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A Guide to Getting Workplace Transformation Right for Employees

Emily Klein, Director of Workplace at Perkins & Will, and Dr. Melissa Steach, Workplace Wellbeing Lead at Herman Miller Group both know about what it means to lead transformation in a hybrid workplace. In May 2021, Mike Petrusky hosted a webinar called “A Guide to Getting Workplace Transformation Right for Employees“ where Emily and Melissa … Continue reading "A Guide to Getting Workplace Transformation Right for Employees"

A Guide to Getting Workplace Transformation Right for Employees

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Emily Klein, Director of Workplace at Perkins & Will, and Dr. Melissa Steach, Workplace Wellbeing Lead at Herman Miller Group both know about what it means to lead transformation in a hybrid workplace. In May 2021, Mike Petrusky hosted a webinar called “A Guide to Getting Workplace Transformation Right for Employees“ where Emily and Melissa shared their views on research-driven design in a hybrid workplace, return-to-office policies and procedures and delivering on the promise of a more human-centric experience. Listen to discover what the future of work holds for leaders and how to get workplace transformation right for your employees.

Ep. 165: A Guide to Getting Workplace Transformation Right for Employees

Full Episode Transcript: 

Mike: This is the Workplace Innovator Podcast where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOFFICE the leading employee experience focused IWMS software that delivers real- time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace. All right. All right, here we go. Welcome everyone to Workplace Innovator live. And I am so excited to have you all here with us. We have a huge crowd coming in and our topic today is a good one. A guide to getting workplace transformation, right for your employees. And it comes on the heels of a great conversation I just had with Melissa Fisher, an anthropologist up at NYU. And we had a wonderful conversation about human behavior and why we do the things we do. And this leads right into the next steps of practical advice and research around design and employee experience and the hybrid workplace. We’re going to cover it all. And to help me today, I’ve enlisted the help of two amazing industry leaders. Let’s introduce first from, I think up in Boston, up in the Northeast at Perkins & Will, the director of workplace, Emily Klein. Hello, Emily. How are you? 

Emily Klein: I’m very well, Mike. Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here today to join you to dive into all these kind of themes related to getting workplace transformation right, and returning to offices and the hybrid workplace. I’m so excited to join Melissa as well. So really thank you so much. 

Mike: You are welcome. Thank you. It’s awesome to have you. And you invited a friend along for the ride. So I’m very excited to introduce Dr. Melissa Steach. She is with Herman Miller. I see your title here as workplace wellbeing knowledge lead. But Melissa, there’s so much more to the picture. Can you share just a little bit more about yourself? 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Oh gosh. I think I’m a compulsively curious nerd with an art background. 

Mike: I love it. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: With an art background. So thank you for having me. 

Emily Klein: And I just want to share, Melissa and I have had some incredibly interesting conversations. We were both presenters at a conference, a virtual one last December, and had met. Just really are very passionate about everything related to workplace, workplace transformation, sort of this whole move from pandemic to post- pandemic. And what does it mean to design and architect the most optimal employee experiences today? Based on what we know about research and we’re going to get into it, and I’m sorry, I didn’t go into too much of the background on myself, but for a long time, for the past decade, been working with organizations on helping them really think about designing spaces and cultures that embrace future work. 

Mike: Emily and Melissa, let’s kick it off. Let’s get the audience inspired for this amazing discussion around workplace transformation. I asked you each for a quote, and Emily, you shared this one. Why don’t you go ahead and read it to us, and let us know what it means to you. 

Emily Klein: I absolutely love this quote. Thank you, Mike. It’s,” You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Bucky Fuller is an architect, designer. This is a famous quote. I love it so much because it represents what I really truly believe very passionately that we are moving into the new frontier of the next conversations related to workplace. And we have an opportunity right now to create, as I mentioned from pandemic to post- pandemic, a very exciting way of coming together and working together and being productive and collaborative. And sometimes, we don’t want to really fight the existing reality because changing and moving through transformation has a lot to do with unpacking kind of unconscious and conscious ways of how we’ve worked in the past. While that’s really important, we want to address that, sometimes really being able to pull people forward is creating new models that get people excited about how we can work in the future. So this is a quote that I actually take very close to heart, both professionally and personally. 

Mike: Thank you for that, Emily. Melissa, you’ve got a good one too here. And you’re going old school on us, way back to Socrates. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Way, way back. I chuckled when you asked for these, and they both have to do with building, right? And about the iteration of building, but, “The secret of change is in focusing all of your energy not in fighting the old, but in building the new.” It’s not about fighting. I think so often we come from this idea that we have to push. But very often change is a pull, right? When we think of things that happen in our best interests very often, there is a pull to, as opposed to a push against. And it’s something, it’s a tenant that is present across all sorts of faiths and cultures and different disciplines. That very often you don’t need to focus so much on what’s wrong, but really pay close attention to what’s right, to what’s working, and continue to move in that direction. 

Mike: Very cool. So you came here, you want to hear about this guide to getting workplace transformation right for employees. Let’s start, Emily, by talking about the question of the human experience, and creating workplaces and spaces and a culture that embraces people first. So just share some of your philosophy around this and what you do at Perkins& Will with your clients to help deliver on this promise of a great employee experience. 

Emily Klein: It’s a really great question, Mike. There’s so much for me personally around this because I believe what we’re doing right now, and what this era is all about, is about creating workplaces that are more human centric, more human focused, right? How do we think about change with people at the heart of that change? How do we design workspaces that really meet people, employees, where they’re at right now? And we’re coming out of this incredible unprecedented year where the data that we’ve collected, not only for ourselves at Perkins& Will across our studios, but for our clients as well. And all of you know this too. The research is showing that people do, in fact, want to come back to offices. As much as we’ve proved we’ve been really productive in our home offices, we do want to come back. But we want to come back for socialization with our colleagues. We want to come back to collaborate with our colleagues and collaborate with our teams. And think about how we do work in different kinds of ways, and how we can set up workplaces to accommodate this shift in how we want to kind of have more agency and autonomy over how we work. So I think in the past, I’ve always said, so what employees are looking for most out of their workplace is freedom and choice and autonomy. Over anything else, they are looking for those kinds of things. Where I think we’re taking this now in the sort of pandemic to post- pandemic timeframe is being able to create a workplace that resonates with the whole human, so I can bring my whole self to work, right? What does that mean? It means I bring everything that is going on in my life, not just professionally, but personally. And I think that if the hybrid workplace is about re- imagining the new employee experience, then how do we, as employers, as organizations, really align purpose and brand and culture in ways that make employees feel supported. Make it really in ways where people can feel like they can bring their authentic selves to work. Even if they’re nervous about what it means to come back in, even if they’re nervous about what it means to get back on public transportation, for example. It’s just that recognition that we are humans, and that we’re all dealing with this together, and that we all want a lot of different things out of our work experience. 

Mike: I totally agree. And Melissa, as Emily has said, this is now a critical juncture in the work environment. And my audience is anxious to know what the future might hold. We have this now opportunity to really make some changes. Re- imagine, the word that Emily used, is something I’ve been saying a lot, and rethink how we approach workspaces and the workplace culture. What is your research showing, and what do you think are the dangers here? Do we risk maybe falling back into some old habits if we’re not careful? 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Yeah. I think like anything with human behavior is that our brains look for the path of least resistance. And so there’re habits that we adopt. I should say we fall back on because it’s just easier. Sitting on the sofa as opposed to going to the gym might be a great example. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what if work was our most radical act of wellbeing. If we looked at it as an inside out job, and not just from the individual contributor’s perspective. But from an organizational perspective, if we were to get rid of this whole idea of balance, which I think we’re finally outgrowing. I feel like we’re finally leaning into the reality that work is life and life is work. What that reminds me of, and what Emily is talking about, is that we have to design for the whole human being. We have to figure out ways to create a sense of belonging that go beyond a process or procedure in a handbook, but that is reflected in the built environment. Whether it’s this idea of our perceived ergonomics and safety, because there are a lot of things that maybe don’t actually give us real safety from contracting. I don’t know. Getting a cold perhaps. But it gives us a perception that there’s some sort of protection there. Or being able to perceive ourselves in the decor of a place, or thinking about neurodiversity beyond the DSM and thinking instead about how someone might be, maybe most of us are ambiverts, but maybe we’re feeling more introverted that day or more extroverted that day, which goes into the idea of autonomy and choice, is really thinking of space as a facilitator of wellbeing. And as this great flexible tool that can be expanded or contracted, depending on whatever the task at hand is, the personality that happens to be there that day. And I’m talking about one person. What personality did you show up with at work today? You know what I mean? So I like to think of it as a living office, as an organism that requires both sides of the mechanism, really, to work. The people and the machine. 

Mike: We are going to talk about design and practical advice for creating these environments in the way you just described. But you mentioned something there, Melissa, that is interesting to me about habits and humans and people, and our integrated work life, not work life balance, but work life integration. We’ve all been through a traumatic event. We’ve established new habits. I learned a new word yesterday when I talked with Melissa Fisher, the anthropologist, she said,” We have habituated many behaviors.” Whether it’s around mask wearing or distancing, or just being comfortable in our own homes. For many of us, many on the call here, we’re knowledge workers. We had a difficult time at the beginning of the pandemic. But if I can speak for many of us, we adapted. We were very productive. We put up guardrails, and figured out some of the challenges of work from home, and that digital overload, and Zoom fatigue. And we got to this next level of productivity and comfort. And now we’re talking about returning to offices. Or for me, returning to getting on an airplane and flying to a conference this fall. It’s going to take now a change management exercise to get out of my current habit. And I likened it to Lord of the Rings, and the fact that I’m like Bilbo Baggins, very comfortable in my Hobbit hole, sitting by the fire with a drink in hand and a pipe. I don’t smoke, but you know what I mean? And I need Gandalf to come in and call me to this new adventure. Talk to me about the research around that type of thing. Because I was asking you about habits formed before the pandemic we might fall back into. What about the fact that we have to now break out of habits that have been formed during our COVID experience? 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Well, the interesting thing about habits, and I was just speaking with someone about this today is that there is the common meme that, oh, you can establish a habit in 21 days. And I’m so sorry to deliver the fact that the average is 66.7 days, if I’m remembering that correctly. And it can take up to 244 days to establish a new habit, right? So there is no- 

Mike: We passed all those numbers. 14 months, 15 months of quarantine life. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Exactly. So I hope that whatever you’ve been doing who’s for this past year is something that you wanted to do that was good for you. Because boy, is it your new habit now? Back to Melissa Fisher. You have habituated yourself for good or ill. 

Mike: It’s not all good. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Yeah. And you can choose a new path. You can go with Sauron, or you can go with Gandalf. 

Mike: There you go. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: I’m the big Lord of the Rings fan. But yeah. So to your point, I think that we are more productive very often at home. And the research has shown that. Actually there was a really interesting study done in 2013, and then they replicated the study. It was done at Harvard. I forget the researchers names. But they replicated the study in 2020, and found that productivity is still, on average, better when you’re at home because you’re given the freedom of choice. So you’re able to prioritize your tasks. You still have to get through emails. You still have to write those reports. But the time on what you spend, because you don’t have to perform to show for show, right? You don’t have to show that you’re working so you can work differently. So you typically are more productive. Whereas other things like in regard to managing across, as opposed to managing up or down, is more difficult in the storming and forming stages for obvious reasons, I think. It’s harder to get to know people, to let your guard down. There’s always some barriers that happen with virtual engagements rather than in person. But there’s some interesting things that we can either turn the volume up on in regards to habits that I think that being at home has facilitated and supported, and then other things that we need to move away from. 

Mike: Well, to that point, we have needed our managers, our workplace leaders and our organizational leaders to lead us through this very challenging unprecedented time. And Emily, I think we’re in the same boat now, as we transition to this next phase, the new frontier, I think you called it. How do we lead through this? How do we call people to a new adventure back in the office, or into this new hybrid experience? 

Emily Klein: I love looking at all of this because I use this quote, and just to sort of build off of what Melissa you’re sharing too, Dr. Cristina Banks is affiliated with the Center for Healthy Workplaces at Berkeley. And she has spoken to employers thinking about that employees are going to come back to offices only to the degree that those employers address the psychological needs that this pandemic undercut. And Mike, I think for the first time, I’m really hearing something in the way that you articulated this. And as we’ve been diving into, what is it that we have accrued as habits over this past year that has led us to feel safe, right? Or that has led us to feel like we’re in a space where we feel more comfortable right now. And we really have to unpack that a little bit more as leaders and managers in organizations. I mean, I can tell you from one perspective, it’s multiple layers in answer to that. One is for leaders and managers of companies to really understand this issue about that those psychological needs of creating a safe and healthy culture and a workplace, and to feel comfortable coming back into that space. It requires policies and guidelines really helping people feel assured that they know how they’re going to be coming back into the office, how their office is going to be used, what kind of spaces are going to be available to them? What the policy is going to be around hybrid and remote working going forward? Because absent having this information, you have anticipatory anxiety. Which I know, Melissa, you know about too, from that psychological perspective. And employees end up, they start making guesses, or they’re not sure, or they hear rumors. So I think there you have to have employers really focused on what is our plan for going forward and how do we really engage our employee. So that they know what is going to happen when they come back into the office. This other element of what have we lost during the pandemic? What are the psychological needs? How do we create new habits? How do we better understand ourselves is really also what this moment has been about. It has been about really, truly understanding how do we work best, right? Reflecting on what do I want to come back to that’s going to make me feel safe and comfortable? What do I want to come back to that’s going to make me feel like I’m collaborating with my teams in a way that really want to? And this is what I think is fueling this next generation of conversation around how do we architect, not only the culture, but the space to accommodate that. So Melissa, I absolutely love what you said. How do we think about space now as a facilitator of our wellbeing? And I would take that to expand that, and say a facilitator of our wellbeing and acknowledgement that we are all whole human beings, right? That human centered experience. Just space is that facilitator. Space is going to be that incubator now, right? We’re testing. We’re in a very much of a test, validate, and agile place. And I think that there are other spokes to this in terms of what employers can do. But what I do know and understand is that a lot of organizations are investing in wellbeing through digital, mental health, and wellness apps. They’re encouraging their employees to be really mindful of how they’re feeling, especially if there’s anticipated anxiety or anything like that. Concerns about coming back into the office. And there’s an opening right now, also, that we’re all experiencing and seeing for organizations to be talking more about wellness and mental health, and those issues that are these psychological issues that the pandemic undercut around how am I going to feel? How long is it going to take me? Is it going to take me those three months or four months to just get back into a new groove. I think we have to be very mindful of the fact that we’re human beings, and we’re not just going to snap back. Sometimes it’s like, you can’t play fully go back completely to where you were in the past, right? You can take elements of that that you build on it, and you go forward. 

Mike: I love that. We’re going to talk more about strategy protocols and all kinds of practical advice. But before we go there, folks, it’s time for a little intermission. I like to get to know the personal side of my guests. I asked them before this broadcast, what kind of music gets you inspired? So, Melissa, let’s start with you first this time. With this legendary singer, why Ella Fitzgerald? What brings you joy about Ella’s music? 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Oh my God. It’s just so smooth. It’s just easy to listen to, but it’s the lyrics actually are saying something, and it’s just really great. And then, because I’ve been playing her station on Spotify for so long, it’s really morphed into this kind of deep house with a little bit of top hits blended in. So it’s like every now and again, The Weeknd will show up, or every now and again Justin Timberlake will pop in. It keeps me up, but I’m able to focus to if I need. 

Mike: Well, when I check my Spotify, the number one song from Ella Fitzgerald was, of course, Dream a Little Dream of Me with the great Louis Armstrong. You be Ella and I’ll be Louie. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: I’m not going to sing. 

Mike: Awesome. That was great. That was great. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: I should not have sang. I should not have. 

Emily Klein: No, it was great. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: This is being recorded. 

Mike: Listen, people are very forgiving on this show. I’ve still got a job after almost a three and a half years doing it. So Emily, your turn. And you were a little hesitant to share with me. You were a little bit, I don’t know, concerned what people would think. But listen, I recommended this band not too long ago on my live stream. The Bee Gees. Come on. This is fantastic. Why the Bee Gees? 

Emily Klein: Well honestly, I just recently saw the HBO Max special, How to Mend a Broken Heart. I’m actually a classic rock, R& B fan. But when I think back on sort of the stuff that I really like, I was fascinated. And I recommend to anybody listening, this was a really fascinating documentary because I didn’t know that their music actually had spanned five decades. And that they really came up and surfaced right when the Beatles were surfacing at the same time. Knew them. And it just was very eyeopening how much this is a band that shaped the culture of the 70s. And that this song, Staying Alive, resurfaced through the pandemic in a crazy kind of way. 

Mike: Love this documentary. 

Emily Klein: Yeah, it’s awesome. 

Mike: I watched it more than once. I was so surprised as you were to find out about their history, and way before they became famous for the disco era of the late 70s, they were putting out great songs. Do you remember the moment in the documentary where it talked about how Barry Gibb discovered his falsetto on Nights of Broadway. They were in production recording. And it starts out, he’s using that low voice. It’s like (singing) and then you get into this, give me some background harmonies. And he starts going (singing), and it totally changed their career. 

Emily Klein: Yeah. Can we create a tagline that just says, find your falsetto and change your future. 

Mike: All right. Trademark stamped. It’s good on the Workplace Innovator Live Broadcast only. There it is. Thank you all for being a part of the Workplace Innovator Live experience. I hope that this conversation was encouraging to you, and in some small way, we inspired you to be a workplace innovator. Peace out, everybody. Thanks so much, Emily. Thanks Melissa. 

Emily Klein: Bye. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Thanks, guys. 

Emily Klein: Thank you. 

Dr. Melissa Steach: Bye- bye. 

Mike: You’ve been listening to the Workplace Innovator Podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOFFICE can help you create an employee centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience visit iofficecorp. com. 

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As the host of both the Workplace Innovator Podcast and the Asset Champion Podcast, Mike's role at Eptura is to share thought leadership with CRE, FM, and IT leaders in the digital and hybrid workplace. As an in-demand public speaker, Mike engages audiences with his focus on the human element of workplace and facility management at International Facility Management Association, CoreNet, and other industry events.

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