The Thought Leader's Voice Podcast

 Navigating the Future of Work

Image of Janet Pogue McLaurin
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Janet Pogue McLaurin is an eminent leader within Gensler’s Work Sector practices and research endeavours. Serving as the Global Director of Workplace Research, a crucial division within the Gensler Research Institute, she has been pivotal in spearheading global Workplace Surveys and the Workplace Performance Index® (WPI) client tool, which evaluates space effectiveness and workplace experiences on various projects. With nearly four decades of dedicated service, she has been actively shaping workplace strategies and crafting innovative work environments for diverse clients. Her profound expertise and influential contributions make her an invaluable guest as she shares her insights into the impact of the physical workplace on employee engagement and performance. 

Join us in this engaging conversation with Janet Pogue McLaurin as we navigate the future of work and empower employers to adapt and thrive in the evolving world and workplace. 

Key Takeaways

  • Emerging Workplace Trends: Discover the latest trends in workplace strategy, including generational differences, diversity, equity, inclusion, and broader environmental, social, and governance considerations. 
  • The Power of Research and Thought Leadership: Uncover the essential role of research and thought leadership in helping employers understand and respond to these dynamic trends. 
  • The Emotional Impact of Workplace Changes: With shifting work patterns and changing perceptions about remote work, explore the emotional and mental toll on employees and discover recommendations for addressing these challenges. 
  • The Significance of Physical Presence: In an era where remote work is on the rise, learn the importance of physical presence in the current and future workplace. 
  • Fostering Community and Communication: Discover how building a connected and sociable modern workplace hinges on community and effective communication. 

Full Transcript of Podcast with Janet Pogue McLaurin

Rachael: Hello and welcome to the Thought Leaders Voice. I’m Rachael Kinsella, Editorial and Content Director at iResearch Services and your host for today’s show. We’re really excited to have Janet Pogue McLaurin today, joining us as our guest. Janet is a principal and Global Director of Workplace Research, one of Gensler Global Thought Leaders on the impact of the physical workplace on employee engagement and performance. She co-developed Gensler’s workplace performance index, measuring how people work, space effectiveness, and employee experience for clients.

She has over 40 years of experience in workplace strategy, research and design, and is much sought after for speaking out and contributing to high-profile events and publications. With that in mind, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here with us today, Janet. A warm welcome. And thank you for choosing our podcast to share your insights.

Janet: Thank you for the invite. And I’m thrilled to be here, Rachael.

Rachael: Brilliant, thank you. Well, let’s get started. I think we can kick off with a particularly meaty topic. You undertake considerable research in workplace strategy, employee experience, and you share this through regular flagship thought leadership programs and very insightful content. I’ve seen you speak about this on the news and in various high-profile events both on and offline. So, it’s great to hear you talking about the latest insights in this space. We all know about the hybrid versus office versus remote debate; it’s raging on. We’re not coming up with any conclusions or solutions. But are there any new trends that you’re seeing coming through about workplaces and employee experience? And what can we learn about them?

Janet: Well, you know at Gensler, so we’ve been formally researching the workplace for over two decades. And it’s interesting because there’s an overarching trend, this shift from efficiency to effectiveness to now experience. But I think there are three trends that I see; as I was thinking about this podcast and what you were going to ask is three trends that I see that might be emerging that are newer, that are coming out of our recent research.

One is hybrid is here to stay, but so is the office. Because in Gensler’s recent research of over 14,000 office workers across nine countries and ten industries, it was a really wide demographic, we saw that people were reporting spending about half of their time at the office on a typical work week. But they’re both in and out the office now. It’s not just the office and home. But the really interesting thing is they also reported ideally needing to spend two-thirds of the week at the office in order to maximize their individual and team productivity, which I found just really fascinating. There’s still this need by employees, not employers, that they do their best work and they can really maximize their productivity at the office better.

The second trend is we see there’s this shift in priorities of the office. Pre-pandemic, the office was the primary place that we did work, right, that’s where work happened. During the pandemic, and we did 11 different surveys then, the top reason to go into the office was to work in-person with my team and colleagues: there was drawn to the team. But in our latest research, we see ‘to focus on my work’ is the new top reason. And it’s even more important for younger generations.

And the third trend that we see really starting to emerge in a bigger way is people want a new mix of experiences at the office. There’s this willingness to return if they had a different type of experience in a different mix. It’s not as a single experience. It’s a variety of experiences. And the younger generations actually want an even greater, because they want a more hospitality-infused experience instead of that corporate or business-like office of the past.

Rachael: There’s almost more of a social more community-centered experience that employees are looking for.

Janet: It is, but it’s also an experience to get their work done. It needs to be functional; it needs to be able to have the experiences to work alone and have the privacy that they need to come together collectively, but also to come together as a community. And it’s all of that. That’s the reason it’s not a single uniform experience as much as an authentic mix of what it is you’re actually doing at the office.

Rachael: I think that’s really key how you put that on an authentic mix, and it’s about balance, isn’t it, about having that time to focus? I mean, we’re all very aware of being able to minimize distractions and having the time and the right space to be able to focus on our work and get it done.

Janet: And that’s both in and out the office. It’s also the neighborhood and being able to use all those spaces as part of the ecosystem and of spaces to work to.

Rachael: Yes. And then of course, there’s going out and traveling and meeting with clients, and that’s still getting work done. But now that kind of opened up, and people are moving around a bit more than they were saying, it all counts as work. How are you seeing organizations get that balance right? What kind of elements are they offering as part of that experience, different zones, different places for working? How is it all starting to play out?

Janet: Well, I think people are starting to understand that you’ve got to have a wide variety of spaces in order to work. If we think about the most creative organizations, they have these spaces for that kind of work to happen, it’s spaces to work alone, to think and reflect: meditation spaces, outdoor spaces, those are coming back, and they’ve always been important, but there’s a renewed awareness of those.

Then there’s those social spaces you were just talking about: to get to know one another, to build trust, to build those relationships. Those spaces to come together to co-create. It’s not just enough to come together to meet, these are actually spaces that people are bringing in outside perspectives, either from other departments or functions within the organization or maybe academia or actual end users of the products that they’re developing for. And these co-creation spaces are very different than what we’ve seen in the past.

And spaces to kind of share work in progress to foster feedback beyond the initial team, it’s actually to put some of that may be on display. And then there’s finally spaces to celebrate the successes. And I think all of that goes a long way towards moving work forward and building community and alignment about what it is that is behind the whole mission and purpose of that organization.

Rachael: I think that ties in really closely with internal communications and building that community and that knowledge sharing, celebrating the wins, sharing insights, and having the right communications channels that are going to reflect that space. We certainly see thought leadership as an important tool within that in helping to foster that communication, build trust, build relationships in terms of knowledge-sharing and expertise.

But also on the other side of things, you’re seeing thought leadership as an effective tool for actually sharing these trends around the workplace and employee experience and being able to share recommendations with organizations about what they can do to encapsulate the opportunities, but also address challenges in this changing, ever shifting world of work. How important do you find that thought leadership and direct communications channels for sharing this kind of knowledge both with clients, but also with them internally, and tying that in with the purpose and with the way the workplace is set up?

Janet: We believe that research and thought leadership, learning what’s working and not working from other companies, is incredibly important: it builds awareness and understanding of one set of data points. But I also caution that you shouldn’t blindly apply the research or trends to like your own organization without gathering insights from a wide variety of sources. This secondary research is so helpful. But you’ve got to couple it with your own data of what employee surveys or badging data on occupancy or focus groups on what’s working or not working, as well as direct observation of how people are actually using the space.

It’s one thing to say this space is being occupied and it’s heavily reserved, so we may need more of it, but you need to stop and understand how it is being used and maybe it will need to be something different and being able to step back and look at both quantitative and qualitative information actually helps you develop the best strategies, the best direction for moving forward, also coupled with a vision of where the leadership wants it to go because a lot of this is looking in the rearview mirror in terms of benchmarking and what other people are doing. But you also need this forward-thinking about where it should go and how to navigate, so your space works today and tomorrow.

Rachael: That’s really important as well as having that future lens and the future thinking as part of that strategy, as part of that research because you don’t want to get bogged down in the benchmarking and then what’s happened before, and if it doesn’t directly apply to your organization, then that there’s little point, it’s actually making it relevant.

Janet: At the same time, you have to figure out the art of the possibility—how can you reimagine something to be even better or completely different?

Rachael: Exactly. So inspiration, innovation, new ways of doing things which is so important. And then you also mentioned it coming back to the employees, knowing them, knowing what they’re looking for, what their wants and needs are, and the importance of research amongst your own employees to be able to factor that in and make it relevant to your organization.

Janet: That’s right. Relevant and authentic. It needs to be appropriate.

Rachael: Yes, appropriate, relevant, authentic. There’s no point in doing it just for the sake of it; it’s just wasting words and time and effort and of course resources. How are you finding that sort of emotional connection between employees and workplaces? You talked about employees wanting an experience, more of a hospitality experience, they’re wanting to get something quite different out of the workplace, but they’re also looking to the workplace to address their needs. So I guess that’s on two levels.

How can you better connect employees and connect with them emotionally and take into consideration sort of mental and physical health and well-being and connect that with the workplace? But also, how important is that physical workplace, in supporting employees in terms of their emotional and physical needs?

Janet: Well, we all want to be cared for as a person; these are basic human needs. You want to see yourself reflected in the spaces that you work, in the places that you visit and spend time in, and it needs to be a place where you’re no longer focused on the physical work environment, but you’re focused on just the joy of getting your work done. And how can we remove those obstacles?

We found that in our latest research that employees who work in the office that are high performing, those that are both effective and provide a great experience, they actually report that working in the office positively impacts a wide range of individual outcomes. I mean, we’re talking individual productivity, job satisfaction, career advancement or development, work-life balance, and even personal health and well-being. And that was over 91% of people reporting a positive impact on all those issues.

We also saw 94% report positive impact on team productivity, relationship with employees, sense of inclusion, connection to a team purpose. So these individual and team outcomes are an incredible testament to what the role of the office can be when it works well and provides  that great experience for employees, that they feel cared for on a whole different level and they had that connection to their colleagues as well as to the organization as a whole and they feel taken care of as a person.

Rachael: Yeah, and that ties into the diversity equity and inclusion initiatives as well and how that is reflected in the workplace, what accommodations and inclusion measures are part of that workplace and enabling and empowering employees to be able to work in ways that suit them that maximize their own productivity and focus, so that as you say they feel part of something, they feel cared for. And you mentioned statistics on feeling closer to colleagues, closer to leadership, greater levels of inclusion. And that’s a really important aspect to consider when you’re thinking about a physical workplace. If there are sort of disabilities and accommodations that are needed for people to be able to access the workplace, how are they catered for? And is that authentic sense of inclusion that we’ve been discussing?

Janet: That’s right. The physical workplace, when you stop and think about it, is that physical manifestation of the benefits in putting those words into action. Whereas other things or policy or benefits that are not tangible like the workplace really is.

Rachael: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s this real feeling of a need for the physical workplace to foster better connection, build relationships, build trust, but also sort of have that set up that’s going to work for focus. And collaboration, of course, one of the key reasons that people come into the office to a post-pandemic. Obviously, you’ve mentioned that there’s a very high percentage of people who were surveyed that came back saying that actually they had all these positive benefits of the workplace. What sort of roadblocks and arguments against the physical workplace? So are you seeing through your research, if any?

Janet: Well, that’s actually what we’re studying right now. We’re in the midst of analyzing a study that we sent to six different cities in the US; it was San Francisco, LA, Chicago, Houston, New York and DC. And we wanted to understand if there was a gap, if people are spending about half the amount of time but they ideally say they need the office two-thirds of a week in order to maximize their productivity. Why is there this gap between the two numbers? And so what are the obstacles? What is holding them back?

And as we’re looking at the data, I think there’s a number of different things that are starting to emerge, but we’re still analyzing numbers. The length of the commute is one difference. It’s a combination of work and life. We’re seeing that those with certain needs children have different obstacles or different reasons for not wanting to be at the office quite as often than those that don’t. Again, the length of the commute is an issue. How many time zones you actually work with people in starts to contribute to it?

If you’re working in a single time zone, whether their colleagues in that office or not, it’s a little bit easier; it’s more of a predictable day than if you’re working with colleagues or clients and customers in multiple time zones when you’re starting very early and going very late into the evening resulting ins partial day or fewer days in the office. Both the work and life situations start to impact that. So it tells us it’s not going to be a single solution. As an organization, we all want to feel cared for as a person and so those solutions are going to be very different and tailored to people as well.

Rachael: Yes, that’s vital, tailoring it to those situations and tailoring the solutions to those different obstacles. And it seems that there are different working patterns emerging from those different criteria or those different employee experiences, so workplace experiences. As you mentioned, time zones is a really key one. So particularly if you’re working with clients in Asia Pacific and in the US and say you’re based in Europe, here across all of the time zones and how do you factor in the time in between the key moments where you can actually get in touch with your clients or get in touch with the key people that you need to collaborate with? So it’s very interesting to look at that from a global perspective and be able to make assumptions from the research that you’re doing and then actually to be able to make recommendations of different ways of creating that balance.

And something that I’ve heard you talk about before about flexibility and flexibility in every sense when it comes to workplace, so that you know the ideal workplace has got choice and it’s got  flexibility, and in situations like that where there’s childcare or a long commute or different time zones, flexibility really comes into play there. The same with if people have got disabilities or particular accommodations that they need in terms of their working day, whether that’s in the office, or if they’re working hybrid, or if they’re working remotely. So all these different factors that need to be tailored to provide this workplace that is actually going to help people to thrive.

Janet: That’s right. It’s not only flexibility in terms of being in and out the office and where that work actually occurs, but flexibility of spaces within the office. We all work differently. We have different cadences. We thrive in different conditions. Some people may thrive doing deep focus, surrounded by other people. Other people need the quiet of almost like a library-type space. The library’s coming back, even in corporate office space; and it’s not about the books; it’s about the rules of a library. And how can we think about this very differently and flexibility very differently?

Because as corporate real estate execs, as facility managers, building in too much flexibility becomes cost prohibitive. You can’t have everything be so flexible. But how can you start thinking about multi-use spaces, that spaces that have a degree of flexibility? Maybe it’s just the furniture? Maybe it’s the lighting and the furniture. How can you be thinking about different degrees of flexibility that still meet the needs of what is needed for that site, but still meeting the needs of individual employees and teams that may be working very differently than another team?

Rachael: So making your workplace work harder for you and work harder for your employees, yes, that’s very important. You can’t be all things to all people, but you can certainly try and make the best use of the space that you have, and make that reflective of your workforce. So that’s a critical point as well, and a very strategic one that needs to be championed through leadership and throughout the organization. And I guess that’s where the communications and the thought leadership comes in, because it gives leadership an opportunity to engage and listen to employees and what their requirements are, but it also gives them a chance to be able to talk about how space is being used and what facilities are available and how that’s evolving.

Janet: And the desired behavior is moving forward and accomplishes an organization moving forward in the future.

Rachael: Yes, and not taking your eye off that future piece, this is what’s happening now. But this is what we’re developing and why and this is the most productive use of this space. So please do use it and sort of getting that feedback from it at that early stage as well. I think one of the things that we’ve talked about it quite a bit is that need to focus, and obviously people focus and are more productive in different ways to suit them. And again, you can’t suit everybody necessarily, but providing that nice quiet library space, providing collaboration space, providing opportunities to be able to really focus and make use of that space in that way.

I think they’re all areas to try and foster innovation. And it’s something else that you talk about quite prolifically based on the research that you do about the need for innovation, innovation in addressing employee needs, but innovation in smarter, better functioning workplaces, making more of what you’ve got, but also that as you keep referring back to that future thinking piece, that strategic horizon scanning, and where you can innovate in that space. You know, how important is innovation when creating these workspaces? Where are you seeing some good examples? How do you think the best ways to foster innovation are coming about in the workplace? And also, what’s the role of  thought leadership in trying to help push that forward?

Janet: A great question because I don’t know a CEO or anybody in the C-suite, so it’s not talking about how do we build a culture for innovation? You know, innovation is the holy grail of just about every business enterprise. And from our perspective, how do we foster that culture of innovation and provide the right conditions for innovation to happen? Employees need the time and the space to work alone, as you mentioned, and reflect. At 3M, I worked with 3M a number of years ago, and they noodle on ideas, and first is individual, and then collectively, and they put that idea on display, and they invite feedback. And that’s a part of the process.

So a culture of innovation is fundamentally built on trust. It’s getting to know your colleagues on a personal and professional level, so that when you have that crazy idea, they’re not going to laugh at your idea, they’re going to give you constructive feedback, to make that idea better. For innovation to flourish, companies need the mechanisms to share those ideas in-person and virtually across the organization for that refinement, for buy-in, for support and ultimately implementation. Because otherwise, it just stays an idea and not an innovation that you can take to market.

And so that’s where we see that these organizations have variety of spaces for all those activities to really happen. And being able to celebrate those successes fuels that momentum. When you’re actually able to put that innovation on display, it starts to go from a single team to multiple teams to ultimately this is what we’re about. And we have found that it’s not around innovating within a team, the best ideas actually come from outside that team. Just as the best ideas come, not just from you as a single individual, but now bouncing and refining those ideas off others.

And that ties into bringing people back to the office. Because it’s not around minimizing how much space you have, and only getting certain teams in certain days, I think that was an early strategy, as people were beginning a return to the office and keeping people in small pods to keep contamination tight. But now we need to bring back core days that we have everybody back so that you’re able to see what’s going on, bounce ideas off one another because the most unexpected innovations are often two different ideas coming together. The classic post-it note, right, it was two very different ideas, and by joining them, it became something that we cannot live without, [Janet was holding up a post it note]. And I live on post-it notes. So it’s an example that comes quick to mind.

Rachael: That’s brilliant. I think that there’s so much to unpack there. But I think it’s almost like that you need that diversity of thinking and diversity of ideas, and de-siloing the organization, so you actually want to bring people together so that they can collaborate, so that they can ideate, so that they can innovate and not be putting in any kind of rigidity around it or dampening innovation in any way. But also, really, I’m fascinated by the point that you made that the success of one team or one particular idea spreads, and it builds trust and it builds credibility and actually provides inspiration for further innovation. So it takes it forward, so it’s not just coming up with an idea, but it’s actually finding a way to use it and take it to market but also how that can spiral and lead to other ideas and other innovations.

Janet: We’re actively doing that at Gensler, we call them ‘bright spots’ which is a team that knocks the ball out of the park and did something absolutely incredible. You may take some of those team members and put them in other teams and those ideas and those new approaches and ways of thinking about something, then start to flourish and flourish. Those two people tell two people who tell two people, and now it has the idea spreading across an organization which happens easier face-to-face in many respects. But we also have a number of organizations that are global, that they’re not sitting together, so it has to happen virtually. The goal is how do you take advantage of both? How do you intentionally bring people together to reinforce that trust and to build those relationships that then can start to be leveraged virtually?

Rachael: It’s finding those virtual and physical ways of bringing people together so that they can collaborate and innovate, but also that the power of employee advocacy. Because once something takes off and the word spreads, then that just becomes stronger, it becomes a stronger proposition, it spreads across the organization, it helps to break down those silos across the company.

Janet: That’s right. And those stories really reinforce where you want that company to go, the values that you’re putting into action. And by reinforcing those stories, we’re all storytellers, and by reinforcing those stories, it just communicates back to your earlier question exactly where you want things to go and how you want the behaviors to occur across an organization.

Rachael: Exactly.  And that to me is authentic thought leadership, because it’s coming from people, it’s the people on the ground, on the organization who are coming up with the ideas, they’re sharing ideas, they’re communicating them, and it’s bringing together these different threads of communication, collaboration, relationship building, building that trust and credibility in terms of the people, the work that they do, the organization. And then that’s reflected externally through the brand, through the communications and the marketing that goes out through the actual thought leadership content that goes out externally. So it’s like all the different spokes within the wheel coming together and…

Janet: That’s right—it’s a flywheel. It starts the momentum that continues on and on.

Rachael: Yes, exactly. That’s that continuous movement. It’s lasting, so into the future you’ve got a good view of the horizon and 360 view around you and that’s incredibly powerful. And clearly, the workplace, both virtually and physically has a huge part to play in that, it’s there right at the hub, right at the heart.

Janet: That’s right. That’s right.

Rachael: Brilliant. Thank you so much for speaking with us today. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

Janet: I have too.

Rachael: So much great research that you’re doing and I’m really excited to hear about your latest research and how you can overcome the obstacles and what kind of feedback is coming through from employees across the US.

Janet: Stay tuned, this will be coming out in about a month. And yes, we’re doing continual research. You know, it’s like peeling back the layers of an onion; you discover something completely unexpected. And I love surprises and data, and it’s like I want to do a follow-up, you know, research on just that. And so that’s what is the flywheel of our own research. So thank you for inviting me.

Rachael: Oh, that’s great. Well, I’ll look out for that, not long to wait. And yes, we’ll definitely be sharing it with our listeners, and hopefully, we can have another chat a little bit further down the line when you’ve done your next layer of research.

Janet: I would love that, Rachael.

Rachael: Thank you.

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