Mike Petrusky recently delivered a breakout session for the Digital Workplace Experience Conference to their audience focused on the HR & IT community. He offered some of the lessons learned after interviewing hundreds of leaders in facility management, corporate real estate and workplace research to discover the best strategies for the future of work. Over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Mike has discovered that employee experience is unique to the individual, our personal beliefs and new habits are now well established, and leadership in a hybrid world will be very complex. So, where do things stand today? We have theories about what the future workplace might look like and we think we know what our people will want when they return to offices. But, do we really know what we think we know? Mike will share what he has heard the experts say and how those recommendations match up against his personal feelings and fears. We have many human experiences in common and Mike believes that workplace leaders will face unexpected challenges moving their teams forward. Find out what it will take to be a workplace innovator in the months and years to come!
Ep. 172: Digital Workplace Experience Conference – Leading Through Hyrbid Model Complexities
Full Episode Transcript
Mike: Let’s talk about the goal here in the world of business today and the workplace, whether you’re an HR, IT, or as many of my friends in the facility management and real estate world are thinking and re- imagining space and strategy and policies. We want to deliver a great human-centric experience.
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.
Mike: Hey folks, and welcome to the show. My name is Mike Petrusky, and I will be your host for this live broadcast. Wait a minute, check that, force of habit. Sorry. Let me say, hey everybody, and thank you for joining me here at the Digital Workplace Experience summit. I’m thrilled to have the chance to present to you today about the workplace and some of the paradoxes that we as workplace leaders must face as we lead our organizations through what will certainly be an interesting time of hybrid work and distributed work and returning to offices in a way that is healthy, safe, and comfortable for your workforce.
As I mentioned, my name is Mike and I am the director of events at iOFFICE, the leading employee experience-focused integrated workplace management software solution, and we talk about this a lot on my podcast. It’s called the Workplace Innovator Podcast and I’ve been a host for several years now. And I had the chance to talk with many in our industry regarding the subject of the workplace, the built environment and the technology tools that are available to help your organization, manage your employees and deliver that incredible employee experience. I’ll be honest.
Most of my audience is made up of facility management and corporate real estate leaders. But in the recent years, I’ve invited conversations with people like you, the HR community, and IT professionals, because we need to look holistically at the tools and the opportunities and the challenges facing us in our workplaces, and certainly coming out of a pandemic or in the middle of a pandemic experience, depending on how you look at it, we have to work together and take a holistic view of the challenges ahead.
So I’m thrilled to have the chance to speak with you and share some of the ideas that we talk about on my podcast, they call me DJ Mike P because I often will focus on human beings because as Depeche Mode said back in the 1980s, people are people. So regardless of your role, regardless of what your job function is, we can work together to deliver for our employees. So I often kick off the show by asking my guest to give us an inspirational quote. Let’s get inspired by some of the leaders in our world of business and, for me, marketing, that’s where I get a lot of my ideas. And I turned to this guy, if you don’t know him, Seth Godin is a guru who’s an author, he’s a blogger.
I encourage you to check them out because he has so many great insights into how people behave and how it applies to business and the workplace. And when we’re talking about paradoxes in workplaces, I see a lot of it on my show, and I’ll give you some examples in a second, but the quote I came to first, because I am a cup is half full kind of guy is from Seth, and he says this, “Optimism is the most important human trait because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation and to hope for a better tomorrow.” And isn’t that true as we head into the fall of 2021?
The things we’re looking to do as workplace leaders, and we want to help to be conduits of change and deliver the human experience that everyone is looking for. But again, I mentioned, my presentation is focused on paradoxes and Seth also says this, because in this time of information overload and polarization in our culture and disinformation even, it’s hard to know what to believe. And here’s a quote from Seth about that. He says,”We believe what we want to believe. And once we believe something, it becomes a self- fulfilling truth.” And that will certainly apply to this conversation today. I’ll talk more about some of my thoughts on this. But what is this paradox of the workplace?
I have talked about it for years and it’s nothing new for me, but I’ve just been noticing over and over, especially during this unique and unprecedented time in our workplaces, that guests will come on the podcast and they’ll share some information, some research, a survey, and it’ll give me an idea that I know to be true. That is true. I agree with you, whatever that thought our idea was. And then the next week another guest will come on and they’ll give me another idea that seems to be contradictory. It’s absurd almost, because they’re two completely different thoughts, but this idea of a paradox is one where you at the end of the day, realize that both of these truths can be true and we need to find a more nuanced way to approach things. So the best example of this in recent years is the idea of technology and the way that through social media and through all technology channels, we’re more connected than we’ve ever been before.
We were able to do things amazingly in this work-from-home experiment over the last 18 months to work effectively and to have this technology that allows us to do our jobs. Many knowledge workers have been very successful and we’re therefore more connected than ever before with our teams, right? That’s something that is true. But at the same time, we know that the feeling of isolation is on the rise. People are struggling. Mental health is a real challenge, and all of us have experienced that. I’ll tell you stories of some of the struggles I’ve had, and we are disconnected in many ways more than ever because of the fact that through technology, it’s a different experience. It’s a more draining experience. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. And therefore, we are dealing with that truth as well.
Both are true, paradoxically. And as we approach this, we need to be leaders in the workplace. Workplace leaders need to lead, not just allow the default human position and experience to take place. So let’s talk about that. What are some of the practical complexities and challenges in hybrid working? Of course, I could do an hour on this because I’ve heard so many things from many great industry leaders about their organizations and what they’re doing to prepare for hybrid working. A lot of this, isn’t new for many big, big companies. They’ve just put an accelerant on it and they’ve had to rethink and reimagine their workplaces and work spaces and how they’re going to deliver that employee experience that we’re all in the business of doing. But very quickly, I’ll just share a few of the things that I’ve talked about, certainly the need for communication, and the fact that technology allows us to be in better communication. But at the same time, it’s limiting, the human side is a challenging one. The fact that when we do return to offices, there’s going to be the challenge of proximity bias. I’m sure you’ve been discussing that.
There’s going to be the idea of how do we deliver an equitable experience when half the team is physically together in a conference room and the other half is distributed and working remotely inaudible third space? So these challenges are real. And as I mentioned, the focus for me today is to really give us some inspiration to be better workplace leaders. And there’s a quote that has been offered up on my show many times. You’ll see, I love inspirational quotes, but here’s an oldie, but a goodie from Dwight D. Eisenhower, where he says, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” And I like that part of it at the end, the idea of being a leader allows us to inspire someone to do something that we want to get done.
So as a corporate leader, you want to get the business outcome and you want your team to be willing to do that, and they want to do that. So that’s a key factor, but I don’t think this quote tells the whole story, and I’m going to return to this idea shortly. But let’s talk about the goal in the world of business today and the workplace, whether you’re in HR, IT, or as many of my friends in the facility management and real estate world are thinking and re- imagining space and strategy and policies, we want to deliver a great, what we used to call a workplace, experience.
I know that we need to redefine that word. And I’ve also said, we need to be careful how we define the word employee experience, because I know that my friends in FM talk about employee experience in terms of many times space and furniture and design. And in HR, you think about the holistic journey of an employee from onboarding through their employee experience as a member of the team, all the way through off- boarding and maybe even coming back to the organization. So defining it is important. But for me today, I wanted to say, let’s talk about human experience, what we’re going through now, we’re all in this together. We’ve had to deal with so many challenges together.
So if we have a human- centric focus, I think we’re going to be much more successful. And many of my guests recently, especially, I’ve reached out to the world of anthropologists and sociologists and psychologists, and I love their perspective when it comes to workplaces and strategy to help us deliver a human- centric experience. But at the end of the day, it’s a culture question. And I can’t get into all the details and things I’ve heard from different organizations and different cultures, but I think we’re all on the same page. And we want to deliver a great employee experience that allows the workforce to bring their best selves to the job wherever they may be doing their work.
And often that means giving them choice. We hear ultimately that it’s about flexibility and it’s about choice. Well, I’m all about paradoxes today. And there’s a book that came out about 15 years called The Paradox of Choice, Why More Is Less by Barry Schwartz. And I think you’ll remember this book because it talked about the fact that as people we get overwhelmed if given too many choices, often it’s easy to know when you walk into a grocery store and you see so many different brands and so many different options for a coffee or a new type of milk, for example, you almost feel overwhelmed, like,” Which is the right choice?” And we often get paralyzed and don’t know what decision to make because human beings don’t want to make mistakes. We don’t want to fail.
And I think this book really is now applicable today as we talk about returning to offices and workplace strategies and what policies you and your team will put together, because people do want choice. They do want control. We know that to be true, but paradoxically, as this quote from Walter Darby Bannard says,” Too much freedom inhibits choice, constructive narrowness clarifies choice.” This reminds me of some of my recent guests who have talked about being very purposeful and deliberate about giving people choice. Yes, but also putting up guard rails. As a business leader, we need to make sure that the outcomes of the organization are top of mind. We do work for a reason, and we also want to care for our employees and give them the flexibility and control they’re looking for.
But too much, if it’s fully in the hands of the employee, that could become a problem. And this is something I spoke about in recent months on the podcast. I actually did a monologue around my personal experience and how I feel we are dealing with this situation of working during a pandemic and the challenge of when to return to offices and what those policies should look like. So for talking about where we are now and what comes next, I think we’re still in a transitional phase. I think we don’t really know what we don’t know yet. And there was a great quote from Donald Rumsfeld that talked about known knowns and known unknowns, and then there’s this thing called unknown unknowns. And we don’t even know what those are yet. So I really talk in terms of this idea that, hey, let’s not jump the gun. If you believe something and you think you know what the answer is, you might be wrong.
In fact, it’s likely that you’re wrong. So let’s be flexible. Let’s be humble. Let’s know where we are. And as we look to the future, let’s make policies that are adaptable and be ready to fail and fail fast and make adjustments along the way. So I talked about my own experience and the fact that I have been a remote worker for many, many years, but what’s different about this last year and a half is that I haven’t been on the road at events, at conferences, speaking to my friends in local professional associations and big national events.
I did a lot of speaking before the pandemic hit. Now I’ve continued that, and I’ve been doing it for a long time virtually now. And it’s also been something where I’ve been able to continue to put out my podcast on a regular basis and do webinars and do virtual events. And of course, that is something that is interesting as well, because you figure, listen, I’m as productive as ever or even more productive when it comes to outputs, putting out a lot of product, but am I really, paradoxically, am I being as productive as I can be, or as I would be, if I was interacting with humans more regularly, getting feedback, hearing conversations, getting that human experience? I think there’s a real drop off in my creativity and my feeling of innovation, and I really want to be inspired again.
So even though I’m comfortable in my new little situation here, I’ve adapted pretty well. I often talk about this in terms of the Lord of the Rings and I’m like Bilbo Baggins, now very comfortable in my Hobbit hole, sitting by the fire with a drink in hand and I’m doing my job, I’m getting the work done, outputs are there, but am I really being creative? Am I really being inspired? Am I really bringing my best innovative self forward? And the question is probably no.
And I know that, and I need someone to inspire me now to be called out to that next great adventure. Someone like Gandalf has to come and give me the vision and the mission for another adventure to help my organization, to help my community and to do the best work I can possibly do. So that’s what brings me to this quote, because we often talk about change management in our world and before the pandemic, that was about maybe a change in the workplace around strategy or technology or a office move, and we wanted to make sure that we were communicating the value of the change of the things that were going to be different after the change that would really be beneficial to our workforce and our employees.
Well, now we’re all in this new normal, this new experience, we’ve grooved some new habits. And I think we need to really be challenging ourselves to push ourselves out of that new comfort zone. But the struggle, and this isn’t a new one, here’s a quote from a book called Flight of the Buffalo, back in 1994, where Belasco and Stayer say,” 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.” And isn’t that true? We all think that way, our default setting is one where I know what’s going on here today, and I understand it, and you’re telling me, there’s this new thing, this new idea, this new strategy, this new policy, am I really going to be able to see the value of that? And that’s our job as workplace leaders. Well, obviously I can’t go on too far without talking about technology and some of the tools available. Of course, my company, iOFFICE, is all about space utilization tools and space management.
And in the world today, we think that in getting people to return to offices, technology will be very helpful, certainly to communicate, to message, to allow people to have that connection we talked about, but really when it comes to practical ideas like entering the building and going through a health check and maybe putting in parameters for social distancing or social spacing, whatever you want to call it, the idea of reserving a space and knowing where your colleagues are. If we’re going to be hybrid in our approach and not come into the office every day during the week, we want to know when our colleagues will be there. The team that we want to meet with will be there. So how do we do that in a way that is frictionless? That is very much like the experience we get in our own personal lives with our technology tools.
That’s what we’re all about. And I know that we could talk about this for a long time, but just as a summary here, people want to feel comfortable and they have a lot of worries these days. It could be health concerns, could be those things about the commute or what’s the purpose, what’s the point? And as leaders, we need to share with them, not just the inspiration and the meaning and the purpose for coming back to an office or re- engaging with their team, but also give them the level of comfort and get over that fear. And I really believe that technology can be a way to do that and be purposeful about how we’re intentionally planning and giving the tools to cover that idea of resistance and fear.
Here’s a great quote from Marie Curie,” Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less. ” And if, as a leader you’re not communicating and filling in that blank space, the default setting when people don’t know what’s going on is going to most likely be a place of negativity. So let’s communicate effectively, let’s share, be transparent about the plans and the policies in what’s coming next, and I think will appreciate it for us. So that leads us to some practical ideas for the future of work. Again, I’ve only brushed some of these concepts, brushed by them quickly, but my show is full of these conversations more in depth and with some humor and with some humility, because we just don’t know all the answers.
But what we do know is that people need to feel part of a bigger holistic mission, a bigger team, a purpose. They want to know that their leaders care for them, not just about the bottom line. And they want to know that we have their best interests at heart and in mind. So again, communicate, communicate, communicate, regardless of your role, we can make sure that that message is getting out and that we’re giving people the tools that they need. Now, I want to approach something here, because this is, again, a unique opportunity for me to broaden my reach to you, the human resources professionals and IT professionals, and if you’re not already working with your facility management team or reaching across to your corporate real estate folks, I know many of you are, I know many of those teams are very harmonious and they did take a holistic view, but in the past, we operated much like we did in high school.
When we’re talking about roles and responsibilities and departments in the workplace, it’s like my favorite movie from the 1980s, The Breakfast Club. Now this may be dated for some of you, but if you know this movie, you will know that it’s about a group of teenagers having to serve detention on a Saturday morning. And of course, they all came from what we would call, back in my day, cliques or groups or individual siloed tribes within the community of high school. Of course, John Hughes, the great team, screen writer, wrote a lot of these movies and he often used stereotypes, but I can certainly relate.
I mean, you’ve got these different categories. I was probably not so much the brain on the end, Anthony Michael Hall’s character, but I was more of the nerd or the geek, something that I could certainly relate to, and many of you can probably also. But you had the cool kids, the popular kids, the athlete, the princess, and then you had the outsiders, what they called the criminal or the basket case. Well, which of these departments, or which of these categories I should say, represent your department in the workplace setting. And do you recognize that even as adults, we sometimes fall into the human habits of sticking with the people we’re most comfortable with and not really caring to communicate too much across those dividing categories? So I would say, hey, let’s break down the silos as a practical tip.
If you’re not already part of a collaborative team that is working to create a holistic view, let’s be sure to do that as we move forward. And again, I’m all about leadership, I’m all about people leading and getting out of their comfort zone and doing what is necessary to help their organizations push forward. And I’ve even taken a stab here as DJ Mike P, podcast host, who talks about music who talks about’80s culture. I wanted to share what I think I should do maybe to enhance that Dwight D. Eisenhower quote, because again, I know what’s good for me and what I need and what I want, but I’m going to be hard pressed sometimes to get out of my comfort zone. So here’s my stab at a paraphrase of the Eisenhower quote, leadership is getting someone to do something they know they need and even want to do, but would otherwise not do it on their own.
So for me, it’s getting back on an airplane, getting out of my comfortable virtual existence in broadcasts and webinars and events online like this one. They’re great. I appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to do this, but really it’s not a full picture of what needs to be done. And I think we can inspire each other to get out of these old habits, which are now the new habits, which are now our ingrained habits and try something new and go off to a new adventure. And for me, music is something that always inspires me to that next great adventure. And recently I was reminded of a great artist from the 1980s, it’s this guy, does anybody recognize him?
In fact, this is a recent picture of Billy Idol, and Billy is still cranking out the rock and still looking good and performing even in his 60s, which is very impressive. But I was reminded of Billy because I heard on the radio a couple of months ago a song from his very first album, which was a classic hit. I’m sure you know it, and I was reminded because my daughter was getting married here in Washington, DC. We had a beautiful spring day, and it was a nice day for a white wedding, as Billy would say. And if you listen to those lyrics, he goes into saying, “Listen, folks, there is nothing sure in this world, there is nothing you can be sure of.”
And when it comes to the idea of what’s next in the workplace or returning to offices and getting out of your comfort zone, fear is a big part of all this. So to quote Billy in that song, I think we can all be inspired and let’s get out of our comfort zone because you know what, it’s a nice day to start again. Yeah, so that’s the kind of thing we like to do on my podcast. I appreciate the opportunity to meet you all, and thank you for the time and attention here at the Digital Workplace Experience summit. If you’d like to hear more about the conversations I’m having with industry leaders or be a part of these conversations, please visit me at workplaceinnovator. com. And until then, I hope you have a great rest of your conference, and I hope in some small way, I inspired you to be a workplace innovator. Peace out everybody.
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.
Discover free resources and explore past interviews at: https://www.workplaceinnovator.com/
Connect with Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepetrusky/
Share your thoughts with Mike via email: podcast@iOFFICECORP.com