Updated: Jun 1, 2021
Robert Teed is a Workplace Guru with years of experience in Real Estate, Workplace, and Facilities roles, at companies including ServiceNow, DocuSign, Polycom, and Symantic. We sat down with him to discuss the evolving workplace landscape and what our future workplaces might look like. Key excerpts from this conversation are shared below.
Do you believe that companies need a physical workplace?
What COVID did was force the idea forward that how work happens and where work happens are completely decoupled. Although the decoupling was already happening, this important period accelerated it. Now, we’ve all agreed that we can do our knowledge-based work away from the workplace and still be successful. However, that’s not to say it that the workplace isn’t needed. For example, now when I go into the workplace, it will be for collaboration purposes and not for heads-down work. I can do my heads-down work anywhere.
The workplace will start to become an ecosystem of sorts that provides a bunch of resources for employees, so they can choose where they can best accomplish their work for that day, week, month, etc. It will provide the employee with a whole buffet of choices for where to do that work.
Can you speak a bit more about providing employees with choice?
I believe strongly that this period we are in has created a big shift in decision-making power… away from the employer to the knowledge worker.
The idea of choice has been solidified. Now, I’m going to be able to choose where I work, not how I work, as the company will still dictate that. But, I’ll choose where I work based on whatever criteria apply to me at the time. That choice could come down to a whole myriad of things like the type of work that I’m doing, or my family situation.
So, you’re saying that employees will have the responsibility of choosing an appropriate space for them to accomplish their tasks on any given day?
Yes, and if companies don’t trust their employees to make the right decisions, it could create a bit of a hiccup. Companies need to buy into the idea that work is now output-driven and results-oriented. Being physically present at the office is no longer a part of an employee’s scorecard. Physical presence doesn’t necessarily result in more productivity.
Employers that provide choice will harness the benefits of this period the most. After all, things won’t be boundary-less. It’s not like everybody is going to work from home. There will be some sort of social contract in place.
Is there any advice that you would give to some of our clients who have upwards of 500 employees and are scaling quickly? What should they be watching out for? How can they make sure that they hire the right people that embody and reflect their culture?
You’ve got to be sure your culture and purpose are clear to begin with. So, if you’re a young company and your culture has yet to be defined completely, that may need to be accelerated first. Scaling without a framework or clear expectations can bring really bad habits – you are not looking for the Wild, Wild West. Younger companies in the midst of hyper-growth, without a framework and clear culture, can send confusing cues if they’re not careful.
How would you make a financial case for or against keeping the physical workplace?
The impact on innovation that not having people together in an office can have, is still unknown and unproven. Therefore, I’m not ready to make a case for or against it. What we shouldn’t do is take months of experience, in this case, the lifetime of COVID, and project that into 20 years-worth of decision-making.
Google argues that people create when they are together and if we’re not creating opportunities for us to be together, then, what are they going to create? I’m not sure where I stand on that. It seems a bit too early to tell.
How clear is your vision of the physical workplace of the future? And what level of change do you foresee in the next five years to accomplish that vision?
Pretty clear. We will make changes, but I don’t think they’ll be radical. It’ll be more moderate changes such as more collaboration spaces and less head-down workspace.
What do you have to say about the hiring breakthrough that we’re now seeing, where companies can now hire from a global pool?
This is an opportunity for us to move away from the clustering which is happening. We’re able to hire in different parts of the world where we haven’t before. Not only that, but it allows companies to diversify not only geographically but also within the traditional diversity metrics. The tech sector as a whole has seemed to embrace that.
What is your process for determining the ideal physical work environment for a company?
My answer is the same post-COVID as it was pre-COVID: You’ve got to listen with big ears, but you can’t solve a space problem. If you talk about it in terms of space, people are going to give you spatial solutions. Instead, focus on human center design.
It’s not about asking the employee what they need physically anymore, it’s about asking them how they go through their workday and communicate with their team, and about how they solve problems within their department.
There’s been a big shift to focusing on experience-based working. Is that what you are referring to?
Yeah, if we don’t approach from an Experience Based Working perspective or experiential perspective, we’re going to continue to design cool spaces and get everything wrong. That’s where I feel we were ten years ago.
We were saying, “Let’s make the space really cool and everyone will love it!” Then, everyone ends up hating it because the build didn’t do anything to benefit the experience side of things. It always used to be form over function.
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