What if your workplace could be a haven of productivity and employee engagement? We get into a riveting conversation with Lou Blatt, COO of Join Digital, as we dissect the Kaizen philosophy and its profound impact on fostering trust and empowering employees in the hybrid work environment. Discover how this approach leads to increased engagement, passion, and productivity, and learn how policies at tech giants like Google, Amazon, Salesforce, and At&t risk employee disengagement.
Imagine a workspace designed around the needs of its occupants, promoting engagement, wellness, and productivity. Learn about the four main reasons people venture to the office, and the role of mentors, celebrations, and socializing in the mix. Understand how property owners often overlook the needs of their tenants, and the crucial role HR plays in designing a conducive workspace.
Ever wondered how data-driven decisions are shaping the future of workplaces? We delve into how data plays a pivotal role in optimizing space management and enhancing employee wellness. From the importance of privacy and wellness to IT capabilities and amenities, we'll explore how the physical environment, from better lighting and natural light to analyzing CO2 levels and temperature, can significantly influence morale and productivity. Join us as Lou Blatt and Kyle reflect on how Kaizen, real estate decisions, and data-driven strategies can shape a hybrid work environment and foster employee wellness. Buckle up as we navigate the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of the workplace and their impact on the employee experience.
Rebel HR is a podcast for HR professionals and leaders of people who are ready to make some disruption in the world of work. Please connect to continue the conversation!
This is the Rebel HR Podcast, the podcast about all things innovation in the people's space. I'm Kyle Rode. Let's start the show. Welcome back Rebel HR community, extremely excited for the conversation this week With us. We have Lou Blatt. Lou is the COO of Join Digital and we are here today to talk about Kaizen and how that impacts employee engagement, empowerment, and we'll talk a little bit about hybrid work. Welcome to the show, lou. Thanks, kyle, great to be here. Well, we're extremely happy to have you and I think one of the things I'm really excited about is the fact this is going to be a little bit of a different topic in context for our listeners and I'm really excited. One of the things I really enjoy is getting that different perspective and sharing that with the broader HR community. Thank you for spending some time with us and your extremely busy schedule and spending 30 minutes or so with us today.Lou Blatt:
Yeah, my pleasure. Glad to be here.Kyle Roed:
I think one of the things that I'm really curious about, as I was preparing for this and looking at your background and perspective, is, I'm curious what got you interested in the work you do, specifically Kaizen, and how that impacts the employee experience.Lou Blatt:
Yeah well, kyle, I relied upon Kaizen early in my career, noticing its success with Toyota, but always from a process improvement point of view and continuous improvement point of view. But then, of course, like everybody, I found myself working at home after the pandemic and everything had gone digital and I found that it was very difficult to keep the employees engaged. And Kaizen is a really amazing toolkit from that perspective, because it at the center of Kaizen is trust, and you trust the employees to do the right thing when you give them the right tools and information and support systems to create a continuous improvement approach and platform for their business. And then, once you trust them, that causes a lot of engagement because you push a lot of the decisions down to the employees so they feel the control, they feel more engaged, they're more passionate. And that's when it got revived for me and I took it out of the process improvement part of my life and put it front and center for an organization that I was leading at the time, which was 500 people Roder Strong.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. I think it's fascinating because I also grew up in that methodology of the Toyota production system and Kaizen and lean manufacturing. It was always in the context of hey, let's fix this process, let's go in, and it's the process, it's not the people. It was one of the terms that we would always try to focus on and that was always the context of it. But as I went through a lot of those principles where you go through and you identify root cause and you truly understand the process and you have open dialogue about areas that could be improved, I can absolutely see how that could be a powerful engagement tool. And we throw around the word empowerment a lot. I feel like part of me feels like the word empowerment is like code word for hey, I don't want to do it, you get to do it in the corporate words, but the reality is you are giving somebody a tool to do something with and I think that's really interesting. So, as you've worked through this and as you've reflected on this approach, as it relates, what are some of those practices that you see kind of having that direct tie-in to some of these employee engagement best practices that exist?Lou Blatt:
Well, it starts with an understanding of the problem. I think 20% of people are actually passionate when asked about their job, and another statistic for you to consider is that 76% of people are either remote or hybrid currently. So the thing that face-to-face work physical, face-to-face, in person, I guess I should say work is best at, is collaboration, and almost everybody will admit to that, and Nature just published an article in 2022 actually verifying that you get two extra creative ideas when two people are doing it physically versus the video-conferencing counterparts. So it's collaboration, creative collaboration, that is extremely central to the idea of Kaizen, because I know, as Kyle, as you had practiced it, you probably realized that bringing in all these different, interdisciplinary people into understanding the same problem is the way to find the right solution, and that is collaboration in spades. So how do we create our physical environment and how do we create the virtual environment so that they cater to the tasks that they're best for? And that is then you've got both plate spinning. I would say. One plate is all the people issues and the culture and the engagement and the passion, and then the other one is the place. Is the place actually supporting the people in what they need to be supported with to get those tasks done optimally, and so we've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what are the characteristics that lead to a good policy for hybrid work, and then what's the best aspects of the space itself, to make sure that the space is best at what it's good for. And then you let the employees choose where and when they're going to spend their time, and that's a Kaizen right or pushing it down to the people actually doing the work to come up with those decisions rather than stipulating a policy, because all the policies I've seen, whether it's Google, they got torn apart and pressed for their policies and going back and forth. Or Amazon, the employees literally walked down to the building on a strike. Or Salesforce, where they're paying their employees' charities to get them to come into the office, independent of the activity that they're going to be partaking in. At&t, who told all their employees that they need to show up in particular offices, even if their office they used to go to is no longer owned, and if there's no close office, then they should move. Well, that's just like a formula for disengagement. You may as well just have a riff.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. It's funny because that's just a couple of the large headline grabbing things that have happened as it relates to this. There's a microcosm of this happening across organizations all around the world right now, where it's to me it almost seems like there was a rapid change to get people to work remote for obvious reasons. Employee health and safety took precedent. That was the focus. Now that that has become less of a risk it's not riskless, but there's become less of a risk. Now there's been a drawback to the office. I think that the challenge is that people's lifestyles have been modified. People's working habits are not the same as they used to be. I think part of it, too, is the fact that you've got management teams that don't necessarily have a great playbook for how to manage remote. They're doing what's logical, which is well, let's just go back to the way it used to be. But the reality is that the world isn't where it used to be anymore and workers' perceptions aren't where they used to be. I know that you spent some time having some discussions and doing some research on hybrid work models that work. I'm curious what are some examples or scenarios of an approach that actually works? That seems to be the most effective way to approach this question of hybrid work.Lou Blatt:
Yeah, much to the credit of Kaisen thinking. I think what you should do is put trust at the center of the policy and educate people as to what is done best in person and what is best done remotely. What are the tasks and specific configurations that help with the hybrid situation as well? What we like to do is look at the five reasons why employees don't want to come into the office, and then a few of the reasons four reasons on why what's best done in the office that everybody agrees to. Then those nine items is what is the basis for creating a framework of knowledge and support for the employees so that they can make the right decision as to where and when when it comes time each day?Kyle Roed:
Yeah, that's interesting. Is there a rationale behind the number that? You know I'm?Lou Blatt:
curious, just me coming through a lot of research, listening to a lot of colleagues. We ran a recent summit. All the top companies, top tech companies in the United States showed up, so it's just what I've collected. It remains the number one reason why people don't come into the office and that is forcing companies to rethink their portfolio. But if real estate people generally think that they're providing office space, and if you actually talk to real estate owners, they don't even consider the people who occupy those spaces customers, their tenants so they're not really listening to the needs. As long as that's happening and HR is accepting that, then HR is going to have a less than optimal space, because what HR wants is space that engages the employee and produces productivity, and they don't necessarily want real estate with 15 year leases in big buildings. They want a more distributed portfolio that reduces that commute time and allows people to spend more time together in office locations when it's best to do so. Privacy when you show up the office, a lot of employees are complaining that there's nowhere to be private. Everybody hears every single conversation and they almost feel like they're annoying people. Third is wellness, like you pointed out, kyle. Yes, it was an older issue around COVID, but it's not just a COVID issue. There's a lot of people with preconditions that are sensitive to their environments, and that number is increasing dramatically as diseases like diabetes are rampant around the United States especially. And now they want to know what are the particulates, what's the CO2 level, how well is this space that I'm spending my time in? We have one high tech company that believes their space is probably better than most people's home space, and they want to communicate that effectively to people so that they do feel safe coming in. People expect better IT. I can pick up my laptop and walk to any place in my home, including the porch, and still have reception. People do that while listening to a video conference at home and at work. Equally, and flexibility. They do enjoy the idea of being able to go to the gym or being able to take the pet in for an appointment or go see the kids at daycare. Spend some moments with the kids that they couldn't spend otherwise. They appreciate that, as they can fit into their work a lot easier. So that means amenities, and which amenities are the ones that are really in high demand by the employees when they get to work. That's going to give them the flexibility, despite not being at home but being at the workplace, the things we find on the other side. Those are all things people want to not come to the office for. So you have to have a program put in place to actually decrease those objections. Those five and there's four reasons why people do come to the office, and it's also supported by a lot of research. Collaboration Creative collaboration, which means you're going to change your space. Where today, 80% of your space is desks and chairs and 20% is collaboration rooms. You're going to invert that. 80% of the in-place office is going to be all about collaboration and 20% is going to be desks and chairs. So that's a big change and it has an effect on how much space is needed and where people using the space is not a data set. That a lot of people have. Mentorship People go to the office to get mentored. Let's put in a proper mentor program that really matches people and gets them together physically as well as digitally, to really help with the engagement and the passion around what people are doing. Celebration People go into the office to celebrate Good things happen. People want to be together and social. It's important that people get together socially, not just in the office, but that they build relationships outside the office. And yeah, those are the nine items that I think are really practical set to use in creating a framework for creating great work space. And if you've delegated this to real estate and facilities in your company, then I think you're missing a huge opportunity, because they're only going to react, they're not going to lead on these issues.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. You know, I think it's fascinating because it's an area where, you know, I don't know that we people in human resources don't necessarily always get involved in these types of discussions, right, you know that what happens is that, you know, somebody brings us a seating chart, says, hey, where should I stick the new hire? Right, but it's pretty, it's pretty rare that there's a you know, there's a you know ongoing strategic dialogue around what you know what, how is this space set up and how are we structuring you know that, this approach so that it, so that it Fits the you know, the hybrid workforce as opposed to, you know, you got I don't know 30% of the cubicles are just constantly empty, you know, and there's in, people just sit there and then do the same thing there that they would do at home, right, Increasingly.Lou Blatt:
I'm seeing a new title, you know, like workplace strategist, workplace manager what are these people? And sometimes they report into real estate, sometimes report into HR. It's responding to this exact issue that no one is really stepping up to understand and create an environment where people are going to be really productive and really engaged. Real estate just sees it as providing space, sure.Kyle Roed:
So, yeah, so you know, I'm curious that you know, on the perspective of the organizations that were, you know, part of this group and providing some of the feedback, is the assumption that hybrid work is the future, that this is, this is what we will be you know Assimilating into in the near future, or are there? Are there outliers and or camps that think that you know work from home is the new normal, or or we're all going back to the office full time. What's the feeling there?Lou Blatt:
I think hybrid is currently, though, the way of working. Seventy some percent are hybrid or remote, and when you really start drilling in on the remote, find out that they are getting together. Maybe they're not getting together in an office building, but they are getting together, and so I think it's. Today are plenty of scores of successful companies that have said will be a hundred percent remote, and they usually it's usually core to their product as well, like Airbnb is a good example Spotify on Shopify these highly digital companies and Announce that they're completely remote. I think that will be a way for companies going forward, but they're still going to need to get certain groups of people together physically, because they won't be as effective as their competitive peers if they don't. There are tasks that are prevent to be better face to face still, despite using all the technology that we possibly can get our hands on. Nature journal Nature 2022 put sensors on people's heads to see where they were looking when they did tasks, and they counted the number of creative ideas that people could come up with, and the people who were physically together came up with two more ideas that their video conferencing counterparts. So I think it's it's proven that face to face collaboration is better and mentors are. People know that they mentor better face to face, but for knowledge based organizations, kyle, today is the day that everybody is already hybrid.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, yes, I'm curious that you know some of this dialogue and discussion is, you know, we're certainly hearing it from our employees and where you know, we're, you know, typically kind of caught in the middle between, hey, you know, what can we do, and is there some sort of a you know kind of a common ground that we can find here, the other, the other, you know party in this? That is part of the challenges. You've got entrenched management teams that maybe you know, don't don't understand or comprehend how challenging this is for an employee. So how are organizations kind of responding to what I would call the new school old school clash here, as it relates to the fact that we really are a hybrid work culture, at least in the knowledge sector?Lou Blatt:
Yeah, frankly, I see different forms of resistance. That is probably interesting to understand. One form of resistance is we define a policy at the executive level but we have no way of knowing if that policy is actually being implemented or complied with. And then the managers right underneath those executives, they know that too and they allow for a lot of degrees of freedom. Let's call it on how much you're complying with that policy. And in situations where they even have a choice to get certain data, they choose not to at the mid-level manager level because they don't want people taking actions termination actions on employees for not coming in, or performance review issues if they're not coming in all independent of their actual job performance. So it's like quietly not complying with the policy. And then you've got quite quitting, which is like a real thing in the press there for a while I don't know, lately I haven't seen it but it's a real thing where people are so disengaged from their jobs that they're quite quitting. They may even have another job at the same time, and it's not much easier to actually do that when you're in a remote situation and you've got the ability to be flexible, not be seen by people walking around on the halls to see how things are going, which was an old style of management. So I think people need to create a new data set. Kyle, and that's what you know Join is all about is. The one thing that I know, after all of this research and all of my personal experiences, is that nobody knows the real answers to all of these questions and that they're different for every organization. So creating a data platform is the only way to really implement Kaizen. Understand what your performance is today in terms of productivity costs, wherever you see the benefits coming from, and then make changes. See how it impacts the financials, see how it impacts engagement, and then make the changes again and again, and that's basic to continuous performance improvement, which is central to Kaizen.Kyle Roed:
So I'm curious to walk us through. So you know, I think this is an interesting, you know, interesting for us to wrap our heads around. So walk me through. New data set. You know what are some examples of some of those, some of those data points that we should be measuring and then reacting and responding to. What are some of those, some of those things that we should be thinking about a little differently.Lou Blatt:
Yeah, well, a few of the ones that most of our customers have taken a liking to are around space management. And so where are people using the space? What spaces are they enjoying? What spaces are they dwelling in? What spaces are they not using? You don't need to know who's spending time where, but you need to know that people are or are not spending time there. We've relied upon access control systems to understand occupancy. That is the card that is at the reader on the way in the building. But did you ever notice that you often don't use the card to get out of the building or get out of the office and it knows nothing about the time that's spent inside the space? So a lot about space management, which places people like and don't like. And then the other category, high level category, has been around wellness. So can we measure CO2 levels? Can we measure the particulates? Can we measure energy and temperature and humidity, noise and lighting? Lighting is like the number one request for people to have better lighting when they do their work. It's well researched we can get the 20% improvement in productivity just by giving people a better environment. To these starting characteristics of indoor environmental quality.Kyle Roed:
You're giving me flashbacks to the argument about the office is too cold or it's too hot and so, and so is touching the thermostat and so, and so is wearing a blanket. I can't remember the study, but somebody did a study. This has been a number of years ago, I think it was primarily in a manufacturing setting, which is why I took notice. But they looked into what actually impacts morale, what is the actual root cause of morale, and, unsurprisingly, a lot of it came down to kind of workplace leadership and culture. But much of it, especially in a manufacturing setting, had to do with the environment and how comfortable, how loud is it? How much natural light do I get on a regular day? How does it feel to stand on the concrete floor? Those sorts of things that after a while the physical environment really can impact the employee experience and morale at a pretty big level. It's interesting that now the data and the measurement capabilities are starting to catch up with some of this research that to all of us I think it sounds like you hear that and it's like well, duh, it's like I don't want to be somewhere that's too hot or too cold, or I don't want to be in a closet, in a dark closet doing my job all day long. But we don't necessarily have a way to remedy that necessarily, especially if we're dealing with a legacy building or something that we haven't been thoughtful about how we lay it out. So, as you're seeing these data sets come out and as you're supporting organizations, what are you seeing some of the reactions be? What are some of the outcomes of tracking these data sets? What are you seeing out there? I'm curious.Lou Blatt:
A few things that are interesting. Yeah, I like your bringing up the manufacturing. Most of my experience, honestly, is with corporate office, but in the manufacturing facilities certainly you'd run into much more basic issues and tracking the same things and it could be very interesting. But there's some. You know, it's like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. You know, if the health and safety are dealt with, then we'll start worrying about some of these other things. But in the office environment we've been discovering some very interesting things, like conference room, you know. So it's all about the collaboration space in the office, because that's where all the changes, from the whole hybrid thing People are going to come into the office for collaboration, then you'd better have the very best collaboration spaces for them to do it. If they come in and they find themselves doing Zoom or team sessions with someone on the second floor when they're on the third floor, they're probably going to be reconsidering coming in again the next time. We find that people will reserve rooms but not show up. People will show up in rooms that they haven't reserved, and that kind of information is necessary to understand just how much conference room, which kinds of conference rooms, what size conference rooms you actually need in order to support the various types of collaboration that's going on in your organization. So we our customers have been investing in a sensorization technology to understand the best usage of those conference rooms and then taking, whether it's you know, one kind of sensor, two kinds of sensors, three kinds of sensors, whatever, but really bring all that data into a data platform so that they can use that to make their conference room construction and planning decisions going forward. I'd say that's a great area of interest and certainly we see companies investing in wellness, so making sure that their buildings are tested for quality and then putting in the sensorization IOT environments to understand which things they need to work on where there's opportunity to improve the environment. And then, third, a lot of the buildings now have amenities to attract employees back into the space, whether it be cafeteria really amazing cafeterias and restaurants or they have amazing gyms. I've seen crazy nice open collaboration spaces. Well, are they being used? Are these things really attracting employees in and where are they attracting them in from? Are they coming from within the building? Are they coming from other buildings to enjoy some of these amenities? And that will help with understanding better the investment levels that people want to make in these various spaces and amenities.Kyle Roed:
It's fascinating. I think this is something where the physical work space is oftentimes is an afterthought right. A lot of times. We spend a lot, especially on this podcast. We spend a lot of time talking about leadership and kind of the human element of work, but it's easy to overlook some of these things that are really important to the employee experience and engagement, and I think that the approach of just making incremental improvements, as opposed to hey, let's put a ball pit in or let's try to do something crazy or funny which, side note, I have a location with a ping pong table but it never gets used, so we did try that. So I can't really take all, I can't talk too highly of that, but I think this is an important topic and something that we should be thinking about the broader employee experience and so I appreciate you bringing this perspective to us. Lou, I do want to shift gears. I want to get into the Rebel HR flash round. Are you ready? Sure, yeah, all right, here we go. Question number one where does HR need to?Lou Blatt:
rebel. Well, develop the right financial argument for hybrid and supporting hybrid If your organization is an already supporting hybrid and take that leadership role in the executive meetings to drive it independent of your current policy. Have the courage to make this change because it is the best approach, as long as it comes with the framework of. We're going to let our employees decide where and when to spend their time, within certain guidelines, certain guardrails. That educates them and gives them some guidance. I think that just that is rebelling a little, because you're not going to leave it to the real estate department to decide. Kyle you mentioned earlier, we haven't really thought about it. Hr doesn't think about these things. The reason is you couldn't do much about it anyway before because your leases were 15 years long and the decisions were made between other people that you weren't even involved with. But now understand your employees' home zip codes Overlay that with your available office space. See where you have office space for people to get together and where you don't. That minimizes the commutes for your employees. That will drive the kind of collaboration and ability to do mentorship that your organization needs.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. Side note, we've got a number of locations in my organization. One of the things we always do when we try to figure out if we are going to be doing an office move or anything like that, is we do a heat map and we figure out, okay, where do people actually live? I mean, it's really simple, you just plot it on a map and then you try to figure out, okay, what makes sense. Because you could inadvertently take somebody who has a 45-minute commute and make it an hour and a half, but on paper it doesn't look like it's that big of a deal Because of the number one reason why they don't want to come back in the office that you mentioned was commute. Well, you could have just given that person a reason to go find another job, right? And it could have been avoided if you had voiced that as an example, right?Lou Blatt:
And now you could add a lot. You can take your real estate footprint and basically break it up into lots of little spots. It's one big one Because there's lots of different kinds of space. Now you don't have to get that 15-year lease one in the building. You can get flex space, you know, a co-work space. You can get short-term space, space by the drink, by the day. Lots of different kinds of space. So think about it more globally and different ways to support hybrid Absolutely.Kyle Roed:
All right. Question number two who should we be listening to?Lou Blatt:
I think we should be listening to our employees. Number one, I think and I don't mean just in a way that allows you to justify your own opinions by selecting those employees that you want to talk to I think having a really robust part of this data platform is understanding engagement levels, understanding attendance levels and being able to get feedback, you know, anonymously from the employees, so that it's a constant input to this continuous improvement process.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely, absolutely Couldn't agree more. Last question how can our listeners connect to you and learn more?Lou Blatt:
Yeah, well, it's probably pretty simple. I think the best way is you can reach out for me on LinkedIn or you could just simply write me an email at myfirstnamelastnamejoinedigitalcom. That would probably be the best way to start a conversation, Kyle.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely, we'll have that information in the show notes. You know, open up your podcast player, check it out and, you know, learn a little bit more, lou. Thank you very much for the time and for giving us something different to think about as it relates to our employee experience.Lou Blatt:
Thanks so much for having me. It's a great opportunity to reach out. Thank you.Kyle Roed:
Thanks. All right, that does it for the Rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at Rebel HR Podcast, twitter at RebelHRGuy, or see our website at rebelahumanresourcescom. The views and opinions expressed by Rebel HR Podcast are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast. Thank you very much.