Tenant Talks Recap: Reimagining the Office Space and Experience

October 14th, Tenant Talks hosted its most recent virtual event “Reimagining The Office Space and Experience” featuring guests from the tech industry. Panelists included Amanda Nagy, Senior Manager of People Operations at Thinkific, Jason Bailey, Co-Founder of East Side Games and Keith Metcalfe, CEO of Traction Guest.  

Panel moderator Rocky Ozak, Founder + CEO of NoW of Work led the discussion to find out how tech firms are managing the remote working transition and what efforts they’ve been making to maintain their cultures. Here’s what we learned:

(Prefer to watch the replay? Watch the video here.)

What significant changes has your company made to office design or the team member experience in response to COVID-19?

 

It’s no surprise that all three panelists listed their transition to Work from Home (WFH) arrangements as their most significant change, but it was clear their experiences differed. 

Amanda spoke about how Thinkific has not only transitioned to working remotely but has taken the chance to become a fully distributed team. With massive hiring efforts underway, the company is now accepting new hires from all across Canada. Recognizing that WFH arrangements don’t work for everyone, the company has made select meeting room spaces bookable for those who need them the most, and with strict policies in place for using them like requirements to wear masks. 

Jason told us how East Side Games made working from home mandatory rather than an option.

“We’ve transitioned from the initial idea that employees are going to be doing their best to work from home in the meantime to the idea that they’ll be working from home permanently and it’s our job to make sure they’re comfortable to do so,” he said. 

East Side Games now offers new WFH stipends that include allowances for internet connections and furniture equipment. 

Seen as thought leaders in providing safe and secure visits to the office, Keith’s priority was to make sure Traction Guest put concrete policies and procedures in place for how to safely return to the office when it was time to do so. The company went through the process of developing a playbook to assess the company’s readiness to return to the office. It includes specifics around how the situation is measured, when, and exactly how staff can get back to work. 

“We’ve made an effort to make sure employees understand the playbook and what they’re able to do (and not do) in office,” he said, “By putting these procedures in place, we’re showing everyone that we’re taking health and safety seriously.”

In the context of office design and the employee experience, what were the biggest hurdles you faced in the last 6-months and how have you addressed them?

 

Some of the struggles that the group discussed included:

  1. Meeting changing demands as employees work from home (at first, only asking for lap-desks then needing additional technology like second monitors to do their jobs).
  2. Making the office space safe and accessible to those who couldn’t work from home comfortably due to family demands and small apartments.
  3. Managing office renovations through the pandemic: determining timelines, access rights, and whether or not the design should change.
  4. Onboarding new hires without the chance to walk them around and make personal introductions. 

“It’s much harder to make personal connections with new staff,” said Jason, “It’s very challenging when interactions are digital.” 

Remote working arrangements certainly bring along some challenges when it comes to sustaining company culture. Here are some intentional efforts these companies are making to keep prioritizing relationship building, even when employees are communicating digitally:

  • Hosting company-wide lunch-and-learns over Zoom to share regular team updates.
  • Taking time within these online meetings to celebrate anniversaries and introduce new staff members to the rest of the team.
  • Setting up non-work related casual coffee chats online to discuss life outside of work and get to know one another on a more personal level.
  • Switching to cohort onboarding groups so new hires can meet others going through the same process.
  • Organizing virtual meet and greets and handing new hires a list of people worth connecting with on other teams. 

Does your organization have any safety measures put in place for both physical and mental well being for welcoming staff back to the office?

 

We directed this question to Keith at Traction Guest. Touching on the mental health piece, he was able to gather some great culture-building ideas from staff directly.  

“We’ve seen some really good ideas come out of employees on our culture committee,” he said.

Taking recommendations from the culture committee, Traction Guest now hosts weekly Friday sessions welcoming guest speakers from outside the company to discuss topics like mental health and resilience with employees.

He spoke more about the need for companies to deliver on connection and learning opportunities while figuring out what steps they need to do it safely. The company is considering a move towards a hybrid approach between home and work or the possibility of moving to decentralized offices to better manage optimal and safe capacities in the office. 

“Culture and safety have to come together, as well as performance and intention of what you’re trying to be as a company in this period in time,” he said 

As we look to and plan for a year from now (assuming a vaccine being widely available and effective) what purpose will your physical office fulfill? What might it look like – what can or can’t change?

 

Two ideas emerged in this discussion. First, that people will always crave opportunities to meet, collaborate, and connect in-person. Second, that the spaces where these meetings take place will change.

“You need to think about your office space like you think about your house. Every room should have a purpose,” said Amanda. 

Thinkific has started to design its new space with that in mind, with specific rooms dedicated to brainstorming and creativity sessions. Moving forward, the company will start thinking about its office as a coworking space, opening up new offices with that same mentality. 

As the panel discussed potential office designs of the future, Keith wasn’t quite convinced we’ll be saying goodbye to cubicles so soon, since people may prefer even more separation and personal space after the pandemic. He once again stressed that decisions on office design, such as the potential to move towards decentralized office spaces need to be made with staff involvement. 

“We will have to experiment and get feedback on what works best,” he said.  

As always, this Tenant Talks event concluded with a round of rapid-fire questions. Two of our favourite responses captured just how important workforces are to companies in a time of change. 

“What’s most surprising to me throughout all of this is just how resilient people are. They’re able to adapt to changing circumstances with no end goal or future plan.” – Amanda 

“Always involve your staff in the process as you make your decisions. They often have better ideas than leadership teams do!” – Keith 

To access these rapid-fire questions and answers watch the Tenant Talks video replay here.

 

About Tenant Talks 

Tenant Talks is a global nonprofit speaker series focused on the ways of working that are impacting how organizations function today and in the future. Featuring speakers from various industries, disciplines, and locations across the globe, our purely educational events bring leaders together for an opportunity to discuss their personal experiences, challenges, and ideas around the use of the office and the evolving ways that we work. 

With the simple goal to provide a platform for collectively shaping the office of the future, Tenant Talks operates as a non-profit project. All proceeds from ticket sales are donated to charities around the world that are dedicated to making a difference in our communities.