Natalie Kapoulas is Director of Work Better Programs at OPX, a consultancy using design to create opportunities, generate better ideas and solve business challenges. Mike Petrusky asks Natalie about the unique OPX process called “Integrated Operating Environment” (IOE), a set of innovative assessment tools designed to investigate how the correct integration of people, tools and place result in workspaces that help organizations work better. With a focus on strategic thinking and a passion to impact change and influence outcomes, Natalie applies her background in organizational development and behavioral psychology to each client engagement. Mike and Natalie agree that managing people’s expectations and different generational perspectives can be challenging for workplace leaders, so they explore the human side of employee engagement and experience. Natalie shares about “Work Better Day”, an experience-driven event bringing together curious minds, visionary thinkers, innovators and change-makers across all industries to explore what it means to work better in today’s world while Mike gets inspired to deliver the first-ever “Frank Sinatra version” of podcast karaoke!

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Learn more about OPX:

Details about “Work Better Day”:

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Read the full transcript:

Mike P (00:02):

Hi everyone. Mike P here, and I have two big announcements for you. First, I am thrilled to tell you that we have just launched a new website to serve as the home of this podcast. You can check it out now at There you will find not only the latest episode of the show, but a link to our complete searchable archive of interviews. Plus the new site has available for free download, research reports and white papers about the latest industry trends and available technologies.

            Also, I’m excited to announce that registration is open for the annual iOFFICE User Conference. Our summit 2020 will take place April 14th to 16th, and I really hope you will plan to join me there. We will bring the future to life with amazing speakers, educational content, and you’ll have the chance to interact with our community forward-thinking workplace leaders. So join us in Vegas baby, Vegas, where you will be inspired to create connected workplace experiences for your organization.

Natalie Kapoulas (01:04):

Employee experience should be right up there with employee benefits. If people are not happy at work, they’re not going to be happy in their work. If you have a disengaged employee or somebody who’s actively disengaged, it’s the equivalent of having somebody on your soccer team that’s trying to score a goal against you.

Mike P (01:20):

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, there everybody welcome to episode 96 of the Workplace Innovator Podcast. My name is Mike, and as you know, I just love it when I get a chance to reconnect with people that I have met through the years in the IFMA community, going back about a decade or so since I first got involved.

            And this week I caught up with Natalie Kapoulas, the director of Work Better Programs at OPX, which is a design consultancy based here in my hometown of DC. And it didn’t take us long to discover that Natalie and I share an interest in the human side of the workplace, employee engagement and employee experience, which quickly led to a really interesting and fun discussion that I believe will be helpful to workplace leaders everywhere. So let’s get right to it. The workplace innovator is on location once again folks and I am here in our Nation’s Capital, just outside of Washington, DC. And I’m excited to welcome Natalie Kapoulas to the show. Hi, Natalie.

Natalie Kapoulas (02:53):

Hi Mike. How’s it going?

Mike P (02:54):

Awesome to have you. Now, Natalie, remind me when and where we met. It’s a number of years, but I definitely recognized you when we started communicating again online. And it’s not just because you look just like a famous celebrity. Where did we first meet?

Natalie Kapoulas (03:08):

So we first met probably five or six years ago at IFMA. We were doing the Day on Capitol Hill and-

Mike P (03:17):

Oh, yeah.

Natalie Kapoulas (03:18):

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And I was working at the time for a company called AtSite at site and we were doing a lot within the facilities group.

Mike P (03:24):

Okay. Advocacy day.

Natalie Kapoulas (03:25):

Advocacy day. Yes.

Mike P (03:26):

And then we reconnected recently and started chatting about your new role at OPX.

Natalie Kapoulas (03:32):


Mike P (03:33):

Tell me about that.

Natalie Kapoulas (03:34):

Yeah. So I’ve been at OPX for almost five years now. My actual title is Work Better Programs. So what my subject matter expertise is, is the behavioral kind of side of people and how they behave in their organizations.

Mike P (03:34):

I love that.

Natalie Kapoulas (03:49):

Yeah. So I do a little bit of the consulting work that we do. And then I also do something called Work Better Day.

Mike P (03:56):

And do you have a background in behavioral psychology or sociology?

Natalie Kapoulas (04:01):

I do. I do. So, I went to Mason locally here and-

Mike P (04:06):

Go patriots.

Natalie Kapoulas (04:06):

That’s right. And my background is organizational development and behavioral psychology.

Mike P (04:10):

Wow. Okay. So now you’re applying your degree to the real world.

Natalie Kapoulas (04:14):

Yeah. And funny enough, when I originally started in school, I wanted to do interior design work, but I was really interested in the people side of things. And that many years ago, the intersection of that did not exist. Today it does-ish.

Mike P (04:25):


Natalie Kapoulas (04:26):

It’s kind of changed everything.

Mike P (04:27):

Yeah. So you’re in the right place at the right time.

Natalie Kapoulas (04:29):


Mike P (04:29):

See, it all comes together for us Natalie.

Natalie Kapoulas (04:31):

What’s meant to be, will be.

Mike P (04:32):

Who knew I’d be a podcaster. I was basically a DJ in college, got a marketing degree, went into the world of sales and marketing. And 20 years later podcasting was a thing. And I’m like, “I can bring that all together.”

Natalie Kapoulas (04:45):

All together.

Mike P (04:45):

So, love it. Well, it’s great to have you here. And speaking of that people side of things, we have to get caught up and I need to get to know a little bit more about you personally. I did mention you have a celebrity lookalike. So who is it? Who is it that you always get told you look like?

Natalie Kapoulas (05:01):

I’ve been hearing Sandra Bullock for about, I don’t know, 25 years now.

Mike P (05:04):

I can see it. Yeah. So she’s been famous as long as you’ve been around, I imagine.

Natalie Kapoulas (05:04):

That’s right.

Mike P (05:09):

So back in high school, you heard it too?

Natalie Kapoulas (05:11):

Yeah. In high school. I mean when the movie Speed came out, I mean, it was, people would stop me and say, “Have you seen that movie with that lady? You guys, you look just like her. You guys look the same.”

Mike P (05:19):

So great.

Natalie Kapoulas (05:20):


Mike P (05:20):

So great.

Natalie Kapoulas (05:20):

Yeah. And then it just continued throughout the year.

Mike P (05:23):

I love the celebrity you most resemble question. I also love the question about music. I think it really gives me a window into one soul. So what kind of music gets you inspired?

Natalie Kapoulas (05:33):

So, I’m one of those people that says, “I love all types of music.” For me, it’s much more about whatever the experience is in the moment. When we’re cooking, we’re listening to Frank Sinatra and when we’re just hanging out at the house, we’re listening to kind of hotel lounge music, and when I’m feeling nostalgic, I’m listening to, I don’t know anything from the 50s or 60s that reminds me of my parents.

Mike P (05:55):

I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to sing any Frank Sinatra on the show. (singing) I love that song because it was the opening song in wall street, the original wall street-

Natalie Kapoulas (06:06):

I forgot about that.

Mike P (06:06):

… with Charlie Sheen back in the 80s. And I was a high school kid, watching this movie and-

Natalie Kapoulas (06:12):

Just evokes New York.

Mike P (06:13):

It does. It was such a perfect Anthem as Charlie Sheen is taking the subway to the office and going into his investment banking firm, whatever it was.

Natalie Kapoulas (06:23):

I Remember it well. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike P (06:26):

(singing) Oh, I’m so off-key.

Natalie Kapoulas (06:37):

Not bad.

Mike P (06:38):

(singing) All right. Thank you, Natalie.

Natalie Kapoulas (06:41):

Great job.

Mike P (06:42):

Great stuff. I appreciate it. That’s awesome. How about some inspiration? We love to help the audience take on the challenges of the workday and the fast-moving workplace in which we operate. Do you have a favorite quote you could share with us?

Natalie Kapoulas (06:58):

Absolutely. But the quote that I love the most is one that I’ve been kind of repeating since I was a kid. And interestingly enough, I’m currently pregnant and my due date is the same day as Dr. Seuss’s birthday.

Mike P (07:11):


Natalie Kapoulas (07:11):


Mike P (07:11):


Natalie Kapoulas (07:12):

So, my favorite quote of his is, “Be who you are and see what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

Mike P (07:20):

Yes, I like that.

Natalie Kapoulas (07:22):

Yeah. That’s kind of, and I feel like it’s always just very relevant, no matter what the situation.

Mike P (07:26):

Authenticity. Right?

Natalie Kapoulas (07:27):


Mike P (07:28):

That’s what’s it’s all about.

Natalie Kapoulas (07:29):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike P (07:29):

So I’m really interested in your background and what you studied in college, but is there a particular business book or leader that’s been an influence on your career?

Natalie Kapoulas (07:41):

Yeah. I think that, I don’t know, that everybody would consider it a business relevant book, but I absolutely love Malcolm Gladwell. I’ve pretty much read just about everything that he has come out with. Everything from outliers to the tipping point to David and Goliath, Blink you name it. I find him fascinating.

Mike P (07:57):

Oh, yeah. Bright guy.

Natalie Kapoulas (07:57):

I also love his podcast, deliberately his-

Mike P (08:02):

He’s got a few more listeners than I do. Maybe this will be the launching pad to get you on his show next.

Natalie Kapoulas (08:06):

That’s right. We’ll just mention him a few more times and see what happens.

Mike P (08:08):

That’s right. There you go.

Natalie Kapoulas (08:09):

Yeah. I mean, I just think that the book Outlier specifically is kind of an examination about how people with high levels of success have these little tiny factors that play into it and make them somehow exceptional. So, it’s really interesting.

Mike P (08:25):

Is that the one with 10,000 hours?

Natalie Kapoulas (08:26):

Yep. No, there’s 10,000 hours. Yeah, that’s 10,000 hours and it’s about kind of hockey players and the time that they start, for the age that they start playing initially and how it plays into their season and how that plays into the success rate of them actually making it into the NHL. I mean, it’s a lot of really interesting things.

Mike P (08:43):

He really makes sense.

Natalie Kapoulas (08:44):

Yeah. I mean the 10,000 hours is not easily achievable. I mean, when you start looking at it from a young person’s perspective, if somebody wants to become a guitar aficionado, I mean 10,000 hours is the equivalent of probably practicing eight hours a day, five to seven days a week for 10 years. I mean, it’s a long time.

Mike P (09:03):

Wow. Yeah. I was told there’d be no math, Natalie. So, I don’t know what exactly it is.

Natalie Kapoulas (09:06):

I need a calculator because somebody is probably going to come back and tell me, “No, that would actually take this long.”

Mike P (09:10):

That’s right. That’s right.

Natalie Kapoulas (09:11):

But it’s a long time.

Mike P (09:12):

It’s years-

Natalie Kapoulas (09:12):

It’s years.

Mike P (09:13):

… of consistent pursuit of whatever you hope to be good at. So that’s a great principle to apply to all these things that we have to confront in our personal and our work lives.

Natalie Kapoulas (09:24):

Yeah. Not expecting something to happen overnight and kind of having the patience to see something through.

Mike P (09:28):

Well, that’s a great segue, Natalie, to this idea of a new year, a new decade, and the workplace continues to evolve. And while human beings remain the same people and their expectations are changing about what the workplace needs to deliver and that work life integration, not balance. We don’t talk about that anymore.

Natalie Kapoulas (09:45):

No balance. Balance doesn’t exist.

Mike P (09:45):


Natalie Kapoulas (09:45):

That’s out.

Mike P (09:48):

Exactly. So tell me more about the work you do and what about this arena of workplace and strategy and helping people be their best selves, gets you up in the morning?

Natalie Kapoulas (09:58):

So I think for me, one of the bigger challenges today would be the generational expectations. There are some different generations in the workplace. Everybody has their own idea of what is ideal and what they want and what they will or won’t do without. I think that’s something that kind of going forward, the ability for organizations to adjust to that change is going to be more and more challenging.

Mike P (10:21):

I agree. So what do you focus on? Is it purely we can anticipate what certain generations want or is it more about roles, responsibilities, personalities? I know it all comes into play, right?

Natalie Kapoulas (10:33):


Mike P (10:34):

Give me your behavioral scientists holistic view.

Natalie Kapoulas (10:37):

It does all come into play. And actually I should probably back up a little bit and talk about the company that I work for called OPX. One of the interesting things that we do is, a process called IOE, which stands for Integrated Operating Environment. And the idea is that there are three tenants, which are people, tools and place. And those three things have to kind of work in accordance with one another and not compete with one another in order for the operation to be successful. That’s kind of how we look at things.

            The OPX process is all about the data collection and looking at organizations individually. So the first thing we do is we talk to leadership about their strategic priorities. We sit down, everything’s anonymous, everything’s electronically facilitated and we start asking questions about what’s really important and how are you going to make a decision between one thing and another. What that does is it gives us a guideline as to how to proceed forward. And fortunately, what happens is, it becomes kind of this Bible where they just follow this for the rest of the process.

            And then the other thing that we do is we ask people within the organization, everyone, how they do what they do. And we do this by administering a survey, which most people are not the biggest fans of. However, we do have about an 80 plus percent response rate on over a hundred questions.

Mike P (11:58):


Natalie Kapoulas (11:58):

So we currently have over a million points of data on how people do what they do. So it’s not just about, “Hey, do you like this design? Do you like this color?” It’s very much about how they do the jobs that they do. We take all of that information and then we do focus groups. That’s kind of where I spend a lot of my time. I really enjoy chatting with the different people within the organization about how they do what they do and kind of the answers that came back and what they think about things. And it becomes a therapy session.

Mike P (12:29):

Oh, yeah.

Natalie Kapoulas (12:29):


Mike P (12:29):

I can see that.

Natalie Kapoulas (12:29):

I mean, they will certainly tell you things that they may not tell somebody that worked for the organization.

Mike P (12:36):

Obviously. So you think they’re being honest and transparent about things?

Natalie Kapoulas (12:39):

Absolutely, I do.

Mike P (12:39):

Do you promise it’s not going to be revealed to the bosses?

Natalie Kapoulas (12:43):

Correct. Yeah. I mean, we don’t care what your name is. We just know that we need the information to report back at the end of the day. So we get a lot of really interesting conversations going and people are very willing to share things. And typically, one person will bring something up and then that kind of starts the flow of information coming in.

Mike P (13:01):

Interesting. Yeah.

Natalie Kapoulas (13:02):

That I find to be the most fascinating piece.

Mike P (13:03):

So then as we get into more of a discussion about the built environment and the spaces and design and tools and-

Natalie Kapoulas (13:10):


Mike P (13:10):


Natalie Kapoulas (13:11):

Yep. Yep. I mean, we talk about everything from privacy and their specific workspace to talking about other things that they might have decided were really important within the context of the survey that we gave them.

Mike P (13:24):

So I know, obviously in the work I’m in, working for iOFFICE, a workplace management software tool that allows the employee to get a window into the workplace and allows the operations team to get the data they need to make decisions. What do you see as technology help automate that? Or is it still a process that really requires that observation and hands on view of things, surveys and bed checks as they call them, right?

Natalie Kapoulas (13:50):

Yeah. I mean, and I think in a lot of cases, the clients that we’re working with are in the midst of a real estate decision. And so they may not be at a place where they have the access to that type of technology, which going forward will be extremely helpful. At this point, we spend a lot of time going in and looking at how they work, because what we will hear is that people are in need of an office, “I can’t lose my office. I need my office. I’m in my office all the time.” And then, we go from Florida floor for eight hours in a day and what we find is that maybe it’s 75% of the offices are unoccupied.

Mike P (14:24):

Yeah. I’ve heard that.

Natalie Kapoulas (14:25):

Yeah. So, it’s a pretty high number. I think people just don’t want to go outside of their comfort zone. They’re afraid of the open office idea, which makes sense. And they just kind of want to keep things the same and not really go through that change.

Mike P (14:36):

Absolutely. And there’s a lot of data out there, but as Kay Sergeant… You know Kay?

Natalie Kapoulas (14:41):

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Mike P (14:42):

She has told me there’s thick data and thin data. So your sensors may be picking up a lot of data readings about occupied versus not occupied, but the reason why, and what’s behind that, the thick data of knowing that’s a cold spot in the office, so that chair is not conducive to the type of work people want. So therefore that’s why that particular location is unoccupied. Those deeper understandings is something that I think you need to bring in all these different tools, observation, as well as the automated sensor data. So I imagine a lot of this comes into play in what you call Work Better Day. What is that, exactly?

Natalie Kapoulas (15:21):

So, OPX’s mission for as long as we’ve been around, has been to make good companies work better. And we were having a conversation one day in a meeting and we started talking about how we could potentially influence people outside of our client base. You can only touch so many people in a year with a small company in Washington, DC. And I mentioned the idea of, “What if we created Work Better Day? What would that look like? Would it be something that was media-driven? Would it be something that was an event series? What would it look like?” And everyone said, “Oh, wow, that sounds like a really great idea. Go and do something with that.” That’s how it started. The idea was to provide a platform for people to have conversations about what it means to work better.

Mike P (16:02):

Oh, cool.

Natalie Kapoulas (16:03):

We tend to spend a lot of time focusing on what’s not working. We hear from a Gallup for the state of the workplace and we hear, I mean, a lot of really good information, a lot of gloom and doom, and the idea behind Work Better Day was that we would bring together subject matter experts, people that are passionate about different types of work and start having conversations about what that looks like if it were different. So that’s how it got started.

Mike P (16:27):

Awesome. So how often does it happen and when does it happen and where? Is there one coming up, a Work Better day?

Natalie Kapoulas (16:32):

So, there is one coming up in September of 2020. We have them every September and we actually bought the day on the national calendar registry for national Work Better Day, which is the third Wednesday of September, every year.

Mike P (16:44):


Natalie Kapoulas (16:45):

We’ve had three events. This next one will be the fourth annual event and they all have different subject matters. So, in one year was employee engagement. We talk about decision-making and generational decision-making within the workplace. We talk about visual communication. We talk about unconscious bias and kind of making decisions that you’re not aware of.

Mike P (17:03):

Oh, interesting.

Natalie Kapoulas (17:04):

Yeah. So, a lot of really interesting things and some of these kind of going back to what we talked about before with our IOE process, a lot of these ideas that we get come from doing these focus groups and really talking to people about what’s relevant in the workplace today, kind of what challenges people are having.

Mike P (17:20):

I love it. Interesting topics and it’s right here in DC every year.

Natalie Kapoulas (17:22):

Yeah. Every year it’s in DC.

Mike P (17:24):

So I’m going to have to check it out.

Natalie Kapoulas (17:24):


Mike P (17:25):

Let’s talk about culture a little bit. It’s all tied to the culture of an organization, these things we’re talking about here. So I often talk to folks from different perspectives on this show, whether you are from a corporate real estate or facility management background, or an HR background, the terminology that we use when discussing employees and spaces, employee experience, for example, is defined differently depending on which angle you’re coming from. So how do you define employee experience and how can we have an impact in our organizations?

Natalie Kapoulas (17:55):

So, in my opinion, employee experience should be right up there with employee benefits. I think that it’s something that’s extremely important. If people are not happy at work, they’re not going to be happy in their work. I think that the consequences of disengagement are brutal. I think most people are keenly aware of that at this point. It’s not something that’s a secret anymore.

            If you have a disengaged employee or somebody who is actively disengaged, it’s the equivalent of having somebody on your soccer team, that’s trying to score a goal against you.

Mike P (18:23):

Never heard of it that way, but yeah.

Natalie Kapoulas (18:24):

And nobody wants that. Right?

Mike P (18:28):

Yeah, I can see that.

Natalie Kapoulas (18:28):

So I think that, that’s something that, again, both the leader and the employee play a part in. You have to be really open and transparent with your expectations as an employee and as an employer. So I think open communication is key.

Mike P (18:41):

Wow. So I got to ask you about your insight that you’ve gained from your behavioral psychology background, anything interesting, things that people do that we would find either funny or interesting, then how you dealt with that. Do you have any stories you can share?

Natalie Kapoulas (18:56):

Well, so I think one of the more interesting things that I’ve kind of learned along the way is that people tend to try to focus on the things that they’re not as strong at.

Mike P (19:05):

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Natalie Kapoulas (19:05):

That they were kind of taught like, “Oh, if that’s your weakness, then you should really be focusing on that.” It’s absolutely the opposite. I mean, you should kind of let that go at the door.

Mike P (19:13):

It’s about identifying our strengths and then double down on the strengths.

Natalie Kapoulas (19:17):


Mike P (19:17):

We want to not try to get incrementally better at something we’re bad at it.

Natalie Kapoulas (19:20):


Mike P (19:21):

Just if you get incrementally better at something you’re good at, it really exponentially improves the outcome and your contribution to the team.

Natalie Kapoulas (19:28):

Right. That’s where you should spend your 10,000 hours.

Mike P (19:30):

There you go. Bringing it back to Malcolm. I love it. Well, Natalie really enjoyed speaking with you today. Thanks for being on the show.

Natalie Kapoulas (19:39):

Yeah, this has been great. Thank you very much, Mike. Appreciate it.

Mike P (19:42):

There you have it folks.  Natalie Kapoulas of OPX sharing just a bit of her unique perspective on the integration of people, tools and place and how understanding human behavior can really help organizations work better. I totally enjoyed my conversation with Natalie and I hope you did too. Please check the show notes of this episode to find out more about the work that Natalie is doing and the details on Work Better Day. Coming to us, once again, later this year, I know I will certainly check it out and I hope you will continue to check out more episodes of the show. You can visit me at You’ll get free access to all of our past podcast episodes, and you’ll find other information and resources that I certainly hope will encourage and inspire you 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