Intro: Duration: (03:08)
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Hi everyone I'm Jeff Hunt, and this is Human Capital, a GoalSpan podcast. On Human Capital, I interview top business thought leaders to uncover the deeply human aspect of work. And I am excited today to talk about workplace strategy and design, which we haven't discussed on the show before, as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, many companies are considering returning to the office.
Moving to a hybrid work environment or even deciding to stay fully remote. And so today I get to speak with an expert who will shed some light on these considerations for leaders. I'm also excited to talk about the impact of workplace design on employees and organizations. My guest is Michelle Cleverdon, who is vice-president of workplace innovations at Colliers international.
Michelle has over a decade of experience in workplace design and consulting. And she currently leads Collier's practice in this area, in the Western Region of the US and she does that from the San Francisco Bay area. Michelle's primary focus is creating meaningful and valuable connections between people and technology and the work environment, really with the ultimate goal of boosting employee engagement and productivity.
Michelle also shared with me that her main goal is to help companies double down on the power of employee experience and utilize both virtual and workplace environments as tools to enable employees to do their best work. Before Michelle came to Colliers, she led the workplace strategy and design team for capital one.
And she oversaw its 10 million square foot real estate portfolio, which in case you didn't know, 10 million square feet is equal to 208 football fields. So that's a lot of real states. She is responsible for the implementation of global design standards, innovation pilots, change management, and the workplace performance program. So I'm super excited to have her on the show. Welcome, Michelle.
Hey, thanks for having me. I'm excited to be here to chat about all things workplace.
Absolutely. So I like to start by asking, what's it like to hear your bio read? Because I didn't use to ask that and now I like to ask it because it's fun to hear people's reflections.
Yeah, no, it's a decade. Whoa. And really that's just kind of getting my toe in the pool. I feel like, but also lots of hard work behind hard work ahead. As I've heard. Few key people say, but also on top of that, I mean, it just sounds like a lot of responsibility. So part of a very large team that helps manage the workplace strategy for capital one and it really does take a village.
Topic 1. What inspired you to go into business? (03:08)
Well, you're humble. So I'm sure you deserve a lot of that credit. So, Michelle let's start by going back to the beginning of your career and I would love it if you could tell our listeners who, or what inspired you to go into business and ultimately into the workplace design and strategy discipline.
Yeah. Happy to talk about it. So I feel like my experience was really non-traditional and I feel like a lot of workplace strategists kind of how they come to be workplace strategists is maybe non-traditional. It's interesting that occurrence is like this, the great recession, like COVID kind of all these big events, have really kind of had the workplace strategy and design kind of industry has really had to step up and answer some big questions for people, regardless of what area of design or strategy they really kind of, consultant or have expertise in.
And so while now I really believe this is a much more kind of mainstream type of practice and, and, uh, you know, kind of type of role. I feel like a lot of people kind of fell into it through various means. And that's the great thing I think about workplace strategy in particular, even on my team at Collier's, we have an anthropologist, we have someone who came from a valuation.
We have two business majors. So there's a lot of kind of diversity, I think in backgrounds, which is great. But my own experience was really kind of diverse. I mean I've been around kind of design and construction my entire life. So my dad built our houses. So to be able to see that early on, yeah, he was a Jack of all trades and I actually got into it through the kitchen and bath renovation company that my parents owned.
So that's really where I came about. And it's just really, I think, impactful to see things being built and then also to kind of at that time, help support our clients. There's a real kind of emotional response to space. The setting in a story is so important and the built environment is in real life is just as important.
So that's kind of where I got my start, but it's really funny. The interior design, when I was in school, you have those little basic kinds of proficiency tests, right? What should you be when you grow up? And I always got, that is one of the items, but I really went to college for psychology.
That's where I started. And I've really always been interested in kind of people interactions. What's the human condition, what drives people, what motivates people, how they interact. And so that's where I started. I ended up leaving school and getting some real-world experience. Then I worked for my parents in the kitchen and bath.
Really got to see kind of the emotional response and also the decision-making process for people and understanding fundamentally kind of what it is that they do to help support how you would design a space. So I decided to go back to school, and I was able to go through a full kind of interior design program at Radford University, which was great.
I had drive, I had focus and, and that really was a great experience for me to be able to take time and then come back kind of for what I would call my second, second career. I think that going back to school had that focus, had that drive, and then really kind of, I think through that process discovered that the research-based side of design was actually something that was more interesting to me.
How you go about programming, how you go about kind of research-based approaches to understanding evidence-based design, how that part of things, rather than the art of everything, that's also very interesting to me. A deep understanding of how people really have habit space is, is obviously critical again, regardless of what it is that you're designing.
That I think was the best part of, kind of how I got to where I am now, which forward now it's really kind of taking this same methodology, the same ideas, really understanding business objectives, the cultural aspirations of an organization. And bringing that to life with a variety of different company types, different maturation cycles, different growth, different locations, different industries has been really great.
Topic 2. Going back to the office? Staying remote? Considerations when making these decisions (07:21)
That's so great. And I'd love hearing your story. I love hearing the stories for all of our guests, but this one is unique because you're bringing together all these various elements. So you have your interest in psychology, and then you have you're cutting your teeth with your family's business in that sort of kitchen design space, and then your dad building homes.
And then you couple that with your education, you sort of end up. It makes perfect sense why you ended up where you are now. And I also am just reflecting on how, how tightly integrated the psychology piece is with the rest of the work that you're doing and workplace design and strategy. And I think a lot of times people don't realize that.
So that's one of the things I'm really looking forward to kind of exploring with you today. So let's talk for a minute about so many organizations now needing to make the decision. They're either deferring it, or they're starting to make the decision about moving back to the office.
And some of them are choosing to do that a hundred percent. Some of them are moving into a hybrid work environment or leaving people remote. What are some considerations that executives really need to be thinking about when making these decisions?
Yeah. So it's a big kind of hairball of a proposition.
So I'll start kind of by framing the situation. Cause I think you have to frame it to really then, kind of tied to the types of, or how you might go about making that decision. To sort of frame this, I mean, obviously, this has been a profound crisis. Every single person on the planet has been impacted and touched, which I think is just unprecedented.
Right? Like usually when we're talking about these types of things, that's not the context at all. And so that's really kind of been interesting as we're starting to have these conversations. So, it's the greatest work-from-home event ever. Sudden, unforeseen, immediate, people had to literally scramble to be able to get set up, to make sure that if they didn't have a certain kind of infrastructure in place or operational support for their employees have to make that move immediately.
And the other kind of big factors, every single person, whether they´re a employee, a manager, a leader, C suite, they're all having to experience kind of the highs and lows of working, what I hate to call remote. I've always hated that term. I think even before the pandemic with mobile technologies, digital technologies, we all work pretty kind of mobile.
Right? So, working around the clock, that's why there have always been these discussions around work-life balance. So this whole idea of remote just makes it feel like you're on an island. You have no resources, right. And it's completely disconnected, which that's part of the mind shift. I think it needs to occur in the future.
Yeah. So, but the other factor of this too, is we have no end date. There is no, we know that we're facing, we know that things are starting to like better. We don't know if there are going to be additional events. If there are going to be clusters of infection, we have no idea how this is going to continue to transition in the future.
So, I think that's another really important kind of consideration is to think about resiliency and business continuity. But the good thing about such a crisis is really, this was kind of the right place at the right time. The technology that we have available, just how far technology has come in the last 10 years, the rise of flex or serviced office spaces.
I mean, there's just a lot of factors that have actually enabled this, the transition to so much kind of knowledge work. I think has also been a benefit, largely a lot of companies were set up for success and it was kind of, Hey, let's get your chair. You're off to the races go and you're set up for success.
So that's kind of one silver lining is that I think it was the right place at the right time. The other thing I'll kind of throw in as consideration is. We've really stepped back. We've always talked about the future of work 2020. That's always been like this date and you know, you look at 2019 going into 2020.
I wouldn't say that we were all where we thought we were going to be. We've been talking about hybrid work, which we'll talk about here in just a moment, but employ employee autonomy, employee choice, the ability to work from anywhere, any time. That's been a large part of the conversation for decades.
And so it's a little ironic that this event kind of really accelerated people to kind of where we all hoped we would be in 2020, which is again, not to underscore a crisis, but again, right place, right time. I think the other factor to take into consideration too, is just to really kind of compound a real need for empathy and compassion.
That's something that has never really been part of our conversations. I think people have built deeper connections, right? The knowledge that we all have lives and obligations outside. If there's more kind of open conversations that are happening. And at the end of the day, employees have real concerns about the health and safety of themselves, their families, the community.
And so that's something that also definitely needs to be a part of the thought processes as you detail a strategy going forward. With all of this unprecedented experiment, worst things, a lot of leaders and managers, I think they had the greatest fears in the world right around.
If I can't see you, I don't think you're being productive. You feel like you're not going to have the resources. You're not going to have the ability to communicate with others. We can't do autonomous or synchronous work. Right? The business at the end of the day would suffer. And I think what we've actually uncovered anecdotally and through global research is that that's just not the case.
The transition has been for all intents and purposes a good one and there's a lot that we can kind of take and build off of learnings-wise. As we, really kind of continue to push this forward to meet business needs, to enable employees, to satisfy their needs for work-life blur work-life balance.
It's kind of a win, win. And so that's what workplace strategists kind of globally, as well as Colliers really want our clients to really help them to realize their goals and objectives through strong strategies that are going to again, meet people needs, and then also meet the business needs.
So a few stats I have for you kind of to underscore this point that our worst fears didn't actually come to fruition. So, we released a global study in May and then also a second part to that in September to kind of monitor the impacts of working from home over time. So a couple of points here. Employees do feel like their productivity has continued to be high when they work from home.
48% reported increased productivity when working from home nearly twice as much as in March. So, people do feel like seen an increase in productivity, or it's remained on remained unchanged. And it's not only employees' perspective, but managers also, there's a close alignment between that productivity factor.
We've also identified that some activities can be better served when working from home. There are some real factors around being able to control distractions, right? So auditory, visual distractions, those are the most common kind of workplace I would say dissatisfiers and they have continued to be that since I've been practicing. Right?
So again, for the last 10, 20 years, it's a real problem in both kinds of heavy private offices, enclosed offices, and offices, auditory and visual distractions are really difficult. And it takes a long time to kind of get back into the flow after you've been disrupted. So, what we found is that there's a percentage that has reported that individual focus worked as well as creative thinking.
Is actually enhanced from working at home. Not surprisingly social interaction with colleagues and some sorts of collaboration are better at the office. We've done a lot of kind of data collection to continue to kind of ask these questions, both with our clients, but then also with some of the global participants.
And they did cite again, those distractions, it's also what it is that you're doing. So if you have kind of highly individual complex work that you're doing, like analysis, like programming, some of those things. Those are things that really kind of really require you to achieve flow, to achieve that kind of deep focus.
And so disruptions can really detract from that. The other thing I'll call out is just that people still feel connected to their colleagues. They feel like through digital technology, they're able to connect so informative style meetings, that sort of collaboration, as well as just feeling informed.
It's almost like we've created kind of this level digital playing field and people who didn't connect previously have now had the opportunity to create connections on that level playing field. And then just the other kind of stat that I'll give you is there is a desire for people to work from home in the future that can be heavily impacted by commute times.
So, there is a direct correlation between the number of days desire to work from home and the length of the commute time workers with greater than a 45-minute commute have an increased desire to work from home. And I have one last step on this one. Sorry. It's super small.
67% reported that they'd like to work from home more than two days a week compared to only 34% in the spring.
So that's the exact same kind of survey. So we've now found that over time, people are even more comfortable. Interestingly enough, it takes six to eight months to kind of build a new ritual, new behavior. We've all working from home quite longer now. So you have to really kind of acknowledge that there have been some benefits and how can we build off of those things?
The last thing, I'll call out here as the top three things people miss. Not surprisingly maintaining and building relationships, the impromptu conversations, and then the separation of work life and home life. So we still need to acknowledge that not everyone has the most ideal environment to be able to work from home for a significant amount of time.
And for some people having the option to actually access another space with the right resources and the right setup, that actually benefits them as well. So, at the end of the day, we believe power and place people going forward need to have the ability to gain face-to-face time not to say that organizations can't go a hundred percent kind of virtual.
But I would just say culturally, and also to make sure that you've kind of instilled a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a connection division, connection to leaders. That face-to-face time, even if it's not all the time is still really important. So regardless of if you're providing an office.
Or you're providing offsite spaces or flex space access. Those are really important things to consider regardless of what the strategy is. A couple of premises for the future. Virtual work is here to stay. Every single organization needs to kind of revalidate their own strategy based on what it is that they do.
As well as again, a lot of different factors like business objectives. To really kind of detail a path forward. It's not a situation of absolute. So I think before a lot of companies had the unspoken approach to like, if you need to work from home, we don't necessarily have a policy.
We work with your individual manager, but now companies do require to have those policies kind of defined to have a perspective across a variety of different things, like time, place, location, hour availability, there needs to be a perspective. So that you actually kind of set expectations with employees and managers and maintain performance.
The other thing too is just that, we really believe that employees' expectations will continue to evolve as a result of the pandemic. So many have had the opportunity to kind of reprioritize, right? So the quality of life where they live. How they spend their time when they're not at work.
Those are all things that are going to impact kind of what we call the war for talent and the attraction play. And so already pre-pandemic, that was one of the top three reasons that an employee would choose an employer is the ability to have flexibility in how often they come into the office or where they're going to be working from.
And that will only continue to rise. And then the last thing I'll say is just the workplace is just as important as it was before. It has to be kind of redefined though, on what is the, I hate to say the purpose of place because I think that's a really common term now, but we know that people will likely come to the office for different reasons than they did before.
And how can you optimize for the best tasks to happen there, the best interactions, um, and also setting team norms so that people can toggle kind of seamlessly between the virtual and the physical is really important?
That was a lot to kind of consider.
Topic 3. Achieving your vision and objectives in the post-pandemic era (20:36)
Yeah. That's some great stuff to be thinking about.
And really, it sounds like what it comes down to when executives are making these decisions is taking into consideration all of these various aspects. Starting with really the impact of the pandemic and how major it was and has been on all employees everywhere. And then secondly, really going into those decisions with the tremendous amount of sensitivity and compassion toward their workforce and before making these decisions really thinking through.
What the impact has been on individuals. And then I also heard you say how critical it is to really be thinking about the specific role, because some roles are actually much more productive working in the office, collaborating with others, and then there are different roles that might be more productive with more solo time or working from home.
So, it just seems like they're very complex decisions, obviously, that should not be taken lightly. Having a knee-jerk reaction of getting everybody back into the office is not going to be a helpful approach. It's really something that requires a lot of thought and discernment. And I would imagine that's partly where your team comes in to play.
You can help organizations make these decisions in a way that is in keeping with them ultimately achieving their vision and their corporate objectives. Right?
Yeah, absolutely. And one thing to add here is that it's also important to kind of think about these types of questions.
It's not the most simple thing to just ask the overt question, which is employed, how much do you want to come back to the office? We see our clients kind of falling into that pitfall, right? And so our perspective would be what sorts of data collection can be done to kind of help inform. The larger strategy may not be the most over approach.
And so from a data collection standpoint, there's a couple of key considerations. I think first and foremost, it's really having a clear definition around the primary kind of objectives, what the company does, challenges as well as the business drivers of those decisions. Right? What traction and retention we're hiring new roles, right?
We're investing big in technology. We're trying to reduce overhead. There's processing tool optimization and maybe it's innovation and creative work. That's kind of the competitive advantage, having a really clear kind of definition around that is super important and prioritizing those things is important for a leadership team to do. Also, it's you had already said this it's what do people actually do?
How flex or collaborative is their work. Think about kind of a four-box of collaboration versus complexity. The more collaborative and more complex work. That really is something that should be best suited. Face-to-face that sort of sorts of things like strategy development, or iterative kind of design sessions, things that really do need that back and forth and kind of the nonverbal cues.
About things that are more solo and less complex, that's your more transactional. Those are things that you probably just need to get a list of things done. And that's again, better suited for a quiet environment where you're comfortable. I think another common dissatisfier that I didn't mention, I said the acoustics and the visuals it's also right after that is temperature.
This can never be the perfect temperament for everyone. And so it's just something as simple as that, it's something we hear about all the time, but if you have a comfortable environment, you have the music that you want to hear. The temperature is just right. Maybe you're sitting outside, you have the ability to kind of look out your windows.
If you have the right working environment, those are the sorts of things that kind of puts you again in that state to be able to get a lot of work done. That's just something else that's on that top 10 list. So it's that kind of what people do, but also what takes up most of their time, what's the most valuable to your work?
So if you think about kind of how people spend their time. We commonly see that how they spend their time is usually not the most important and alignment between those things is a good thing. However, being able to design your space to actually support those more valuable types of activities are really important too.
And then another kind of tools, processes, or specialized requirements. That's another really important thing to understand. I think the too is also what role or what level is an employee? Do they require mentorship? Is there hands-on training? Um, those are some things that are more difficult from home, right?
They're mounted. They can be addressed through virtual means, but the onboarding process, the mentorship, the coaching, that's another really important piece to be acknowledged. Data collection. It's all in the data.
Topic 4. Work environment when working from home (25:42)
Yeah. You bet. It's almost like you could, you were describing the four boxes.
Organizations could create their own four boxes with essentially role definitions and plot their people in there to help them make that type of decision in terms of what they're going to do with their space. Right? So that seems like that could be helpful. Before we move into some lightning round questions and finish up, I'd love to hear your comments about the work environment.
So many people are still working from home. And we talked at the beginning of the show about the intersection between psychology, and I'm going to add wellbeing and to your environment. And so for people that are working from home, what are some really important things to think about in terms of the environment that they set up so that it's not just done by default, but they're very intentional about their space and making it the most pleasing.
The most productive, the best way to engage with their technology tools, to be engaged with their rest of their team, to spend a couple of minutes talking about how they can do that well.
Yeah, the home environment it's tricky and I think it's also driving some macro trends within the real estate market currently.
Obviously, ergonomics is a huge thing. I feel bad that I'm even talking about this because I've been sitting at my dining room table for the last year and a half. I have recently invested in my sit-to-stand. So I'm really excited about that, but ergonomics, I can't underscore how important that is to be able to have a defined space with a door is also really important to again, control those distractions.
Obviously, if you have the ability to have access to natural light and to views, it's all, some of these same principles that we talk about in the office. I think one of the other benefits, which I think we talked a little bit about before is. We talked about kind of having all of these people together, different user preferences, different kinds of ideas around aesthetics.
I think that's a really big benefit for businesses, right? So if I have, you know, I like purple for whatever, and that helps me to achieve more concentration. You know, I have my space suited to whatever my tastes are, aesthetically. But I would just say surface space, ergonomics, the right technology.
If your role requires it having dual monitors or whatever, other kinds of technology equipment that you require for your role. And then that doo that was also kind of it. Underscored, I think by the global research, as well as we were starting to collect information around where people were working in their homes.
And so that was one of the things we saw higher levels of productivity with people that had the ability to close the door or have a dedicated space, but we know not everyone has that ability. The other thing too, that I think is important to acknowledge is that you don't always have to be kind of plugged in at your ergonomic workstation.
I think variety is the spice of life. That's kind of what we talk about within office environments as well. So to kind of move throughout the day also, so taking frequent breaks, but also working from different locations is really important, too. And then just right food, right recharge.
The ability to kind of be active throughout the day, if possible, and take even walking meetings. Those are things that can really help with cognition and being effective.
Topic 5. Lighting round questions (29:19)
Jeff Hunt: Healthy strategies transfer between work and personal. So might as well implement them at work too. Right?
Yeah. Okay. Great. Great conversation. Let's shift into some lightning round questions. So I know you haven't heard any of these and some come at you and you give me your top-of-mind answer. They're pretty easy. The first one is what are you most grateful for?
Michelle Cleverdon: Oh my gosh. I am most grateful for the ability to be making such an impact right now.
I mean, I think every organization has taken the opportunity to revalidate, which is a really important step. And I think just the ability to even work from home. Right. That is something that is I'm very grateful for, not everyone has the ability to do that. But to do the kind of work that I'm doing, I just obviously have passion for it.
I find it really interesting. But I truly like helping organizations kind of sort through these big questions and really find ways to kind of affect change. So it's really always, I love seeing kind of strategy development, the solution development, and then I love being able to actually measure that afterward.
So really grateful that I get to do this day in and day out.
It's so fun to see people working in their passion sphere like you are, it's much more of a life fulfilled. So, that's great to hear you say that. What is the most difficult leadership lesson you've learned over your career?
Oh, so many, so many there, but you know, I would say.
Sometimes just from a leadership perspective, sometimes I think we are ruled by fear a little bit, or by anecdotes, or by our emotional response to certain things. And not to say that any of those feelings aren't valid. I think sometimes it's difficult to present information and to kind of see it not acknowledged.
I think it's really important to kind of, collect a lot of different varying points so that you have a lot of different ways that you can think about it. I think feasibility and scenario planning is really important, but from a leadership perspective, I think sometimes we are really kind of ruled by some of our emotional experiences.
And so that's sometimes can be difficult, especially when there's a requirement to maybe be bold or to diverge, which I know is change unto itself.
That's a very good lesson. Who's one person you would interview if you could living or not.
Frank Lloyd Wright. Jeff Hunt:
Oh, nice. That makes sense.
He was quite a figure, quite eccentric.
What would you ask him? Throw that one on.
Where did you get all this? It was so important. I'd have to think about what I'd actually ask him, but he seems like he'd be an interesting character to talk
It would be. Do you have a top book recommendation you'd like to share with our listeners? Any books you've been reading.
These are all workplace books, sorry. They're right next to me. I'm moving and so they're all laying on the ground. The first one is stumbling on happiness. I'm excited to read this one. And then the other one is Chris Cain, where's my office, re-imagining the workplace for the 21st century.
So yeah those are the two that I'm excited about. I haven't read them yet. They're sitting with the move to my next bedroom so that I can actually read them. But yeah, those are two that I'm excited
Yes, for sure. So Michelle, what's the single most important takeaway for our listeners today, if you had to sort of summarizing it. Distill it down to one or two things that you feel are really important for people to take away, what would those be?
Yeah. Collect information, engage your employees, understand deeply what it is that they do, what drives them, and what they need to be successful. And don't be afraid to actually hear the responses. And then I would say once the decision has been made leadership modeling an investment in change management, don't underestimate how much time, how much effort, because it's really going to be how you're going to achieve your goals is to help employees transition and to reiterate the messaging and to model the intended behaviors. And tie that really to the business objectives in the future of the company and tie it to success from an overall mission and values perspective.
The workplace's not the catalyst. It's not going to change people's behavior unto itself. It's a really important tool in the toolkit. It's how we're going in the future. People are yearning to get back, but really kind of be prepared to talk, and engage, transparently communicate, and invest really in the kind of touching and feeling of whatever your new strategy is.
Fantastic. I love your level of intentionality that you're bringing to this topic it's really refreshing and helpful. So, thank you so much for coming to the show today, Michelle.
Thank you for having me happy to be here.
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