Episode 3: Health, Happiness, and the Hybrid Future

About the Episode

In the third episode, Jen and Brian tackle bringing environmental and financial balance to the world of Facility Management. With buildings collectively accounting for nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions, being sustainable has become critical. Join us as we delve into creating smart, healthy and sustainable buildings for the future of work.

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Episode Transcription

Jennifer Heath 0:03
Hello, everyone, and welcome. Thank you so much for joining us today for our third episode of the hybrid hangout podcast. My name is Jennifer Heath. I’m the Director of Product Marketing here at FM:Systems.

Brian Haines 0:17
And I’m Brian Haines, I’m the Chief Strategy Officer at FM:Systems.

Jennifer Heath 0:22
And we are so thankful that you all are listening. Today, we have a great topic we are both excited to dive into, we’re looking at really a broad topic today, we want to look at the way hybrid work has impacted the way we think about the health and wellness of our facilities, the health and wellness of our employees. And more broadly, the health and wellness of the climate, the planet, the environment as a whole. Sustainability and wellness have really accelerated and come to the forefront since the pandemic and the shift to hybrid work. Because hybrid work really creates a lot of opportunities for organizations to think differently about their sustainability goals, about their energy consumption, their opportunities to reduce their energy consumption, it really creates a lot of different ways for organizations to be more strategic in how they pursue their sustainability goals, and initiatives. So it’s really an interesting time, I think it’s a silver lining of the COVID 19 pandemic, that so many of these issues have come to the forefront. So we’re excited to dig into this today. And to start, we always like to look back a little bit and think about how things were pre pandemic, what did these issues and topics mean to us, then how did we approach them, and then kind of compare that to what we’re doing today. So when I think about pre pandemic 2019, and prior building health and wellness, for me, it was really all about LEED certifications, and well, certifications, which were excellent programs, they are excellent programs. But I think at that time, they were really considered almost a luxury that a lot of organizations just couldn’t invest in. They were ideals. They were, you know, long term goals, but for smaller organizations, organizations and older buildings, it just wasn’t attainable. It was something that you saw in new construction. Brian, do you agree?

Brian Haines 2:30
I do agree. And as you were saying it was really focused on new construction, or significant renovation and retrofit of existing fairly new buildings, older buildings are often left out from many of those equations. Most of the technology that went in to do those certifications was sort of heavy handed, new construction types of materials, etc. And technology was often an afterthought. What’s happened now as we move into the future, and enter the now, actually, is that there’s a lot of technology. And we’ll talk about that today, Jen, that can be used to actually bring a building forward and allow you to be able to even if it’s old building stock, frankly, allow you to be able to make that building a lot more healthy and a lot more sustainable.

Jennifer Heath 3:20
Definitely, I think one of the first things that comes to mind when we think about the impact of hybrid work is that we do have a reduced utilization of the facility itself, you have people coming in fewer days, organizations have had the opportunity to maybe downsize their portfolio, maybe they only open up certain floors on certain days. And of course, by reducing that utilization, you’re able to reduce those emissions, that energy consumption. And it’s a very kind of direct way. It’s not necessarily that you’re retrofitting an entire building, that you’re able to reduce that consumption, just by the nature of hybrid work. You don’t have as many people coming in every day.

Brian Haines 4:04
Yeah, I completely agree. And I think of this, and I told you, I was gonna use a baseball story. So here you go, Jim. So back in the mid 1990s, the Oakland A’s.

Brian Haines 4:17
You know, they were told that they needed to slash their payroll, and they had a new owner, they needed to bring cost down. They had a very high payroll, but they still wanted to maintain competitive so what they did was they started using something called sabermetrics. There’s a famous manager or general manager named Billy Beane, it was a movie called Moneyball that was made accurate, but essentially what they started to do was to use statistics and analysis to look for kind of players out there who were good, not great. That represented a lot of high value. And I think when I think about that story, I think about facility managers today, I don’t think I don’t hear any of our clients saying, Wow, the organization is just throwing tons of

Brian Haines 5:00
Money matters right now. And we can do anything we want. Essentially, what they’re hearing is, you know, we’ve got a specific real estate portfolio. And we need to look at that real estate that portfolio in a way that not only optimizes costs, in other words, we have to really actually use information to evaluate how well the portfolio is operating. But combine that with they don’t want it to just be better utilized, they want to be healthier. And so all of those require a deep level of analysis. And as a matter of fact that after the A’s did that sort of Moneyball approach, they were competitive for the next four or five years, they really got back into the game, even though their payroll was half of what everyone else was. So I think applying that same sort of mentality to the way we think about our buildings now is going to be imperative from a facility manager perspective. Yeah, I think that’s an excellent example. I’m so glad you made that connection today. That’s actually one of my favorite movies. I’m a baseball fan myself. And I love that because they looked for players that were consistently doing certain things, and they built that roster around that. And I think, what organizations are looking at their buildings now, they’re using technology, sensor technology, or batch data, or whatever it might be, they’re leaning into those different data sources to really understand what is our utilization. And as you get better at that data collection, and that data analysis, you can start to be predictive about which buildings are going to be the busiest on Tuesday, or which floors are always empty on Thursday. And you can start to make those decisions about reducing that energy or closing those floors. And you can really make some significant impacts with just the small changes by tracking those blocks of utilization and activity. Yeah, in a way the buildings become the players, right? Those are the players that we have on our team, the buildings that we have in our portfolios. And we have to think about not only what we’re going to bring forward in terms of our portfolio to make sure that we’re meeting the mission of our organization, but we have to think about what is the workplace experience going to be like for the occupants in there. And like I was saying earlier about the sort of the advancing technology, which is advancing quite quickly, you’re able to do both of those things at the same time now, but it takes technology and it takes information to help you make those really, really smart decisions about what you’re going to do. We see things like indoor air quality really starting to come to the fore.

Brian Haines 7:35
It’s interesting, because genuine I had talked about this, I don’t think we’ve mentioned this on our last podcast, but FM:Systems a few months ago became part of Johnson Controls. So we went from being a small, you know, really industry leading technology for digital workplace to being part of, you know, an absolute, top 100 companies in the world really focusing on sustainability. And it’s allowed us to kind of broaden the way we think about things. When I when I talk about turning back the clock, Jen, I was talking to Andrew Butterworth our VP of strategy, who’s focused specifically on doing analytics. He said that, back in the day when Occupeye first started, that’s our occupancy sensor for measuring utilization at the work point, that a lot of people thought it was a really good idea, but they wanted to test it. So Occupeye started to send out essentially boxes of sensors, for our clients to install, they would measure utilization over a specific period of time, and then they would ship them back. Well, Johnson Controls has a solution, that’s almost exactly the same. You know, like, what, 8-10 years later, essentially, they’ll ship a box of environmental sensors to a client, client installs those, and then they send them back. And then they get like a 20 page report on the indoor air quality and health of their building. I really think we’re sort of in that mode, where the way we measure the health and wellness of our building is trailing utilization, but catching up really quickly. So I’m really excited about it, because I think the technology is there, that’s going to help us to be able to hit those goals.

Jennifer Heath 9:12
Definitely. And I agree that the focus on air quality, to me is one of just the most important things that has come out of it because it is something that frankly, we always should have cared about, but it’s difficult to measure the impacts of air quality. But when COVID came, it became very important to understand your humidity levels. Because if your humidity is too low, that increases the spread of airborne contagions. Not just COVID but any cold or virus or anything that is transmissible if you have low levels of humidity, they spread faster. So understanding humidity and tracking humidity became key to bringing people back into the office because we wanted them to feel safe. We wanted them to know that you know we were taking steps and measures to protect them. But once we really started looking at air quality and thinking about it, there are other aspects of having high quality air that directly impacts productivity.

Jennifer Heath 10:10
If you have high levels of CO2, or you know, other factors that are weakening your overall air quality, it negatively impacts your employees, it can cause fatigue, it can cause headaches, it reduces your focus and concentration, which is negatively impacting their performance. And so by forcing us to look at humidity, it’s created this opportunity to really look at air quality and think about it in terms of employee wellness. And so now we’ve kind of shifted from thinking about the health of the building, to looking at the health of the employees and the wellness of individual employees, and how that plays into our overall recruiting and retention strategies.

Brian Haines 10:54
Yeah, well, this is an interesting story, right. So when we think of wellness, we think of the well being of the employees and occupants, the people who work with us or for us and come into our facilities or even you know, working from home in a hybrid workplace environment, that really Wellness provides a lot of value. First of all, people tend to be work a lot more and be absent a lot less, they tend to have more energy. And I could, you know, it’s interesting, because we could talk about this someday, this podcast, but I have an interesting relationship with the wellness of air and productivity because I was on a nuclear submarine for a number of years and understand what the impact is when low air quality can actually impact productivity directly. And it’s, it’s there’s been a lot of measurements. And it’s not just about, you know, moving more air through a building to sort of change the humidity levels and change.

Brian Haines 11:47
You know, temperature levels, it’s really about taking a holistic view as to where people are in in the facility where we need to target better air where we need to target better conditions for those employees. Because we’re starting to kind of roll into another aspect of the well of the well being and that is its sustainability from a from a energy utilization standpoint, the sustainability of the materials, the ability to be able to someday be able to recycle those materials so that they’re not going into our ocean. It’s really a holistic approach to wellness is what we’re really starting to get out and talk about. Once again, it takes data, it takes data to understand how people are using facilities. If on Fridays, no one’s in and we’ve talked about this in previous podcasts. Why are all the lights on? Why are we running the HVAC system? Why are we conditioning those spaces, and really being able to be a little bit more targeted in terms of our utilization as it impacts wellness, I think is really key.

Jennifer Heath 12:48
I agree. Shifting gears just a little bit. Another aspect of hybrid work that impacts both employee wellness, and the environmental impacts that we’re all having is the commute. And I think the commute is really has always been kind of the elephant in the room when we talk about hybrid work. Because a lot of people really enjoy not having to sit on an interstate for an hour both ways every day going to and from work. And I remember when we first went remote, in March of 2020, I was already a remote employee had been for years. And I remember thinking so many people are going to be so thankful to get that time back in their day. Because when I first went remote back in 2015, I had a terrible commute. And so I know very well what an impact that has on your quality of life to not have that gripping the steering wheel feeling, you know, an hour every morning and an hour every afternoon. But there’s a huge environmental impact as well. If people are not commuting as often, there’s fewer emissions, there’s less air pollution, there’s a real direct correlation there. That I think is another important component that organizations can think about as we’re offering hybrid work and making it a more permanent part of our workplace policies. That is a positive environmental impact, but it’s also positively impacting the wellness of your employees.

Brian Haines 14:15
Yeah, I think the commute has a direct wellness impact, right stress. I drove to Raleigh yesterday and it was just like, you know, to go into the office, it was quite stressful in the morning. I think we’re seeing I think just due to traffic patterns, we are actually seeing an increase in utilization of people going into the office. Because I you know, over the last couple of years of of driving in the traffic is increasing. I can see it. It’s not just anecdotal, but I’m experiencing longer delays getting in I think people are coming back. It’s really an interesting aspect of the wellness picture that I think needs to be taken in consideration. But Jen, I think it’s all a balance. Right. We talked you and I talked about this yesterday. Is there research out there that says you’re more or less productive depending on how many days a week you’re in the office versus how many danger, you’re at home some interesting new research is saying that fully remote employees, there actually is some research that saying that some productivity dips are occurring.

Brian Haines 15:13
I want to dig more into that, because I don’t want to talk about a trend that’s not really well thought and measured. But I have been reading some articles. And I think hybrid strikes that balance that allows a better work life balance, in terms of things like reduced commutes, right? We’re not going in five days a week, we’re going in, to collaborate to get together with team members, and really making that the primary reason for going in. So allows us to balance when you look at the research around hybrid work, there doesn’t appear to be a productivity impact. So the benefits to the company of a hybrid workplace approach, I think, outweigh a lot of these mandates that we see where people are demanding people come back to the office, it really needs to be a balance and I think that balance is showing in the data.

Jennifer Heath 16:01
Yeah, absolutely. And we’ve all said that from the beginning that there isn’t really a one size fits all approach to this, that every organization has to look at the makeup of their unique workforce, their unique real estate portfolio, and make the decisions that are right for them. Another aspect of all this kind of going back to the sustainability side of things, I wanted to share something I read just this morning. So Okta, which is an identity provider that we’ve worked with for many years, they just recently released a report on hybrid work, talking about the emergence and the growth of ESG. And the emphasis on ESG, and how much that has gained traction post pandemic. And I’m just gonna read this because I think it’s interesting. In the opening up their report, they say they surveyed 500, digital workplace decision makers across multiple countries in Europe. And they found that rather than motivating organizations to adopt hybrid work, ESG is rising in prominence on business agendas, in tandem with the adoption of hybrid work. So high, the the transition to hybrid work is bringing ESG to the forefront again, because it is creating these opportunities for organizations to be so much more strategic in how they manage their space. And because of all the technology that we now have access to, they can be so much smarter in setting those goals, measuring towards those goals, and actually achieving them.

Brian Haines 17:34
Yeah, that’s interesting, because there is absolutely a direct correlation between energy and sustainability. And the hybrid workplace environment. When you think pre pandemic when utilization was fairly high, you know, offices were open five days a week, you were expected to go in five days a week, you were a lot more limited in terms of the options, you had to save energy, you know, people did a lot of things such as relamping, put in better glass and glazing on the buildings to reduce energy costs, turn the lights on, you know, the lights out stickers that we used to see, you know, when you leave a room, turn the lights out, but you know, a lot of those things had sort of been exhausted, right, we were doing those things. And so the levers that we could pull are actually decreasing.

Brian Haines 18:20
Now with hybrid, we can be extremely targeted. I think hybrid really connected with the modern technology that helps measure things like utilization and the quality of the air and everything else in terms of total building conditions and operations, even connecting the building control systems, buildings are becoming really autonomous and a lot smarter with less investment, actually, over time, because the technology is getting easier to implement. A lot of this is IoT technology, which is a lot lighter than going in and ripping out an entire, you know, mechanical system. And really looking at those things and connecting the way buildings are actually used. So once again, I’ll go back into the Friday mode or the Monday mode or even on Wednesdays or Thursdays if we’re only you know, let’s say 20% or less utilization, why are all the floors on? Why are all the zones being conditioned, we can really actually be a lot more targeted with bringing down those energy costs. So that linkage to ESG is absolutely direct. We use our buildings better, we use them more efficiently, energy costs, and energy usage is going to decrease.

Jennifer Heath 19:32
I think one of the last points that I wanted to make here today is to think about sustainability. It really is a growing value, especially for younger generations. They are, you know, thinking more long term about the health of the planet, they plan to be here longer than you and I and So sustainability is something that they value in a way that maybe didn’t exist 20 years ago, 40 years ago. And I think organizations that prioritize sustainability and wellness and are actively pursuing those goals and making it transparent to their employees how they’re doing that those organizations are going to see a lot of success in their recruiting and in their retention, because employees are going to be drawn to organizations that reflect their values.

Jennifer Heath 20:19
I think that’s another aspect of the shift to hybrid work is a little bit of power has been shifted back to employees, it’s letting them make kind of different decisions than they did maybe in the past about who they want to work for and where they want to work. And I think sustainability and an emphasis and a focus and a commitment to ESG is going to really make organizations stand out in the long run when it comes to acquiring new talent.

Brian Haines 20:46
Yeah, and if you go back to one of our earlier podcasts that we did, really there right now we’re seeing about five different possible generations within a single given work environment. And they’re all bringing different things to the table, different ideas are completely valid. But you know, the value attached to sustainability, I see is only increasing. Go back to what you were saying earlier. And it’s really, it’s not just about being better to your building into your employees, but to the environment. But overall, I think, just aligning with the values of the job market is going to make most organizations much more competitive.

Jennifer Heath 21:28
Definitely, it is just an interesting topic. Across the board. There are so many facets of sustainability and energy and wellness that are that, again, many of them were on the table before, but they have just been accelerated and prioritized in a way that is really unique following the pandemic. So I think it’s, it’s just such an interesting time to be in facilities management to be in real estate management. Because we do have more levers to pull today we have more opportunities to pursue some of these loftier goals. So I think it’s really encouraging and exciting. And I’m really happy to be in this industry right now. I think that we’re getting to witness some changes that have been a long time coming.

Brian Haines 22:12
I am as well. And it’s something that we’ve talked about for years sort of waiting for it to all come together right now. It’s all coming together and being driven by a lot of different factors, sustainability, energy, even reduction of cost and employee health and wellness. It’s all you know, circles that overlap. And I think it’s really a fantastic time. It’s a challenging time to be a Facility Manager, especially if you’ve got more than one building and you’ve got a portfolio to deal with that may have different conditions that you need to deal with. But data is your friend, like going back to the baseball analogy or story I was using earlier. Data is your friend as much as you can find out about how your facilities are being used, how your employees are feeling about those facilities and indoor air quality all combined. Absolutely a winning combination. Indeed. I think that brings us to our time for today.

Jennifer Heath 23:03
Thank you again to everyone who joined us live and for those who are listening or watching afterwards. We will be back in a few weeks. We will get that information out to you on our next episode and we look forward to seeing you then.

Brian Haines 23:17
Always fun Jen Thank you.

Jennifer Heath 23:18
Always take care

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