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Leadership for the Future of Work: The “Imagine a Place Podcast” Crossover

Doug Shapiro is VP of Research and Insights at OFS and Host of the “Imagine a Place Podcast” where he explores the powerful role that place plays in our lives by gathering and sharing authentic voices, insightful perspectives, and stories of places designed to inspire, support, and connect people. In this “crossover” podcast experience, Mike … Continue reading "Leadership for the Future of Work: The “Imagine a Place Podcast” Crossover"

Leadership for the Future of Work: The “Imagine a Place Podcast” Crossover

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Doug Shapiro is VP of Research and Insights at OFS and Host of the “Imagine a Place Podcast” where he explores the powerful role that place plays in our lives by gathering and sharing authentic voices, insightful perspectives, and stories of places designed to inspire, support, and connect people. In this “crossover” podcast experience, Mike Petrusky and Doug discuss how workplace leaders are managing their teams and evolving their workspaces to support employees during this time of distributed work, hybrid work and returning to offices.

Ep. 174: Leadership for the Future of Work: The “Imagine a Place Podcast” Crossover

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. Hey everyone, and welcome to episode 174 of the Workplace Innovator Podcast. My name is Mike, and this is a very special edition of the program, folks. I know, I know I say that a lot, but I really do mean it this time because as you will hear, this is not one of my typical 20-minute chats with a great workplace leader although my guest certainly is that. Doug Shapiro is Vice President of Research and Insights at OFS, a furniture and logistics solutions company based in Indiana. But like me, Doug also hosts a podcast. It’s called the Imagine a Place podcast and I’ve been a big fan of his for a few months now. Doug’s got this great style and approach to storytelling on his show where he explores the powerful role that place plays in our lives. The music and Doug’s vibe just reminds me of one of those NPR produced podcasts that draw you in and let you be a fly on the wall for some really interesting discussions. So, when Doug and I talked, we decided to have a conversation and capture it all. I think it went on for just over two hours. And then we wanted to share part of that conversation as a crossover podcast experience for both of our audiences. We have a lot in common and we had a great time. 

 Doug and I talked about what it means to be a workplace leader today, the challenges of managing teams and deciding which workspace strategies might work best to support employees during this time of distributed work, hybrid work and returning to offices. I really enjoyed hearing Doug’s perspectives and insights. And as we get started here, you will notice that I am in full DJ Mike P mode. But once Doug starts asking me some questions with his wonderful calming voice, what I like to call his chill vibe, I do take it down a notch and we just ease into the conversation together. It is a little different for me and I want to hear what you think about it. So, I hope you enjoy this. Here we go. Check 1, 2, check, check. Sibilance, sibilance. Wayne’s world, Wayne’s world. Party time. Excellent. Okay. Is that too dated to reference? 

Doug Shapiro: No, I love it. It’s right on target for me. 

Mike: Here we are. 

Doug Shapiro: Here we are. 

Mike: Shall we start? 

Doug Shapiro: Yes. Well- 

Mike: Is this the beginning? Wait, I’d love to… Yeah, what is the artist that gets you inspired, Doug? Come on. Here we go. 

Doug Shapiro: Boy, that gets me inspired. I’m not going to use inspired, but if it’s been a tense day and I’m coming back home from the office or I’m walking upstairs from my office, one of the two, and I’m cooking, I’m going to put on Jack Johnson and that’s kind of been my go- to over the past few years. That just puts me in that chill place and gets me in that relaxed sort of spirit. 

Mike: He is the millennial whisperer, that’s for sure. Everybody I know in your age group loves Jack Johnson. That’s awesome. 

Doug Shapiro: The millennial whisperer, I like that. 

Mike: Yeah, I don’t know. Something about his style. Go back a little further. It was the same with the obsession kids in the’90s had with maybe a Dave Matthews band or something like that. But for me, I’m an old guy. So going back to the’80s, finding that artist that just speaks to you. The music is certainly part of it, but the lyrics for me is huge. U2, you’ve probably heard if you’ve listened to my show, is somebody I talk about over and over again and I’m reading a book about the early days of U2 and their spiritual journey and how they tied that into their music and how it was a tension and a struggle. It just is something that I can really relate to because we’re all on this journey to understand ourselves and understand the world around us and music can really impact our soul, our feeling, our purpose. It can get you out of a tough spot mentally. It can also get you fired up physically if you’re going for a run or whatever. So, we all have our go- to artists and I’m just so thankful that music is out there and there’s so much of it. 

Doug Shapiro: Well, I have fun listening to your podcast and I had even shared this one on social, the recap the spring where you kind of brought together a lot of perspectives around what return to work would be like, but I really loved your analogy, which was this Lord of the Rings summoning Bilbo Baggins out of the cave. You have to tell me how you got there. Walk us through that for a minute. 

Mike: Yeah. Gandalf needs to come and call us to an adventure. I feel like that describes me, Doug. I am here in my comfortable home in the Washington DC suburbs. I know this doesn’t apply to everyone, but for many knowledge workers during this pandemic experience, we have adapted well. All the surveys and all the indications are that productivity is going pretty well for people who can work from home. Now, there’s a whole nother group of folks out there who unfortunately have no choice and they have to be out and I admire them for that. But for those that were sent home, remote work is the new thing, distributed, we’re going to go out and continue to do our jobs and run our companies and do it from our home offices. It took a little time to adjust it. 

 For me, certainly, it took me personality wise time because I was feeling very confined and trapped in the beginning. All the Zoom calls and all the constant online interaction was more than I ever had experienced before. So it was very draining and stressful and the whole idea of digital fatigue or Zoom fatigue was a real thing for me in those first couple of months. But once I put up some guard rails and I decided that I’m going to settle into this new normal, for me it’s the new routine, and give myself some breaks and go for walks and go outside and just sit and listen to the birds, I found this very comfortable place. Fast forward a year and a half later and I have grooved some new habits and I do my job pretty well, I think. I think all indications are the podcast gets posted on time each week and webinars are happening all the time and we’re doing a great job here putting out great content.  

But the things that I used to do on a regular basis, get out of my home and travel and go to conferences and local IFMA and coordinate meetings, whatever it might be, where I could interact with the community, interact with my listeners, interact with my customer base from my office, those are the times that I didn’t realize it but I got so much energy and excitement and creative thought and sparks of interest in different things in hearing from other human beings. I know I miss that. I know that’s a thing that’s really missing from my current existence, but I am very comfortable and I think this speaks for many of us. We have found a way to be comfortable to do our jobs in our little Hobbit holes is what I said. 

 Drawing that visual, if you’re familiar with the Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins sitting by his fire with a pipe in hand and a beer in hand or whatever he drinks back in the Land of Hobbits. It was hard for him to come out of that comfortable place and Gandalf the Wizard had to come and call him to an adventure. He was the one to go on this great adventure regarding the ring. So, I think that’s what leaders need to do in the workplace today. Leaders need to lead and the leaders need to cast that vision. Why leave remote work? Why return to an office, at least for some of the time? What’s the purpose? What’s the value in all that. And I hope that we can communicate that in a way that is compelling. 

Doug Shapiro: Yeah. What you are describing with yourself and your own feelings, it was a lot like I had an interview with Bill Boucher who is a workplace strategy expert and designer in Los Angeles. He described what was reverse withdrawal that we’ll go through where we all went through withdrawal when we had to leave the office. And then what he said is it only takes a certain amount of time to get into a new groove and withdrawal is all about letting go of something. When we go back to the office, we’re letting go of this other thing now. And so we have to go through all these stages of grief and withdrawal all over again. And it’s a little bit of a whiplash that we’ve got going on and I think managing through that whiplash is going to be key. I do think you’re right, that purpose is such a key part of it. Purpose means so much more than policy and I think that’s where I actually see a lot of companies going wrong is we’re coming back on Wednesdays and Fridays or we’re coming back, it’s like why? Why those days. I’m okay with having a calendar because I think if the calendar has purpose with it, you can say, okay, we’re going to do more collaborative activities on these days. So then it makes sense to come in. But to have policy for the sake of having policy I think is missing the whole point. 

Mike: I agree, totally. And I’m hearing those stories as well among my listeners and my guests. It’s about leadership. It’s about culture. It’s about the organization and people getting back into their comfort zone, their default setting. And if you were a manager who led by commanding control and you had the need for proximity to know that your staff was working and being productive, it was very uncomfortable to have this pandemic disruption and send everybody home and have to adjust to that.  

And even if you saw that people were being productive, there’s something in our human nature that just doesn’t trust it to be real, I think. And that’s, again, down to the individual, down to the organization. I’ve heard good stories too. I’ve heard stories where the culture before COVID hit was one of trust and transparency and there was a significant dynamic work philosophy letting people be their best selves regardless of whether it was in the office or on the road, at home, in a coworking space. Those organizations adjusted very quickly. Just more people did what they had to do, and the managers were ready to deal with that type of experience. 

 But that’s what it comes back to to me is the people’s side and that I don’t blame those folks that are falling back into wanting everybody under their purview again or getting people back into the office because that’s the way we’ve always done it. It’s because that’s what they’re comfortable with and no one’s trained them any different. What have we done to really enhance management techniques and up- skill? Again, I’m not speaking for everybody, but some organizations have, but I read a recent survey that about two thirds of managers feel ill equipped to manage a remote team, because it’s not the same as managing a team that’s in front of you. So, are you hearing those types of stories as well, Doug? Are you hearing that it’s the people struggling to deal with this change? And if so, how do we as workplace leaders, if we categorize ourselves as such and podcast hosts who get a chance to have these conversations and have a platform where people are listening, what do we tell our listeners when it comes to this conundrum, this challenge? 

Doug Shapiro: Oh, it’s a challenge. I think the profile of the leader is changing, is evolving. I think the skill sets are evolving. It doesn’t mean that yesterday’s leader is not effective today. I think they need to develop new skills and challenge themselves to connect differently. I mean, you went through that too as did I. 

 I think we’re all kind of going through that and I do think this is just a tiny preview of the rest of our careers, to be honest, because when I think about what’s the most important skill to stay relevant, it’s being a constant learner and this is just like our first big final exam. Well, we’re going to be in school all our lives and there’s going to be a bunch more of these in my opinion. Now, they may not be as harmful, physically harmful quite literally, as this, but technology will disrupt what we’re doing big time. Competitors will disrupt what you do, generations, preferences, priorities. All these things will continue to disrupt our current jobs and our current work. 

 I saw a statistic recently that said that it was like 40% of people, knowledge workers, felt that their job will become irrelevant over the next decade. And so the way I looked at that was okay, maybe it’s not that four out of every 10 jobs won’t exist, maybe it’s more like take your job now, 40% of what you’re doing now won’t exist. 60% of what you’re doing now will, so your job will still be there, but the 40% will get reinvented. And so this idea of becoming a learner I think is key and I think this is just that first big test. 

Mike: The midterm exam, maybe. I think you’re right. I have experienced that. I look back 10 years at what I was doing and I’ve been in marketing for my whole career and the way we communicate and the way we market to our potential customers is vastly different today than it was 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. I mean, before the internet, it was a whole different world of media and communication. 

 Now, what’s interesting is that as you say, we have a foundation, a skill set, but we have to evolve that skill set and upgrade it to be useful in the current environment. So, when you go from creating print media and sending out direct mail and turning that into instead a podcast or some type of an internet broadcast to communicate the same type of message, it just takes a learner. Like you said, it’s a learning curve and it’s difficult. It’s hard, especially if you have been proficient at the prior system and you hear people talk about this all the time. That’s the essence of change and change management is convincing people that taking the time to go through that, what Seth Godin, my favorite marketing guru, calls the dip of learning something new because you drop into this chasm of being inadequate or incapable of doing this new thing. 

 It’s really hard down there in the dip and most people quit when they’re down in the dip. They spend a lot of time and they spend a certain amount of time trying to get this new skill or this new understanding if they’re training on a software or they’re training on a new technology, for example, and they quit at the worst time after investing hours or months or even years trying to do something right before they’re about to get through the dip. The rewards come after you get through the dip and you get to this area of achievement and competency and you’re ready to go to that next level. A lot of people quit right before they get there after investing a whole lot of time. So it’s that understanding and convincing people to know that it’s going to be a journey and know it’s going to be a difficult one. And if you’re not prepared for it, Seth says quit before you even start. Don’t invest the time, don’t invest the equipment, the new technologies. Don’t say I’m going to start a podcast tomorrow, Doug, and say I’m going to buy the microphones and get all this high- tech video equipment and ready to go, and not understand that it’s tough to get the learning and the practice. It takes hours. The Malcolm Gladwell 10, 000 hours rings true for me in podcasting. How about you? Does that story of the dip resonate? 

Doug Shapiro: The dip is interesting. I think there’s actually two sides to that. There’s a side that’s less spoken about. So, you’ve got the struggle to get better at something new, but there’s also something else going on that we have to get good at, which is accepting grief because when change happens, we’re letting go of something. And you alluded to that, you said there’s people that have honed these skills maybe over decades that are no longer needed or that have changed so much. And so we have to get really good at accepting grief, letting go of what we were doing so that we can get through this dip because otherwise if we are perpetually hanging on to the way it was, it’ll make that dip even harder. 

Mike: Yeah. Are you familiar with that quote from the book Flight of the Buffalo by Belasco and Stayer. The only reason I know it is because so many of my guests refer to this change quote and paraphrase it in many different ways. So I was compelled to go out and find the original. It says change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up. We know this thing, we know what working from home now looks like and feels like and the flexibility that brings. And now we have to think about the new change management is going back to some public interaction office working with our colleagues again. And I feel like everybody’s focused on what they are going to give up and they don’t realize that there’s value in the change in a good way, that you’ve gained some things again, that innovation, that spark, that creativity, that human experience.  

That quote I’ve used for years, it’s from a book in the’90s. I mean, it was often used in terms of change regarding technology or change regarding an office move. When I was talking to my facility management friends, certainly having to communicate and express to the workforce that we’re changing the office, we’re maybe changing the design, the layout, the strategy. What do people do? They all kind of get tense and worry about what they’re going to miss out on, what are they going to give up? The great facility manager, the great leader communicates and casts a vision and says this is what you’re going to get from this new layout, this new strategy, this new office. And that’s been a relevant quote for me for a long time. 

Doug Shapiro: You’ve had this great continuation of interview. I mean, you have over 100 interviews with workplace and real estate experts. It’s interesting because you’ve kind of gotten to witness this wave as they get through what we’ve gone through in the last year. Does anybody express their fears? Does anybody say, ” Hey, this is my biggest fear right now,” and has that evolved, because I mean, a lot of things we talk about right now about the purpose of the office, it’s almost like it’s a lot of the same things we were talking about before pandemic. It’s just that there’s a heightened urgency to get those things right now. 

Mike: Yes. I’ve seen an evolution of the thinking of the conversation. I’ve seen a change in how people are viewing this next frontier. First of all, no one ever imagined it would be a year and a half before we started to talk about returning to offices. I remember in a kind of a comical way the fact that back at the beginning of the pandemic, we targeted poll questions asking when will you be returning to your office? And people would say by the end of May of 2020, by June, by July, and then it became maybe the fall, then it became maybe the 1st of the year 2021. And you’ve seen the whole evolution there and the fact that we are where we are for so many reasons. But do people express their fear? 

 If I push them properly and give them that comfortable space where I first express that I don’t have it all under control, I do often get guests who are willing to admit it as well. I would actually say most of my guests are that type of a humble leader. They realize that they don’t have all the answers. They realize that we know less today than we’ll know six months from now or a year from now and they have to work in that space of known knowns and known unknowns and even unknown unknowns as the famous Donald Rumsfeld quote goes. But I really have in recent months been trying to open up those conversations more around not just the fear and how people handle that unknown but also how do people do with their self- awareness, and starting with my own personality, my own experience. 

 We have all gone through this pandemic and we have been through the fear. We’ve been through research trying to understand the virus, understand the threat it poses to us personally and to our family. Everybody’s got a comfort zone now of how they live their life or how they now believe things are going to go from here. So, I believe that everybody’s… No matter how you got there, whether it was through a lot of in- depth scientific research or through media consumption where you got your information from one side or the other extreme, or maybe even disinformation on the internet, we all know that’s a problem, but I think human beings have come to some place of this is what I believe, and now we have a bias.  

Whether that’s true or not I’m not here to decide which position or what area is fact and not fact, but we all have a belief system and we all now have a confirmation bias. So whenever something new comes out, a new variant or a new news report about policies or procedures or recommendations, we all will react to that through this lens of our existing belief and our bias. So, I’ve seen that happen. I think it’s going to be a big, big concern going forward as we get more and more people to return to offices in mass or not, or have that challenge of trying to build that culture of collaboration and all the things that we know we want to do as organizations. So my concern is, are we really looking at it in a more nuanced way? Are we stepping out of our own bias, our own bubble, our own understanding, and putting ourselves in the shoes of others and doing it in a way that’s empathetic and understanding, even if you believe that other person is completely wrong. How do we manage those types of situations and how are we kind to our teammates, our colleagues and just the people in general around us? Have you spent much time, Doug, on that in exploring that? 

Doug Shapiro: Well, I can tell you we’ve explored the word bias quite a bit. But I think the way you captured that is really nice, honestly. I think that this idea of all the decisions that are in front of us right now, when I say us, workplace leadership, we have to recognize now that what may appear black and white to us is really only a product that goes through a filter, our own filter, our own biases. And so I think being really aware of that is a unique skill that you’re capturing here that I think is… And self- awareness might actually be one of those critical leadership skills of the new decade. We talk a lot about empathy and there’s this component of empathy that’s critical, which is self- awareness. I don’t know that we talk about that a lot, but that’s really important and I think that there’s something to really have a deep conversation on. I mean, when I think about self- awareness, you can immediately pop into your head some of the people that don’t have it. But boy, as you start to make decisions on behalf of other people, a healthy dose of that is critical. 

Mike: Absolutely. I’ve seen it and I’ve experienced it. But every time I have those moments where I see or hear someone say or do something that is so lacking that self- awareness, I have to check myself and say, okay, Mike, where is your blind spot in this? What are you not seeing? And it’s hard, Doug. It’s hard to, I don’t know, is the word humility, find that place of humility. Push aside our pride, our human nature that says I got this under control. I know what’s going on here. I’m right, you’re wrong. I guess I’ve gotten to the age where I’ve become less about the black and white and more about the grays and the nuances of life. Empathy is a good word. I think seeing things from someone else’s perspective is a way towards self- awareness, but honestly, it’s a work in progress and I think it’s going to be a lifelong experience. 

 The only way to really get there for all of us is to be open to maybe operating outside of our own echo chamber and our own bubble and even our own community of people that are doing the same type of work as we do. I spend a lot of time in the world of facility management and corporate real estate, but I’ve tried in recent years to reach across the aisle to the HR community and to the IT folks. There are different perspectives here, and I’m just talking about it in the corporate world. Let’s even get out of the knowledge worker base. And I’ve had some conversations deliberately with people who are dealing more with workers that can’t work from their home offices. They’re out working usually very difficult jobs, very challenging jobs and being in many ways underpaid for that. I’ve been opened to seeing that that’s real and that’s what people are experiencing, and then trying to kind of process it and say how can I apply it to what I’m doing here and what my audience needs to hear. But to keep it within the framework of the office setting or the workplace conversation, there’s always been this difficulty of silos being built up. I often use the analogy of the breakfast club. I might’ve shared this with you offline, did I, where the movie The Breakfast Club is just kind of this incredible metaphor analogy of what goes on in a workplace. And if you’re not familiar with it, folks, it’s the idea of Saturday detention. Kids from high school have to go serve out their time in detention with each other and they’re representing different communities.  

You’ve got the athlete, the jock, you’ve got the pretty princess they call her, the popular girl. And then you’ve got the nerd, the geek kid, kind of like me in high school, probably playing too many video games and watching Star Wars over and over again. And then you’ve got the criminal or the guy who’s kind of the troublemaker. And then this girl they called the basket case who was just kind of out there. And they came into this Saturday detention thinking they had nothing to do with each other, shouldn’t have anything to do with each other because they have nothing in common. But by the end of the movie, spoiler alert, people are people, human beings are going through the same challenges and dealing with the same fears and they kind of broke down those silos of their different groups or tribes within high school and they found a way to come together and really understand each other. So I see that as happening in the workplace today and I’ve talked about it for years in that you’ve got HR, you’ve got IT, but are they talking with facility management? Are they talking with real estate? Are they talking with even their marketing team and others or are they just doing their own work in their silos? 

Doug Shapiro: You mentioned something when you were talking about self- awareness that kind of sparked something here. You talked about the importance of this kind of humility and slowing down and you said sometimes we recognize that we don’t have the answers. These leaders might recognize that. And I think there’s this pressure on leadership and also on many of like the workplace consultants and the designers of the world to have answers. It’s like people are looking and they’re asking, what should we do? What should we do? Or they’re searching the web and they’re looking for answers. I think everyone wants answers right now. But I think the great exercise that we could do that would be this exercise towards humility and dropping your own personal filter is spend more time thinking about what are the critical questions we need to ask, because oftentimes I think if you just search for answers, you’re missing I think the real insights. 

Mike: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I think that it’s a challenging role today as either a leader or just a middle manager of an organization. I don’t envy CEOs who are now in the news being called out for their pronouncements. And in this culture of polarization, everyone’s looking for a sensational headline that they can point to and kind of blame the CEO for being completely out of touch by asking their employees to come back or the opposite saying everybody’s great if they say we’re going to be a fully remote company forever and you never have to come back to the office. 

 The two extremes are the ones we see a lot of headlines about, but we all know if you dig deeper into the article even, into the interview, into the reality, the nuance, it’s a spectrum and it’s not one size fits all. These leaders are making pronouncements and choices and making decisions and policies that are going to maybe turn out to be wrong and they have to adjust and adapt. And I think that’s all of us because regardless of your role, you do have the chance to have an influence and have an impact on things. And I’m very encouraged, Doug. In recent weeks, at least, I’ve asked this question of my guests and they’re mostly facility management and real estate leaders who are having to make some decisions. And many are holding that line that you described. They’re being patient. They’re saying, okay, we’re going to make some minor adjustments.  

We’re going to put policies in place that allow for choice and flexibility. We’ve done all the surveys. We understand what people say they want. But come the fall and into next year, we’re going to really watch and monitor and measure what really happens before we make huge changes to our real estate portfolio or huge investments in a new design of the office, for example. So there’s a lot of theorizing going on around here and I wonder if you’re hearing the same. Are you hearing some brave voices saying let’s not jump the gun and pour a ton of money into either just totally recasting our portfolio or redesigning our spaces until we really know what the people actually do and want to do and how those surveys match up with reality. Are you hearing any of that? 

Doug Shapiro: What I’m hearing a lot of that this is sparking here is people are making the investment in rapid change. They’re making the investment in products and places that can support quick flexibility, quick change, whether it’s… We talk about it in a few different ways. There’s this kind of day one day two, day one day 30, and day one day 365. That’s kind of how we break it out. So day one day two is maybe one individual being able to change the way they interact in the office with the space or technology.  

So day-to-day, that person is going to need different things. We all have different activities that we do throughout the day day- to- day. And then there’s this day one day 30, and this is more of your team oriented spaces where project teams might need ways to create a space that will be standing for a month, two months, three months, that can support the needs of that project during that time. But then when that project’s over and teams shift and change and projects move on, that space then has the flexibility to serve another purpose. And then you’ve got your day one day 365, which is can we shift the whole purpose of the office if we need to?  

If we’re no longer doing heads down work in the office to the degree we thought we would, do we have the flexibility with the products and the technology we have to make it more collaborative, to make it 50% more collaborative? And so what I’m seeing is people are willing to invest a lot more in that because to have products and spaces like that, oftentimes there’s moving parts. There’s a higher degree of design and thinking. And so there is a little more upfront investment, but the example is slapping up drywall and studs versus having freestanding furniture-based space solutions.  

And so that’s a big difference that I’m seeing in how people are making decisions now. It’s almost like R& D, research and design. That used to be the role of the manufacturer. So we’ve got a product designer. We make the perfect product. We use it to design the perfect environment. We hand it over and it’s like, ” Here, this is yours now and you get to use this this way.” But the reality now I think is it’s almost like we’re taking R& D and we’re giving it away and we’re saying, okay, we’re going to make things, we’re going to design environments and we’re going to give those to you and now you have the R& D responsibility. I think that’s kind of a neat shift that we can use and do as designers and empower our clients and our customers to be more interactive, to tinker more, to have that lab mentality.  

So I don’t think it’s all about designing the right space upfront to support these kind of collaborative or different styles of activities but giving them a toolkit in a way that they can shape and create with. I do think there’s also some new skills though that we have to learn. I mean, we have to think about things like camera angles that may not have been part of our design speak in the past, but I think we have to understand, like you said, how to create level playing fields with virtual participants who are in the same space. I mean, I’m even wondering if some of the table shapes, even the need for tables versus having lounges with tablets, things like that to create conference spaces where people video in. I mean, that will change, but it’s going to take some tinkering. And to be honest, I mean, a great design is built on observation. We haven’t had a lot of time to really observe how we’re going to interact in these new ways. And so I do expect things to kind of evolve and for us not to have that perfect answer that we hand over. 

Mike: Exactly. So many good thoughts there, Doug. You remind me of the challenges of hybrid, the opportunities to learn and then take those learnings and not go back to the old habits. That’s going to be something that our audiences of leaders have to be prepared for and not just communicated but live it out in a practical way, whether it’s you’re advising a client or you’re leading an organization or trying to sell up to your leadership. And that’s a lot of my audience’s position where they have to really get a grasp of what’s going on with the workforce, what the needs are, what the built environment and the role of the space is and how technology can interact and integrate and deliver on the expectations of employees, and then have to communicate and sell that to the leadership to make sure that the organization sees the value and makes the right choices and decisions going forward.  

So I always come back to the human experience and I want to get your thoughts on this if you’ve been talking about it as much as I have. This is the one thing I’m not hearing a lot discussed and I try to get it going in conversations I have but it’s often met with people… Really not sure how to handle this question. So I’ll put it to you and see if you have any insider unique perspective here or maybe I’m just crazy. But the idea of the old saying from Henry Ford when he was designing the model T or after he had designed the model T, I guess this quote is attributed to him where he said if I asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said faster horses or a faster horse. So many conversations I’ve had are around this idea of surveys and asking employees what they want. I’ve only heard a few of my guests resist that and say, ” Listen, we need to gather data, yes, understand people’s needs, understand their personas, understand the profiles of work and workers and personalities.” And as you were describing, it’s no way to do it in a broad, generic sense. It’s really customizing these spaces and these policies and these strategies to meet individual needs and it’s very complex. 

 The fact of the matter is that sometimes human beings don’t even know what they want, don’t even know what is best for them. This is the area where I get a lot of blank stares because I am trying to express my feeling of something I referenced earlier, the idea that I want to get out of my Hobbit hole and re- engage with the world and go back to conferences and go back to that human interaction. But there’s the part of me that is going to resist that and I need a coach maybe, is that the right word, a leader to say let’s get going, Mike, you can do this, because they understand that it’s not a natural thing. I think the tendency is to say, ” Hey folks, you have the full freedom to choose. It’s your choice. Flexibility. You decide when to come in and what to do and what to do where.” I think there’s a danger there. I think we as humans need some, I guess the word guardrails keeps coming up, but some direction, some inspiration, some coaching. What do you think about that? 

Doug Shapiro: I think you’re raising such a great point. Already I start to go back and question some of the things I’ve said or the assumptions I’ve made. I think you’re really hitting on something important. I can hear you struggle with the words like, ah, maybe it’s not guardrails but it’s like, you don’t want to call it like a carrot dangling out there, but like what is it that will help us uncover the purpose, the inspiration that we didn’t see on our own, where we needed help understanding what was possible because we didn’t see it. I think you’re really hitting on something.  

And again, I think that does go back to… I think to me it goes back to questions, and I’d love to hear your take on this too because it’s like I think you’re right, you can ask people what they want. We’re going to do a needs assessment. We’re going to find out what you need. Those are the easy questions and the answers will probably be exactly what you’d expect them to be. I think asking really tough questions. It forces you to think about things differently. And so maybe those questions don’t all need to be answered, but really thinking hard about questions will lead you to different ways of thinking and seeing things.  

And so that’s where I tend to focus my energy when there’s a really complex problem to solve. And honestly I feel like that’s an awakening that I’ve gone through really through the podcasts, which is I started to uncover so much more about people when I really started to think about the questions differently. I actually had a recent guest on who’s kind of a conversation expert. He used an example, he interviews a lot of coaches and he said, ” Rather than ask a coach, well, what are you about, I would ask him a question like this.” And he said, ” If I followed you around to practice all day, what is a word or phrase that I would hear over and over again?” Okay. 

 Well, that’s a really interesting question and that would reveal a lot that it wouldn’t otherwise reveal. And I think that’s kind of where we’re at right now is like, man, we need to be really thinking hard and differently about what will give people the freedom, the passion to be so inspired to do their best work versus like what do they need or what do they want. And that is, I can tell you, I’m not there. I’m wrestling with it too. I think we all are, but I think your point is really important, which is problem is complex and we can’t just simply ask people what they want. I think that’s the easy way out. 

Mike: You remind me, Doug, of the lesson that I’ve learned over these many podcasts and it’s to be open to this paradox of the workplace or the paradoxes of human behavior, because as I listen to my guests share their expertise and I’ve noted this in the past and it’s become even more profound during the pandemic and going forward, but I always used to talk about workplace paradoxes. One guest would come on one week and say technology is the great tool and we are more connected than ever before. And I’d say, absolutely, that’s so true. And then the next week someone would come on and say technology has created some interesting dilemmas and challenges and people are more isolated than ever before because of social media or because of the way they communicate via technology. And I’m like, that’s true too. This is a paradox. That’s just one example. There are so many of them around smart buildings versus traditional construction, the way we view the built environment, the way the office has been operating over the last many decades.  

So, this idea of paradox is something I’ve become more and more comfortable with and talk about more and more. And people are now in this place where they’re talking about, again, if you believe the surveys, 40%, 50% of the workforce is considering a change coming out of the pandemic and if they’re going to be asked to return or demanded to return to offices, they’re ready to jump ship. I saw an NBC report just the other day that said 90% of people are considering it or thinking about it. And I think that’s just that human default setting. 

 It’s because if you put somebody on the spot and say, hey, whatever policies comes down from your current employer and it’s something that makes you uncomfortable or puts you in a difficult place, the default is I’m going to go find another job. I’m going to go elsewhere. The grass is always greener. That’s just a human condition. We need to preempt that. As leaders, we need to be communicating, be sharing. Not tell people what they want to hear just to try to keep them around but explain the bigger picture. Why are we choosing this policy? Why do we think the office is valuable? Why come back? Why get together? If that’s not part of your managerial style, it needs to be because people are, I think, desperate for that type of contributing. 

Doug Shapiro: Well, I’ve enjoyed our conversation a lot. I had fun and you’re so great to speak with. I mean, you’re just, you’ve asked great questions and you riff so well. 

Mike: Well, thanks. You too, as we bring the musical reference to a closing. 

Doug Shapiro: Oh, well done. 

Mike: You too, Doug. 

Doug Shapiro: Well done. Well done. 

Mike: There you have it, everybody. Doug Shapiro of OFS and me with a long form podcast crossover discussion about the future of work and the unique opportunities we all have today as workplace leaders. If you enjoyed that with Doug’s chillaxing conversational style, I really recommend you check out his Imagine a Place podcast. I will leave a link in this episode’s show notes to make it easy for you to connect with Doug and to find his show. And when you do, please tell him that you heard him here first on the Workplace Innovator Podcast. And if you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a colleague or a friend, and would you consider leaving me a rating and a review over on Apple Podcasts.  

That goes such a long way and I would appreciate it very much and I thank you in advance for your support. I hope you’ll join me again next week as I welcome another amazing industry leader to help, to encourage and inspire us all to be a workplace innovator. Peace out. 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 


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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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