Episode 6: Now Make the Workplace Yours

About the Episode

In this episode of “Hybrid Hangout,” Jen and Brian dive into the nuances of hybrid work and how to tailor it to your unique needs. Join us as we explore the journey of making the hybrid workplace truly yours. Understand importance of finding the right balance between flexibility and consistency, as well as creating spaces that cater to both collaboration and individual work.

Learn how to navigate your organization’s path to transformation through iterative process of changes, data measurement, employee feedback, and constant improvement.

Watch the Episode

Episode Transcription

Jennifer Heath 0:14

Hello, everyone, and welcome. I’m Jennifer Heath, Director of Product Marketing at FM:Systems.


Brian Haines 0:20

And I am Brian Haines, Chief Strategy Officer at FM:Systems.


Jennifer Heath 0:25

And this is the Hybrid Hangout Podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. This is actually our last episode for 2023. And I’m going to start by saying I’m so glad we did this. This year, this has been such a fun experience. Thank you to Brian for his time and commitment to doing this. Brian, I realize we kind of have these conversations all the time anyway. So after especially being at our User Conference and visiting with our clients, we felt like we wanted to bring more of this content directly to the people who were also thinking about this stuff all the time and talking about it. So it’s been a great experience. We’re already in planning for ‘24. So thank you again, Brian. And thank you to all of our listeners who have stayed with us and supported us this year.


Brian Haines 1:12

Yeah, I’m really excited Jennifer. Hopefully, we’ll get renewed for season two. I think it’s looking good. You know, contracts are coming through, hopefully, you’ll get the big contract. And we’ll be doing this again next year, I think it’ll be a lot of fun.


Jennifer Heath 1:27

Yeah, it has been a lot of fun. We’ve covered a lot of different topics. There’s a lot of overlap in our topics. But each session we try to kind of dig into a different unique angle. And today we’re looking at the concept of how do you make the hybrid workplace uniquely yours,. Every organization really has to think about what does it mean to them? What benefits do they hope to get from making changes? What benefits are they hoping to get from their workplace experience? And one of the common themes has been there is no one size fits all solution, it’s going to be a little bit different within every organization. And it’s going to be different for organizations over time. The strategies that you choose today, the technology you invest in today, you may find three years from now, five years from now that you need to change direction your workforce may change, other conditions might fluctuate. And so it’s very much an iterative process. One of the things that I have thought a lot about, and we touched on this briefly in our last episode, is the concept of ROI. So return on investment for years in our industry, that was almost synonymous with cost savings. If you made some kind of a decision, you implemented a new strategy or you invested in a new technology, you were looking for there to be some kind of cost savings as a result of that. But I think today, as we look at the hybrid workplace and all the different benefits and ways that you can leverage it and implement it, there really is a need to think about, what does the return on the investment mean, for you. It’s not necessarily cost savings anymore, it might be and that’s a very noble goal. But there are a lot of other things you can be looking to accomplish by implementing a different workplace strategy. It might be about improving that employee experience, how do you draw people into your office? How do you encourage collaboration and ideation that might really be your goal. Or it might be that you want to take advantage of an expanded talent pool when you want to go all in on remote workers and virtual workers, and it becomes more about the technology that connects them. So there are a lot of different values you can get from making these different decisions. And because the topic is how do we make it uniquely yours, I would love Brian, for you to talk a little bit about some of the decisions and the value that we perceived and that we are pursuing in our new office space. We’ve just gone through this exercise of making some new decisions about the workplace. So tell us a little bit about what influenced those decisions, the process that we went through in making some changes?


Brian Haines 4:20

That’s a great question, Jen. It’s really interesting, because it kind of turns ROI on its head a little bit where it’s not just necessarily about dollars. And of course, those concerns will always exist. But really, it gets much more complex as we look at the specific values of an organization. One of the things that I’ve been learning is that the way facilities are used globally, does not necessarily reflect the way they’re used locally. We’ve been seeing a lot of talk in the news about global utilization rates. Before the pandemic we were above 35%. Now it’s sort of all over the place. But really, when you start to dig into it, it really becomes a local problem more so than it is a global problem. Which means we need to be designing our workplace experiences in the way that our workplaces evolve to reflect what our values are locally, as opposed to trying to read an article or report that says, you know, global trends are this. You really have to start thinking about what you’re trying to accomplish. So, in terms of FM systems, I’ll talk about a different value that’s not one of the ones that you had discussed previously, but really, for us, it’s about what we want our client experience to be in this new space. So that’s sort of a new dynamic for us. In our previous office environment, it was really about providing a place for all of us to come every single day, it did have a lot of cubicles, we had offices against, you know, sort of the outside of the building. So really only senior leadership was really getting that sort of fresh, you know, sunlight. And it’s really our values have completely flipped. And it’s really quite different the way we’re thinking about the workplace. Of course, we’ve got a goal to bring our employees back, and we’re trying to create a really fun environment. We’ve not only moved from sort of, let’s say, a remote facility, and what I mean by remote, it’s in Raleigh, but it’s kind of isolated, right, you had to get into your car to do everything. This new office is really exciting. It’s in a place called Raleigh Ironworks, which is a big development project and urban renewal project in Raleigh. That right there is one of our values, we wanted to be part of that sort of urban renewal, we also wanted to give our occupants and occupants include not only our employees, but people who come to visit us. In particular clients are really different experience a dynamic experience. We’re going to be surrounded by restaurants with locally famous chefs, we’re going to be surrounded by entertainment, the ability to be able to show up at work using the Greenway on a bike and take a shower before you go into the office. All these things that we didn’t have before. And, you know, pivoting back to what I was saying earlier, it’s really about creating an exceptional experience. For our clients, it’s going to be a client briefing center. We are using it as an innovation center for all of our technology. We’ll have our sensors, we’ll have our partner sensors, we’ll be monitoring indoor air quality, and utilization, security, all of those things that FM:Systems does best. We’re bringing that into our workplace environment. And we’re really going to be focusing on creating an exceptional experience not just for employees, but for our visitors as well.


Jennifer Heath 7:49

And I am really excited. So I’m not local to Raleigh, but I will be very excited to come and see the space and see all of our different solutions in action. I think that is a huge benefit. And it was a huge opportunity for us to do that going into this new space to really think differently about how do we showcase what we do, while also really creating a great experience for our employees. So I’ll be I’ll be looking for my invitation for the ribbon cutting there in Raleigh.


Brian Haines 8:20

Well you’ll probably be getting an invitation before that, because construction’s already going and that’s really exciting as well, right? Seeing the space, which was essentially empty shell space becoming that thing that we’ve dreamed of. And that’s happening now our marketing team is going to chronicle that as we go through this journey. And we’ve been using partners to help us do the design as well as the project management, even furniture selection. So it’s gonna be really, really exciting to roll it out. But I think just seeing the process from initial conception, when we pick the office to selecting everything that we’ve done, it’s always been through this lens of what’s the experience going to be like for people who come in the door.


Jennifer Heath 8:59

Right. And I love the choice to be surrounded by amenities. We’ve done a number of surveys and research studies over the last year we consistently poll, you know, webinar attendees. And that is a real consistent theme that people do want to be close to amenities. There’s a little concept around making the commute worth it. If I’m going to leave my home office where I’m relatively comfortable, I’m going to battle traffic, I’m going to go to some other location. I want there to be more than just my office there. I do want to have the ability to go to a yoga class or go out to dinner afterwards, whatever it may be. So I think centrally located to amenities is a much bigger priority for people maybe than it was in the past.


Brian Haines 9:44

Yeah, it’s interesting because when I turn the clock back a little bit and I look pre pandemic, we could not even get food delivery to our old office. It was really difficult. There were some ways around it. What really transformed that was the pandemic itself when food delivery became, everybody needed to deliver food, right, because social distancing. So, you know, really minimizing that commute kind of goes in multiple directions. It’s not only about driving into work, but you know, back in the day, we even had to get into our vehicles to go get lunch or to go out and to meet someone. And we’re really hoping that this environment will be a place that people come to and want to stay. Because there’s so much going on, even after work, there’s the ability to be able to grab a great dinner, meet some friends, really experiencing that, sort of extending the day into the environment around us, which is a pretty exciting concept. And I think something that everyone is going to embrace.


Jennifer Heath 10:44

And I also am really pleased that it’s going to be very walkable. I think that to your point, the commute is sort of its own thing. But there has been a growing concern for the environmental impacts of how we’re living what we’re doing. And so that is an important part of our overall value proposition helping our customers, you know, drive towards their ESG goals, drive towards their sustainability goals. And so I love to see that we’re baking that into our overall philosophy that we do want to be in a walkable area, we want to have access to bike paths and walking trails. And I think that’s a really important piece as well.


Brian Haines 11:22

Yeah, and we’re looking at components like indoor air quality, how much energy we use in ways that we have not done previously. Those are becoming part of our value set, as we were discussing earlier, really excited to bring that in. As well, as you know, even our teams that show our solutions to the market every single day. They’re sort of chomping at the bit, if you will, because they want this data, they want to see how this new workplace performs. And we’re going to be able to provide that data to them, as well as the ability to be able to iterate. So if things aren’t going the way we thought or maybe things are going a little bit differently, maybe things are being underutilized or over utilized compared to what we thought we’ll be able to adjust and continue to provide that environment. So it’s pretty exciting. Also the ability to move indoors and out, there’s even a balcony, which is kind of fun, right? So the ability to be able to sort of extend our workspace from the office, not only out into the environment where there are restaurants, etc, but also just sort of a more of a minor extension out into more open areas within the Raleigh Ironworks that we can take advantage of. And that’s pretty exciting, too.


Jennifer Heath 12:33

Yeah, that’s wonderful. So another component of how to make it uniquely yours. And I’m curious to know how much we did this in our decision making process. One of the things that I have really seen emerge, and we talked about this a little bit pre pandemic, as we were talking to our clients about, you know, the positive benefits of hoteling and desk sharing. We talked a lot, even back then. But today, it’s even more relevant. There is a need for synergy between three key departments that really didn’t exist before. And those three departments are facility managers, HR, and IT. I think, prior to the adoption, and the popularity of hybrid work, those three teams could really operate kind of in a silo. They each had their own unique charters, their own unique set of challenges that they were tasked with, they had their own processes, and they could work independently fairly well. But hybrid work has created an overlap in those groups. Because facilities in order to manage the unpredictable nature of hybrid in order to keep virtual and onsite employees connected, facility managers now have to lean on technology in ways that maybe they didn’t before. And so being well connected with their IT, teams understanding some of the different cybersecurity threats, understanding some of the challenges around authentication or mobile apps, facility managers have really had to up their game in terms of implementing and leveraging technology. And IT departments have had to start thinking a lot more about portfolio performance and how do you automate building functions because it’s all tying in together. And then the other pillar is HR. Because hybrid does give you that ability to potentially expand your talent pool. You can potentially recruit the ideal employee no matter where they are, you’re no longer necessarily limited by some geographical boundary. But at the same time, if your facilities team is you know, putting all this effort into improving your space and making it better for collaboration. And your HR department is planning to hire a bunch of people, you know, 1000 miles away, then they’re at odds with each other. And so there has to be a level of communication, and teamwork between those three groups that I don’t think we’ve ever really seen before. And so I’m curious what that experience was like, for FM:Systems. How much did we take into account IT challenges, HR needs, as we were looking at our facilities?


Brian Haines 15:32

Yeah, well, we actually did, which is pretty exciting. You know, if I go all the way out to the beginning, we actually worked really closely with HR and JLL, to essentially create a heat map of where our employees homes were. And it was all anonymized so that we could see average commute times to different areas where we were looking at having a new office, because we really wanted to minimize that. We didn’t want to create new pain for 80 people on one side of the city and less than the time, we really had to pick that place that was going to work best for everyone. So from day one, Jen, we really focused on having HR available from you know, just like the average commute time, that was really exciting. On the actual project team, they’ve all been included. And I’m gonna add one other component, finance was attached and not from the perspective now, obviously, cost control, we had a budget, we’ve stuck to our budget, we’ve been really good working with the contractor and the architect to make sure that we’re on budget, but finance was involved, because our CFO got excited about the project and wanted to help design the new space in the experience. So they were actually part of the team, as well. So it expanded beyond those sort of what we call buying groups, right HR, IT. IT is interesting, because we have our local it obviously looking at what it’s going to take to manage. But during the process of the design, and going through the design process and getting ready for this project, FM:Systems was acquired by Johnson Controls. Johnson Controls has their own unique requirements. And now they’re part of the team, right? Because the systems that we’re putting in place for like virtualization, being able to do conferencing need to meet specific requirements from the Johnson Controls side so that we’re not having weird system integration problems. And we’re managing things like a common IT security goal. And that’s been pretty exciting. Because the actual project team is pretty broad. We have weekly meetings, everyone dials in we have our topics, and we participate everything ranging from, you know, what’s Wi Fi? What’s the Wi Fi experience going to look like, for people coming into the office? How are we going to manage access control, like security? How are we going to manage things like where our IT equipment is going to be located? All of that is part of that process. And obviously, human resources being in there looking at things like what’s the experience gonna be like, at a spatial level for our employees? What’s the workplace experience gonna be like? Are we going to have the, you know, kind of a really nice amenities to really help them to attract and keep talent. I gotta tell you, our old space was probably not a tool that we used to attract talent. Now, it’s absolutely a tool that we’re going to be using, especially local talent and getting people to come into the office. And one of the things we’ve learned, Jen, this year is that people, actually like people, they like being around the other employees and their teammates. And we’re going to provide a really great environment from an HR perspective, from an IT perspective, from a facilities perspective, and also staying on time on budget. It’s a really exciting project. And we’re really looking forward to it.


Jennifer Heath 18:53

That’s wonderful. So when you have talked to other clients, as you talk to other people in the industry, do you see that same trend that they are bringing in HR, they’re bringing in IT where historically, maybe they didn’t? Are you seeing more of that connection and collaboration across the teams.


Brian Haines 19:11

I am. I worked with one of our clients to do a presentation at Tradeline this year, they’re absolutely doing that. They’re bringing in an additional component. And that is really increasing the communication with the employee population to making sure that their needs and their wants are being heard during the process of design. So going back to it, it’s sort of HR, IT facilities, finance, and now the actual occupants, the employees that are going to be coming in there. I really think that’s going to be the key to creating an exceptional environment. And I do see many of our clients doing that. I see many of them sort of dipping their toes into doing that right now and thinking about what their workplace future is going to look like. Obviously, we’ve got things like global end dates for a lot of real estate. Lease real estate that’s going to be coming up over the next couple of years, it’s really going to be interesting to see what our clients do. And if they make the same kind of decisions that we made, we decided to keep our headquarters in Raleigh, but physically move it from one location to another to provide a better, more rounded experience to the population that we want to serve, including our clients. That’s really interesting, we’ve been seeing our clients do the same thing as well. But I think because of the global size of many of those clients, their ability to be able to execute that really quickly, is probably less limited. So what we’re seeing is POCs, proof of concepts, we’re seeing them pick a location, try it out, and then roll that out more broadly to the organization. We’ve also seen them try things and measure the effectiveness of what they’ve done using data and roll back a little bit and make different decisions. They’re becoming more agile and pivoting, I think we’re going to do the same thing, Jen. And I’m really excited to see that happen as well.


Jennifer Heath 20:58

The employee input is such an important part of it. And we’ve talked about that a lot this year as well, the difference between hard data and soft data, and that you really have to have both if you want to be successful. So within our space, obviously, we’re going to have sensors and scheduling a scheduling platform so we can look at planned versus actual utilization. And that’s important, it’s important to have that, you know, objective data telling you what was used and by whom, or how often. But there’s an underlying question of why that you really do have to reach out to your occupants to understand why do you behave that way? Why are you more attracted to this space? Because it’s not always obvious from the hard data, why people do one thing versus the other. And so constantly getting that input really is such an important part of the iterative process. The data might show you that space is being used, at a certain level, it might look like it’s really positive. But then in reality, you find that your employees are not overly happy, they don’t feel like they have choices, or whatever it might be. So there’s a definite balancing act between what the data is telling you and what your employee sentiment is about their experience.


Brian Haines 22:15

I’m sorry, I got excited about that. Because I think it’s key and it’s not asking once, right, it’s not like, did you like it or did you not. It’s really the ability to be able to sort of ask those questions over time and get feedback, and change to modify your approach based upon feedback based upon the information that you’re getting, not just from the technology, but from the people who are occupying the space. Looking at that and asking, you know, maybe more open-ended questions, we’re actually planning to get groups together. Not just sort of anonymous surveys, but let’s get a group, a team of people together and on a frequent basis and say, open discussion, how’s this going? Is it going well? Is it not going well? What could we do different? What can we add? What can we subtract? What’s keeping you from coming in, or what’s drawing you in? All of these questions are really going to be part of our process as we build out this, essentially a dataset of our own use. Which is going to be really interesting for us to see over time. And we’re trying not to make too many assumptions. We do assume that with this wonderful new environment, that we’re gonna get pretty good engagement. But I think we’re realistic, you know, in terms of the way we’re looking at it, and really interesting to go back to how we’re thinking about our values, providing this experience getting more, not only employees in there, getting more clients in there, and also bringing disparate teams together in there. Really bringing in, you know, maybe our sales and marketing organization, bringing in professional services, bringing in client support and getting them to sort of essentially kind of crash into each other again, right in a way that we’ve not been able to do for quite some time.


Jennifer Heath 23:54

Yeah, it really is very exciting. And as we look ahead to ‘24, next season of our podcasts notwithstanding, what else do you see coming in ‘24? What do you think is on the horizon? What is surprising to you about where we are? What do you think on that? What’s up next?


Brian Haines 24:15

So interestingly enough, I’ll do a little bit of a plug. I’ve got a webcast next week on a retrospective on the year as well as prediction for trends. I think one of the things that was most surprising this year was sort of a flatlining of utilization numbers globally. We had predicted based upon the data you know, we were seeing utilization increase and we were seeing it globally slower in North America kind of medium. Think of the three bears right sort of like medium in Europe and Asia being sort of like on fire, right. Like just a huge amount of utilization occurring in facilities in Asia Pacific, which is really interesting, right? So we look at that. I was saying earlier, don’t look at things too much globally, think locally because utilization is more of a local problem than it is a global problem. We saw a flatlining, I’m really going to be curious to see if that continues. It is slightly trending up, I’ll be sharing sort of new data that we’re getting from our research next week. I’m hoping that it kind of tilts back up again, I’m not sure quite what the pause is pause could be, you know, part of the data, as you know, we moved into the summertime and into the fall, people got lots of activities, school time stuff, maybe it will go back up. What’s really good is that we’ve got multiple years of data now. And we can actually see what that trend looks like longer. We were predicting that we were going to get back to preoccupy or pre pandemic levels, probably in about mid 2024. That’s before the new data, I think it’s going to be closer to the end of 2024 into 2025, before we start seeing what we will consider pre pandemic levels.


Jennifer Heath 26:02

One thing that I think has been surprising, is that there still tends to be a certain amount of resistance to hybrid work. I think there’s still a certain contingency of employees or you know, leadership within organizations that are still just kind of fingers crossed, that this is going to go away. And we’re all going to be back in the office 40 hours a week. It’s surprising to me that there are still individuals that are sort of holding on to that older way of working. It’s interesting for me, because I’ve been a hybrid worker for so many years, years before the pandemic. And I’ve always touted the benefits and encouraged people to you know, consider having this within their own organizations. And when the pandemic brought it to the forefront. I thought it would be just an obvious buy in that everybody would see the benefits and want to adopt it. So it’s been a little bit surprising to me that there have been kind of some holdouts still that they still really value that in the office five days a week.


Brian Haines 27:08

I’ll agree with you. And I think it’s kind of human nature, if it’s completely wide open, and you say you have to be here, three days a week, or X number of days a week, whatever that may be. People are going to be sort of maybe not real solid on their response. One of our clients that I met with in Houston a few weeks ago said, Yeah, we do have a mandate. It’s Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. That’s it, you got to be here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday, Friday, do anything you want. They’ve they’re seeing huge success. And it’s interesting, because I’ve been thinking about that, why they’re seeing success. And I think it’s because it removed the variable from the conversation. I’m gonna be curious to see if I see that trend increase because it is creating success for them, because they have this really vibrant office for the first half of the week. And then the second half of the week, people are able to choose their own adventure, right, they could do whatever they want. That’s kind of a new one, Jen, we’ve not talked about a lot this year, in our podcasts. I’m gonna be curious to see if we see something a little bit more rock solid, in terms of guidelines this coming year.


Jennifer Heath 28:12

I think that that is an important point, I do think there is just that element of the unknown, that does make people uncomfortable. They want to know what’s expected of them. They want to know what they have to do what they can do. So I think that there’s definitely, again, it goes back to that concept of employee sentiment. People want to understand what’s expected of them, they want to know what the boundaries are. So I do think clear communication, if it’s a mandate, if it’s guidelines, whatever works for your organization. Communication is key, making sure that people understand that they’re comfortable with their place, and that they’re having their individual needs met. And that, to me is the other trend that I’ve loved seeing over the last couple of years, that we’ve continued to focus on employee choice. That there has been a real shift or sort of a division of power between employers and employees. And what employees need to be successful on a daily basis, I think is a much more important consideration. Now, if it’s that you have a terrible commute, if it’s that we really want to improve the indoor air quality or we want to create more opportunities for collaboration. I think that employers are focusing so much more on what really makes their employees tick, what makes them productive, what’s going to, you know, bring out their best. And I think that’s a wonderful side effect of all of this is that there has been that balancing of power and I think giving more power to employees, letting them choose their own adventure, let them have that flexibility. I think there will always be a return on that investment. Because when employees have that sense of autonomy when they feel have that respect from their employer that we trust you to do the right thing to be productive to give your best to the organization. It does uplevel your output when you have that sense of respect, and that you’re so valued by your employer that they’re willing to make these changes and adjustments for you. I think that’s a wonderful trend that has come out of the hybrid work transition.


Brian Haines 30:25

Yeah, I mean we just came out of a global pandemic. We also just came out of a period where there were wildfires and suddenly air quality became a topic of interest for everyone. When you apply those kinds of values to the workplace experience, you know most of the clients that we’re talking to, most of the market when I go to shows and I hear people speak, they’re talking about how to improve the workplace experience from a health and wellness standpoint, from a sustainability standpoint, all of those are sort of coming into play as part of that experience that the occupants are able to take advantage of, and really feel like, when they come into the office they’re valued, they’re gonna be productive, it’s really a wonderful place to come to. So I think that that’s really interesting I’m positive we’re going to see that trend continue into next year as well.


Jennifer Heath 31:15

I think so too. I think it’s a really important part for every organization as they think about how do we succeed in this, what strategies are important to us. Continuing to focus on what really is important to your employees will always be a successful approach. Brian I think that probably brings us to time for today. This is a wonderful way to end our series and I certainly look forward to doing it again next year. To all of our listeners again, thank you so much. We wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and a wonderful new year.


Brian Haines 31:52

It’s a wrap, Jen. Thank you so much, this has been super fun and I look forward to more.

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