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FLEX Episode 4: Designing for the Hybrid Workforce

FLEX Episode 4: Designing for the Hybrid Workforce
 

 

Description:

2020 brought about the global rise of remote work — but one year later, what does that mean for physical office spaces? In this episode of FLEX, we talk first with Meredith Zenkel, the VP of Marketing & Communications at Poppin, an office furniture & decor company. As many companies shift towards a hybrid work model, we discuss how furniture companies like Poppin have adjusted their design and planning services to meet the needs of global organizations.

 

Next, we talk with Sam Aquillano, the Founder and Executive Director of Design Museum Everywhere, an online, nomadic museum with the mission to bring the transformative power of design everywhere. Sam discusses how COVID-19 has changed how he thinks about the future of the workplace and how to design optimal workplaces as we move into a new era of workspace collaboration.

 

Episode Transcription:

Alex Campanelli:

Welcome to FLEX, a podcast by Fuze. As a leader in the cloud communication space, we've been passionate about the future of work for over a decade. Join us as we discuss the future of flexible work with industry leaders and subject matter experts. Thanks for tuning in, and let's get started.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to FLEX. I'm your host, Alex Campanelli. On today's episode, I'm first talking with Meredith Zenkel, the VP of Marketing and Communications at Poppin. Meredith, thanks for joining me today.

 

Meredith Zenkel:

Happy to be here, Alex.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Before we start, I like to check in with how people are doing. We're about 14, 15 months past the onset of COVID, and how has the past year have been for you? How have things been at Poppin?

 

Meredith Zenkel:

Things have been good. Things are getting back to normal. I would say just in general, I feel very lucky still to be healthy and vaccinated and to be employed and all of those good things, and that Poppin, as an office furniture company, has survived and is getting stronger.

 

Alex Campanelli:

I know that you guys probably had to pivot during the pandemic and really change how you were doing things. I'm really excited to be having this conversation today about reimagining what offices are going to look like after the pandemic when we go back to the office. First of all, let's talk about just how the office space has changed in the last year or so. Obviously, last March, people left the office, and they're just starting to think about what that return will look like. How did that affect your mission as a company, as you just mentioned, as COVID hit?

 

Meredith Zenkel:

Sure. As an office supply and furniture company, we were obviously very deeply impacted. On a macro level, during this time we were acquired by Kimball International, at the end of last year, which was a very positive change for us, and coming out of a year that was a struggle for companies of every size in the office furniture industry. Being a smaller, newer company in the industry, I feel very fortunate again to be coming out of this positive and strong and part of a wonderful public company.

 

On a micro level a year ago, I think a lot of people probably can relate to this, but every day was a struggle thinking through how we were going to pivot our business in the short term. Like most businesses, we went from planning quarters and years ahead to planning every day and looking at week to week at what was changing. We were fortunate to have many products that work just as well in the home as they do in the office. We were able to reposition those products and support a lot of our B2B customers as they tried to support their employees working from home, and we're trying to pivot how they do business.

 

We also began offering our rapid reconfiguration services, in which we basically redo a floor plan and provide the product and tools you need to reimagine your workspace, which has been and continues to be really popular as we can enter this post-COVID landscape. But ultimately, I'd say Poppin's always been focused on helping people create effective, happy workspaces with ease and speed, and we've been able to carry that over. I think it's been our pleasure to be able to provide and support people during these challenging times.

 

Alex Campanelli:

I think that's great that you guys were able to adapt and move forward and do that efficiently. And Poppin, being its own company, how do you anticipate your own office culture or work model changing as we move forward into this new normal?

 

Meredith Zenkel:

Yeah. While our offices and showrooms are open, I'd say about 90% of us are still working from home most the time. But I think we are planning to adopt a hybrid model sometime in the next three to six months as most of our employees are being vaccinated currently. I think like many, we've been really impressed with our employees ability to adjust from 100% in-office to 100% at home, but nothing replaces the value of collaboration and creativity that comes from being physically together. I think our offices have always had a really amazing, authentic energy, and our employees have very long standing friendships and relationships.

 

All of that's really fostered and created by a shared experience and being in the same location. I think we know that we can't replicate that online. There are some things that work for work from home and there are just some things that don't. We sell office furniture. Yeah, I mean bottom line, and showing our clients that we're back, having them into our showroom so they can look and feel and touch products, giving them the confidence to return to work because they can see us return to work. It's important for our collective ability to move forward and move into the next phase of our business and all of our lives. It's our responsibility to take the charge in some ways of what this next phase looks like and how you can return to the office safely.

 

Alex Campanelli:

That makes perfect sense, and I think given your industry and what you do, you have to set that example for your customers, right? Speaking of, Poppin is a Fuze customer, which is amazing. You are also helping us, Fuze, redesign our headquarters in Downtown Boston. In general, what are some of the ways that you're helping companies reimagine their office spaces as we move into this new era of work, which we know will be mostly a hybrid model?

 

Meredith Zenkel:

We have a very consultative process with our clients, in which we really try and understand their objectives and overall vision, and then we make informed recommendations based on the needs they have identified. Even pre-COVID office design had really moved to be about creating activity-based zones, understanding what the main types of activities your employees need to do to be successful are, and then fostering those activities with appropriate kinds of spaces. Post-COVID, we're seeing that continue, but with a greater emphasis on shared spaces, the activities people do together.

 

For many who choose the hybrid work model, the home office will be the work zone for private or focused work, and the office will be the work zone for community and collaboration based activities. To this end, we're beginning to see an uptick in sales for lounge and collaboration type furniture. For those who plan to go back to the office more full time, the shift is really in the level of investment in employee health and safety, and specifically creating psychological comfort by better defining personal space.

 

Well, before everyone benched desks and tried to squeeze as many people per square foot as possible, now people are breaking up those same benching systems to give people a sense of the space they've become so accustomed to over the last year, and then providing the literal division. For example, we sell things like protective acrylic shields, we sell privacy panels for our desks, and then additional changes for supporting clients with an increase in demand for air filtration systems, we just began to carry several HEPA air filters by Medify, as well as an increase in individual spaces and small group spaces set up for teleconferencing.

 

Even once most people have returned to the office, we will continue to see a distributed workforce and teleconferencing will continue to be a big part of all of our lives. Spaces like our Poppin’ Pods and Poppin Spaces, which is our newest product, it creates separation and division in open floor plans through non-architectural walls, those are really conducive to setting up spaces for teleconferencing for small group meetings where one member of the team may still be remote. Partners like Fuze are also really helpful for that.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah. I know that you guys are working with our facilities team. I'm so interested to see what our headquarters is going to look like when we go back, probably towards the end of the summer or the fall. Just because I know that, like you mentioned, there's going to be a greater focus on collaboration spaces, we're obviously going to move to more of a hoteling model for desk sign up. I had to go and empty out my desk. It's just going to be really interesting to see what this new headquarters looks like. I'm actually really excited about it.

 

Meredith Zenkel:

I'm curious. I'm going to have to go ask for the floor plan.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah.

 

Meredith Zenkel:

I’ll have to take a sneak peek after this.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Please do. Maybe you can share it with me. We talked a little bit about the hybrid model, and obviously how that's going to change things. You just mentioned that in your answer. How do you view the hybrid model changing the future of work? Do you think that's a good thing or a bad thing?

 

Meredith Zenkel:

I'd say choice is always a good thing. I'm of the opinion that human beings need in-person interactions to stay engaged, happy, connected, sane. Hardly leaving your home is not particularly conducive to creative thinking. Living and working in New York City, I know just ... On my commute to work, I would see subway ads and different things that would give me ideas and inspiration. You don't really necessarily have that when you're home all day. I also don't think we can underestimate the value of just the shared experience, which really requires us being in the same place.

 

Being physically together allows for deeper connections and sense of community. I don't think relationships or communities feel nearly as meaningful when they're online only. But I also recognize that office can be a distracting place, and pre-COVID people really struggled to get focused work done without interruption. I think a blended mix makes most sense for almost everyone.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, I agree. I think part of my job in creating content, I need quiet time to do focused work. But I also need collaborative time to work with my peers on the marketing team, just like you do in the office. I think that that's the best of both worlds as well.

 

Meredith Zenkel:

Feels like marketing teams thrive off of the energy of collaboration and creativity in the office and being together around the table and brainstorming.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Absolutely. Spitballing ideas, that sort of thing. Yeah. Okay. My last question is a fun one. What does your dream office space look like?

 

Meredith Zenkel:

Filled with Poppin furniture, obviously, and filled with people again. I am really excited to go into the office and feel that energy that comes from lots of different people working on lots of different things close together. I would say my dream office space would have outdoor space, which is something we currently don't have in New York. But I think especially as it's getting warmer here and being able to sit on my roof for a while. I was living in Florida outside. I learned to appreciate having a little the outdoors during work hours.

 

Alex Campanelli:

That sounds great. I agree, right? Nature is that way to break up the day and have some sort of relief from just sitting at your desk. I think that's a great answer. Well, I think that's about all the time we have for today's chat. Meredith, thanks for joining me.

 

Meredith Zenkel:

Thank you for having me. [Transition]

 

Alex Campanelli:

Hi, everyone. Today I'm talking with Sam Aquillano, the founder and Executive Director of Design Museum Everywhere. Sam, thanks for joining me for the second half of this episode. I'm excited to chat with you.

 

Sam Aquillano:

I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Of course. Before we start, I like to check in with how people are doing. I know that you're also based in Boston, but just to maintain that human connection. We're 15 months past the onset of COVID. How have you been doing? How are things going for you at the museum?

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah. Things are good. It's been a wild 15 months, as you said. I'm lucky. Family's healthy, kids are happy. I have young kids, so haven't had to worry too much about school. They're bouncing off the walls a little bit now that things are opening up, and the weather's getting nicer. Makes it easier. Museum's going well. We're a museum without our own building. We didn't have to pivot too much during COVID because we were already pop up nomadic and virtual. But I will say my team has worked so hard during these past 15 months to not just survive the pandemic, but to really thrive as a business and as a nonprofit. We are feeling it. We're like it has been a year and we are ready for the summer and a little bit of a slowdown and gear up because we're going to be back doing stuff in person, hopefully soon.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, hopefully soon. Absolutely. Things are starting to lift, and it's an exciting time as we make that transition. I want to ask you, just for all of our listeners, do you want to tell us a little bit about your mission at Design Museum Everywhere, and just give that context? Then I'd love to hear how things changed for you over the last year, so if there was a reallocation of priorities. What are some things that you maybe picked up over the last year that you think you'll keep or you might let go of? I'd love to hear that from you.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah, that's such a great question. Design Museum Everywhere is a design museum. Our mission is to bring the transformative power of design everywhere, basically to make design accessible to everyone. Design is this thing that's so ubiquitous in our lives, but not that many people actually think about the design and how design actually happens. It's just all around us and can be taken for granted. My vision was, if you think about it like a science museum, where you don't have to be a scientist to go to a science museum and learn about science. That's great, and I love that.

 

That didn't really exist for design, right? There's professional organizations and industry groups. But my vision for Design Museum Everywhere was anyone, a designer, non designer, or what I like to call design enthusiasts, can go and learn about design, read about design, see an exhibit, go to an event. Accessibility is the name of the game for us, as well as community. Yeah, we've built a cool really unique museum over the last 12 years. The second part of your question, how things changed, we do physical programs. We do events, we do exhibitions, and of course, all that had to go away.

 

Exhibitions are in storage, events were paused. The good thing about our build-up if I think about the months and maybe a year leading up to the pandemic, is we did have a strategic plan that we wrote and was approved in March of 2019. It's about a year. I guess before the pandemic. There was a lot of information in that strategic plan as often there are for organizations. I'd say the first half, it was a five-year plan, was about all these things we were going to do in person. New exhibitions and new events. Second half was more about expanding our reach nationally and then globally, doing more stuff with media and content.

 

First thing I did when the pandemic came was make a scenario plan, where basically we switched those things. What can we do during lockdown that was still going to serve our audience? That's things like we started a podcast called Design is Everywhere, we start doing virtual events and summits, we brought an entire exhibition, so much content. It's called We Design. It's all about women, people of color, non-binary gender designers who work in the field and their career stories. We brought that entire exhibition online, so you can see the whole thing just on our website.

 

Made it even more accessible, right? Because now you don't even need to be in the place that it is. I love your question about what stays and what goes. A key decision point we had around everything that we were going to do in COVID was would we continue doing this post-COVID? If it was no, we didn't do it, right? Because we just can't afford to make these giant pivots and then be like, "Okay, we put so much investment, say in the podcast and we're just going to stop." Podcast is a perfect example.

 

We're going to continue it post-COVID because it's the value we're getting from connecting with our audience and growing our audience. But anything that was like, "Oh, we're going to create this special thing that's only good for now," we just said, "This is a cool idea but it won't last." That was a filtering mechanism that we used to help us focus. I won't say we're not great at focusing. We do a lot, but it helped us at least keep it to some manageable degree.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, I love that you use it as a criteria for the future.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Exactly.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Exactly. Okay, cool. Speaking of your own podcast, you've interviewed a lot of design experts on that podcast, Design is Everywhere, which is just about design in general. I listened to a few episodes about workplace and office design before our conversation today, which I thought were so interesting. What are some of the major trends that you feel like you've uncovered, especially over the last year, regarding design? It could be around the workplace or just in general. What are you hearing from your guests?

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah. We've done a lot around workplace. We're always trying to do episodes that relate to our audiences feeling, and certainly we're all feeling all these changes, rapid changes, in terms of how we all work together. I think one key thing, and I saw this on Twitter, someone was basically saying all these return to work articles and return to the office are basically like clickbait right now. It's like it's coming from people who have a vested interest in putting us all in buildings. Some of the interviews we've done the podcast have been so heartened because there are designers and CEOs and leaders out there thinking about this, not from a physical space centric way, but from a human centric way, right?

 

Thinking about it people first. I get it. There's existing investments in space that ... I get it, you can't just walk away from those things. But what I've been excited to hear about from our guests and from the experts is how are we going to design the employee experience in a time when we're remote and we are distributed in many different places? Right? The office, great, not great. You decide. But it was a scaffolding for us to build an employee experience off of. In an absence of that scaffolding, we have to rethink the employee experience almost from the ground up.

 

One of my favorite episodes as actually one of our board members, Layla Mitchell, was talking about mail, and how getting things in the mail is so important now and how you can build that into an employee experience around onboarding and receiving things, but just even throughout the year, and then even getting into is the next killer app for remote work like a concierge service, where…

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah. Interesting.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah, you're getting snacks delivered to ... Employers, leaders need to think about how they can delight, not just their customers now, but delight their employees, and do that in a way that's almost serving them as if they are a customer. I love that human centric piece. Part of it also is this whole idea of community, and how do you actually ... Again, that scaffolding of being together is an easy way to build community. But when you're apart, how do you do that? I'm sure you heard about happy hours and all those fun things. I'm really thinking and hearing more about how can you break up the day even more? Right?

 

Take all those times that normally you're at the water cooler and you're just chatting and just know that that time happens, and then focus it into key elements. We have a board and council in addition to our staff, and we have a group of council members who are planning these. They do it monthly. I wish we could do it even more frequently. But we just call them socials. It's usually an hour, hour and a half, and they're in the middle of the day. We're just chatting and connecting with each other in one-on-one breakouts or three people groups and they're some of the best parts of my week.

 

Just chatting with people. We just did one about drawing and how we use drawing to think, and it was just wonderful. How can we be intentional about those experiences that, in the past, just happened? Again because of that scaffolding and because we were together, we have to rethink that employee experience from scratch. That's an exciting design challenge to me, and I'm sure to others.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, and I think one of the things I love about working at Fuze is that all the content— right, I work on our content team— that we’re putting out is… we know that the hybrid or distributed workforce is here to stay, right?

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah.

 

Alex Campanelli:

It's the new normal.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Genie's out of the bottle.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Right. Flexible work is the new operating model, and I think that you have to put people first to embrace that. If you don't, you're at risk of losing your employees, right? Because they're obviously not going to be having an optimal experience while they design this new working model that works for them. I think that's really important. I think we've done a good job of it so far. I love that that's part of the mission at the museum, and you guys are really making that a priority. I think that's awesome. For people who are going back into the office, right? Because the office isn't dead. People still-

 

Sam Aquillano:

No, not at all.

 

Alex Campanelli:

... want to go back into the office. Actually, we did an internal survey, and I think one of the top three responses was people just want a change of scenery, right? Even I think about myself, I'll go back into the office, maybe, I don't know, two, three days a week just to get out of my one bedroom apartment.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Totally. Totally.

 

Alex Campanelli:

But for people who are going back in, what do you think are the challenges that designers now are facing with commercial or office spaces that they're going to need to address and what things need to be modified? Sam Aquillano: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I do think that space is more important than ever. Even just speaking about our team, I'm so looking forward to us coming together. Even if we do it just a couple times a year because we've really embraced we're the remote first model, but we're going to need those in-person experiences. We're humans.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Absolutely.

 

Sam Aquillano:

There's no doubt. I think we've run out of the social capital that we had stored up 15 months ago.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yes. Sam Aquillano: It's on empty.

 

Alex Campanelli:

We need connection.

 

Sam Aquillano:

We need that connection and we need to bring it back. Point there, space is important. I think the challenge is ... There's many, but one is that there's existing spaces that need to be modified because it's just we're not going to go back to everyone having their own desk in these spaces.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Nope.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Or if we do, it's going to be a waste. I think the real opportunity is, and you may have heard, thinking about the office as a service and thinking about the office space actually performing specific functions that you can't get anywhere else. What does that mean? Pretty much every business has something that has to be done in person. For us, we're a museum, we build exhibitions, we need a fabrication space. That can't happen virtually. Another business might have a lab, right? They have a lab space that just people aren't going to be bringing that stuff home.

 

That's just one element that needs to be met. But the whole idea or the thing that I guess excites me the most about the opportunity is can we design spaces with specific functions involved. We had done a piece. This is pre-pandemic. I love that these signals are out there, about conference rooms that were just a circle, a circle conference room and with a circle table and what that does for collaboration, because now there's no head of the table, everyone's equal, you have almost an unlimited canvas of a whiteboard around this giant circular room. Not that I'm saying every business needs a giant circular conference room.

 

But to illustrate that just ... It's a very specific function for a space that you're not going to get anywhere else. To me, businesses need to invest in that kind of infrastructure so that people actually want to go in. To me, that's my dream of having this circular conference room so I can be like, "All right, team. This week we're all going to meet there on Thursday to have a big collaboration and brainstorming session." We can't do it. It's very difficult to do that at home. It's difficult to do that remotely, not impossible. But if we had that space, you have this one-to-one, you have a need and then you have the space to do it in. Another, of course, is client space. There's lots, and I think every business can think about those specific functions that they have beyond just someone sitting at a desk and reconfigure the space to meet those needs and then be something that people actually want to go to. Right?

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Draw me out of my comfortable home sweatpants with a real product that I want to buy or a service that I want to buy with my feet, with my time.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah. I hadn't heard the term office as a service, but I really liked that. That's so interesting.

 

Sam Aquillano:

I think it's so key.

 

Alex Campanelli:

I think you touched on a really important point, right? Which is collaboration and connection, right? People want to make the office that place where they go to collaborate and connect in person, and they choose when they do that. You touched on it I think very well in the example you just gave about circular conference rooms. But so just acknowledging, I'll take it one step further, that there are going to be some people who don't come in. They just don't come into the office, maybe they live too far out, maybe they don't live close to an office location, whatever that reason might be. How do you feel like those collaboration spaces can be optimized then to include and be inclusive of those who stay remote? Because I think that's important when you're thinking about the future of the hybrid or distributed workforce.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Totally. I love this question, and I'm sure many of your listeners are going to hate my answer. We had, pre-pandemic, and now an office in Portland, Oregon, and then we have our HQ in Boston. We were already using all these remote tools, and already getting very frustrated that our two employees in Portland were basically just on a video call with six of us in Boston and just feeling like they're watching the most boring television show of all time. Fast forward to now and we have all these tools and we're using them, my sense is ... I'll tell you what we're going to do at Design Museum. If one person in the meeting is remote or on video conference, everyone will be on video conference. What does that mean for the actual office space?

 

Alex Campanelli:

Interesting. Yeah.

 

Sam Aquillano:

You need to have some way for people to have booths, have, whether they're soundproof or not, ways for people to be on remote video conferences without disturbing the rest of the folks or just to separate out. Because I've lived it, I've been the person on the other side who is watching the most boring show of all time unfold, and it's very difficult to get a word in. You don't feel like you're part of the team. But I think with the tools we have now, at least the way I am, I can only describe the way I'm approaching this is, yeah, if someone's going to be on videoconference, then everyone should be. That's the whole idea of presence parity, if you will.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah. I love that because it helps level the playing field, right?

 

Sam Aquillano:

Totally.

 

Alex Campanelli:

And exactly what you said. Before COVID I think for the remote employee, that experience was less than optimal.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Terrible.

 

Alex Campanelli:

I'm even thinking of in our own conference rooms, we have Fuze rooms set up and I have a lot of team members who are on the West Coast. Not ideal experience for that, right? I love that you’re thinking about leveling the playing field in terms of space. The space has to be made for that.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Mhmm. And then, you know, then the thing that's key is to invest in bringing everyone together, no matter where they are in the world.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yes, yeah.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Making sure that you do have that face time because that's just so critical. But yeah. It's such a bummer to be that person, yeah?

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah.

 

Sam Aquillano:

You just don't feel like you're part of it. To me, it's we need to build the muscle to collaborate remotely so that we can do it in that way that, like you said, levels the playing field for everyone and not just have one person who just feels left out.

 

Alex Campanelli:

I'm curious, how do you see the hybrid model changing workplace design specifically moving forward? Follow-up question, do you think it's a good thing or a bad thing?

 

Sam Aquillano:

I think it's a great thing, as long as we can build that new scaffolding that makes it work for the people involved. I won't claim to have all the answers around this because it's so complex. But yeah, the hybrid model, it's a new paradigm to design for. Going back to what we were talking about in terms of augmenting the space to be a place that people want to go, and creating opportunities for the unique type of work that needs to happen. I think something that could come out of this that is different and exciting is being more explicit about the type of work that needs to happen at any given moment, right?

 

We struggle with this at the Design Museum. I think everyone does. I'll just talk about it for a second in terms of meetings. There are all different kinds of meetings, right? There are meetings to convey information, there are meetings to persuade or get approval, there are meetings that are blue sky collaborative. Take that concept and apply it to all the different types of work that we have, individual focused, social, you name it. You name it. I think it would be interesting if, and there needs to be tools for collaboration in terms of ... There's so many of them out there, whether it be like a notion or Monday.

 

Any of these tools need to work in tandem with this. But just to be more explicit about your own work as an individual, and then planning for the work as a team to say, "Okay." Here's an example from our past, pre-pandemic. We did work from home Mondays. What I found during a five-day week was that people are having a tough time focusing and doing focused work when we are all in the office. We love being together in the office, but we always got the radar up of how are people feeling, what's going on, and we just weren't getting the focused work done, the proposal writing and the grant writing.

 

I was like, "Oh, wait, I have the power to make that change." We did work from home Monday with the acknowledgement from all of us that, "Okay, that was going to be a very focused day. No meetings. We are just doing that focused work." Expand that notion out now in terms of all the different kinds of work, and can you as a team be like, "Okay, on Thursday, we're going to do big brainstorms and come together in the office to do that." But then we know Friday is going to be maybe smaller groups where we're digesting what came out of Thursday and making it actionable.

 

Really, I do think a new type of employee is going to emerge, a new discipline of designing the work. I love these tools, the collaboration and task project management tools. But just like if you're familiar with a customer relationship management tool, like a CRM. CRM requires a good person managing it and keeping the data clean. I think we're going to need a new person, maybe it's an offshoot of HR, that is a workplace facilitator and designer for the work streams that are happening, because it's a whole other level of work.

 

Yeah, I'm wishing for a future where maybe there's this new type of person that's on the team or a new team out of a bigger company that lubricates the interactions and the type of work to get rid of that friction that can come around from the hybrid model.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Shifting gears really quickly, when we think about returning to the office, we talked about increasing collaboration spaces, focusing on putting people first, being inclusive of remote employees and employees who choose to stay 100% remote. What other elements of design do you think will get people excited to come back into the office, who might be a little hesitant just having gotten really comfortable in 100% remote setting?

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah. All the three things you mentioned, extremely important. But let's get down to this. Let's do surface level stuff here. The creature comforts that you can't get from being at home. I will tell you one of the things that really ... I'm not a big going out to lunch person back in the pre-pandemic times, but I realized how important I was when every day I'm making my lunch, making the same lunch over and over. How cool would it be to, okay, hey, team, we're all coming into the office today, we're going to do some collaborative work, and we're going to have lunch together catered?

 

Great. Again, we're a small company, so we wouldn't be able to do it very often. But those little touches could mean a lot. When we get actually the physical design, it's all the stuff that we were talking about pre-pandemic that we just need to double down on. Natural light, plants in the office, allowing pets in the office, different types of furniture and different modes. One of my favorite offices that I ever witnessed experienced was a call center for AirBnB, and you're like… uh, a call center. They designed this beautiful space. It was basically office meets living room, in terms of their ...No one had their own desks, but everyone did have their own stand up platform. Somewhere in the office, they had a locker. That's one. Two was there were so many different ways of sitting. There were couches, there were a little cube like areas where you could focus. One half of the floor plate of the building was bright, beautiful windows, plants, just vibrant, and naturally people talking. Literally down the middle of the other half of the floor plate sat more subtle darker tones, more dimmer lighting, and I just mentioned myself being there being like, "I'm going to bounce back and forth between those two sides throughout the day, and certainly throughout the week."

 

All the things that we're talking about pre-pandemic about how to make a great office space are still valid in terms of creating a healthy place that people feel excited to go to. I think we need to combine that now with all these other models of the actual space topologies and designing the actual work that gets done, and that's how hybrid will work for everyone. It won't work if we don't take that stuff seriously, and don't invest. But if we can get it to work, it could be amazing. Imagine having all that and the flexibility to just work from home also if you're just not feeling it.

 

The human things that we have even pre-pandemic, where you wake up and you're like, "Man, wouldn't it be great if I didn't have to commute?" Now you can be like, "I don't have to commute. I can just work right here." It almost seems like this utopian magical place. But I feel like if COVID gave us anything besides all this sorrow is it kickstarted this way, it got us out of the rut, and made some of these things seem more possible.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Absolutely. I think it's just giving us that flexibility that we've desired for so long to create our own reality and work how we want to work, which is so important. As long as companies honor that and prioritize that, I think you can only be successful moving forward.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Agreed. Yeah. The hard stuff is it might require switching investments and changing things and change is difficult. I'm hearing it out there as companies are breaking leases and closing their traditional office space and figuring out what the next thing is. But if we can use design and think about it from a people sense, apply the design process, and come out of this with some totally new spaces, solutions, policies, processes, it's exciting to me.

 

Alex Campanelli:

It is.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Not easy. Not easy at all, but very exciting.

 

Alex Campanelli:

It's a whole new world, I feel like.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Totally. Absolutely. If I was a workplace designer myself, which I am not, I just get to talk about this stuff, I'll be excited about the different types of things that I could be doing and talking to my clients about I think that there's a lot of education that needs to happen, so it's great to have conversations like this. But yeah, the future is bright.

 

Alex Campanelli:

All right. Last question, and this is a fun one. What does your dream or ideal office space look like?

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah. Well, beyond the AirBnB call center. Yeah, I mentioned the circular conference room, which would be like it's just a dream. I get very into where people sitting in a meeting and have the power and social dynamics. I'm trying to break-

 

Alex Campanelli:

Interesting.

 

Sam Aquillano:

... those down constantly. Yeah. There's all kinds of research about seating at the head of the table and the patriarchy. How do we break some of these modes so that everyone feels like they have a voice? To some degree, being on video conference allows for that, but there's all kinds of other subtleties that are hard to communicate. But my ideal office is bright, it's in a place I want to go, which I would say for me, I love working Downtown Boston. It's just so vibrant and being there. Location matters.

 

Something that we don't get a lot though in Boston, and I get why because of the weather, but access to outside would be really interesting. I find myself here at home, when I need a change of scenery, I just go out on my little back patio. It's not nothing special. But just getting into a different mode in a different chair is key. Like the AirBnB example that I mentioned, having multiple places to sit, multiple topologies of workspace available, that's the ideal. Is that possible for every organization? Probably not. But that's where I think things like co-working spaces and FLEX work spaces could provide that.

 

Yeah, maybe you're not leasing it for your whole team, but you're sharing it with a bunch of organizations. I'm a realist. But I think if we can create some of those cool spaces and topologies, I'm excited to be there. I'm excited to get out of the house and go meet someone at this coffee shop that's inside the office. That's fun. That's cool. Yeah, bring me some of that. I'm ready.

 

Alex Campanelli:

It's so funny that you say that. My last guest, Meredith, in the first half of this podcast, she said the same thing. She's actually wanted outdoor. Either roof or garden space would be her ideal office, which I think it's so-

 

Sam Aquillano:

100%.

 

Alex Campanelli:

... interesting. That's a common thread.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yep, totally.

 

Alex Campanelli: I think, yeah, change of scenery, right? Like we were talking about before, people want to be able to change their scenery around them.

 

Sam Aquillano:

I have a garden and I love gardening between Zoom meetings. If I do have 10 minutes, I literally will walk outside for five minutes and just look at my garden, and then just zip right back inside. Just to have that-

 

Alex Campanelli:

It makes a huge difference.

 

Sam Aquillano:

It makes a huge difference. I feel it when I can't do that, when those Zoom meetings are back to back. But yeah, it's a big deal to have that outdoor space. Yeah, even in places like Boston, I wish maybe in the future buildings will have some of that to share.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah. Definitely. We'll have to see what the future looks like in the next year plus and what those offices are reconfigured to be designed to look like.

 

Sam Aquillano:

Yeah. Absolutely.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Well, Sam, I want to thank you so much for joining me today. This was such a pleasure.

 

Sam Aquillano:

That was a fun chat. Thank you so much.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Thanks again for listening to FLEX, a podcast by Fuze. Be sure to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts, and rate and review us. For more information, visit www.fuze.com, and follow us on social media @fuze. See you next time.