Maribel Lopez: Contextual Intelligence, Ethics and Well-Being | Work 20XX #08

Jeff Frick
November 15, 2022
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Shared pain builds camaraderie and strengthens ties as we rally around a cause.

Workplace professionals grabbed internet megaphones and started sharing best practices almost immediately in the spring of 2020 as the digitization of work took a step-function leap forward. This open-source ethos of sharing continues today because as much as we have over two years of experience, the future is still undefined. A learning mindset and all that implies, has never been more important.

Welcome to Work20XX, a show focused on work, and the future of work, where we bring you the professionals to provide insight, direction, and specifics actions leaders, line managers, and individual contributors can use to navigate these sometimes choppy waters.

Maribel Lopez, Founder and Principal Analyst, at Lopez Research, has been doing her part on this path of discovery.  Maribel has been working in ‘technology enablement’ her entire career, founding Lopez Research in 2008. In this far-ranging conversation, we discuss how organizations are completely rethinking the importance of and prioritization of well-being as an objective which digital workplace systems weren’t originally built to do. Now that all devices are connected and data is at our fingertips (literally), the digital work experience is about thoughtful, contextual, and intelligent applications, doing the right things, at the right time, with the right information. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should (cough, ‘surveillance’).

I was excited to get Maribel’s take on the entire spectrum of inputs impacted by the term-soon-to-be-dropped ‘future of work.’ It’s just ‘work’, the future is unknown. The digitation of work has reshaped the data conversation, shifting the focus from ‘can we get data’ to ‘we have super granular data, now what? What’s proper, what’s really valuable, and what moves us toward desired objectives?’

The ubiquity of data, especially coming from employee surveillance systems and activity trackers, makes the use of that data and its impact on culture and productivity part of the digital workplace calculus. Just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

We covered the benefits of asynchronous communications and some meeting best practices. Offices are moving from connected spaces to intelligent, smart assets, adding additional layers of context nuance to the data. Managers need assistance and training in managing their teams and working products in a hybrid world. Flexibility, in time and place, is a high-value component of DE&I initiatives.

And finally, in our technology-obsessed connected world, the skill, practice, and art of communication have never been more important. Without further delay, a conversation with Maribel Lopez.

Episode Transcript

So I'll count us down and we will go in 3, 2, 1. Hey, welcome back, everybody. Jeff Frick here, coming to you from the home studio for another episode of Work 20XX. And we're getting kind of towards the end of the first season. And I thought, you know, maybe we change it up a little bit and do a little force multiplier. So I reached out to my friend who has her own future work show and her own kind of hybrid work show. And she's got many, many episodes we're going to draw from that and really kind of do a hyper education here. So I'm excited to welcome into the magic of the internet all the way from the East Coast. She's Maribel Lopez, the founder and principal analyst of Lopez Research. 

Maribel, great to see you. Great to be here, Jeff. 

Yeah, and you've got a bunch of other stuff. So I usually do short introductions because thank goodness for the internet, people can figure it out. But you've got you've got a nonprofit that you're doing which tell us a little bit about that  ‘Data for Betterment.’ And you have not one podcast,  ‘Reimagine Hybrid Work’ which has over 40 episodes. Congratulations. I've been deep into that for the last couple of days. And then you have the ‘AI with the ML’ I love that ‘AI with Maribel Lopez’ (podcast) So you've been a busy, busy lady. So talk a little bit about what you've been doing as we've been kind of coming out of COVID, I'm sure you're getting all these requests to go back on the road to all these conferences. How are you managing this? You're kind of hybrid world of getting back into physical events again. 

I think it's really the real big difference for me with the hybrid world is trying to figure out what's important, what is engagement look like? Why would you go somewhere? What? It's not just for the PowerPoint presentations, right? Because we’ve learned  how to deliver PowerPoint no matter where you are in the world. So I'm really looking for deeper engagement opportunities when I go back on the road. And I think that's the same thing that we've been talking about in the Reimagine Hybrid Work Podcast. Why do you come back to the office? 

A lot of it's about engagement, right? Right. So there's so many places to go. I have pages and pages of notes, but let's start with the thing that's probably most topical and that's data. And we've talked have been talking about data long before we were talking about the future of work. And there's so much more data now because one is, you know work has been digitized in more and more ways on these digital platforms in the way that work gets done. A lot of it is much more digital and it's now on these systems so people can actually see and measure, you know, to the keystroke if they, I suppose, want to dig into the logs that deep. And it really creates kind of this interesting problem. On one hand, people are still doing sentiment analysis to find out whether people are happy at work and really want in the context of of kind of customer engagement and or excuse me, employee engagement and employee experience at the same time, they've got really much better data probably than they're getting from sentiment or from a survey or net promoter score. But then there's this dark side, this surveillance thing that we're seeing come out, which is, you know, the camera comes on every so often or how many hours are you in meetings? And it's this really kind of interesting paradox between we have so much more data, but kind of the responsibility and the responsible use of that data has a lot of great upside and a lot of downside. 

Well, I think the real interesting thing that's happening in 2022 is that people are talking more about the type of data they're collecting and what they're using it for. If you go back in time, nobody really thinks about it. But anyone in the company that has Credentialed Access can access your email, your corporate email. When you were in sales, they knew how many phone calls you used to make and how long you were on the phone. So they had that kind of information. But to your point, we have a lot more of it now. We've got, you know, have you entered the building or not? How long have you been in the building? How long have you been staring at the screen? You know, we've talked about all these. I love the way they try to humanize it, the people insights in it. You can take control of your people insights. Well, yes, that's true. But there there is this risk of  do we have too much information and why would I want my manager to have it or what do I want to do about it? And will I really use it? So some of what I think has been really interesting is that there have been products that have been created, but I don't know if they're really for specific use case meaning it seems like, well, hey, we can quantify everything, so therefore we have all this data. So let's see if we can turn it into a product. I don’t need people insights  I know if I'm fatigued, but having said that,  and I'm not picking on anybody's specific product when I use that, but that's just a an example of every single collaboration vendor can provide you with an enormous amount of information. 

They don't necessarily share it with managers, but it's available. So I think this fits into the category of there's so much data available from everybody. I think you probably saw that Instagram post where somebody said, you can upload your photo and we can show you the camera from the UK 

and we can show you the camera angle of where you were the picture from the security camera of you taking the picture I posted on that. It was crazy. 

So when you when you see that sort of stuff, you're like, I think we've gone a bridge too far. 

We might need to dial it back a bit. Right, right. But it's just so it's so wild, right? Because culture is so much more important than it has been. Right. And purpose and mission and really giving people, you know, kind of  one of your guests talked about, you know, belonging to the tribe within the company and getting people really passionate about the mission, which then drives engagement and then hopefully retention and productivity and innovation and all the good things that come out of it. But it was funny. Somebody else did a story on the surveillance problem. I don't know if you saw this one  where while you're reading the story, it kept sending you a note on your browser that said, Hey, you've been reading the story now for 2 minutes. Hey, you've been reading the story now for 4 minutes. And it was this really effective, kind of creepy overlay to how people can use this information in the wrong way. And I think, you know, one of the things you've talked about  all around the sense of well-being and safety, psychological safety, is If I don’t have that,  I'm not going to take risks. If I don't take risks we’re not going to innovate. And it doesn't seem like there's any better way to squish psychological safety and well-being than people think that you're, you know, your big brother and watching them all the time. 

Yeah, I think the intent of where people want to go with it is we're trying to provide tools to support wellbeing. And I think in the past we didn't really support wellbeing. So part of the whole future of work in 20 whatever is that we actually think more about the employee and we try to create a better engagement and healthier work environments. We all know that there's been a lot of time spent on screens and I think that's one of the things that we're really trying to use this data for good in that way. And as long as we can keep boundaries around the data, I think we'll be okay. But we have to be extremely thoughtful as organizations about what type of technology we bring in, how it's used, if it actually is something that works for the employee or if it's just something that it kind of came with whatever else you had, so therefore you use it. So just being very thoughtful I think is what we need to do. There's a big intersection right now of wellbeing and ethics and that's a huge tie in with A.I. right now, ethics in A.I. is a big deal for organizations and a new field, frankly. 

Yeah. Yeah. Well, and so the A.I. right, layers over the data. It adds all types of interesting up opportunities there. And let's let's dig into the ethics. And I think that's another big piece of it. And especially so there's not only the ethics. And I think one of your guests said that the Facebook algorithm turned out to be not, I don't think necessarily intentional, but one of the most dangerous algorithms ever, because in the end, the function of optimizing around time on site, which is what it's built for and this is really, also really covered well in ‘Social Dilemma.’ You know, it turns out  that the content that drives that behavior  isn't really great content and has a lot of negativity to it. So, you know, this kind of law of unintended consequences and maybe even doing bad things quicker is, begs for explainable AI. 

But then I just wonder if you've got a pretty complicated algorithm in the first place, put together by some pretty smart data scientists. And then the thing is also iteratively learning and adapting over time as the models change and the data sets change. I mean, is it even possible to ever get to the point where you could unpack, you know, the AI kicked out a yeah / nea decision on say a credit score, or something that you could actually get in find out which of the myriad of variables created the green light - red light? 

Well, the good news is there are some very bright people working on open source tools to assist with explainable AI and kind of make the box model a little more open than it was in the past. So I think that we have some chance of doing that. Is it going to be 100%? No, of course not, because the algorithms do learn. But I also think that there's some other things in the process that organizations need to do to assist with that. And one of them is to just realize that it's an organic thing and it keeps evolving. And what does that mean for you? It's not like when you go to the grocery store and you buy a bag of rice lets say the rice is the rice is the rice. You can do something to it to change it, but it's always going to be the same. 

A model is different. You know, you start with a model and it's doing one thing today. It's doing a different thing ten days from now. So there really has to be this human in the loop concept to actually look at it and say Is this behaving the way we thought it should be behaving? And if it's not, let's go figure out, like when it went off the rails, so to speak. 

Right. Right. 

The second thing I think we really need to think about is representative data. For the most part, models are not trained on the world that you would like to see, let's just say. So there's a lot of missing data there is a lot of data that may have changed. Like if you think of historical records or legal precedents, I mean, all those things change, right? So if you're running models based on historical data, perhaps that's not the best thing. If we're running models on underrepresented data, that's also a difficult thing to deal with. So we need to think more about do we have to create inserts synthetic data so that we get the models in the right place to begin with? And, you know, that gets back to a question of ethics as well. Right. You know, how do you how do you create the perfect synthetic data? 

But at least awareness, I think, is the first place you start just understanding, like could there be gaps in your data and what might that do to a model? And then checking the models to make sure that they work well and then using these open source tools to go back and be able to say things like, Oh, you did not get that mortgage or loan or what have you, because of these poor factors similar to how like your credit score works now. And they say these are the five factors that, you know, create your credit score. We're going to need a lot more of those things for a lot of different models. 

Right? Right. Yeah. Because I mean, the number of variables and the complexity of the models is only going to get only going to get crazier and crazier. So this next little chapter of stuff I want to talk about, I've got like three different notes and they all kind of intermingle and one of them is the office. And it's really intermingling with an area that you've covered for a long time, which is which is mobile, and that's not your primary focus anymore. But, you know, I always think of you and I think of mobile and it it feels like the promise of untethering is finally here. It feels like the speed of a 5G network or a WiFi6 connection is finally here where kind of the promise of untethered tethering is here. And it's interesting, I talked to Ryan Anderson from MillerKnoll when they learned about designing offices. I mean, it starts with, it was started with the cabling for the computers, right, 

for the power and the and the network drops. Now, that's not necessarily a requirement anymore. And now we've moved to this kind of ‘activity-based’ thought around office and office space. And, you know, what are the activities that, that are best done bringing people together in an office and it's not sitting in a cube doing email or phone calls all day. But I think it's really interesting how now if you layer that on with the power of wireless finally, that suddenly, you know, this whole huge world of opportunity opens up that just wasn't really there before 

I think the real interesting thing with buildings now is you're right, we're talking about the reimagining of buildings. Buildings are now connected entities. Many things in them are connected and they're connected with wired and wireless technology. But the assumption is,  is that they're intelligent moving forward. So they know if people are in the room, you don't have to say, oh, I'll go down the hall to try to figure out if that conference room is open. You can just whip up an app on your phone or your tablet or your PC, and it tells you if it's open or not. And it also connects into another system that tells you when it's supposed to be free. So there are things like that. There's also the ability to embed computing around you and have spaces be more openly collaborative as opposed to just the small room. 

With this type of screen, you know, you can have connected whiteboards, you can have digital signage to help guide people around. There's all kinds of things you can do with the building now. You have smart HVAC systems and they actually work. Yeah. So the future of buildings is actually very bright. The bigger challenge with buildings is trying to figure out how much space you need based on who may or may not be in the building or how do you deal with, I want to have a lot of people come in at once versus, oh, there will be a few people in tomorrow. And then some of the things I hear my clients struggling with are things like, Hey, you go to the building and there's no food there now because they used to have food for 800 people and now they don't know because it's 50 people. So they don't know how to buy food. 

So some of the things that we got accustomed to in buildings may have changed. So trying to navigate the occupancy seems to be the biggest issue. But when you're there, there's a lot of opportunity to have really rich, collaborative experiences, to have really intelligent technology assisting you in a way that didn't exist before. Remember, we had to figure out what cube somebody was in and you took a half an hour to find somebody in the building because all the walls looked the same and you had no routing functionality in a building. 

So it's now changed. Well, hopefully you've seen the CONAN O'Brien piece on RNB at Intel, G4 and A7, and I worked in that floor back in the day. So once he ripped on it, I figured it was okay for me to rip on it too. But the funny thing, talking to Julie Whalen from CBRE and some of their research and I was really surprised to see how much sustainability of the building and kind of the whole LEEDs movement really impacts people's sense of connection with the company. You had a guest on though, this guy, Paul Scialla from Delos, talking about the wellness of the building, not the sustainability of the building as kind of almost like a whole another layer of LEEDs as an analogy type of certification. And what's interesting, what with COVID came out that in fact, you know, HVAC wasn't necessarily always working as efficiently as it should have been. And people were getting tired in the afternoon because maybe there wasn't quite as much fresh air coming through the system. So it's really interesting how something as simple as democratization of sunlight, clean air and now even like a certification, real different sense of attention that really drives back to productivity as opposed to efficiency. 

I think the things like, well buildings, you know what, what I really think is happening is that there's just a lot more care and attention to the entirety of the experience and how physical objects interact with humans is probably the best way of putting that right. So making sure that you have the right air quality, that you have the right lighting, that you have the right connectivity to help you do things. Everything is more intelligent, but it's more contextual as well. So in the beginning we just spent all of our time focused on how do we connect things. That was the big deal with Iot and mobility, right? We got to get a network in there. A network up and running is going to speak all these protocols so we can talk to all these different things. And it was like nobody talks about like the connecting part 

they're really trying to get to the well, what can we do with a connected building? Well, we could do better collaboration and we could give you better environmental management and controls. And then the sustainability. Actually, if you look at there's an intersection of technology and physicality with that as well. I think there's a lot more care and attention given in to what types of materials are being used in the different furniture, in the different construction materials. But also in terms of how do you get people to do things like recycle more or use less paper or whatever it is? And you have back to that culture discussion you were having, we're trying to create a culture of wellness for individuals, for the environment and for the company, and to balance all three of those together. 

Right. Right. Yeah. It's super important. I mean, it really matters to people. And I want to dovetail into, you know, kind of the the macro trends which you can never escape. Right. And that's the systemic talent shortage is not going away. Right. People are waiting longer to have babies or having fewer babies and then to develop countries is you know, it's a big demographic thing that you can't fight. So even though we have this little temporary blip in the in the economy now and there's layoffs and, you know, people are looking for a job, I think the fight for talent will only get more and more competitive. And again, some of your world you've been involved to, say, a company like Cisco forever, where they've had certifications or AWG certifications. And from kind of the thinking about expanding your TAM of the people that you can hire from and starting to think outside of, you know, kind of traditional four year programs that we've been so used to and more skilling and apprenticeship. 

And then you think of certification. I mean, how do you think of is that the future? Is it, you know, less I'm going to go to school for four years and then I don't do it. Or is it, you know, I'm going to get these certifications on this new technology and this new technology or I want to learn the latest, you know, TensorFlow. So I'm going to go learn some TensorFlow and then maybe I'm going to use that  in a project at work. You see kind of more of the certifications skills thing you know, growing is importance to open up this labor TAM? 

It's actually an interesting intersection of like the ‘Data for Betterment’ work that I work on, which is really preparing people for the future of work. And when you think about that, to your point, I think that there is room for university education, but I also think one of the things that's been lacking in university education is, you know, it has a general holistic preparing you for the world. It doesn't necessarily prepare you for today's jobs. Right, unless you go into a specific technical field like engineering when you're in university. Having said that, I think that now what every organization that is really very thoughtful is doing, if you look at Cisco, if you look at Microsoft, if you look at Dell, if you look at ServiceNow, all these companies,  Google. are great examples of people that have strong certification programs that when you are done with that certification, which, by the way, isn’t going to take you four years to get when you're done with that certification in six months to a year, you can go out and get a job. 

And I think that that is extremely powerful. And the biggest challenge I think we have is that we spent a long time automating because we've had skills shortages in multiple front line worker roles. Those jobs don't come back. And if there are people that would have been qualified for those jobs, they now have to find something else to do. And this, I think, is a challenge because technology is invading every aspect of every industry. So in some sense, you have to become tech aware, right? No matter what you're doing when I'm in line to get a burger, someone is using a tablet or smartphone to ring me out, to give me the burger, to take the order, whatever it is. Right. 

So it's already pervasive across the globe. What we need to be thinking about is how will that impact our career next and how do we as technologists make technology more accessible, make it easier for people to go into these roles? So I think that part of the challenge is people are intimidated by learning technology. So even if there are certification programs, people are saying, can I really learn cloud computing? So we have to get people over that hump. But the good news is, I think if we can on the traditional education track, which has become very expensive as well, and does not necessarily need to be the route they go down. And maybe it's more like an apprenticeship in a lot of ways. 

Right, right. Right. Well, I mean, the bottom line is, is if you don't increase your TAM, if you don't start drawing from populations that you haven't drawn from in the past, you're just not going to get enough people. And it was funny. Again, another one of your guests on one of your episodes, you asked him Tim Rowley, PeopleCaddie you asked, are temporary workers and contract workers, a viable option for the enterprise. And he almost fell off his chair and just are you kidding? If companies don't include those in their mix, not only for lot of strategic reasons for flexibility and this, that and the other, but you just won't have enough people. And he also touched a nerve with me, too, because he said he got connected to that through the the Kellogg SBDC, the Enterprise, the Entrepreneurial Center, which I worked at when I was in business school and tried my hardest to talk people out of starting their businesses because I figured if I could talk him out of it, then they probably shouldn't do it. So I thought that was pretty interesting. But you have got to increase your TAM for your talent going forward or you're just not going to get the people. You know, Jeff, I would like to throw one thing in there, though, and I've had this discussion with a lot of organizations, and I think they're better about it this year than they may have been a year or so ago, but you don't necessarily just go out and hire these people. So, for example, if you look at cybersecurity, there have been so many cybersecurity jobs available for ever. So the assumption that, oh, you'll just go out and find somebody that has a skills is not necessarily valid. So what does that mean? It either means you go to this contracting round that we were talking about a minute ago, or you start to grow talent internally. Take people that seem to be willing to learn new skills and provide a path for them to learn those new skills. And this is hard because it requires you to invest in that while they're working like during their work hours. 

It's it's not realistic to expect that after working a full work week that they're going to go home in their free time and learn how to code or learn how to manage cloud services or learn cybersecurity skills. So you have to give them some time during the workday to do that and a path. But I think if you could do that, people would have more talent. And the better thing about that is they also have people that really understand the company and the culture right? So that's an acceleration function. And in that effect, they could get up and running faster once they do have the skills. 

Right. Well, that's a great segway to another one of my big sections that we have. And that's the managers and management and especially middle managers because, you know, it's one thing to set the direction as the person on the top and, you know, you're pretty much focused on communications, but the poor people in the middle, you know, kind of got thrown into this and I think unfairly to judge remote work or hybrid work by we all have to go home tomorrow and don't come back Monday. You know, what happened before is not a good it's not a good comparison. But, you know, it is a different set of skills to be able to manage people when you're not looking over their shoulder. You know, there are a lot of kind of new training and new skills that people have to learn. And then to your point, I love that in investing in the people to grow the people that you already have inside the proverbial four walls versus trying to fill these roles, as you said, that have been sitting there 

and aging out for a very, very long time on sites like Yeah, we just talked we just talked about the people. I think we talk about hybrid work,  and management. Management has to change. And I don't know if we get to a point where we have people that are more specifically managers, but the way managers usually come about is you were really great at your job and therefore I promote you and you no longer do the thing that you were really great at. 

You do this other thing that's probably not good at right and doesn't. And you can’t coach people that aren't good at it because you were good at it and that you can understand, well, how come nobody else is as good as I was? You know, that's why I really great, really great players don't make good coaches at all. 

No, it's difficult, but I think the skills that we need are different. I also think that metrics are really important. You have to really understand what you're trying to accomplish, the timeframe you're trying to accomplish it in, and then just be able to say, okay, like to your people go, you know, I'm not going to be able to see if you're doing this, but next Thursday I need to see X. So I think we have to have a much more explicit contract with our employees right now about what is expected, when it's expected, and then if they don't understand the employees’ role to make sure that they come back and say, I don't get the expectations, how how do I do this? And some of the things that are really interesting culturally and maybe demographically is that there, in our Slack style culture, for lack of a better term, you know, where people can message each other all the time, 

some of the gophering over the cube and other things that we felt we needed to do to kind of have that osmosis can actually happen electronically with like quick questions here and there. And while it's not the same as being in person, sometimes it's easier for people to ask a question about something over one of those messaging channels than it would be for them to come to you directly. They might feel like there is a perceived weakness or lack of understanding or don't know how to do  my job, where it's like, Oh, just send off a quick message and you know, and that’ll just come back with an answer. And that works well. 

Right, right. Well, again, that takes us to another one of our our big topics, which is all these new platforms. Right. And all these new ways to  do work, measure work, communicate work,  communicate to each other. And to me, I think the two keys to the management or three keys to the management paradigm are, one, are learning to manage in this new way Two, being much more, as you said, communicative in the objectives. And I think a lot of the pushback is people weren't that good. I think a lot of the people that weren't that good are pushing back because they didn't have to write it down. They just they just took care of the people that showed up. And then and then I think the last piece is really leveraging the async, right? For as much as you can  push as much work to async, even if it's just a quick trade of a note like we did 2 hours ago, you know, can we start a few minutes early and then use your sync time the time together, the energy 

that you have for these things, for One-On-Ones for really getting to know your people, getting to know what drives them, making sure that they understand kind of what's the objectives of the company and keeping them aligned and, you know, indexing off of status meetings and those types of things and indexing back to more, you know, really getting to know the people that work for you and your team. 

We're in this weird back and forth right now. So, hey, you know, in business school, they would talk about you centralize and then you decentralize. There's always like this this mix up, pendulum. And I feel like we've gone from asynchronous to synchronous and now we're trying to get back to asynchronous because it used to be all about email, right? Which is inherently asynchronous, unless you're sitting there all the time. Right? Then in the Covid era, everything became video. Everything was a synchronous video conversation which created video fatigue. Right? And now we're trying to figure out like the boundaries of like when and how to communicate and what would be acceptable. Right. And we have all this great technology to do it, but we have to we have to give up some of the sync like now we're so embedded in the sync, we have to kind of unwind that a little bit. 

I remember and you remember as well, when you couldn't get anybody to do a video call with you. Nobody wanted to do a video call. Now I sit every day for like 8 hours on video calls. I said to somebody the other day, like, You want to just call my cell phone? And you were like, Oh, yeah, I guess we could do that. It was like, nobody had done that in like a year. Let's just get back to thinking about, and that's still even synchronous. But now the New World Order is starting to talk about, well, hey, maybe we do like quick snippets of the all hands call and we just send it out as a video and you can see it when you want to consume it. And then our synchronous time will just be the Q&A on that. 

It's again, another segue, just to better meetings in general. Right. So whether it's a meeting at a one on one or a meeting to communicate information or a meeting to to do product development. I mean, our meeting, our default behavior to go to a synchronous meeting. And to your point, even with video, it shouldn't, that should not be the first. That should not be the first thing that the thing that I thought that at the time that you and I were were younger before there was the internet, as there were so many more barriers to bad behavior. Right. You couldn't copy 17 people on a memo because that means you had to type up 17 pieces of paper and put it in 17 little envelopes, which there probably weren't that many in the mail room with the red string. So there were these kind of natural gates. 

And I think what happened is we just kind of blew up and hopefully, you know, that we can get back to better meeting etiquette, which usually is don't have a meeting, right, unless you actually have a meeting in one of Shani Harmon’s  great things, right, is, if you actually should be in the meeting and you have something to contribute to the meeting and you're excited to be in the meeting because it's a project that you're excited about, you'll be happy to turn your camera on. Be engaged and be fully engaged. It's, it's  all these silly meetings that we shouldn't really have probably any more that kind of get in the way and eat up all your time, eat up all your energy, and eat up all your cognitive juice for the day as your context switching. So I think it's I think we can do better. So I think to your point, nobody really knows the answer and hopefully everybody's comfortable with experimenting. And which also means by default, making some mistakes along the way. 

Well, there's one good thing that happened. If you recall, meetings used to be an hour and so now they're half an hour. So in that sense, we can like take many more than so I don't know if that's efficient or not because meetings aren't necessarily the most efficient thing, but at least mercifully, they're not like 45 minutes to an hour, now, where  and that forces you to be more direct. And I think we're going to be continuing down that process of how do we get to a point where we're more direct in the meetings that you do have are serving everybody better? We still have a long way to go, but I think we have learned a lot in the past two years on that. Right. That other kind of concepts around that and we talked about it briefly, but to really tie it together is the flexibility and DE&I. And and, you know, women especially here in the West, you know, carry an over heavy burden of caregiving both for kids as well as for older folks. And, you know, maybe just somebody needs a trip somewhere and, you know, the flexibility in time versus flexibility in place. And it's interesting we talk about data, but the return to office is always about days. And we don't work in days. We work in blocks of minutes. And sometimes those blocks might be a day, sometimes those blocks might be an hour or they might be 30 minutes, as you said. And so, you know, to have the flexibility to be someplace at 4:30 and manage your own calendar and give people the agency and really the trust to be an adult and to, you know, know when they need to show up and make the hard decisions if they have to prioritize one thing or the other. But really, I think that is such a phenomenal thing. And I've heard some stats as much as it's worth as much as 10% of your of your wage to have that flexibility. I mean, I don't see us going back when that's an option. Do you? 

You know, I was of that mindset, but I was shocked at the amount of companies I speak with that are really like, I want to be all in and I want you back in the office. And some of that really depends on how difficult your commute is and other things. But really for some people, they got back 3 hours a day. For them just not going to come back to the office. They realize the inefficiency of it now I think everybody's different. What I think the challenge is, is for organizations to figure out how to do hybrid right. And everybody I've interviewed, everybody says the same thing. We're still trying to figure it out. Nobody knows the answer to that yet. But what I will tell you is there's a way to do hybrid wrong. And hybrid wrong is where you really mandate a lot of things. But I think the I think the biggest issue here is expectation. And why is the expectation as such? Like why do you have to go back to the office, is it to say you can meet with people or not? It's sad to go back to an office 

that’s empty. right 

It doesn't make you want to go back to the office. I really have a respect now for people saying, well, we want them to come in on Tuesday through Thursday and I see what they're getting at because you come in on Tuesday and nobody's there. You're like, Why did I bother to drive in and get dressed and all that other stuff like I could, right, right. I could just be at home i could put shirt on from here up and you know been in my jammies for the rest of the day doing zoom and it would have been fine right so so I see that, so the issue is if you over mandate people get very frustrated with it but if you don't set any guardrails around the experience, the expectation when you go back to the office never meets what you expected it to be. So we have to at some point say, okay, what is it for us that makes the needle, that moves the needle thats you coming back into the office? Do we want to suggest that, hey, maybe it's Tuesday and Wednesday are days that you could expect people would come in if they're going to come in or something of that nature so that people get some sense of it. And some sense of why, you know. 

It's interesting, one of the people I talked to said that, you know, hybrid, I think has an unfortunate connotation of ‘bi’, of two, of this or that. Right. And and their point was, it's going to be super dynamic within a company. It's going to be super dynamic within a group within the company. And it's going to be super dynamic within the individuals, within the groups in the company. And so, you know, it's kind of where is this logical unit of norm establishment and it's not from mahogany row, right? It's wherever that kind of logical, logical thing is that, that, that those people can establish those norms so they are all in at the same time. And then the other one, which you've talked about in some of your podcasts is time zones, right. Is you know, do we have kind of a mutually agreed to collaborative window that, you know, these are where when we do need to meet, these are where the meetings are going to be, which is, you know, kind of the best available alternative. 

I've seen some terribly bad behavior in my clients where it is, you know, there's one or two people that are just in an unfavorable time zone  and they're always the people that are on the call and I've seen them on calls at midnight their time. I've seen people on calls at 5 a.m. their time And you can't do this for every meeting that is just not going to work for that individual. So I think we need to be more sensitive to time zones. I do believe it is a group by group thing, but I also believe you have to be pretty explicit about what the expectations are. And then if that doesn't meet the employees needs, then you can have that discussion. But I do think it needs to be discussions within groups about how do we as a group want to work together. And some groups are just more collaborative than others and need to have that coordination and others are more independent. And it can be, hey, you know, Jeff maybe, maybe you only have to come in 

once a quarter, right? That's all you have. It's not necessarily to be highly collaborative with a lot of people. I just need you to finish these five things by this time frame kind of deal, and that could be fine. Whereas other groups, you know, we talk about like the design groups and, and, you know, maybe we overindex in saying that only certain groups are collaborative and that the only reason that you come into the office is collaboration. Sometimes you come into the office, you just won't see people you know, or you just don't want to be at home with your kids because you can't work with your kids. So there are reasons, but you have to kind of almost individually work the journey with people and that's how hybrid works. So every to your point, everybody wants to say you do hybrid this way. It's A, B and C, and it's like we're never going to find like one hybrid work just the way cultures are different. 

Right? Right. The funny thing I hear about the the come back for collaboration with the white board is usually that's the person that likes to hold the pen. And there's plenty of studies that show that, you know, you brainstorm offline, you get much richer contribution and, you know, it's it's a much more effective process. I think it's funny. So getting at the end of time I want to close on something that's kind of wrapped throughout this whole conversation and that's the impact of communication and in the importance of communications. And it just you see it in the election season, you see it in wars. If you really paying attention, a lot of big things are really battles of communication and effective communication and where you apply your communication. And you know, I learned a long time from Dave Pottruck, former CEO of Schwab. 

He just said, you know, my job as a CEO is to communicate whether it's to my internal audience, my external audience or out in the world. And now we're hearing know just so over and over communicating what is our mission? What is our purpose? What do I want you to get done by how you know, in what time frame and and how can I create a safe space for you to ask me questions and not feel like you're setting yourself up to get fired like the bottom 10%, you know, at Goldman or at Netflix. So the role of communication, both formally and informally, I think, has never been ironically kind of more important here in this kind of super techno environment in which we live. 

I think you and I have both had the opportunity to interview some really interesting business leaders, senior business leaders in tech and outside of tech. And I think if you asked any of them today, the most important thing that they need to do it is that level of communication, because without that, there is a lot of fear and anxiety and a lot of wasted productivity because people are trying to figure out what's going on, what you didn't tell them. So just tell them what they need to know and all will be well, you know, communicate what your vision is, communicate how you want to get there, communicate what you're seeing as the roadblocks and the opportunities. And I think when people have a healthy understanding of what the goals are, they all have at least something in their mind that they can relate to that says, okay, I know how I can contribute to that. 

Yeah. Yeah. One of your guest, David Meerman Scott  passion, connectivity and intensity got the big yellow highlighter on there. And that's that's really what it's all about. The fan-ocracy was his concept, you know, make your people be fans and you know it's funny, you can see it when it's successfully done right. You can see at a company where it's successfully done and you can see where it's not. And it's really all about leadership and top down, 

you know, setting that tone, setting that culture. Absolutely. Mirabel it's been great. Again, congratulations. 40 episodes and counting on the future of hybrid work there’s nobody that’s probably got good, broad perspective from so many great smart people as you do. So thanks for coming on  and sharing some perspective. 

Always a pleasure to chat with you, Jeff.  Let’s do it again soon. 

Absolutely. All right, She’s Maribel, I'm Jeff.  You're watching Work 20XX We'll see you next time. Thanks for watching and listening on the podcast. 

Thank you. All clear

Links and References

Maribel Lopez - Founder & Principal Analyst, Lopez Research 

LinkedIn Profile 

Lopez Research 

Reimagine Hybrid Work with Maribel Lopez Podcast

The AI with Maribel Lopez (ML) Podcast

Data for Betterment Foundation


Selection of referenced podcast segment segments 

Allison Dew On Designing the Future of Work and Marketing, Reimagine Hybrid Work Podcast, S2E24, Nov 1, 2022 

Peter Scott on How AI Impacts Our Jobs and Lives, Reimagine Hybrid Work Podcast, S2E20, Oct 4, 2022

The Evolution of Hiring and Gig Work in a Distributed Workplace with PeopleCaddie’s Tim Rowley, Reimagine Hybrid Work, S2#14, Jun 1, 2022 -

Creating Engagement with David Meerman Scott, Reimagine Hybrid Work Podcast, S2E3, Feb 27, 2022 - 

Navigating The Challenges Of Hybrid Work. A Discussion with Cisco’s Jeetu Patel, Reimagine Hybrid Work Podcast, S1E13, Jun 17, 2021 - 

Healthy Buildings Are The Future of Work: An Interview with Delos' CEO Paul Scialla, Reimagine Hybrid Work Podcast, S1E11, May 13, 2021 -


Other Links and Resources 

This Surveillance Artist Knows How You Got that Perfect Instagram Photo, Kashmir Hill, The New York Times, Sept 24, 2022 - 

Julie Whelan: Flexible, Responsive, Social Real Estate, Work 20XX with Jeff Frick, Aug 24, 2022 - 

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 

Ryan Anderson: Bürolandschaft, Activity-Based, Design, Neighborhoods, Work 20XX with Jeff Frick Podcast, Mar 9, 2022 - 

When people talk about being really communicators, they often talk about speaking. They don’t focus on listening. And listening is a tremendously important skill - David Pottruck. Jeff Frick LinkedIn, Sep 11, 2021

Give the customer permission to be comfortable being critical - David Pottruck, Jeff Frick LinkedIn Post, Sep 11, 2021

David Pottruck, Red Eagle Ventures, Cube Conversation, SiliconANGLE Media, theCUBE, Jul, 2020 

The Social Dilemma, Netflix, 2020 

Wharton is closing its small business development center, the first in the state, Paige Gross, Technically, Jul 9, 2012 - Note, can’t find any data on the referenced Northwestern University, Kellogg School of Business Small Business Develop Center, perhaps it closed around the same time? 

Conan Visits Intel's Headquarters | Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Conan Classics YouTube, Original air Date - May 2007 -  


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Disclaimer and Discloser 

This Episode of ‘Work 20XX’ was brought to you by Webex by Cisco 

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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.