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Long-Term Views on Workplace Strategy and Employee Experience

Lena Thompson, FMP, SFP is Director of Building Operations & Administrative Services at the American Psychological Association and Susan Clarke is Research Director – Smart Buildings at Verdantix. Lena and Susan joined Mike Petrusky and his co-host Madison Dujka on a recent “Workplace Innovator Interactive Livestream” to discuss future offices, remote working, smart building technologies, … Continue reading "Long-Term Views on Workplace Strategy and Employee Experience"

Long-Term Views on Workplace Strategy and Employee Experience

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Lena Thompson, FMP, SFP is Director of Building Operations & Administrative Services at the American Psychological Association and Susan Clarke is Research Director – Smart Buildings at Verdantix. Lena and Susan joined Mike Petrusky and his co-host Madison Dujka on a recent “Workplace Innovator Interactive Livestream” to discuss future offices, remote working, smart building technologies, and leading our organizations during a pandemic. This highlight episode offers valuable insights delivered during our weekly live broadcast happening every Wednesday at Noon ET.

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Read the full transcript:

Lena Thompson (00:04):

Human resources and IT, like I said, we’ve got to do a better job of collaborating.

Susan Clarke (00:11):

My recommendation would be try and to connect your program, to the strategic program of the top-level executives.

Mike P (00:19):

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.

Mike P (00:44):

Hi everybody, it’s your pal Mike P welcoming you back to the Workplace Innovator Podcast. This is episode 120 of the show, which I have to stop and pause and just reflect on that for a second. 120 episodes of this podcast. Quite amazing, and I am so grateful to everyone out there who makes it possible, all of my past guests, you the listeners. And of course, now through these last several months, the participants in our weekly interactive live stream conversations, we do it for an hour every Wednesday noon Eastern time. If you have not yet participated, join us and be a part of the conversation.

         It is a two-way street, and although I’m selfish and I have a lot of questions for my guests, I’m always hopeful, and looking for others to help support me by asking the right questions. So, please start by going to, and click the button at the top of the page to register for our weekly live stream broadcasts. Today, I am excited to share with you another highlight reel, from a recent live stream conversation between myself, my co-host Madison and Lena Thompson of the American Psychological Association, and Susan Clarke from Verdantix, two amazing industry leaders with different perspectives.

         We had a really good conversation, and a lot of fun along the way. In fact, I was just getting back from a week’s vacation, when this broadcast took place. So we started with my fresh perspective about the need for a longer term view of managing the workplace, wherever that may be, in our office buildings at home, whatever the future may hold. We don’t know the answers right now, but this is the conversation that really kicked off my recent focus on living with COVID, and finding ways as facility management and real estate professionals, to leverage technology, be creative, to help become a leader in your organization. Lots of practical tips, and I’m sure you’re going to enjoy this. So here we go.

         Is this thing on? Hello? Hello? Hello? Hello? Hola, I’m at a place called Vertigo. Little U2 for you folks, just to kick things off, welcome to the show. I listened to a lot of U2 on the beach last week. Madison, did you miss me?

Madison (03:16):

That sounds exactly like something that you would do. Oh, it was terrible. I had a terrible time without you.

Mike P (03:22):

It’s okay. It’s okay I’m back now. I’m back. And as we enter this new stage of living with COVID-19, we’re into one to four or five, depending on how you define it, there’s been a shift. I certainly thought about this on the beach last week, and to kind of get us into a place where we can all help each other, navigate the current situation, I want to welcome our guests in Susan Clark and Lena Thompson. Welcome to the live stream.

         Lena, let’s start with you. I’m so happy to have you join me again, a long-time friend from the Capital Chapter of IFMA, right here in Washington, D.C, and we go way back, don’t we?

Lena Thompson (04:03):

We go way back. We go back to like car seats, man. We go way back.

Mike P (04:08):

Well, I’ll not touch that one, but I think that your sense of humor is part of why I asked you to be here today, and certainly your experience. You’re the Director of Building Operations and Administrative Services at APA, which is the American Psychological Association, right here in our nation’s Capital.

Lena Thompson (04:26):

Yeah, I’m not a psychologist, I have to pretend to be one, and an IFM at the same time, which is quite challenging on a good day.

Mike P (04:32):

Well, I’ll tap into your expertise about facility management and leave the psychology questions to the side for today. But I do have some questions about that, and I also am glad to know we have an IFM Practitioner and then on the other side of the aisle, a researcher and expert, someone who knows a lot about the tools and technologies impacting the building environment and that Susan Clarke from London in the UK. Welcome Susan.

Susan Clarke (04:57):

Great, thank you for having me. I’m diving in from London and we’re having a typical summer’s day here. It’s a very great, and it’s drizzling away, but yeah, good to join you guys.

Mike P (05:10):

Susan, you and I have a bit of a history too. We did a webinar together last fall, and I really enjoyed hearing about your research and expertise at Verdantix, which is a research firm that studies the world of building technology. And we are now living in a pandemic that’s going to be going on for a long time. It seems pretty clear. I think we’ve come from crisis mode, deal with what we can to get everybody set up at home. Then begin talking and planning about what the new workplace is going to look like, preparing for a return to offices, and that’s still going on.

         And we can certainly talk about that today, but now I feel like we are into a lot of places, especially here in the US where we’ve reopened, cases are increasing, yet people continue to live their lives. Some go back to work, some will continue to work from home, do you think Susan, I’ll start with you. Do you think that this idea that I’ve come towards, we’ve reconciled to the fact that this is a long-term prospect and COVID is not going to go away tomorrow, next month, or even next year, even after a potential vaccine, we all have to now live in this new reality. Is that something that rings true in your mind?

Susan Clarke (06:17):

Yeah, absolutely. So with my role, I spend a lot of time conducting research interviews with various people, whether it’s a head of real estate, head of workplace, head of facilities management, and the big theme from all of that is, we’re in this for the long haul. A lot of people are expecting COVID to become something that’s endemic in the population. So it’s going to be a virus that’s with us, and continues to flare up in the long term until we find a vaccine. So, a lot of people I think are taking this as an opportunity to stay calm, and think about really changing their processes for the long term.

         So, it does seem to be a big moment of reset, and it’s not going away anytime soon. I mean, we’ve been following with our research. What’s happened to firms that have already reopened their workplace, whether that’s an office or a retail shop, there’s been instances of firms that have reopened and actually have said, wow, we have to close down because there’s local flare ups of infections. So I think what we’re seeing is, this is with us for the long term, and it’s not just about pushing in places to stop gaps strategies, actually, we really need to rethink the way that we do things.

Mike P (07:39):

Yeah, and I think Lena, we’ve talked about this at the Capital Chapter of IFMA, the IFM round tables, your colleagues in the profession, other practitioners are expressing what they’re thinking. Have you seen that shift that I’m talking about and where would you say you stand today and in your thinking for your organization at APA?

Lena Thompson (07:56):

Yeah, those round tables were so, so helpful and just hearing, what my colleagues are doing, and also the associates in the industry. And it has been such a pendulum swing from really scurrying, almost during the whole, I called it the Pac-Man mode, where everybody was trying to gobble up all kinds of information. And now it’s more of a soft pause, to really rethink. But my organization made a decision very early on that, we extended it three months out. We did it really hard, one day we were in the office on a Thursday and then we’re not back. So we have huge challenges with over 500 people that needed things from the office. And that’s a whole another story. I’ll tell you about that a little bit later if we can get to it, but where we are right now is we’re thinking about 21.

         We’re not even thinking about 20, what does 21 look like? We’re thinking post vaccine, not even thinking, and then what would we do with our actual facilities? Will we continue to keep them the same? We’re going to be doing things based on scientific evidence and not just having a knee jerk reaction to what the political climate is doing. So we’re very focused. We’re a scientific organization. So of course I can’t just run out and make things happen. I have to have some little bit of data behind things. So that’s where we are. I just think we’re in such a unique space that it’s really, really tough to… Everybody has a different answer. My answer is totally different from one of my colleagues, they’re going back to work, whereas I’m just trying to still acclimate to being at home, which by the way, in my entire career, I’ve never, ever worked from home.

Mike P (09:40):


Lena Thompson (09:40):

Never, never. I would have an occasional half a day, or day off and I’d work at home, but my entire career I’ve always worked inside of a facility. So to be productive as an IFM, without an actual building per se, it’s really interesting. [crosstalk 00:10:00].

Mike P (10:02):

Have you adjusted? Have you feel like you’ve adapted to this new environment? This new reality, and are you doing okay? Do you still have a lot to learn, a lot to figure it out?

Lena Thompson (10:10):

There’s all so much to learn, and it’s not just with managing and facility because the buildings still need to be functioning. They have mechanicals, and all these things that still need to be done. So, you have a skeleton crew, but it’s not nearly the amount of people that you would typically have, but yeah, so much, so much more to learn. The whole PPE aspect still has to happen in the facility. The tenants that are in our buildings are looking to us as champions for them to help, them get the right information to put up the right products, and so, yeah, there’s still so much to learn. And with the real estate market being the way that it is, and people trying to decide what to do, we’ve got to do the same thing. Even though we own the building, we still have to figure out what direction we’re going to go in, how much space will we need in 21?

Mike P (11:01):

Susan, that reminded me, Lena mentioned it, employee experience, and the thing I remember most from your presentation last fall, the webinar presentation last fall, was about this research, showing that the focus for facility management, real estate and workplace leaders of all types is that employee experience is the number one priority and investment, in new technologies is all designed to help enhance that employee experience. What has happened now in today’s marketplace? Do you see that same focus or do you think you see things changing?

Susan Clarke (11:36):

It’s an interesting question, and there’s no kind of straightforward, easy answer there. In many ways, we are seeing a real continued focus on the employees’ experience and the employees’ well-being. Part of that is trying to think about how we can keep staff motivated when they’re working from home. So, we have seen that whole employee experience thing stay with us, but become much broader. I think it’s actually going to be interesting though, when staff return to the office. What is going to happen to an employee’s experience then? Because in many ways, a lot of strategies are around safety first. We’re thinking about the collective health and safety of all staff entering a building. So what happens then? There’s been a big focus in some of the more flagship smart buildings around individual comfort. So the Edge in Amsterdam, for example, employees can control their own temperature and lighting levels locally, but can we still give employees that level of control around their environment, and could some elements of employee comfort actually take a step back?

         There’s obviously going to have to be new rules in place. When people re-enter the workplace, some companies may say face masks are mandatory. I saw some guidance coming out from the UK government, and they were saying that some offices should actually be opening windows, so there’s lots of natural ventilation, even if employees feel cold. And actually that statement, there is a major departure from what we previously saw in the big smart building world, where it was all about catering around the individual. So, I think there’s going to be a bit of a cradle, or tension between making the culminating an individual’s comfort needs versus the collective wellbeing of an office. So in many ways, yes, it is too important, but there’s this new safety angle that is going to need to be rebalanced with the experience size.

Mike P (13:48):

We’ve got halfway through our hour, and I haven’t even gone to Madison and asked for any comments or questions. Are there any comments or questions from the audience Maddie?

Madison (13:55):

Yes. So, actually Mohammed asked, can you please share your ideas on how to build social capital with new hires during the working from home period?

Mike P (14:04):

I love that. So that addresses Lena, what you were talking about, onboarding people, and trying to get them acclimated to the culture, and getting them on board with the mission of the organization. Any suggestions on how to do that in this unusual time?

Lena Thompson (14:17):

Well, I will say, I’ve spent probably the last two months speaking with leadership and, just trying to wrap our head around, what will people need in their home environment? So, delivering a home office is really critical, from the very start, making sure that that employee knows that we are being thoughtful about their home environment, and introducing them, in a different way, cause we usually have a round table, and we all go in from a leadership perspective end, but from a different perspective, having setting up webinars so that they can get to learn about what’s on within each department. So we’ve been talking a little bit about it internally with my department, but human resources, and IT, like I said, we’ve got to do a better job of collaborating.

Mike P (15:03):

You know, it’s funny Lena, I just had a conversation about this because I saw a post on LinkedIn yesterday, from Tracy Hawkins, I think is her name from Twitter, the Director of Global Real Estate and Facilities for Twitter. In her post, she talked about some of the challenges in her career and, taking a risk, and not listening to the naysayers, all very inspirational stuff. But the thing that jumped out to me in the post was her title. She added it’s Director of Real Estate and Facilities and Remote Experience, or maybe it was Director of Real Estate and Employee Experience and Remote inexperience.

Lena Thompson (15:35):

And remote yes.

Mike P (15:37):

Yeah, so we all know that Twitter and Facebook and some of these companies in Silicon Valley are going with the remote work permanently,

Lena Thompson (15:44):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike P (15:45):

And there’s a conversation we had around that, whether it’s a good idea, bad idea, and interesting to know your thoughts maybe on that, but what do you think about this idea of your title being, Building Operations and Remote Operations in some capacity, it’s becoming the reality, right?

Lena Thompson (16:01):

It is a reality and it is, not going to go away, even if, when we open, in 21, if we opene in 21, I have no idea. I am still going to have to impart the support to those employees. And they’re going to still need furniture, they’re going to still need supplies, they’re still going to need things from my office, and we’re still doing shipping. I mean, people are still sending things out. I mean, it’s still part of my day to day operations, but I like that title, I like that. Then I’m going to have to put that in the back pocket.

Mike P (16:32):

Awesome. And Susan, what are you hearing or what do you recommend for your new employees and folks at Verdantix, but also just industry-wide and, as far as learn about new technologies, or adopt new technology tools, or maybe explore those that they didn’t have the time or the budget to do before the pandemic started. But now they are in a situation where we’re all forced to, we’ve got the attention of leadership. What do you recommend to people out there listening?

Susan Clarke (16:57):

So actually Mike, you do bring up a good point that actually right now executives are taking a step back and really thinking about new ways of doing things. So, I think if you’re a head of facilities, head of workplace and you have this digitalization program or piece of software that you’ve been interested in deploying, now could be a good time to pitch it. My recommendation would be trying to connect your program to the strategic program of the top level executives. So if there’s a new digitalization program being rolled out, try and make your own initiative fit into their broader piece. So in many ways it is a great time to be pitching mask. If you’re able to show some near term value with your proposed program, maybe it ain’t that re-entry of people into the workplace or the better, but certainly it’s a great opportunity to be using this time of rethinking, to put new ideas in front of the executives.

Mike P (18:04):

There you have it folks, Lena Thompson of APA and Susan Clarke of Verdantix, sharing just a few of their ideas about the current and future workplace and how IFM and workplace professionals can take the lead in their organizations to really help us navigate throughout the coming months and into next year. So much to consider, and I really appreciated the time I had to spend with Lena and Susan. In fact, we had so much fun. I couldn’t do a justice during this audio only edit.

         So I really do encourage you to check out the full recording. It’s an hour long. We did a lot of fun summer vacation based poll questions, as we often do on the live stream, this or that polls at the beginning of the broadcast. And then we had, of course our escape from reality musical and TV recommendations, a lot of laughs, a lot of smiles. You need to see their faces. So please check the show notes for this episode. I’ve given you a link directly to where you can download the full video recording of this particular live stream broadcast. And also, I want to thank you all for listening. If you are enjoying this podcast, it really helps a lot, if you would head over to Apple Podcasts, leave us a rating and a review, let us know what you think and I will, of course be forever in your debt and thankful to you, as we continue to build our community of professionals who want to encourage and inspire each other to be a workplace innovator. Peace out.

Mike P (19:50):

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 i-Office 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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