Sophie Wade | Founder of Flexcel Network and Host of Transforming Work podcast | Advancing workforce innovation

Transcript

DA: Welcome to TEN, the Tenant Experience Network. I’m your host, David Abrams. Today we are connecting with Sophie Wade, founder of Flexcel Network, workforce innovation specialist, speaker, author, LinkedIn instructor and podcast host.

In this episode, we learn about Sophie’s journey to her current role, which started with the experience of living in many different countries and studying people. She started out in strategy and finance and later focused on the future of work as her personal situation demanded working differently. Sophie is an avid observer of people and has used this skill to shape her view of the world and now the subject of work specifically. She points out that for the first time we are at a point where we are asking questions about how we should be designing spaces to meet our needs better. Sophie emphasized the need for everyone to recognize that we are in a period of significant change and now is the time to embrace where we are and engage everyone in the process of defining what in-office work looks like. We discuss how interdepartmental collaboration needs to take place to respond to the emerging needs of people. When it comes to technology, Sophie is a big proponent of experimenting, exploring and testing to see what works. We both acknowledge that communication is key amongst all stakeholders during this significant time of change. We are excited to share this podcast with you, so be sure to subscribe to TEN so you never miss an episode of the Tenant Experience Network.

Now I’d like to welcome to the show Sophie. I’m really glad you could be with us today and I’m really looking forward to our conversation.

SW: Me too, David. Thank you so much for having me. 

DA: Of course. So, to kick things off, tell us about your journey to your current position role. How did you get started?

 

SW: Oh, how long you got? No. So it’s a little bit of a securitist route, but I’ll get there very quickly. I studied science at the end of high school in England. You have to want to do more science. So I studied Chinese at university and then left England for where I’m from originally for Hong Kong and lived in Hong Kong for five years and then lived in many different countries around the world, which actually ends up making sense in terms of why I’m doing what I’m doing because it really helped me lean into wherever I was living and working, whether it was Germany or Hong Kong or Italy briefly and France for a year and now the States for a good long time to assimilate, to understand people better. And that really has sort of ended up where I am in terms of thinking about work and not having any assumption about how work should or not necessarily. There are so many different ways it could be because it is so different in many different countries around the world. So that was sort of how I got here. My first career was really all about strategy and finance. And then when I had two kids, that was when I started realizing that, you know, working very long hours and not really having any time to see the kids wasn’t really helping. And so I started looking at how work could be different, technology driven, and technology enabled. And that sort of got me to the future of work. And then now with more of a focus within that on empathy as being the way that we can get to understand each other more. 

DA: Well, I’m really looking forward to having this conversation and you’re being able to share your perspective, not only with your focus on work, but also thanks for sharing that perspective of more of a global view of what that looks like today. And as we know, there’s been so much change that has gone on. I think that perspective will be really helpful in our conversation. So I guess the question is, you know, why do you think you were so uniquely suited to this opportunity? You know, you had the opportunity to live in different countries, you clearly have a passion for the, you know, all things in and around work, but you know, what has helped you to become successful?

SW: I think I love to learn and I’m very curious. I really enjoy just on the way somewhere, walking down a street, looking down the side roads, which is amazing.For example, in Hong Kong, you’ll see so many fascinating things, but whether you’re in Hong Kong or whether you’re in New York, where I am right now, or anywhere else, you can learn so much. You see so much when you actually are paying attention and kind of going, well, I wonder where he’s going? I wonder what she’s doing? And why is there a cat hanging out there? You know, those are the type of things that really, when you start absorbing all this information, I’m kind of like a sponge, you just learn that much more about, or you ask yourself questions about, well, that’s not how I would assume that that would happen in this particular situation or scenario, that interaction. I wonder why not? And it was actually in going and living in Taiwan as part of my course. I lived in Taiwan for four months. And when I was sort of sitting there, and actually it was initially around a whole group of having food, and I was there trying to eat the food like this, and, you know, very British, upper, stiff upper lip, and, you know, back straight, food going, rice going everywhere. And, you know, they were sort of down in their meal like that. And I realized that some of the assumptions that I’d had about sort of things that were objective, that, you know, everybody, and, you know, cultures could be different, and the French could eat more cheese, and the Chinese might eat more rice. But ultimately, there were certain things which were sort of a given. And that really showed me from the get go in terms of being in Taiwan, and then being in Hong Kong, how different things could be. You know, you could have people, you know, in a taxi in Hong Kong, and then the guy will open the door, the driver will open the door, and he’ll spit on the ground, because there’s an evil spit God, and he has, you know, he has to get it out. So it really, that was the first time I said, well, hang on a second, what I know is not how it is, it’s just what I know, and what I’ve experienced. And so that really, I mean, you know, 18 or so, really made me stop and think and reset how I viewed the world. And I think that really has been absolutely fundamental to everything I’ve done, whether it’s in, you know, helping finance companies knew it often startups, but sometimes in big companies, and then later on now looking at work specifically. 

DA: Very interesting. You know, I’ve grown up in commercial real estate as a place where traditionally people came to work. But you know, what really drove me and what really fascinated me was just this whole notion of community. It’s because I like to get to the office. So since launching this podcast, we’ve always strived to provide a real time view into, you know, the commercial real estate industry. And you know, there’s a lot of bias and a lot of very polarizing proclamations that have been made and continue to be made. For both sides of this ongoing conversation around the future of work and where people work. And we really believe that we’re at a point in time now where the conversation should just be about doing great work. We should really stop about talking about, you know, where it has to be. And so from our perspective, you know, great places and spaces are the opportunity for where great companies can be built. So we’re really interested in discussing how commercial real estate can continue to evolve to meet people’s needs to meet the needs of the people of today. And then furthermore, how technology can further enhance both the in person and the virtual experience and sort of where the two shall meet. So diving in, I’d love to get your perspective. If you could share with our listeners, you know, how your business is continuing to evolve or innovate around the needs of both your audience as a podcast, podcast host and author and speaker, but also the company to which you serve in terms of the factors that are really driving or influencing the direction you’re taking.

SW: Oh, there are a lot of questions in that. So, all right. Starting off with how I, you know, I’ve worked in very, so very different situations. You know, the way that people think about work in Germany is very different. You know, you get to the work at nine and you leave at five. And that’s sort of how it is.I was working in an internet startup. So we’re the only people who weren’t working those hours or long hours. But some of those people were working late in the office or were working maybe the weekend, but they were also having to work remotely because that’s, you know, they were working, they were developing and they had a different technologist with some of the earliest people who didn’t have the same hours, who were pushing the boundaries of what work meant, even in very sort of structured situations like how people work in Germany. And so, you know, what’s interesting is the connection that we have to location and what that means and thinking about it differently and what supports us. And I have, I’ve been in consulting roles and I’ve been, you know, working in big companies and big offices. And so I’ve had a great variety of experiences like that. And the benefits or how I experienced those benefits, because I think that’s one of the things that I did learn is what I like and what I want and what helps me do this type of work versus, you know, strategy work versus, you know, serious writing and needing to focus, you know, all those different things are particular to me and how I work best. And I actually just found somebody, I can’t remember who it was, who is at their best at three o’clock, four o’clock in the afternoon. I crash, like if he and I work together, we would have a real problem. We might have to work on opposite sides of the country. So we have time zones helping us connect. So work has always been this, I’ve always looked at it as being something which is just, as you said, let’s work out how we can do our best work. And then how does location work with that? I was lucky enough about, I think it was maybe 10 years ago, maybe a little bit more than that. I did some work with Herman Miller, and it was very interesting to find out they have, they did a lot of research into all the different activities that make up work. And I think they actually found through all their research about 18, but they boiled it down to 10. And about half of them, it was sort of six versus four, in terms of some were together with other people, and some were very, very focused work. And so it was really looking at the office and thinking about what activities had to be, what were done, what were done where, what environments you needed, and the mobility that you needed, the flexibility that you needed within an office, in order to be able to meet the needs of different people, and all the different combinations that happened over the course of a day, and with all the different people and their particular needs and desires and preferences, which are going to allow you to be working differently and sort of optimally with that particular person, or with that particular team, which could. So there were a huge number of combinations and configurations that they needed to work with. And I think we discussed when we spoke the first time about, I saw this speech given by a guy, an architect who had designed the offices for Google X. And this was probably about eight, nine years ago, who was talking about how they needed then to have mobile whiteboards, which had a screen on the one side and a TV screen on one side and a whiteboard on the other side, and they want to be able to move it around. And so they were putting the electrical sockets in and having all the electrical points on the floor as well, so everything could be flexible and moved around. So I think when we can really think about work and be as curious as possible about how it might be done and who we’re working with, and which is going to change over time with different teams with different projects, we can really look at the office as being, what are the different things that we can do there? And what is a particular space optimized for currently? And what could it be better suited for in the future, depending on what we’re doing, what projects we’re doing, and what the different needs are. And there’s a lot of discovery that needs to happen there, because for the most part, we never, nobody ever said, you know what, the best way that we can work is to all be in the office five days a week, nine to five. We never said that. So if we’re now, and how much work has changed, the nature of work, how we’re working much more in teams than we used to, all the different technologies that we’ve enabled. So all the different tools that we’ve given ourselves, the way work has changed, the different types of work we’re doing, the different types of companies we’re working on and working with all over the world. So to start now and kind of go, okay, so let’s design it. That’s the fascinating moment.

DA: Well, that’s a great dovetail to the next question, because I was going to ask, either from your own experience, from, you know, those that you’re engaged with, you know, in terms of the office footprint, how do you think space requirements either are changing or will continue to change, you know, from a utilization perspective, and also just in terms of, you know, what ultimately people need? How do we turn the, you know, how does that space, the purpose of that space really influence engagement and the experience that it offers? Just as an anecdote, I was in our space, shared space, shared space just yesterday and with other technology companies. And I just took a moment where I just looked around the room. And I observed, you know, one person just over the shoulder of someone else looking at their monitor, you know, three people sitting around one other person just, you know, behind me and, you know, talking and having some informal conversation and just little pockets of that kind of interaction and collaboration all around me. And, you know, I just think that those moments in time are just so incredibly important. But what does that mean? You know, what does it, what, what, what, what, how do office footprints need to evolve or change? 

SW: Uh, it depends. The great casual answer. So, but it really does depend. And I think that’s one of the most challenging things about the future of work is that there are no cookie cutter models. I don’t like to talk about best practices. I talk about principles in terms of flexibility, in terms of, you know, individual customization or customization for the individual and for a team as they come together. And so that’s where the, this sort of flexibility, the, the modular aspect of it, uh, is, is important in terms of how an office is designed and how the office, you know, furniture is, um, you know, is kitted out. The, it’s important for people to understand how they work together, how their particular business operates. So, so in the same sector, uh, you can have, you know, three different companies, one may be completely, you know, very centralized, um, because it just happens that they’ve grown up like that. And the, with the founder came out of Philly. And so the central office is there and almost everybody is there with maybe, you know, a couple of satellite offices. Another one may have, you know, grown up in Cleveland and be much more distributed, you know, across the Midwest. I mean, it, it, how companies have evolved is very, very different and the people that are in and therefore the needs of their people and how they group together and where, where they’re traveling to and where their customers are. So it’s very hard to say, you know, in this particular sector on this, you know, particular way for that type of company, because every company is so different. And even if they were similar, the people who are working for them are different and have different needs. And some people have kids, some people don’t, and the people with, you know, on, on a particular team, some of them have kids and some don’t or elderly parents and all those different things that are always happening. And this is the thing that we haven’t, we haven’t really paid enough way so much attention to, which is the fact that we are human beings. And the anomaly has been working in this very rigid factory type structure, um, in the past, and this is not sort of maligning office spaces, but it really, we, it came from the factories and, you know, we, we had the machines in there. We took care of the machines and we’ve had a, a sort of transition, which, you know, the offices looked quite like factories. And now they’ve been evolving to much more interesting, uh, engaging experiences and the cubicle, unfortunately did not end up that way, and it was never designed to be like the rows of, you know, of a factory, but we have an incredible opportunity to create much more engaging, interesting, vibrant spaces where we can be easily collaborating together. And I would say to that point, those moments of collaborative collaboration can happen very, very well, virtually and in person and in combination. And I think it’s really important to say that because while we have, we are more used to sort of huddling around all of doing, looking at the screen together, it is very easy to do that, or it is very easy to learn how to, to be working differently. I remember interviewing, um, a woman and SVP at SAP, um, about, uh, I think in 2014, about, I was doing the six secret, the six secrets of, of collaboration for virtual, for working remotely, as I said, 2016, 2017, something like that. Their, uh, developers were typically sitting there with video channels open. So they could literally be, they could be coding or sort of looking up and kind of go, Oh, Hey David. And that was how they did it. That was how they mimicked the sitting side by side or sitting, you know, uh, you know, screens back to back in the office in a virtual, you know, in an online way. So there are many different ways that we can use the much more engaging and powerful and sophisticated technologies to, to give us the types of experiences. They won’t be identical, of course, but we can be using them in different ways to, to the, to the, to our benefit so that I might be able to do a specific piece of very, very focused work from home, but still be there for you because you and I need to be engaging in, and we just maybe leave a chat channel open so that, that, um, you know, as a voice channel completely open so that at any moment, you can just sort of, uh, ask me, you know, questions no, no problem, David, you know, we need to get this done. So I think when we can come at it with an open mind and really be thinking, trying to put some of those legacy habits, which is not easy, really isn’t easy and really thinking out of the box, like there is no box and let’s just pretend this isn’t a box. And then what would we do with it? And how would we come together? Um, and, and use it for the best possible in the best possible ways for our company, for our business, our customers, and our employees and non-employees, because there are more and more sort of contract workers and freelancers who are now part of that blended workforce. 

DA: There are a lot of stakeholders, and I think you’re very right that I think it’s an opportunity to embrace and engage all of them. And, and open mindedness, I think is an important characteristic that we need to bring to the table. Um, so we talked a lot about opportunity and it is incredible opportunity and particularly for commercial real estate, which is, you know, the largest asset class in the world. It’s a legacy industry. For the most part, it has not changed or changed very much. Um, so we’d love to get your perspective that if budget and resources were not an issue, um, and either as a real estate owner, a building owner or an occupier, what three new initiatives would you undertake to position either the real estate or the company for success over the next three to five years? 

SW: I think having a starting off with a culture of, uh, you know, a core value of flexibility. I think the flex, the having a flexible mindset and flexibility is a sort of value. So it really is infused is going to help, is going to reduce resistance and friction in all of this discovery and trying to work out the best ways to approach it. And with that comes open-mindedness, which is, which really means activating that, okay, this seems the obvious answer. Let’s try and consider at least one or two more possibilities and just keep pushing yourself to, to be thinking differently to be, because if you, if you’re very, very used to doing something the same way and been doing it the same way for 20 years, it is hard to change. It’s hard to be thinking differently because it’s just so much easier. I mean, the way the brain works, because I’ve done all this with empathy is you literally have the road most traveled. And as the synapses in the brain work like that, until you start making effort to change the way your brain works, it is, it is truly going to be harder to be thinking those different ways. So the more this sort of, you can, and we’re all in this together. So the good thing is, is that we’re all in this mess or in this situation where we’re all needing to explore what’s going to work for our company. So I think approaching all of this with as much flexibility as possible. And what I would say is that getting on with it now is really important because what I do see is there are there’s a band of companies that are, that have embraced the future of work and where we are and all these things, because where we work is just one piece of it. It’s a one, it’s a, it’s a core piece, but it’s only one piece of this, this huge puzzle of how we’re changing so much driven by technology. And there are a number of companies that are, that are not moving fast. They’re staying very much in their traditional sort of mode of working and where they’re working. And there’s a, the biggest band is everybody else. The more that one can move forward and start experimenting and start exploring and really engaging in and committing to it. I think that is the most, is incredibly helpful because it’s, it’s takes time. It takes experimentation. It takes iterations. And, you know, at the same time, as all of this is happening internally, everybody’s business is changing with technology. Customers are changing their behaviors. They’re changing where they’re working and, you know, what are they going to be needing? And how, how, how do we address, you know, they’re not buying the same places. They’re not eating the same places. All of these things are having an effect on all of our businesses. So we’re having to be incredibly, you know, flexible and adapting to all these different things, which affects how our businesses work, what we’re needing to do. We need to keep to be pivoting. So the more that we can embrace where we are recognized, this is an extraordinary period of change. And that, that’s going to, as uncomfortable as it may be, the sooner that one starts moving forward and recognizing, okay, so we’ve got, you know, that’s into work. Okay. I see that we could be doing that or how we could be using the office there. Let’s just see what, what works in the office. What is actually bringing people to the office? What are they enjoying doing there? Okay. Let’s do more of that. What isn’t working? What, what are people, you know, getting the schedules aligned so that people can actually find out when, you know, we hear so many complaints, I go to the office, you told me to go to the office and then nobody’s there. So figure that one out, you know, maybe, maybe get down to, you know, two, two days a week, make those ones work. Trust is going to be critical in order to get people back in the office, because I do see, you know, extraordinary noncompliance with these mandates. Why? Because if, if I’m going to go back to five days, if I’m just going to fear that you’re going to try and get me back in five days, if I come in for three days, so when we can start building up trust and saying, okay, we’re not, we’re not going to go to five days and, and really starting moving to outcomes based, you know, really thinking about trust, then you can start engaging people and like, not going to try and get you in the office five days a week. But when we’re in the office, what can we do? How can we maximize this and get everybody involved? So I think, I think embracing where we are having a flexible mindset, and engaging everybody in the process, I think it’s really, really important. And that way, everybody, everybody is, you know, owns the solution and is part of the solution, both out of the office and in the office, and can help suggest what kind of configurations, what kind of schedules, what kind of flexibility, what kind of activities, all of these things. It’s hard. So it’s not that you want to have everybody, you know, contributing ideas all the time, but there’s going to be some great ideas that come from that field. 

DA: Yeah. You know, I think I’m very anti-compliance. I really don’t think it’s about mandating or anti-mandating, anti-compliance. I just don’t think that’s the right solution. Because again, I don’t think it’s about, it’s a matter of saying how often we should be, you know, in a particular place of work, it should, it’s really about what we’re doing. And I think there could be different, I think we’re seeing now also where people will spend maybe a half a day at the office and a half a day, you know, working at a coworking space or working at a local cafe or returning home for the afternoon. You know, I think you talked about how hard it is to embrace change. And I think building operators, again, I spoke about the fact that it’s a legacy industry, but we are starting to see building operators understand that their business model has changed. They’re no longer in the space business. They’re really, really having to create what I like to say, destinations of choice. And I think that there’s, what we’re seeing is this increasing list of attributes that are directly contributing to why a place will become a destination of choice. And for us, it’s been all big, it really boils down to the experience that’s offered. And that’s both at the building level and at the, you know, the company level. And that’s really now driving, you know, decisions on where we work, how we work and whatnot. So I’m just curious, that whole phenomenon of experience, that it’s not just about coming to, you know, sit at a cubicle. How is that playing out for you in your business in terms of your, you know, what you’re speaking about, those that you’re engaged with in terms of where you’re consulting? Is this as much a theme in your business as it is for me and ours?

SW: Very much so. And it’s very interesting. I mean, in both books, actually, that I’ve written about the future of work, one’s more focused on empathy, or sort of human understanding. In both of them, I talk about the key three areas that need to be working together, which is HR, IT and facilities management. Because that is where, and facility management can also be helping recommend or, you know, making suggestions for people who are working for home and how they can do that appropriately. And, you know, what the best setup is and making sure that they have the technology and all those kind of things. But those three groups are incredibly important to set things up to be effective so that people can do their best work. You know, supporting the people, how they have the technology tools and the spaces that they’re working in or collaborating in, and how they, you know, how and where they’ll be able to communicate across all the different offices. So this really makes it more complicated. It has many more dimensions to it and facets to it than it did before. So I think this becomes really interesting. I mean, these are all strategic. You know, IT used to be a cost center. HR was certainly not seen as strategic in most organizations and facilities management sort of like, okay, put, you know, here’s the building and put the furniture in it and we’re done. No, that’s not where we are. And for some people that may not be such a welcome change, but I think it is an exciting moment to be rethinking and re-imagining what people’s needs are and they are dynamic. We are human beings. We’re not, you know, that sort of the factory setup is not what actually helped us do our best work. And so it really is looking at it as an experience and it’s not just an experience which is just about the furniture and all the layout. It is all of it. It is how people are interacting and the tools that they have. So working in this, you know, with these other divisions is going to be how to create that, you know, this very easy, seamless flow of people, technology and tools and location. So I think it’s really exciting.

DA: Yeah, no, thanks for emphasizing at that point. And I think, you know, in speaking with other CEOs, particularly of large commercial organizations, we are actually starting to hear that whole notion of, you know, that they’re not silos, you know, the IT, the HR and the facilities management, they’re not siloed. They need to come together. And even in adopting technology, it can’t be IT deciding and implementing. It’s got to work with HR. It’s got to work with facilities management, right? So there’s got to be more collaboration. And again, I think that speaks volumes about the opportunity going forward. But again, to your earlier point, this is still new territory for those teams to be collaborating and coming together and making decisions and analyzing the information that they need to ultimately choose the right direction. 

SW: Yes, and I, so, you know, we’re on a journey and it’s the, you know, some companies are ahead of the game. They’ve been sort of looking at it. And it is easier for younger companies because they don’t have the legacy mindset, the sort of entrenched routines. And so they are actually in, you know, they do have some advantage. So I think it is important for, you know, much larger and much more established companies in different segments of this, sort of along the value chain within the ecosystem to be trying to figure out, you know, whether it’s creating small teams and committees that have different people from HR, IT and FM to be able to collaborate and, you know, picking up the data. And this is really an important time to be asking employees. And, you know, so much is changing and we’re really moving away from command and control top-down leadership because decentralizing is so important to be able to meet customers’ needs. But also, you know, I talk a lot about the, you know, both the customer journey and the employee journey, like really trying to understand what the employee’s journey, I mean, that’s one way of orientating how internal divisions are thinking about and people who are serving customers, serving, sorry, companies as their customers within real estate, to be thinking about the employee’s journey over the course of a day, over the course of a week. How does this, you know, what does the people flow? What are the, how are they moving around the building and moving around rooms and different facilities in the course of their day on the different projects that they’re doing? And as I said, you know, that really does depend so much on the people, on the company, on the type of their work they’re doing. The technology group is going to be, you know, the developers are going to be sitting and working in different ways than people who are in marketing and sales. You know, so this is, when we have some, what’s so interesting to me is when we, so much of it is driven, all these chains have been driven by technology and so much about people. And so, and then now we’re, you know, when we’re thinking about space in a different way, we really have to be sort of pulling it apart and looking at it from the outside with very different, I guess, through a very different lens. So it is, it’s going to take a while to have the understanding that we need. There is a lot of information out there. Some of the companies like Herman Miller and Steelcase and all the rest of it from an office perspective, because it has been the architects who back in the 60s, early 60s, they were the ones who said, you know, people are only about 50% of their time actually in the cubicles. Why? Because if you only have meeting rooms and cubicles, more work already then, there was more teamwork, there were more situations where people needed to come together in twos or threes and there wasn’t space for them. So, you know, thinking much more about who is doing the work and how they’re best going to do it and then designing that. We haven’t really, as I said so much earlier on, we haven’t really said, well, how? How can we work best to your point as well? So that’s the interesting thing because somebody who’s got a building has to start thinking much more about how work is done. This is not just a shell. This is not just a place and I’m sort of like, I’m done. Like, no. 

DA: It used to be that view. It used to be just that shell and it was then really up to the employer, the company to do all that other thinking. And we’re definitely seeing more collaboration and, you know, building operators and owners are really thinking about their space. Not only, you know, the space that’s rented out but now common area spaces, lobbies. There are so many other opportunities to create that kind of dynamic environment. You’ve touched on technology. Let’s expand on that in just a moment. We’ll take a short commercial break and we’ll be right back and we’ll pick up on the threat of technology. 

COMMERCIAL BREAK

DA: And now I’d like to welcome back to the show, Sophie Wade, founder of Flexcel Network, workforce innovation specialist, speaker, author, LinkedIn instructor and podcast host. You have your hand in many different pots. So good for you on that front. Listen, commercial real estate continues to be impacted by the introduction of new technology. We’ve talked about that as a thread throughout this conversation. And it’s really playing a role in ultimately shaping how building operators deliver great experience to their tenants and also the occupier, how they engage with their employees. So any thoughts from your perspective, from your practice on how building and or occupier technology stacks are developing, are evolving, ultimately to create those great spaces and really facilitate the different ways in which people are now working. 

SW: Well, one thing that just suddenly sprung to mind as you were saying that is I remembered that I was looking at this new, it was to do with AI, thinking about AI, because AI has thrown another span in the works. I mean, so much was changing with technology before the AI aspect of it came in. And that really is changing so much. So it’s hard to have any predictions or because everybody’s job is going to be impacted to some degree, some much more than others in terms of how we’re doing our work. And so I saw, I was watching this video, which was somebody in facilities management who basically there was an AI, a GPT that had been trained with all the instructions about how the facility worked. So it just had to be asked kind of like, well, how, where does this plug connect to? Or how does this, where does this, how does this room get set up? Well, all taken care of. So there are so many ways that a particular building and how the facility is managed, that that’s going to change significantly. So that person, instead of having to be potentially running around and dealing with plugs and working out where the wiring is, their time, a huge portion of their time may be able to be freed up to take care of that experience that we’re talking about. It’s not necessarily adding more people, but it may be different people. It may be people who are skilled differently and thinking about things differently. But those things are an extraordinary flux right now because we’re still, we’re so, there’s so much experimentation going on in terms of how AI can be really helping this. And already we’re going from, in the beginning of this conversation, you and I before it started, we’re talking about how Zoom and all these teams and those other tools are really, they’ve been augmenting so many times. I mean, I found out that Zoom introduced 400 new features over the course of 2020 alone. So how much better are these video platforms going to be in two years time so that we can be thinking about meeting spaces? Like if I have a really amazing meeting space, but we’re video calling from one office, one office room to another, and I may just not get up because you’re right there, but our tools are so fantastic. And I just have to, I want to sort of do a bit of work and then get on and go and off in this direction. And the experience of this particular room is just where I love to work. So I’d rather be here. There are so many things that we just don’t know where it’s going yet. And so, which can be, certainly can be challenging. And when it’s a question of like, what investments do we need to make? That can be some of the fundamentals in terms of making sure things are modular, making sure things are mobile, and within that office space. And what are the key areas that we need? Well, one of the things was a very interesting article before the pandemic, we were talking about hub and club. So that bringing people together to have those kind of sort of hubs and collaboration. And the club aspect of it, like bringing together all the people who are in the area or the greater area to for all hands meetings or team building events or whatever that might be. So what are the specific things that we do know? And then how can we sort of mitigate the fact that we still don’t know a lot of things and how they’re going to evolve over time. So I think what we can anticipate is there’s going to be enormous amounts of change over the next two to three years that are going to be hard to predict. But therefore using this time right now as so many others are to experiment, to explore, to test and see what employees like, what they don’t like and at different ages. And I do do a lot of stuff or work to do with Gen Z, but I don’t, you know, labels aren’t particularly helpful apart from that for me, it’s a question of where people are in their sort of trajectory over the course of their learning. Are they new in the workforce, in which case all the particular spaces when people do come together for onboarding, I don’t think they necessarily need to be, you know, in the office for a year onboarding, but that can be, there could be particular spaces that are really good for that type of onboarding collaboration. Or if it is, you know, allowing people who are maybe in more phasing out, they’re sort of, you know, where boomers are now, many of them are phasing out and wanting to spend more time working from home, but still giving, bringing the benefit of all their expertise and knowledge, but not in a full-time basis. What kind of environment and setup in the office that they want to be there? And how is that going to be facilitated outside the office space? Because those are very connected. For those people who are doing that, those two spaces are part of, or together are part of their work experience. It’s not just, you know, one or the other that somebody has to take care of. 

DA: And technology is going to play a role in how all that comes together and stays together. And I think, you know, you’ve raised a couple of points, but I think also the way in which technology providers are collaborating, you know, not only within their own company, but with these new partners, with the partner, the occupier, the builder. I think that you’re right. There’s so much change still to come. And unless the lines of communication are very open, I think you’re going to get, you know, technology that is built, that has limited value. And then, you know, implementing technology as costly, as time-consuming, as expensive. It’s got to be able to survive sort of these, you know, transitions and taking the learning and then iterate and continue to evolve. So as a technology company ourself, we’re constantly looking at ways that we can still be, you know, sort of leading, but also make sure that our clients are a part of that journey with us. 

SW: And this is where I find what’s very interesting now is we think about ecosystems. So this is, we’re looking at systems right now. We’re not, it’s not my company and then I have my customers and I have my employees who sort of come in. We’re really looking at along the value chain because if everybody is, everybody’s business is moving and evolving, we’re also moving much more, we’re working much more closely together. And so, you know, I’ve had many, good number of clients in the SaaS space and what I saw was so interesting to see how close they were to so many of their big customers who were demanding to be, as in the technology business, who are demanding to have a say as to which some of the next features were that were going to be coming out because they’re kind of like, I’m a big customer and I want this new particular feature that you’ve said I want you to reprioritize. And they’re the people who know what they want, they know what they need and they know what their own customers are needing. And so that’s when we’re, you know, this integration and much more, and sort of alignment and values alignment too along that supply chain, which helps, which does help also mitigate surprises and a lot of money being invested where it’s not going to be valid, it’s wasting money. So I think that’s where, you know, this greater collaboration is going to be important to help people be moving together and exploring how all those, what the different elements are, how they’re affecting and having knock-on effects on each other.

DA: I agree, we’ve got to drive more value for all the participants, for all the stakeholders.

SW: And work out, you know, what probably isn’t going to happen. Oh, I’ve seen this, I’m at a particular, you know, part of the value chain that you may not have seen this, but I’ve seen that. Let’s just try and work out what that means and then sort of move together and make some strategic decisions that align. 

DA: Right, agreed. Sophie, I always love to end our show with an opportunity to get to know you a little bit better on a personal level. So our closing speed round, we asked a number of questions to do just that. Looking back, what is the one piece of advice that you wish someone had given you when you first started your career? 

SW: Well, I have kind of followed what I thought was really interesting. And that’s actually what people are allowed to do now. So, and I really enjoyed doing that. I mean, a lot of people had no understanding. I didn’t know how to interview me or talk to me. They’re kind of like, well, one guy actually said to me, it looks like you’ve been, you’re on the run from Interpol. And I’m like, yes, and they haven’t got me yet. So I would say that that was a very, that was very exciting and very rewarding. And so, and I really enjoyed that. And it did have a rhyme and reason to it, but I didn’t really think about so much at the time. And that would be something sort of like whatever choices that you’re making, be very thoughtful about why you’re making them. And so moving around, that’s fine. But know what you’ve learned from this particular situation before you move on to the next one. And so you can be thoughtful and you can find, you can find out more about where you’re going and why you’re going there. Because there are so many more opportunities now and it can be almost confusing that that’s going to help you get there where you want to go faster. 

DA: Right. Do you have a favorite book or podcast that’s positively impacted your approach to work and life? 

SW: Well, a book that actually is just about to come out on TV is The Gentleman from Moscow. And that just, it was one of my favorite books for the last 20 years. It didn’t have an influence on me, but I think, oh, in terms of work, I’m just looking at all my books over there. I think- 

DA: You got the bookshelf.

SW: Yeah, yes, I have, there are so many books there. I think Theory U is a very interesting book. It’s a very interesting one. And that is really about unlearning. And it was a word, unlearning was a word that was brought to my attention by a friend of mine who works at Atlassian called Dom Price, Dominic Price. And unlearning is the, Theory U is that you sort of, when you have all these legacy habits, they don’t help you.

DA: Right. 

SW: When you’re moving into a very, very different environment and situation. And so it’s sort of stepping back from all of that. And it does get quite philosophical and even spiritual at times, but it’s very sort of, the strong idea is the theory of stepping back and distancing yourself from many of the things that you, the ways that you have been doing things and then being able to step forward in a new direction and sort of absorbing all of that. And I think that can be a helpful and very interesting way to think about it for when people do have deeply entrenched habits and ways of doing things. I do love change. So I don’t have it in all areas. I do have it in some areas. So, you know, those sticky things that are hard to change those habits or introduce new habits. So Theory U by Otto Scharmer. Scharmer? 

DA: Okay. Awesome, awesome. Name one way in which technology has improved how you live or work. 

SW: Ooh, well, here I am. I’m sitting here. Yes. The obvious. The obvious. I think I have lived most of my life outside my country. And so I’m, you know, English. And when I first moved to Hong Kong, I couldn’t afford to really call my parents and there was fax machines. And so I had to learn to live much more, independently, singularly, having decided to move far away. And the fact that whether we are, you know, 5,000 miles away or 50 miles away, the fact that we can actually create these connections, which are created in person or sometimes obviously created virtually now, and then cemented and augmented and reinforced and deepened through all these different other means, whether it is a, you know, one of the things I’ve thought was very interesting about Snapchat, it was like texting, but with a photo. I’m like, okay, I get that. So there are so many, so I was like, that makes lots of sense because an emoji, you know, only goes so far. So the fact that we have all these different visual tools, we have, you know, emojis are trying to add the emotion to it. So I think there’s some really great ways that we are able to connect. And my friends are all over the world. And that has really enabled me to be, to feel the community that I have everywhere much more closely than obviously I ever was able to before. 

DA: I agree 100%. Listen, as commercial real estate continues to evolve, what skills do you think that, you know, building operators are going to be looking for in people? It used to be, you know, you wanted people who knew how to keep the lights on and the air conditioning balanced and so forth. But as we’ve all, we’ve talked about for the last short while, the world has changed. So, you know, as a person that manages or operates real estate or a facilities manager for, you know, an occupied space, what skills are they going to be looking for going forward? Because I think it’s going to change.

SW: I think it’s changed. I mean, the sort of the easy answer is somebody who’s interested in to learn. I mean, that’s what we all need to be learning from, you know, age three, is the capacity and the ability to learn because technology is moving so fast and we’re always needing to be learning new technology. And so, while it may not seem that there’s so much technology necessarily in some of those roles, there will, that ability to sort of say, okay, we’re going to be doing things differently and maybe I’m using AI to be managing that aspect of the facility. And this, we got to create this experience. So I need to be dealing with event people. So having that learning capacity and having curiosity, I think are going to be so important in every role to not be, so as not to be caught unawares or blindsided as things continue to change. Because for the next, you know, as you’re saying, yes, for the next several years, there’s so much that’s going to be changed. And then, you know, maybe it will settle down in different ways, who knows? 

DA: Yep. If you were not doing what you’re doing right now, what would you be doing instead? 

SW: Well, if I’d done anything else earlier, I would have been a dancer, but I actually worked out earlier on the, you know, that wasn’t going to make, there was, you could only do that for so long and then you have to do something else anyway. Right. Well, I, you know, I love to explore. So it doesn’t really matter what it’s in. And it, so for me, this is exploring work. I’m very passionate about, I’m really interested in the connection of people and work. And there are different aspects of how people and work connect because it’s, well, people and business. So I think there were, you know, different elements. I think where technology is going now is very, very interesting and how we’re leveraging that. So I’ve always been working at, you know, digital media, a lot of media. And now that this sort of my second career has been sort of the people side of that. So I think it would be, it would be digging into, you know, a company or the types of company that are really investing in how we’re changing, probably an AI, you know, supercharged.

DA: Right. 

SW: That goes into people like, how are we thinking? How are we working? What are we going to be, how are we going to be impacted by this? We need to get a lot better at being human. 

DA: Right, 

SW: I mean, these offices, these office spaces that we need to be creating need to be elevating us and sort of enabling that human genius, what separates us from machines, that enables us to do better work, to come up with these spontaneous ideas, which really does differentiate us from, you know, the augmented and superpowered AI that’s coming along. So I think that would be the area which I would sort of move into to kind of say like, what makes us really special as humans? What, where are we superior? Because we need to get better at that and really lean into it. 

DA: I love it. Well, I hope that we all make inroads on that front and on that effort. And I think we will. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you better. I look forward to connecting again and I hope on my next visits to New York, perhaps we can connect in person. 

SW: Absolutely.

DA: I always love to follow up with our guests and find ways to, you know, go full circles, to start perhaps digitally or online and then to have the opportunity to meet in person. So thank you for joining me on the program today and let’s continue the conversation. Let’s continue to engage and let’s continue to move our, you know, the world of work forward. And I think it’ll be very exciting times ahead.

SW: I think so too, David. I think there’s so many different things that can be explored and created and evolve. And I’m excited about the future. And thank you so much for a great conversation. Really appreciate it. And I look forward to seeing you in New York.

DA: Lovely. Thank you so much. Take care now.

DA: I want to thank Sophie Wade for joining me on this episode of TEN and for continuing the global conversation around buildings being part of a robust ecosystem, helping to build great companies and that they are vital in the effort to cultivate and support great people and teams.

The future of the workplace will likely take many forms, and we will continue to explore what that looks like together. Subscribe to TEN for more conversations with leading CRE industry professionals and experts who all have something to say about tenant experience and the future of the workplace.

We love hearing from you, so if you enjoyed this episode of TEN, please share, add your rating and review us through your preferred podcast provider. If you or someone you know would like to be a guest on a future episode, please reach out to me directly at david@hiloapp.com. And until our next episode, I wish you all continued success in building community where you work and live. Thank you.

Lisa Davidson | Vice Chairman | Savills North America | An inspiring journey from Tenant Rep to Proptech investor

Season 5 / Episode 5 / 46:17
In this episode, Lisa sheds light on key market drivers influencing real estate decisions, such as the rise of amenities and spec suites. She describes the future of work as “accommodating employees with great space.” The impact that unique community spaces have on potential tenants as they are touring prospective spaces is something else she sees in the market.

Rob Kumer | CEO | KingSett Capital | Trends and success strategies in CRE

Season 5 / Episode 4 / 53:34
In this episode, Rob shares his 3 pillars for success in the office category and speaks about the importance of experience and the technological advances impacting all asset classes. KingSett is very focused on decarbonization, and energy management including deep water cooling and implementing new lighting systems.

Lisa Davidson | Vice Chairman | Savills North America | An inspiring journey from Tenant Rep to Proptech investor

Season 5 / Episode 5 / 46:17
In this episode, Lisa sheds light on key market drivers influencing real estate decisions, such as the rise of amenities and spec suites. She describes the future of work as “accommodating employees with great space.” The impact that unique community spaces have on potential tenants as they are touring prospective spaces is something else she sees in the market.

Rob Kumer | CEO | KingSett Capital | Trends and success strategies in CRE

Season 5 / Episode 4 / 53:34
In this episode, Rob shares his 3 pillars for success in the office category and speaks about the importance of experience and the technological advances impacting all asset classes. KingSett is very focused on decarbonization, and energy management including deep water cooling and implementing new lighting systems.