A memo from today:

Hey, did you get that latest McKinsey email newsletter? Subject line: “No hybrid option? Then Gen Z might quit”. I mean, seriously? When will all this stuff end? I do wonder if McKinsey left their Gen Zs in charge of email newsletters. Because if I remember rightly that survey you ran late in 2020 had the youngsters most wanting to be back in the office. But the survey you just ran was the other way round. Did I read that right?

If so, have they changed their minds while lounging in their joggers (in which case they’ll probably change again) or have they’ve been brainwashed to believe they hold all the power. Because tbh, if the net result of COVID is that our grad’s somehow believe they have the rights that we spent years working for…you know maybe I’m out of touch, but I don’t get it.

I get how valuable they are to business growth, and I love their energy (well I love it when I actually get to experience it), but their inflated sense of self-importance is mind-blowing. Did you hear Jim talking about the one who kicked off because we wouldn’t expense his travel to the office for the mini town-halls Laura was doing with all staff? I mean, how often do you get to grill your CEO F2F in the room? And I got sent a bunch of flowers yesterday (yeah yeah secret admirer – not!), and one of the Z-Zoomers actually messaged me to see if she should put them in water. No, leave them to shrivel in the box till I’m next in.

I’ve also opened a can of worms with HR (again). Cass wants a head-to-head because I challenged having “be authentic” as one of the new hybrid working behavioural values in her workshop. I’m not sure whether she’s ever met one of my team, but I don’t think she’d like some of their authentic selves. I only employ them for the professional part of their authentic selves. To be awesome at the job I employ them to do. And represent us as a brand. They can leave all the other baggage at home. Ok, I know they are AT HOME but leave the other stuff outside of work. How can we talk with one brand voice and be what our customers want us to be if everyone’s allowed to run riot with self-authenticity? It’d be like saying to an army platoon, just turn up wearing what you want – they’d look like a bunch of mercenaries, not a well-trained unit.

Which leads me nicely to Mark’s group property email. I actually don’t care where my slightly weird team work from, so long as they carry on pumping out the awesome stuff they are doing. And if property is trying to judge who needs the office when I can’t tell them; our work just isn’t that predictable.

I know your team are settled into their three days a week, which, btw, I think it’s great that they arrived at that naturally without an exec issuing a dictate, simply because they like being with each other. But I reckon it’ll kick off when you tell them they can’t do it on Wednesday because the sales superheroes need Wednesday’s first refusal. $10 says your folks won’t suddenly reorganise themselves to be in on Mondays or Fridays instead. It proves the point; it’s near impossible for HR to talk empowerment and autonomy in the same breath as letting the revenue generators push others aside. Who’d willingly want to be in the office on a Friday anyway? Especially with summer around the corner.

Long ramble to say that I think we’ve just got to accept that the business needs perimeters that need establishing. Behavioural guardrails, I think Laura said. The problem is that the guardrails the kids use bowling are pretty damned rigid. So, I also think we need to quit with the fluff and call them boundaries. Lines that can’t be crossed. I think it’s intrinsically linked to everyone respecting each other and not taking liberties. Because people will you know. I’m totally cool with someone taking a day’s paid time off at short notice because their pet passed away. But if they try taking it as paid companionate leave, I’ve got a problem. Am I being a bitch? Call me out if I am.

I am digging deeper on the inclusivity stats though. Happy to admit being genuinely a bit mind blown (hang on, am I allowed to say mind blown?) by those. 17% of our global workforce self-identified as having a long-term condition that impacts their office-based experience with 50% of those folks having a physical impairment. No way I’d have seen that coming. Why would they want to travel to the office when they have adapted their own homes to be as in tune as possible with their needs. Jackie in my team joked about it, but it’s got to be talked about. She made the point that at home, if she’s on a call using the Myro virtual whiteboard, she can put any stickie anywhere she wants. But if she’s in the office, she can just about reach the bottom six inches of the whiteboard. And that’s if there’s enough room for her wheelchair to get around the room to the whiteboard. She was laughing about it, but it’s not really a laughing matter, right?

We see accessible toilets and we think we’ve done right by our colleagues with physical impairments. But the architects had to build those in as part of the statutory compliance. So, we didn’t even do that. The government told us we had to do that. So, what do we do beyond that? Because if we embrace flex or hybrid or whatever they want to call it, those 17% of the team could quite rightly say to hell with coming back in. But that feels Victorian! Like they’ll be hidden away, and society won’t see them and so will forget about them.

Anyway, see you at the on-site/off-site next week. Did they decide if those who are there are using laptops to dial into the workshop even though we’re physically there, all so the guys in India don’t feel left out? I mean, surely, we should have worked this stuff out.

Ah, I’ve just got to the end of the McKinsey article…apparently, the main reason for Gen Z leaving a company is uncaring leaders…


The world of work has changed. Some might say immeasurably. Not us. Our role is to measure it and monitor it and compare it. To understand what has changed, what hasn’t and what’s still changing. And to support the world’s leading organisations get their post-pandemic workplace programmes totally in tune with the needs of the business and the employees.

But therein perhaps sits the biggest problem. Because this new workplace world order isn’t yet ordered, organised, settled and stable.

The experiment is still running. In fact, it’s not one big experiment but thousands of disparate experiments running on a global scale, each with leaders trying to wrestle with the options now available to them, semi-shackled by legacy real estate portfolios that were fit for the pre-pandemic world but look decidedly cumbersome in the post-pandemic one.

Which is why increasingly, real estate teams, HR teams and the execs above them are recognising that now, with some glimmer of the new normal actually settling to becoming normal, it’s time to take stock. To do a stock take of what they have and what they don’t. To fully understand how well equipped they are for this new post-pandemic operating model.

We are supporting many of these organisations in conducting those new baseline evaluations. They make exciting projects for my expert team; mainly because every client is different. They arrive strong in the belief that they need to know what their competitors are doing, until we show them how their corporate DNA makes them different to their peers.

And that perhaps there’s more to learn first by looking internally and then by looking at how the world’s best organisations are getting hybrid right – regardless of what bit of the knowledge economy they operate in.

But almost all are open to change. In episode two of Mad Men season three, Don Draper gave us the often quoted “Change is neither good nor bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says, ‘I want it the way it was’ or a dance that says ‘look, something new’.”

But it’s not quite that simple.

There are organisations communicating the ‘hey, look something new’ message to a colleague. But the new is based on a cut’n’paste ‘collaboration happens at the office; focus happens at home’ model conveniently peddled by some as the new optimal operating model. Yet it’s not about ‘ta-da’ moments and great unveilings of yet more monuments to a design profession that are both wary and weary of engaging with end-users. This time it’s about ‘ah-ha’ moments in a new workplace customer experience discussion, where the customer (the individual employee) is key.

In a recent Leesman poll of leading real estate leaders, the majority (54%) said they “have a [workplace] strategy in place and have communicated it to staff’. Yet 30% said they were “still at early stages of planning a strategy”. Given Leesman tends to attract the more forward looking, creative, enlightened client-base, that was surprising. What does the picture look like outside of this group? Let’s assume more still don’t have a strategy. But how many?

And as a consequence, how many millions of employees worldwide still don’t know what their workplace futures look like? Is this why the alarmist language of mass resignations still populates even the most respected corporate newsletters and global media outlets?

Too many simply flock along with the messages peddled by some sectors of our industry for whom it is convenient to run with a story that says the world is bouncing back. Not least because apparently lease activity is up.

Hoorah. Investors and developers are safe, even if the rest of us are contending with spiralling living costs.

This feels a little like the early days of Leesman when reports were circulating that despite the global post-Lehman Brothers damage, there was some glimmer of hope because they were increasing the amount of space per person that they allowed when planning their post-crash workplaces. How nice of them. Until a few more cynically-minded observers pointed out that the stat’s had simply failed to recognise the banks could lay off their bankers faster than they could sublet or exit their surplus space.

The same is likely to be true now. Leasing activity is up because businesses are out with their brokers and agents are sourcing newer and smaller spaces. In order to willingly draw them back they have acknowledged that they need to have great spaces that offering an experience way better than the employee can create for themselves at home. And it’s always easier to do that on a fresh blank canvas space than it is to do it with an old legacy space.

Thirty-nine percent of our poll respondents said they would implement a minor reduction in their total real estate footprints in the next 18-months. Twenty percent said they were embarking on a considerable reduction (25-50%).

This all points to the need for more data, more analysis, and more insights. Have your colleagues’ roles changed? Have they adopted new working patterns and habits that mean you need to recalibrate what your workplaces are there to support? Should they try and support things employees are universally in agreement that are better supported at home, or should they fight back and accept that places designed for working should support colleagues better than places designed for living.

And what of those statistical outliers? Those for whom the new norm may not be beneficial; those who for their own health and work-life balance, need to be away from their home during the day; or those who have physical or cognitive challenges that mean you are a more inclusive organisation by letting them stay remote.

This last issue is one that we are now probing in depth. And every client can now add a new set of ‘inclusivity’ questions that enables them to fully understand the particular needs of their majorities and minorities. And we can quickly amass the data necessary for our brilliant Research & Insights teams to really probe the topic.

One thing is clear. Real estate, facility managers and workplace experience leaders’ jobs have got way harder.

With so much happening to the need’s employees place on the workplace in such a short period, you have to be ready for change – a dramatic change.

Your organisation’s employees have spent the money they saved on commuting on building highly effective workplaces at home, with super-widescreen monitors, super-fast Wi-Fi, amazing acoustic privacy, and their preferred plant-based ‘milk’ in their own fridge.

You need to understand and acknowledge those needs. And that your colleagues are customers of your space. You can only serve those customers brilliantly if you respond to those new needs.

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