I mean, the communication aspects of this whole thing to me are, you know, way out front way. Number one. But let's let's stick in the weeds for a little bit and talk about everyone's favorite topic, which is meetings. And you've even said, I think it's great observation, right? We need quiet time.

00;24;33;21 - 00;24;51;28

Jeff Frick 

You need time for your brain to think. And whether that idea comes to you in the shower or it comes in to you after the shower, you know, it's it's this combination of thoughtfulness. It's this combination of of research and getting input from other people. And then just led to bounce around a little bit and see what shakes out.

00;24;51;28 - 00;25;12;03

Jeff Frick 

And yet now we've got this other thing that we've inherited, this meeting culture, which is tied to synchronous and it's tied to inefficiency. And it's to your point, you know, who's doing most of the talking and who's doing most of the listening and not to mention what's the net cost of the time of all the people engaged in that meeting for that hour?

00;25;12;19 - 00;25;36;28

Jeff Frick 

And do they all really need to be there? Are people finally getting over the the meeting culture of the last several years, which generally has not been very good. I forget who it was that just went in and wipe the slate clean of hundreds of thousands of hours worth of meetings a couple of months ago and, you know, start from scratch with Slack or it made them in Spotify or somebody.

00;25;36;28 - 00;25;37;18

Kate Lister 

Spotify, that's it.

00;25;37;20 - 00;25;43;06

Jeff Frick 

But it's a really toxic meeting culture. And when they're back to back to back all day, how's anyone supposed to get anything done?

00;25;44;08 - 00;26;14;22

Kate Lister 

No. I mean, you know, it's it's just so stressful and everybody hates them. It's so often a read out at one person in the room that speaking and telling us everything. So why didn't you just put it in a memo or why didn't you, you know, why didn't we record it so I could watch it later? And in fact, now that Chat GPT and these other technologies are coming along.

00;26;14;23 - 00;26;29;22

Kate Lister 

I just read the highlights. Just give me the Cliff notes like, you know, or just give me this part because I've been sitting through the whole meeting until you say that word, because I know that's the one that I'm supposed to be paying attention to. So that's, you know, why, why waste all that other time? I mean, they're just totally broken.

00;26;29;22 - 00;26;52;11

Kate Lister 

We just have to scrap them and start over. And in the in the in the hybrid mode, there's just so many things that we have to do differently. I was making a presentation to the final presentation to a client which had 500 client, and we'd spent months and months and months doing all of those things to help them understand how to do hybrid better.

00;26;52;29 - 00;27;09;29

Kate Lister 

So in this presentation, they were all in a room lined up on a a board table, and I was the only one that was virtual. And so we got to the end of the meeting and I said, okay, I think we should rate this meeting and I'm going to go first. I'm going to give it a three on a ten scale.

00;27;11;00 - 00;27;14;29

Jeff Frick 

They're like on your own meeting that you're leading. That's pretty that's pretty bold.

00;27;16;12 - 00;27;46;24

Kate Lister 

Because they had my, my presentation up and they didn't have two screens, so they couldn't see me. They couldn't get the gestures. I couldn't see them because they they didn't have a camera in the room. I couldn't understand them because there was an overhead mic that, you know, mumble, mumble, mumble. Right, right. And at one point they were having a discussion and then were were asking, you know, what's the what ideas do we have for this?

00;27;47;02 - 00;28;07;04

Kate Lister 

And I wanted to weigh in, but I couldn't break into the conversation. And so I wound up texting the chairman and saying, you know, I'd like to contribute to this conversation just just as some oh, at one point they got up and they all had donuts. And you know, here I am sitting with no donuts. And they turned off the sound and the video.

00;28;07;20 - 00;28;33;27

Kate Lister 

So I use that as an example. You know, we've just one of them said, well, didn't we just hire somebody to help us think about all these things? And yes, but, you know, we it's not ingrained. We need to it needs to be taught. It needs to be intentional. And just tiny little things can make a difference. Having a buddy in the room, for example, if I'm remote, then there's somebody in the room that can speak up for me, right?

00;28;33;29 - 00;28;55;14

Kate Lister 

Get it used to using chat because some people are better. They're getting used to using the flags, putting your hand up, being strict about who gets to speak. You know, sometimes people speak over that hand. Is that what we're going to do or is that not what we're going to do? And, you know, just just some little things like that, too, to make it more equal.

00;28;55;16 - 00;29;25;03

Jeff Frick 

Right. So Steve Todd from NASDAQ talks a lot about activity based things and organizing around activity based. And LinkedIn just opened a new headquarters. It's been a while now. What Great Wall Street Journal piece where they they have 75 different types of seating configurations in the same building. And so it's I know it's not your your top of your list, but there are great things that can happen in a physical space when we're together.

00;29;25;03 - 00;29;46;07

Jeff Frick 

And again, it goes back to this intentionality. And I think the great summary statement to me is, you know, that onsite is the new offsite, meaning when you organize an offsite, you have objectives, you know, you have icebreakers, you have community events, you have hard work, you know, you, you make the time together worth the expense of going to some expensive hotel or whatever.

00;29;46;24 - 00;30;09;28

Jeff Frick 

We're now really thinking about the office environment for those types of activities that are well done together, which is heavy collab or socialization focused time. You know, there might be a library in the back, so, you know, kind of rethinking the times that we are together beyond just simply a row of open cubicles. Which did anyone ever really like those in the first place?

00;30;10;23 - 00;30;36;10

Kate Lister 

Yeah, yeah. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fully remote advocate. I mean, it's hybrid is is what shows were works best across the board. You know it's it's sort of the best of one size fits none right or solution to that. And so what companies are doing now is is looking at their footprints and saying, okay, what do we need to do different?

00;30;36;10 - 00;30;54;07

Kate Lister 

How do we earn the commute? That's not my line, but I love it because we need to do that now and again. Didn't create problems revealed them. It revealed that the office was not a great place to be. You know, after the last recession, we, you know, crammed all the desks together and took down the walls and said, oh, let's collaborate.

00;30;54;08 - 00;30;58;23

Kate Lister 

What happened? Nobody collaborated because they didn't want to interrupt everybody else. And because the.

00;30;59;08 - 00;31;02;08

Jeff Frick 


00;31;02;08 - 00;31;26;20

Kate Lister 

And so they're learning from that. I'm a little afraid that they're going to go too much the other direction. You know, we had like a 7030 split on individual space and together space prior to the pandemic. And, you know, there are people talking about that that's going to flip. The number one thing people want, say they would bring them to the office was privacy, a place where they could have privacy.

00;31;27;12 - 00;31;48;01

Kate Lister 

So, you know, we can't forget that. That's still a very important part of it. And you mentioned it focus. I mean, the majority of the work that we do is individual work. It's focused work. It's something like 60%. You know, I'm talking in big numbers, but it's different for every company. And that's why you can't be like Google and you can't be like Spotify.

00;31;48;01 - 00;32;16;03

Kate Lister 

You've got to learn what your own mix is all about and go to that and not just copy everybody else. But, you know, I think activity based work has been talked about being done in Europe for decades. They're much further ahead than we are. We were already headed there before the pandemic, and this is just accelerated it. I think it's good you you need a place that you need choice because we don't do the same thing all day long.

00;32;16;09 - 00;32;35;19

Jeff Frick 

Right. Well, and even in the traditional offices, there was never enough meeting space. Right? Never enough meeting space. You could never get a conference room. We needed a conference room either to take it, to take a private call or to get together with two or three people. So I think it will index pretty heavily towards these different types of spaces for the individual space.

00;32;35;19 - 00;33;04;07

Jeff Frick 

And then you also have these younger kids, right, who grew up with Ubers and, you know, kind of shared resources is not that is not that strange to them. Yeah. And also they never had photographs up on the wall or a calendar up on a wall or a calculator or out on your desk or a file cabinet. So, you know, a lot of these things that we kind of took for granted for being in our cube, I, I think it'll be interesting and there's so many more opportunities to be creative and rethink space.

00;33;04;07 - 00;33;15;06

Jeff Frick 

So to your point, not only make it worth the commute, but but do the activities that are more productive in the office, including, you know, isolation type, if you want to just do some some crazy head some work.

00;33;15;21 - 00;33;41;11

Kate Lister 

Yeah the it it's happening I'm seeing it happen. I think last year was actually a very slow year for a lot of people in the workplace strategy business like me because that companies didn't know what people were going to do, you know, whether they were going to come back, how often they were going to come back. And we need time to sort of figure that out before we start shoving the walls around The.

00;33;41;18 - 00;34;01;04

Kate Lister 

The bottom line, though, has to be agility. What however we shove those walls around, there will be a difference in the future. Things will change, Right. And we just have to be able to see that some people are putting their balls on on rollers and their desks and you know, the piece pieces, parts like Lego system, and you can just pull it apart and put it back together a different way.

00;34;01;09 - 00;34;10;20

Kate Lister 

Right. You know, that's part of this whole agility that we need to to become not just familiar with. We need to it needs to be ingrained in.

00;34;10;20 - 00;34;34;12

Jeff Frick 

So let's jump up a couple levels and talk about the macro demographic trend. You know, recently China's population think went down, right, which I would have never imagined in my lifetime. A couple of years ago, India, I think, passed it. Japan's already kind of facing a crisis in terms of just not enough young people, just in terms of not having babies and people getting older.

00;34;34;12 - 00;35;00;12

Jeff Frick 

I mean, these are huge demographic trends that are big and really drive everything we've gone through, you know, recently, a bubble or excuse me, a blip. People have been getting laid off and but but I think this talent shortage is systemic and it's going to take automation and it's going to take these things to basically be productive with the people that you can guess.

00;35;00;12 - 00;35;26;28

Jeff Frick 

When do you think about talent? Right. It's always the big three. How do you attract them? How do you engage them when they're there and then how do you retain them? So this this, this mythical measure of employee engagement, how are you helping people think about that, you know, taking care of the people that they have in the building, making sure that they're engaged so that that drives that retention because it's maybe in laying off a couple of people yesterday.

00;35;26;28 - 00;35;28;19

Jeff Frick 

But they're going to be hard to get back tomorrow.

00;35;29;07 - 00;36;07;16

Kate Lister 

Yeah. And a lot of those people were there sort of an over hiring and we're seeing sort of a normalizing there. But the the talent shortages, not just labor shortages, the talent shortages are extreme. And the faster the the technology changes, the more the, you know, we're going to have trouble keeping up. I'm a big fan of the work around internal and external talent markets like Envision a day not too far from now when I'm sitting here working on a PowerPoint presentation and my keyboard jiggles and it says, you know, you're not very good at this.

00;36;07;16 - 00;36;29;06

Kate Lister 

And by the way, it's also, you know, a waste of your time. And you also know that we have 20 vetted contractors who could be doing it for you right now. And also, by the way, do you know that Jeff Fricke has a wealth of research on this? He just did a symposium on it. You know, we don't we don't know what that talent mix is within the organization, let alone what without.

00;36;29;21 - 00;36;52;11

Kate Lister 

And during the pandemic and actually since the last the last big recession in 28, 2009 recession, there's been this move to the gig market that typically bounces back after a recession. But it didn't in the last recession. And what people found is that they like the autonomy, that they were doing it because they they liked being independent and not because they couldn't find a job.

00;36;53;08 - 00;37;13;07

Kate Lister 

And so it's mature yet. But there are some companies that have adopted this whole strategy is that you don't have a job, you work on various projects and you get them right internally, right? You beat them like you were a contractor. Can you imagine if you got to spend 80% or 90% of your day doing the stuff that you're good at?

00;37;14;00 - 00;37;34;23

Jeff Frick 

Right. Right. Well, there at SAP, at SuccessFactors, they have the similar type of thing, this internal market for jobs. And they have this concept of dynamic teams that make talks about. Right. It's like the A-Team. You bring together a group of people to to solve a problem. Maybe they stay on that problem. Maybe they train the rest of the people, maybe they go on to something else.

00;37;34;23 - 00;37;58;12

Jeff Frick 

But if you just think of making it exciting for people by giving them new challenges and new learning curves in these situations, I mean, it's not that hard to think that that's going to help people be more engaged just because they're more intellectually stimulated. And we like problem solving, right? We like challenges. We we don't think we like it, but we actually like the steep part of the learning curve.

00;37;58;29 - 00;38;14;13

Jeff Frick 

It's uncomfortable, but that's when you grow. So that's a really interesting concept that you brought that up this, you know, kind of an internal marketplace to make sure. And as you said, even just sharing the information that's in the organization is so, so hard.

00;38;14;13 - 00;38;47;16

Kate Lister 

Yeah, it's you know, that's that's not going to happen overnight either or. Yeah. But I honestly think that's where it's going. The fundamental part of that is that people get to do what their best at, right? And they get to cultivate those skills and that we need to bring everybody skill level up. We're seeing unfortunately, we're seeing one of the first things that's going is training as companies are starting to try to reduce costs right now.

00;38;47;28 - 00;38;54;24

Kate Lister 

A bad move. Yeah, that's really that's going to be so fundamental to success in the future.

00;38;54;26 - 00;39;16;13

Jeff Frick 

Right. So let's let's shift gears and talk a little bit about the future. And you brought up TPP, and before we got on essentially just their tech vision and I think generative, they I was one of the four big tech tech trends and I've been digging into it recently. It's pretty innovative. And it's funny, the use case that you just described potentially could be solved with an internally focused chat.

00;39;16;13 - 00;39;42;25

Jeff Frick 

GPT Hope somebody please help me with this PowerPoint. I need some help and you know, potentially that thing is going to answer the questions that you do. But as you think about not specifically, but just kind of reskilling and relearning and the pace of change in the way work is going to change at this really, really accelerating pace from a workplace perspective, how are you helping leaders think about these curves?

00;39;42;25 - 00;39;46;28

Jeff Frick 

Because we're just not good. We're just not good at these super steep curves.

00;39;47;14 - 00;40;11;13

Kate Lister 

And who would have imagined November the Jenji Beatty was starting to talk about and this is March and it's like Vegas thing. I mean, honestly, I think we're looking at the the the invention of the vehicle or electricity. I just I don't think we have any idea where this is going. You mentioned Accenture. You know, they on board over 100,000 employees a year in a metaverse.

00;40;11;13 - 00;40;12;04

Jeff Frick 

Right? Right.

00;40;12;24 - 00;40;35;13

Kate Lister 

You know, they don't see them. Right. And I find the gray hairs in the room just don't like this this metaverse thing. No way. And myself, I hate games. I don't do video games. I don't play in that world. But I can certainly see how it would it would make a difference. And so, you know, your question about how do you prepare people for that?

00;40;35;13 - 00;40;53;23

Kate Lister 

You can't you can't prepare them. That's the thing. I mean, the only thing you can prepare them to be is open to change, is not open to change, but eager for change and continuous learning. I mean, that's that's just it's got to be ingrained in people's jobs. That part of your job is to learn.

00;40;54;24 - 00;41;15;07

Jeff Frick 

Right. Well, what's the wrap on that list? Let's kind of bring it back to the culture and bring it back to leadership and bring it back to communications, because ultimately, it's it's the people at the top that have to set the priority that we're going to be a learning organization. The marketplace that we dominate today or may not dominate today may not exist tomorrow.

00;41;15;23 - 00;41;36;05

Jeff Frick 

And so we you know, we have to have the ability and the agility and the flexibility or we're going to die. I forgot who who said that? You know, it's not the strongest that survives. It's the most flexible that survives. And if we've seen anything over the last couple of years is that any pretense of stability is probably not very well founded.

00;41;36;05 - 00;41;55;16

Jeff Frick 

I mean, things continue to change at a rapid pace. And, you know, you take the Silicon Valley bank thing, you know, that happened in the course of 48 hours. So kind of the the whip genius of the of the the the curves, if you will, both the frequency as well as the the height is just increasing over time.

00;41;55;18 - 00;42;07;18

Jeff Frick 

How do you help leaders say know we're talking about workplace, talking about remote work, but you need a much bigger, broader perspective on keeping your people and thriving in this crazy dynamic world.

00;42;08;04 - 00;42;41;19

Kate Lister 

Yeah, I know it's really hard for the senior leaders who have always done it this way, you know, how many times do you hear that from a client? But that's the way we do it. And to get them to open their eyes to some of these new concepts is very difficult. But that's where it has to start. You know, if I get a client and they say, no, you can't can't talk to the CEO or you can't talk to the leader, I can't work with them because that's where it's got It has to cascade down from them and they've got to be committed to it and they've got to be they've got to be willing

00;42;41;19 - 00;42;55;15

Kate Lister 

to fund it. You know, they've really got to follow up at that commitment. I like your idea, your concept of the Web. I'm thinking of, you know, breaking the sound barrier with that that whipping ness of the. Yeah, the.

00;42;56;11 - 00;43;09;04

Jeff Frick 

Well, again, as we start it, I mean, I think it's like I said, you and Adrian, I mean, it was you were pushing this proverbial rock uphill. I think you described it as in the rock started chasing you and then suddenly were at the bottom of the hill and people think we're going to go back up to this back where we were.

00;43;09;04 - 00;43;25;03

Jeff Frick 

And it's it's like, don't we never go back to where we were? And it's it's interesting, even in technology, you know, in the business of changing the world, everyone still thinks that we're in the place that it's going to end, except for the piece that I'm working on, right? Like, we think this is the end of the game.

00;43;25;03 - 00;43;43;26

Jeff Frick 

Like, no, it's not the end of the game. And the other thing that that fascinates me is scale. What is fast? What is not fast? I mean, I just posted today that when I started work, you know, we didn't have mobile phones and we didn't have fax machines and we didn't have a lot of things. And that was only about 40 years ago.

00;43;44;00 - 00;44;06;21

Jeff Frick 

Right. So you say 1982, pick a date. That is that is a short period of time or a long period of time. To me, it seems like yesterday. And so to think what's going to happen over the next several years and if you listen to some of the interviews on this, her chat, she pretty it's it's the delta in the computing power of the last like four years that has really moved the needle.

00;44;06;21 - 00;44;13;16

Jeff Frick 

It's not the algorithms. It's the it's the capacity to deal with the bigger end. That's really.

00;44;13;16 - 00;44;14;22

Kate Lister 

And that's about to explode.

00;44;14;22 - 00;44;47;24

Jeff Frick 

Too. And that just explodes exponentially, you know, every single day. Today's the slowest day, a technology advancement for the rest of our life. Right. So it's it's really to me, it's it's almost interesting how it flipped it then back to the advances in technology flip it now back to being human and leading as a human and setting the mission and communicating and getting people on board and making them excited about where you're trying to go versus you know, are we on Slack or on teams or we're on WebEx or, you know, it's really.

00;44;48;01 - 00;45;09;28

Kate Lister 

I hope someday that doesn't matter. I mean, there is sort of not one company, but it's just like it's there, right? So think holograms are going to become a a part of our everyday life in a shorter period than we think. Yeah, but the rapid change thing, you know, has to start at a young age. And so we've got to get it into the school system.

00;45;10;22 - 00;45;38;05

Kate Lister 

We've we've got to sort of stop thinking about degrees and thinking about bringing up people for, you know, not a specific thing, but to be able to to change, to be able to meld in in whatever way is needed. You know, some of the big companies now and small companies aren't looking at degrees anymore right. They want to know what your skills are, what have you done?

00;45;38;25 - 00;45;51;13

Kate Lister 

Right. Makes a whole lot of sense. I think that's a step in the right direction of where you are. Becomes in not part of the conversation now that we can work anywhere.

00;45;51;18 - 00;46;17;17

Jeff Frick 

Right, Right. Well, one of your great line, you use it all the time. People plant a profits because or I should say, don't flip it, run this way. But unfortunately, it turns out profits often get stuck above the people and the planet. I love how you say that is so simple. How are you helping leaders think through? And I asked I asked Patrick from Schwab, and he's like, Yeah, I know that double entry accounting that doesn't work on Wall Street.

00;46;17;27 - 00;46;39;22

Jeff Frick 

There's only one entry and it's at the bottom. Hopefully that's a little bit changing. But when you talk to leaders in terms of actually if you focus on the people and you focus on the planet and the sustainability goals, specially as is the corporate board priority, it will actually drive profit.

00;46;39;22 - 00;47;07;19

Kate Lister 

I show them with numbers, you know, I show them the research, I show them that you can measure productivity, you can measure the the impact of, stress and mental illness and arthritis. And, you know, whatever the the concern of an individual is on how they perform and how that then ties to how the company performs. You know, there's this big controversy at the beginning of the pandemic.

00;47;07;19 - 00;47;33;08

Kate Lister 

You know, do we give them an ergonomic chair so you could pay for 200 ergonomic chairs with one worker's comp claim? Oh, my goodness. Should we give them the door monitor? You could pay for a dual monitor with one minute of extra productivity a day. You know, it's just this no brainer stuff. We've just got to have a longer scale thinking, you know, which just isn't isn't common to us.

00;47;34;10 - 00;48;05;27

Kate Lister 

And you're right, you know, I've already seen to sustainability fall on the agenda because of the concerns about the economy. And it's like taking care of your people. Ditto seeing, seeing that fall. It's just a real changed mindset. I think ESG reporting, environmental, social and governance reporting is going to help move that needle. It already has in the E part, environmental part and the social part is also part of, you know what?

00;48;05;27 - 00;48;38;04

Kate Lister 

If you had to report your rate of turn over your days to hire your average employee performance ratio, your DTI, B programs, how many training hours you give every person a year, What if that was in your annual report? You know that's that's what sort of Blackstone was was some pushing for right is that should be and in fact it will be because that's part of the s and there were like three or four or five organizations that are vying to define what is that s and how do we measure it.

00;48;38;22 - 00;48;41;03

Kate Lister 

But we so we need to start doing that now because it's going to happen.

00;48;41;08 - 00;48;47;21

Jeff Frick 

Right? And business leaders will make more money and so many things we discuss. All right. It's like, yeah.

00;48;48;05 - 00;48;57;29

Kate Lister 

Do you fail on the G and you're going to get scorched? You know, there's no getting away with something anymore, right? The governance is, just something you have to do.

00;48;58;05 - 00;49;11;12

Jeff Frick 

Right. Right. But but that's the stick. Again, from the positive side, what we find over and over and over again, a lot of these things that are the right thing to do, you actually get better outcomes, you get better business decisions, you get more profitable, you actually get all kinds of stuff. So Kate, on that.

00;49;11;20 - 00;49;14;28

Kate Lister 

Measure, you know, we really need to measure, Right?

00;49;15;04 - 00;49;36;08

Jeff Frick 

Right. But that's why we have you in your 6000 plus some odd reports to to to share this great data with us that if it's even if you haven't perfected measuring it yourself, you know, let me help you show you some other data and also help you guys do that measuring. Yeah. Well, Kate, thank you so much. It's this time has flown by very, very quickly.

00;49;36;08 - 00;49;52;05

Jeff Frick 

I want to thank you for your time and also for all the work you did. You're out all over the place. I'm doing tons of podcasts and and really getting the word out with data, which is so great because people need the data. As you said, too many gut reactions out there instead of paying attention to the numbers.

00;49;53;00 - 00;50;00;27

Kate Lister 

Well, thank you. And you're doing a great job of bringing that leadership to to a, you know, those thoughts to a bigger audience. So keep up the good work.

00;50;00;27 - 00;50;14;02

Jeff Frick 

Oh, thank you is my pleasure. So she's Kate. I'm Jeff. You're watching work 20 execs. Thanks for watching. Thanks for listening on the podcast. We'll see you next time. Take care. Okay. We are clear. Clear.

00;50;14;16 - 00;50;42;21

Kate Lister 

You're you're a really good interviewer.

Links and References

Kate Lister, President, Global Workplace Analytics 

Global Workplace Analytics 


Global Workplace Analytics’ Proprietary Workplace Research Database Walkthrough 







Links to select referenced research in the interview 



“Employees at all levels, and across demographics, are suffering from a connectedness crisis, which suggests this problem isn’t just related to hybrid and remote work, but to organizations’ lack of intentionality in driving connectedness historically," says Gartner's HR Practice director.  2022-05-17


Culture in a Hybrid World, Gartner, May 2022 




A new era of workplace inclusion: moving from retrofit to redesign, Sheela Subramanian, Sr Director, Future Forum by Slack. & Tina Gilbert, Managing Director, Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) - 2021-03-11




2022 Microsoft Workplace Trends Index (n=31k)

88% of employees say they are just as or more productive working remotely

Microsoft WorkLab 


2012 Meta study covering 22 other studies of telework. 

It showed significant correlations between flexible workplace and productivity, retention, commitment, performance and organization outcomes.

And that was with technology from a decade ago.

Is telework effective of organizations? A meta-analysis of empirical research on perceptions of telework and organizational outcomes, Brittany Harker Martin & Rhiannon MacDonnel Mesler, University of Lethbridge, Research Gate, June 2012

Leesman Office/Leesman Home Working q3/q4 2021, n=67k

My environment enables me to work productively

71% of office-only workers agree

91% of wfh-only agree

97% of hybrid workers agree

Leesman Office survey / Hybrid Working survey 


Qualtrics XM Institute, Survey of 4k global employees, March of 2021

55% say productivity is higher at home 

29% says productivity at home is same as in-office

16% say it’s lower at home

Qualtrics XM Institute 




SHRM Research Reveals Negative Perceptions of Remote Work, July 2021

More than two thirds of supervisors of remote workers surveyed by SHRM, or 67 percent, admit to considering remote workers more easily replaceable than onsite workers at their organization, 62 percent believe full-time remote work is detrimental to employees’ career objectives and 72 percent say they would prefer all of their subordinates to be working in the office.


Society for Human Resources Management 



Select episodes of Kate’s guest appearances on other shows 

The Future of Work with Kate Lister, Geeks Geezers Googlization, April 1, 2023 


Workplace flexibility: Hybrid is hard :(, Lenovo Late Night IT, CIO, with Baratunde Thurston, S2E1,  Feb 2023


What works Best? The Office Debate: Working from Home vs Working in the Office | Feudal Future Podcast with Joel Kotkin & Marshall Toplansky, August 2021 


Senate Hearing on Remote Working During the Pandemic, C-SPAN, July 2020


Kate Lister’s Presentation Shows us the Future of Teleworking, Livable California, June 2020



Other Links and Resources 

Inside LinkedIn’s New Hybrid Office With More Than 75 Seating Types | Open Office | WSJ, Wall Street Journal YouTube, Jul 2022 -


Designing a better tomorrow, MillerKnoll, Apr 1, 2022



Disclaimer and Discloser 

All products, product names, companies, logos, names, brands, service names, trademarks, registered trademarks, and registered trademarks (collectively, *identifiers) are the property of their respective owners. All *identifiers used are for identification purposes only. Use of these *identifiers does not imply endorsement. Other trademarks are trade names that may be used in this document to refer to either the entities claiming the marks and/or names of their products and are the property of their respective owners. 

We disclaim proprietary interest in the marks and names of others. No representation is made or warranty given as to their content. The user assumes all risks of use.

 © Copyright 2023 Menlo Creek Media, LLC, All Rights Reserved 


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.