Episode 4: Choice & Collaboration: Employee perspectives on the Hybrid Workplace

About the Episode

In this episode, Jen and Brian discuss employee perspectives on the Hybrid Workplace. The workplace is transitioning to a hub for collaboration and ideation; more than ever the discussion is focused the employee experience with flexible hybrid work and the ability to work from home while also having a place to come together for collaboration. Hybrid options is no longer just a nice to have. It’s a need to have to keep and attract top talent.

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Episode Transcription

Jennifer Heath  0:00

Hello, everyone, and welcome. It is our next episode of the hybrid hangout podcast. I am Jennifer Heath.


Brian Haines  0:08

And I am Brian Haines.


Jennifer Heath  0:10

And we are so thankful for those of you that are joining us live for our recording today, and hello to everyone who’s going be listening to this later. So this is the FM:Systems hybrid hangout podcast where Brian and I talk about everything hybrid from the technology that powers it to the employees who benefit from it, and the organizations who, in many cases are struggling to manage it. But there are so many ways to go about hybrid, there are so many aspects to consider. And today we are talking specifically about employee choice, and collaboration. And, Brian, I’m going to start you off with a couple of statistics here. And you can tell us your thoughts, love. So last year, FM:Systems, conducted a research study. And we interviewed, I think around 400, business leaders across different organizations and industries and got back some really interesting perspectives on hybrid work. And one of the stats will to actually that really stood out to me, first 80% of business leaders surveyed think hybrid is here to stay. But 62% of those same leaders want employees back in the office full time.

So there’s a real disconnect here between what employers think is going to happen, and what they actually want to happen. But they’re leaning into hybrid work anyway, because they recognize they’re going to have to offer hybrid to stay competitive. And it comes down to the fact that so many employees do want that choice. And that flexibility. Some other research studies have shown that approximately half of all employees would consider looking for another job if their current employer did not offer any type of hybrid or flexible arrangement. So there’s a definite consensus or at least a sentiment, that hybrid is here to stay. But there are a lot of challenges there. So Brian, what are your thoughts?


Brian Haines  2:15

Yeah, it’s interesting, Jen, because I always ask this question. When I speak, I spoke last week at a world workplace or was that two weeks ago? And the number of hands the question that I’ve been asking the last several times that I’ve spoken all the way back to World workplace last year was how many of your organization’s have a mandate that says you have to be in the office, at least X number of days per week, a year ago, there weren’t that many, this time, almost every one. And I and we’ve been reading about it a lot. I think the mandates around the you know, let’s say two days a week, three days a week, whatever that may be, is becoming the norm again. And that’s odd. It’s I don’t see a lot of people saying you have to be in five days a week, but most organizations are mandating that you come back at least x, you know, two to three days per week.

The data is kind of showing it. But it’s a little inconsistent. You know, we monitor on an ongoing basis, about 20 million square feet with our technology that’s anonymized across clients across geographies, across and across industries. And that percent of utilization is climbing. In North America, it’s still way below pandemic, pandemic levels. Europe is getting close to, you know, closer to pre pandemic levels. Asia Pacific have exceeded their they’re actually back more than they were before the pandemic, which is really interesting, because I keep hearing these mandates that people come back. But yet the percent of utilization is not increasing at that rate. So it’s a it’s a little bit in conflict with one another.

The other question that I asked was, all right, so if you’re mandating two to three days a week, or whatever that may be, are you actually tracking it? And I asked that question before, and a lot of people were saying no, now they’re saying, for the most part they are, and they’re doing it primarily through bad slides, which is not not a highly accurate utilization measure. It will tell you how many obviously how many people are coming into the building, but unless you’re tracking badge outs, you’re not getting anything other than, you know, understanding how many people are coming in. So I’m, you know, it’s interesting, Jennifer, to answer your question, I’m really seeing these just really wildly varying indicators. I think we are coming back. When you look at the data, we should be back in North America to pre pandemic levels by the second half of 2024. It’s going to be really interesting to see if that happens. But I don’t see a lot of people going back five days a week just not seeing it.


Jennifer Heath  4:57

I agree another statistic I can Share the World Economic Forum released a report in December of last year, that found 68% of employees prefer hybrid work. So the concept of being remote a couple of days being in the office couple of days really that that blended working model, versus 28%, want to work full time from home, and 8% prefer full time on site. So there is definitely a sweet spot there for hybrid work for a couple of days a week. And it does, it’s helpful for employers, because it allows them some more control over what they’re doing with their real estate. But to your point, if they’re only tracking batch data, they’re really missing a lot of intel on what’s actually happening inside their space. And that’s where it’s really going to become important when you think about optimization. So let’s talk a little bit about some of the benefits of hybrid. And I think there are so many different reasons that employees are really leaning into this. And I will say off the top, the biggest advantage, especially for people who live in larger cities, is the reduced commute. Not only does it save you time, not only does it reduce your overall stress, but there’s an environmental impact, as well. 76% of office workers believe that cutting the commute contributes to the fight against climate crisis. And they 84% think that it is a benefit of hybrid work. So I think that’s a really important component of it. And I think it, it makes me wonder if municipalities are considering that, and looking at how they can expand or improve their public transportation. Because if people aren’t coming back into the office, they’re also not going out to lunch, and they’re not chopping and having happy hours after work, they’re at home. So cities may need to be thinking a little bit about how they’re going to piggyback on hybrid work, improve their public transit, so that it is easier for people to come in and spend time in the city centers.


Brian Haines  7:07

Yeah, that’s interesting, because when you look at some of the biggest polluters in globally, buildings are right up there. But something like 40% on the carbon footprint, energy usage global, globally, all of those buildings continue to just be on regardless of what the utilization level is. And I think that that obviously, feels to me like a real opportunity for us to do a lot around, managed to zero and really getting back to a more neutral state in terms of our carbon footprint, we have transferred some of that, I think from you know, employees who aren’t commuting, there’s obviously savings there, but they are in their homes, probably using more energy etc, in their home.

So some of its transferred to the, to the home office. But for the most part, many of these large buildings that have, you know, maybe inefficient building control systems, inefficient lighting systems inefficient, you know, installation envelopes around the building, they’re just, they’re just running, right, they’re just running all the time. And, you know, I want to make that connection between people going in and actual utilization and how the building is actually being operated. I think we’re not that far from doing that. And what that does, which means that you’re getting the building condition properly and energy use properly in a healthy environment done in a way that matches how the building’s being used. And I think that those two things combined are a giant opportunity for our market.

So you know, there’s this big advantage to employees wanting the flexibility saying, Hey, listen, I love the hybrid work environment makes my life better, frankly, you know, I’ve got the option to to work where where I need to work, I’m going to be getting on an airplane flying to Chicago in a few hours. That’s really kind of living the hybrid life. And that’s really great. But when I look at the overall picture, I get a little concerned that we have to connect it all right, the energy use and serving employees. But I also think reducing our carbon footprint serves us all right. Global warming is here. This is the hottest summer I’ve ever experienced, frankly, here in North Carolina and all of it’s quite concerning. So anyway, I think it’s an interesting conversation, Jen that really sort of extends into building operations directly from how our employees are using the facilities.


Jennifer Heath  9:38

Definitely. And to the point about the commute, it’s if we’re focused on reduced commute as a way to reduce our overall emissions, we think it’s more environmentally friendly. It’s not going to offset all those buildings that are still running. So organizations that want to offer hybrid work, and they see that as an important part of that. or, you know, environmental presence that they’re giving this benefit to their employees, they also then have to turn around and look at, okay, what am I doing to optimize this physical space, because the building is creating far more pollution than the individual vehicle.

We’ve got to really wait those two things and make sure that we’re addressing both sides. So you mentioned another definite benefit of hybrid work and a reason that employees love it. And that is better work life balance, work life integration is a phrase that has emerged. And I think that is such an important part of it, that people do have more flexibility for just their day to day life or a doctor’s appointment, or, you know, the roof guy needs to stop by and you can kind of plan your work day around some of these personal things, that it doesn’t have any sort of a detrimental impact to the work that you’re doing. But it allows you to achieve both things with much more ease and in a much more convenient way. I think that is probably commute being its own sort of, you know, personal angst for people that have bad commutes. But for anyone having that flexibility to just more evenly balance the needs of your personal life, the needs of your home and your family, with your commitments and obligations to your employer. It’s just a huge benefit.


Brian Haines  11:23

Yeah, what was that t-shirt slogan that you had, that you talked about? It was kind of-


Jennifer Heath  11:29

Yes, it was, “Am I living? Am I working from home or living at work?” That is the essence of work life integration, right there?


Brian Haines  11:37

Yeah, it’s interesting, because in a sort of oddly abstract way, many organizations have actually like, obtained a little bit of a footprint in people’s homes, right, everybody’s got a home office. Now, at least a lot of people have a home office now, because of the pandemic and the shift towards the hybrid workplace. So in some sort of way, we all are, you know, we’ve sort of shifted our office to our home, and it’s blended it quite a bit. There’s good, there’s good. And there’s bad there. I think one of the things I think about was when you know, back in the day, you know, I’ve been at this for a little while, but back in the day, when you let especially back when computer usage and internet usage wasn’t nearly as high, or phones, for instance, or digital phones, when you left work, you left work behind or your computer stayed there, you went home, you did a complete and total separation.

Now it’s it’s quite a blend, especially for organizations that are multinational, operating across time zones. I was on a call this morning at 8am with some counterparts in India, and I was trying to do the calculation, it was really incredibly late at night for them. But yet, here they are, they’re there. They’re working, they’re having a conversation as if nothing’s, nothing’s unusual about that. I will tell you in the past, that was pretty unusual, right? So that work life balance was better. But also, our ability to be able to leave work behind is diminished.


Jennifer Heath  13:09

That’s true. But I also think there’s a really interesting component of the global economy that sort of sits alongside this, because even before the pandemic, there were instances and companies that if you worked across multiple time zones, you already had a little bit of that work life integration to your point, they had to be on the call late at night, because it was the only reasonable time for you. And occasionally, it’s the other way around, maybe you have to be on the phone at four o’clock in the morning, because that’s the time that works for them. And that’s an interesting piece, I think that is sort of outside the scope of the pandemic and hybrid work.

But it’s one of the reasons that all this technology already existed was the global economy has grown in the last, say, 20 years, to the point that people do work a lot more often with people in other time zones. And so the concept of that nine to five, work day that traditional, get in your car, have your commute be in the office for eight hours, if most of your team is on a four hour difference from you, that nine to five workday doesn’t make any sense. And I think that in and of itself is a benefit to hybrid work is it allows people to manage that much more effectively. They don’t have to be in a physical office for eight hours, and then also be on the phone for three hours that evening. They can climb better.


Brian Haines  14:36

That’s really an interesting point, because I don’t think I ever really thought about it that clearly. But when you do go into the office, let’s say you’re in a hybrid environment and you’re more of the nine to five. So you’re not going to stay and you’re not going to sleep at your office, you’re not going to stay there. You’re going to go in at a certain point and you’re going to come home at a certain point. In a sense when you are already home, there’s probably greater acceptance So taking later meetings, I’m not going to office till eight or nine o’clock at night, because that’s what I need to do to be on with someone who’s overseas, I’m probably going to take that from home or another location, which is kind of interesting. And another benefit of, of the hybrid world, right, our ability to be able to adjust how and when we work according to the needs. So it’s not, you know, I think it’s there’s benefits for the organization and not just for the employee, when you look at it that through that lens, greater flexibility means people are, tend to be more available, they would not have been before. That’s another interesting angle there, I think.


Jennifer Heath  15:42

Yeah, and the last one that I have to mention, because I am a parent of small children, hybrid work is an absolute game changer for parents. And again, it doesn’t have any impact on the work that we do our ability to work, the hours that we put in. But it allows us to have, you know, the 15 minutes in the morning to put them on the best and the 15 minutes when they come home, and they’ve had the worst day ever, you know, you get to have those moments with your kids without really giving anything up in your work day.

So I have to say just a shout out to all the working parents who woke up one day and 2020 and found out that that part of their lives, it’s probably the only part of their lives that was easier and 2020. But that part of their lives got a little bit easier due to the pandemic and this shift to hybrid work.


Brian Haines  16:33

Yeah, your little collaborators. I’ve seen them a few times in meetings that we’ve had. It’s just really accepted in norm now. Right? It used to be very awkward. Now my cat can, you know, literally show up on announced on my keyboard, and it’s, you know, people out elite used to be kind of an embarrassment. Now it’s completely just this is the lead this the way it is. And I love that about that as well. It’s interesting, because, you know, we’ve talked about coming together, when we do come together in the workplace, it’s for moments that matter, well, being home in a hybrid workplace environment, there’s a lot of moments that matter there as well, right? Especially when you that’s pretty, that’s kind of a cool, cool thing might I was a parent, well, I’m a parent, he’s 27. He’s 27 Now and then, you know, is often his own world. He’s not like walking up and tugging on my shirt and asking me to help him with something anymore. So it’s interesting. And I definitely a shout out to you for the work life balance that you’ve achieved.


Jennifer Heath  17:39

It’s such a wonderful benefit. And I was already a fully remote employee. I’ve talked about this many times. I remember being happy for other parents that they were going to get to find out about that benefit of just having that time at the beginning and the end of the day, without the stress and the commute in between. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the cons of hybrid work because there is an element in the culture building and the collaboration that we’re having to sacrifice a little bit. Let’s talk about what are some of those downsides. And what are organizations doing to remedy that and address that?


Brian Haines  18:20

Yeah, so one of the I think one of the downsides is when you’re in a completely hybrid workplace world, and you’ve got inconsistency in terms of the way people are coming in and using your facilities, it’s incredibly hard to measure their performance. space utilization has been around since the beginning of office use, but it used to be quite easy. It was all assigned seating and space utilization, you could stand up in your cubicle and look across a sea of cubicles and see the tops of people’s heads and then understand how well the space is being utilized. It was very clear everybody was in Monday through Friday 8AM-5PM or whatever the hours would have been. But still organizations needed to understand, you know, what their capacity was having an up work environment for people that have the flexibility to move and do all sorts of things. So utilization and space management, not new. What is new is the chaotic nature of it and the difficulty in measuring its effectiveness.

We have been talking for quite a few a couple of years now about refocusing and rationalizing your real estate refocusing so that we focus on moments that matter making sure that the real estate footprint that we have enhances collaboration, teamwork, culture building, but also making sure that we have the right amount of real estate that’s the rationalization phase that comes when with the realization that you have too much or you have too little to meet the missions organization that’s become increasingly Complete complex. I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you think organizations are dealing with that.


Jennifer Heath  20:08

I think they’re like you say it’s entirely unpredictable right now what the utilization will be on any given day. And that makes it incredibly difficult to not just plan your space or space layout, but also to think about heating and cooling and lights and how many, you know, service people do you need on staff on any given day. And I think it really does come back to the technology, you have to have ways that you’re measuring and tracking and monitoring what’s going on inside your space. So you can start to be more proactive in maybe closing certain floors on a Friday, because consistently, utilization is really low, or maybe moving, you know, certain desks into a certain area or creating more conference rooms.

It’s really about, it’s not even just monitoring what’s going on. But getting that subjective feedback for your, from your employees, as well through surveys of what do they want? How do they want to use the space, taking those anecdotes, and comparing it to the data, okay, this is what you say you want, this is what you’re actually doing? Do those two things line up. And as you get closer and closer to understanding the intent and the actual behavior, then you can really develop a workplace strategy that’s going to reflect the needs of your workforce. And I think, I don’t know that there’s any other way to be smart about it, that doesn’t involve technology, you have to either be tracking the batch data, some kind of occupancy sensor, some kind of a bookings solution, so you can see what they intend to do over time. It’s we’re at a point now, Technology is everywhere in our lives anyway. And I think this is kind of maybe one of the last areas where people are recognizing we can’t do this manually anymore. It’s too unpredictable, we have to have a way to monitor and track and measure.


Brian Haines  22:06

Yeah, I think you hit a key point there. Utilization versus, versus intent. utilization is what happened, intent is what we think is going to happen based upon what people are indicating that they’re going to be in. It could be looking or perhaps using a workplace experience app to say, you know, I’m required to be there two days a week, I’m going to pick Tuesday and Thursday, one of the challenges with the hybrid workplace environment, Jen. And I think one of the downsides and the chaotic nature of it is, there’s no reason, in my opinion, for me to go in the office and sit by myself in a cubicle and get on calls with you, I could do that somewhere else. Place that makes more sense from home, right. But if I know that you’re going to be in there on Thursday, and I want to get together with you and meet and collaborate. And maybe we’ve got a few other teammates that are going to be there, I’m going to make, I’m probably not going to end up in that situation, right.

So the benefit is understanding intent. And I think intent is going to be sort of the next wave of what people are going to want to understand. Because like I said, nobody wants to go into the office to be alone, or nine out of 10 other their team mates or somewhere else. It’s just doesn’t make sense, in my, in my opinion for that to happen. So that is one of the downsides of the hybrid work is, you know, due to its chaotic nature, it’s hard for us as humans to understand what everyone else is going to do. If it’s arbitrary, right?


Jennifer Heath  23:29

Right. And it is so important to bring teams together. I think that is one element that is lost in the hybrid work, or just those moments of spontaneous connection, of running into someone and saying, oh, yeah, this came up in the meeting the other day, I’ve been wanting to ask you, and solving some little problem just right there in the hallway. I think that lack of spontaneous interaction and those connections that naturally happen, I do think that is a major downfall of the hybrid environment. I think it’s important that we create visibility to employees of what other employees are intending to do, so that we can bring teams together. And you know, if you want to center it around having lunch, or a series of meetings, or whatever it might be having that continuous connection with your team really is an important component. And another concept that is interesting to me is some of us don’t have the choice. I live in Franklin, Tennessee, we don’t have an office anywhere near here. If I want to come into the office for a few days, I have to travel. And so that’s an important concept inside the hybrid workplace to is some of your teammates. It might not be about being hybrid, it might be that they live in another state. So you have to have a way to connect them as well for the people that are in the same location that can come in and have that in person connection.

There are tools and ways to facilitate that. But We also have to really take seriously the video conferencing capabilities that we have the different tools that we use to create digital equity. So if you’ve got eight people in the conference room and for people that are dialed in or you know, joining via teams, or zoom, or whatever it is, you have to have the equipment in place so that those four people feel an equal part of the meeting.


Brian Haines  25:23

Yeah, I call that collaborative inclusion. And your pre pandemic office I guarantee does not meet the post pandemic need for collaboration. Because, you know, when we went back after the pandemic, we sort of like went back into our office, the way it was, the conferencing, the video conferencing technologies that we have were awful. You know, what happens is everybody ends up facing that way.

And you’re ignoring everyone who’s, who’s virtual, right, you’re not looking at them, you’re not having conversation delay, you and I are right now, we have the opportunity at FM:Systems, we’re building a new headquarter where collaboration is front and center, our conference rooms, our huddle spaces aren’t designed for this, you know, we’re going to look at each other when we’re having calls, we’re not just taking someone’s webcam that’s on a cable, a USB cable, and like hanging it on someone’s laptop and moving it around, we’re actually building it in a way that it’s going to really create the inclusion that we’re looking for. So regardless of where you are, you’re going to feel like you’re together.


Jennifer Heath  26:25

Yeah, that’s wonderful. And that’s really, I think, kind of the linchpin in a successful hybrid workplace. Because from an HR perspective, a huge benefit of hybrid work is that you have a much broader talent pool that you can hire from. So we’re headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina. And if you know, the perfect developer or marketer, or whoever it is, if they’re in Cincinnati, we still want to be able to hire that person, it allows you to hire the best talent no matter where they are. But then you have to be prepared to support that distributed workforce exactly the way you’re saying with collaborative inclusion. That’s a fantastic phrase. I love it.


Brian Haines  27:05

Yeah, we’re going to we’re going to trademark that one. Because yeah.


Jennifer Heath  27:11

So one other point I make, I’ll make, we’re coming up on our time here. Another aspect that concerns me is my younger millennials and Gen Z that are coming into the workplace, I worry that they are missing out on some social interactions, maybe not even professional interactions. It’s, I’m not talking about you know, them coming together to talk about work. But to just get to know each other. I mean, when you’re in your 20s, and your early 30s, work is a huge social outlet is where you meet a lot of people. But if you’re remote, and everybody you know, is remote, you don’t have that social interaction.

I think social isolation is already a challenge in this country, especially in America. And I think that’s something that employers and HR really have to be aware of is how are we bringing the younger generations together to have that more social interaction. And there’s a funny dichotomy there, because the younger generations are also much more digitally savvy than the older generations, they’re the best at this kind of virtual online communication and interaction. But because of their age, and their place in life, they need that social connection, maybe more than you and I do who are established in other parts of our lives. So I think that’s a really interesting pickle that companies are going to have to think about as well.


Brian Haines  28:38

Yeah, it’s interesting, because Millennials in the very near future, in the next couple of years will be the, you know, the dominant, let’s say, age group within the workplace. When you think about Gen Z, they never experienced the pre pandemic workplace, for the most part, they were going to be working in an office. It’s interesting, we had millennials who experienced that before and after, who do have that sort of social lens on things. And then the Gen Zers, who never really experienced that. So it’s interesting. I’m wondering, I’d love to see some research and find out more about what organizations are doing to address the generations that that are in the workplace right now. But there’s up to five, why not people are working longer, which means we’re getting more within, you know, a breadth of ages, if you will, within the workplace. It’s interesting.


Jennifer Heath  29:26

Yeah, and the comfort level and the understanding and the adoption of technology. That is one of the big differentiators across generations, because that’s, to me, really, the primary thing that has radically changed over the last 50-60 years is the level of technology, the access we have to technology. And so there’s a big divide between the older members of the workforce and the newest members and it all centers around technology all Right. Any closing thoughts from you, Brian?


Brian 30:04

I continue to be excited about the hybrid workplace. I do think it is here to stay. I think that there are varying degrees of hybrid. You know, I did ask that question at World Workplace. You know, do you consider, do you consider if you’re coming in three days a week as a mandate, is that still the hybrid workplace and everyone strongly agreed, yes.

I think the only thing that gets outside of hybrid workplace organizations that demand 100% of employees come back 100% of the time, that’s not hybrid. So I think it is here to stay. I think it’s going to continue. I think we’re going to gain momentum around utilization. I think there will continue to be mandates that you know require people to be in the office of possible X number of days. It just looks like it’s going that way.


Jennifer Heath 31:24

Alright well, Brian, thank you so much for spending some time today. It’s always good to chat.

Thank you. Alright everyone. We will be doing our next podcast here in the next month or so. Be sure to follow us on FMS Champions. We always post them ahead of time to register and we look forward to seeing you next time.

Hi everyone. Bye.

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