What is the future of the workplace? When COVID hit, businesses fell into bankruptcy, shops closed, and people either lost their jobs or resigned. Companies had to go above and beyond to keep their employees safe, motivated, and productive. But is this how it’s going to be? Is the “new norm” our future? In this episode, Janet Pogue McLaurin, Global Director Workplace Research and Principal at Gensler talk about their research and discussed what that is going to look like, the shifts that we have seen in relation to the Great Resignation, how the generation differences play into the concept of what “office” means and what it’s for, and how people feel about the current work setup and how it affects productivity. Janet also shares insights on what companies should consider in creating or redesigning spaces to provide a great working environment. So tune in and know more about the future of the workplace.
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The Future Of The Workplace With Janet Pogue McLaurin
Janet Pogue McLaurin is a leader in Gensler‘s global work practice areas and research initiatives. She is a Global Director Workplace Research, leading one of the six centers within the Gensler Research Institute. She has been instrumental in leading workplace research, including the Global Workplace surveys and the WPIx client survey, which measures space effectiveness and workplace experience on projects.
She is active in developing workplace strategies and designing innovative workplace environments for a wide variety of clients, including General Motors, GSA, Capital One, Gallup, and Vanguard. Janet, a Principal at Gensler, has spent almost four decades in both the Denver and Washington, DC offices. She co-founded Gensler’s Shanghai and Beijing offices and was Managing Director of the Denver office for a decade. She is a registered architect and has served on Gensler’s Board of Directors and serves on Gensler’s Practice Area Management Committee for the firm. Let’s hear what Janet has to say about the future of the physical workplace.
Janet, thank you so much for joining us.
It’s my pleasure.
We have Janet Pogue McLaurin here from Gensler. Tell us a little bit about your story and the story about your research, which is so fascinating.
I’m a Principal at Gensler, which is a global design firm based in Washington, DC. I’ve been researching architecture for many decades for a number of headquarters projects like General Motors, Capital One, and Gallup. I’ve been interested in understanding how people work, what they value, and what creates a great work experience. I’ve been involved in researching the workplace for the past several years and I’m Gensler’s Global Director Workplace Research.
You’re in super high demand during this Great Resignation, right?
That’s right. Everybody wants to know what the magic answer is.
You’ve sent me some of your research ahead of time. I wrote my dissertation on Millennials in the workplace. I have this book coming out on Gen Z at work. Tell us, what does the future of work look like, Janet? That’s the most loaded question I could ever give you, right?
It is and I would be a rich woman if I knew the full answer to that. During the pandemic, we have done eleven different surveys with knowledge workers in office environments. We found that work and expectations have changed. Globally, we see a huge variation in how employees ideally want to work. As we looked at it for the US, it did not seem to change that much during the pandemic. About 1 in 2 employees want a hybrid working model where they’re working both in and out of the office, but it’s 2 out of every 3 in India, the UK, and Australia. It’s 3 out of 4 in France and in China where they had already returned to the office, it’s 4 out of every 5 Chinese workers.
Do they want to work in a hybrid environment?
The future workplace will look different because the purpose of the office has really changed. Click To Tweet
Yes, they want to be working hybrid. The future workplace will look different because the purpose of the office has changed. Across all countries, industries, and even all four generations, we see that the number one purpose of the office is to collaborate with my team and colleagues. That also did not change during the course of the pandemic. It means the office layouts may shift to more places to meet, brainstorm, and collaborate.
After the collaboration, we saw huge generational differences. The purpose of the office for Gen Z and Millennials should be around maximizing individual productivity, which may require more access to private spaces where people can focus. They also want to be visible to be promoted and foster those personal and professional relationships that we haven’t had the opportunity to generate during the pandemic.
We also see that people want a chance to come together. They want to be coached. They want mentors. They want to learn from their colleagues as well as from senior leaders. The last thing we saw is that Generation Z and Millennials want the opportunity to be inspired and have an office that’s creative and innovative. That can impact engagement and contribute to intrinsic motivation and meaning in their work.
What Gen Z, Millennials, and all generations want is to have an impact but it’s so fascinating to see. I worked at some places where the color of the paint hasn’t been painted in forever and there are hardly any windows. As an architecture firm, you probably see that. Employee engagement probably goes down. I went to a large government agency to visit after I left working for the government. I was blown away by how much it brought me back to like, “There are many windows.” It’s an expense. It’s spending tax dollars but it has a lot to do with how we stay engaged.
Research is an expense, but it’s about leveraging people and helping them do their mind’s best work.
As knowledge workers, right?
That’s right. Knowledge work needs autonomy. They need the ability to figure out when they’re going to be creative and how they’re going to pull teams together. It doesn’t necessarily happen at the same time for everyone throughout the day.
In your study, you talked about this third place. I remember I read Howard Schultz’s book where he says his ambition was for Starbucks to be in third place. Can you tell us a little bit more about this third place and what that means in the context of your study?
Howard was right because coffee shops are these third places, but so are libraries, parks, and outdoor spaces. You’ve got the office and home. All these other third places are places that are equipped to work that you may work outside of those two areas. We’re seeing that the youngest generation, in fact, Gen Z in particular, want a chance to activate these spaces throughout the day. It’s not just working at your desk to do focus work, but it’s also going to third places for deep concentration. It’s to do things like convening unplanned meetings, which happened throughout the day. We see that 57% of Gen Z want to use third places for these unplanned meetings.
Companies need to provide flexibility as to where, how, and when people want to work. Click To Tweet
This third place, if it’s like a big company campus, would it be on a company campus or would it be an offsite of WeWork or it’s got some type of thing like that.
It could be both of those things. In fact, the larger types of corporate campuses try to build these third places throughout the campus. They may be spaces in between buildings. It could be a rooftop or a terrace. It could be common areas on the first floor. We see that in multi-tenant buildings as well. How can you start to use the common areas as third places, as well as things down the street? It may be taking a walking meeting or sitting on a bench at a nearby park.
It was less expensive. You don’t need to build this fancy garden. It could be a walk or something outside of the office.
In fact, we’re starting to think about the workplace as an ecosystem of spaces. You’ve got spaces that may be within the tenant space that your employer may be leasing space and providing. If you’re located in a vibrant neighborhood, you can start to utilize all these other spaces as well.
Janet, thinking back, I remember this one place I worked at. Even though the colors of the walls were not the most conducive to creativity, there are located on a mountain and there’s a deer walking by. To me, that was one of the coolest things. It had like a university quad. It was so beautiful that I remember having so many great mentoring conversations in that space.
That is a great example. If we think about how college students are using college campuses. You don’t go to the library only to study or your dorm room. You’re doing group work everywhere. You’re doing individual study everywhere. You’re using the whole campus for fun, socializing, and taking a break. Work in the same way. We want the ability to just activate and use a lot of different spaces throughout the day.
Janet, I’m glad to see that your research backs us up because even in college, I just disappear to Starbucks to do all my studies. I remember when I took Finance in my MBA program, I’d spent twelve hours at Starbucks from like morning to night doing all my finance homework in one day, but I loved it. It’s a community and being surrounded by other folks with my headphones in.
That’s perfect for some people. I lived at a drafting desk in the architecture studio.
In architecture and interior design, they completely make sense. It depends on where you’re coming from.
People aren't just quitting their jobs, they're changing them because of a new awareness of what's important, how we work best, what companies we now belong to in relation to their mission and values, and how we want to spend our time. Click To Tweet
Also, the work you have to do.
Let me ask you this, Janet. What about productivity? There’s so much trust to work remotely or hybrid. A lot of companies were hesitant on doing that and were forced into it, thrown into the deep end during the pandemic. Have you done any studies on productivity and what that looks like?
We can’t measure the productivity of knowledge workers directly. As architects, we can measure space effectiveness and how it supports product work. We learned at the beginning of the pandemic, that home was brutally productive and effective for individual focus work. People reported a great work-life balance and felt like they were getting caught up on all that individual work that had been on the to-do list for a long time. As the pandemic wore on, people felt like they were bouncing from one Zoom meeting to the next Zoom meeting and reported that they were living at work.
Hybrid is a new term, but we’ve always been mobile and rarely in the office full-time. We went back and looked at our data. In 2016, which was well before the pandemic, we found that the US average was four days a week working in the office. Employees at the most innovative companies were actually in the office only three and a half days a week. As we continue to monitor that, it fell to 67% right before the pandemic hit. These employees at the most innovative firms reported having higher job satisfaction, better managerial relationships, and even higher meaning in their work. We can’t expect to come back to the office for more than we did pre-pandemic.
That’s so fascinating, Janet, that the most innovative companies were already working in a hybrid schedule. I’m curious to see, did they completely go remote these innovative companies during the pandemic or did it stay at 67%?
When the pandemic hit, we were all working from home, but some of these most innovative firms still have people back at the office. We saw consumer goods, sciences, government, and defense. Some of those folks could not work from home due to security, needing lab spaces, or shared resources and materials. Consumer goods have to reference a lot of things that they could not do from home. We see that the most innovative firms were already utilizing a wide variety of spaces. They were traveling. They were going office to office using co-work sites. We fully anticipate some of that to come back as cities and workplaces start to fully open.
What do you think is a driver behind a lot of these big companies that are bringing all their workers back? We see that in the news. I’m not going to name the companies, but we know who they are. What do you think is the psychology behind that?
It’s easier to lead when your people are all together. It’s hard to lead virtual teams. Beyond that, it’s really about culture and relationship building. When we all suddenly had to work from home years ago. We had personal and professional relationships that we were able to rely on. We understood how those teams worked and they understood how we thought. We drew on that. Over the last few years, a lot of these companies have been hiring new people and we haven’t gotten a chance to know them. They haven’t gotten the chance to know us and what the cultural norms are. Coming back together gives us the chance to rebuild that trust and figure out how we work together as teams, as well as individuals.
As a professor, I’ve had a lot of students that said they got jobs when I graduated right out of college. They said they never met their coworkers in person. Everything’s been virtual. It’s like, “They mail them a laptop.” It’s bizarre and you’re right. We already established these relationships before the pandemic. “I know Janet does a great job on this so I don’t need to check in too much as a leader.” Whereas, “I don’t know that person that well.” It’s hard to build empathy via Zoom especially if people have the cameras off.
Hybrid is here to stay. Click To Tweet
How do you do that virtually? You need that face-to-face time with people and get to know them, read their body language, and open up the communications for them to ask those dumb questions they hadn’t asked during the Zoom meeting.
My next question is, what advice would you give to people who are hiring Gen Z right now? You had some good data on what type of face-to-face conversations they like to have. What advice would you give?
First and foremost, you have to provide flexibility on where, how, and when people want to work. As an employer, pick office locations and vibrant neighborhoods that are not only easy to commute to but provide that variety and choice. Make sure that the Gen Zs feel a sense of community and connection with their team and that they understand how their work fits into the whole so they feel engaged and valued.
What have you seen from an architect’s perspective on how to build a sense of community? Community and belonging are some of the biggest buzzwords we’ve heard. They’re not just buzzwords. They’re very important for corporate culture. What are your thoughts there?
You have to create spaces where it’s easy to run into one another. There are very formal office environments that reflect a higher heel study and there are more open and collegial office environments. You sense that immediately when you walk in the door. How can you create these spaces that reflect what you’re all about as a corporate culture?
Looking at Gen Z, what advice would you give to managers on mentoring them? There’s a certain data point that I liked that you had. In my research, we did a national study and we found that Gen Z-ers want to check in with their supervisors face-to-face. A lot of people think fully online. That’s not true and as a professor, I’ve seen this, too. They will come during my office hours, and ask me a question they could have emailed me or asked me in class, but they want that face-to-face time. Does that confirm what your study says as well?
It does. People want that face-to-face collaboration and it ties back into relationship-building.
Did you see that with other generations? A lot of times people ask me, “What about Millennials and Baby Boomers? Was that the same or was there some disparity there?
I’ve seen it in my whole career. We may not have research data points on it, but it has more to do with the stage of life than it does a particular generation. Think about how we all learn. When I was a young architect entering the field, I wanted to listen. I observed. I sat in meetings. I watched what worked and didn’t work. That’s how I learned when I was finally in the place of leading that meeting or doing that pitch or doing that presentation. I learned what worked and didn’t work from the people before me. We all learned that way, how there’s formal learning and then there’s that informal learning. That’s what we’ve been missing face-to-face in the office.
Janet, I’ve read a lot of the articles coming out. I think it was Google or one of the big tech companies saying that we need to come back to the office because it is where mentoring takes place. If you’re new, especially younger employees, they need to be there and see things to get that experience, which it sounds like your story confirms.
It does. We’re fundamentally a tribe of humans. Coming together, learning the stories, learning why something worked or didn’t work, and learning the cultural norms, that’s what culture and relationship-building are all about. That’s what makes you feel a part of that belonging and inclusiveness.
What would you say is fueling this Great Resignation, Great Revelation, or Great Churn? From your perspective, what do you think that is and how can we solve this?
I heard another one, The Great Rethink. In many ways, people aren’t just quitting their jobs. They’re changing it. There’s a new awareness of what’s important, how we work best, what companies we now belong to and relate to their mission, and values, and how we want to spend our time. As people step back and rethink that, it’s an opportunity to double down on who you’re working with and recommit or it’s to vote with your feet and go to another firm or a different lifestyle.
A lot of people are changing careers. I even heard that one of the teachers I know ended up changing careers to go into a different profession. I was like, “Wow.” You worked on this your whole career and it’s not something you could just change, but they do.
I’m also hearing a lot of workforce changes of people that have retired that are now coming back. That’s going to change the workforce even more.
Janet, I saw the data, too. There was a study out and a lot of the people who retired and say, “I’m going to sit this pandemic out,” and now they’re coming back. Hopefully, they got some chance to refuel and then come on back.
It’s all about engagement.
It’s completely understandable. I do have another question backtracking a little bit to the recruiting Gen Z. Gen Z cares about the environment and the carbon footprint of an organization. What have you seen? They have lead certification of when you build something. What have you seen there in your field?
In our field, we realized that buildings and the built environment play a huge role in climate action. We have recommitted to how we’re going to make a big difference in climate action and social justice. How we think about the workplace and encourage our clients to make a difference in the design, where it’s located, who we partner with, and how we involve the community.
Do you think that could be a competitive edge to attract young talent? There’s research out there that we’ve seen some of the biggest concerns in the last few months. Even Deloitte came out with a study in May 2020. Gen Z was more concerned about the environment than the pandemic. The pandemic was number one for Millennials, but the environment was right after that. Do you think that your clients, and the way they design buildings could be on a competitive edge to attract Gen Z?
They can. We’ve got to get to carbon neutral by 2030. The architecture profession is trying to figure out how we’re going to make this happen. It takes all of us. It takes our clients. It takes every project to think through how can we repurpose existing buildings, not tear down and rebuild. How can we rethink energy? How can we rethink communities?
You’ve been looking at not the community of the company, but you the community outside of the organization, the neighborhood and how does it impact them?
Yes. That district or that city.
It’s good to see that you all are thinking about that even before you break ground.
Our future generations depend on it. It is an urgency for us at this time.
What would you say the future of work would be from a physical? Is it going to be hybrid? You said the statistics earlier in the United States. What do you think?
Hybrid is here to stay and think about hybrid as mobile. When we start business travel again and working with teams that are distributed, we’re not going to be in the office 100% of our time, five days a week. How can we think through an ecosystem of spaces that work for all? That could help with our commuting and carbon. How can we think through a better work experience?
It’s good to hear you say that, Janet. It makes me happy as someone who likes the hybrid workspace. I live in Los Angeles. I was telling you this before. On my first time going back to class to teach as a professor, it took me two hours on what should be a 35-minute drive with no traffic. It was two hours one way to get to the classroom but then when I got there, it was so nice to see all my students in person. It was very rewarding but, if we could do it even every other week, that would be amazing.
I have a three-hour round trip, too. I feel your pain. I used to do that five days a week. Now, doing it 2 or 3 times a week is a joy.
That’s fifteen hours a week and then you start multiplying that. You think of our life and of how much we spend in a car.
It makes us step back and rethink the time we are together. It shouldn’t be a day of calls and meetings or the standing calls that we could have on other days. We have to figure out how to make ourselves available to have that informal coaching, mentoring, casual conversations, and be open to one another.
My last question, Janet, is what advice would you give to someone who just graduated college and is entering the workforce or someone who is about to get promoted into a leadership role?
I’m going to pick the latter one. Become an empathetic leader. Don’t assume you have all the answers. Ask and listen to the people that you lead so that you help them do their mind’s best work. It’s about winning their hearts and their minds. It’s taking care of each other and taking care of each individual on your team as an individual and you will win both. This is such an amazing time in our history because it’s true for all industries. Nobody has all the answers. 2023 is going to be all about experimentation, piloting, and learning what works and doesn’t work. If we can’t embrace experimentation and be empathetic now, then when would we?
We’ve all gone through this pandemic together. It’s not just half of us. We’ve all gone through this together. We never know what’s happening to people’s lives. I’ve had a lot of guests on my show that has lost someone and I helped them rethink, “Is this what I want to be doing?” Can you imagine if someone you work with lost someone? Empathy is the most important thing in the world as a leader. I’m so glad you said that. Janet, thank you so much for your time. I’m looking forward to seeing more of your reports. If any of the listeners want to look at your research, can they go on Gensler’s website or is there a specific place that you go?
Yes. Go to www.Gensler.com.
Thank you so much, Janet, and you have a great rest of your day.
It’s my pleasure. You, too.
About Janet Pogue McLaurin
With 40+ years of experience in workplace strategy, research and design, I am one of Gensler’s global thought leaders on how the physical workplace can impact employee engagement and business performance. Active in leading Gensler’s Workplace Performance Index® (WPIx), which measures how people work, space effectiveness + workplace experience for clients. In addition, I’m involved in Gensler’s global workplace research identifying the key design factors that impact human connection and business performance.
Sought-after spokesperson at industry events, including The Wall Street Journal Future of Everything Festival, CoreNet Global and IFMA World Workplace. Frequently featured in industry expert in media, including Fast Company, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune and CNNMoney, Freakonomics Radio, BBC, among others.