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From “Me” to “We”

Release Date: January 26, 2021 • Episode #150

For almost a year now many companies have had to work remotely – changing the way in which their employees interact and some companies had an easier time absorbing that change than others. Knowing that the employee’s experience can have a direct effect on the customer experience, it’s important to explore all aspects of how CX can be improved. Host Steve Walker welcomes Shelly Langona, president of RJE Business Interiors, and Sam Julka, the president and founder of DORIS research, to discuss their recent study on workforce collaboration and productivity and how it can be affected by the workplace environment.

You can request the study by contacting RJE Business Interiors on their website, rjebusinessinteriors.com.

Shelly Langona and Sam Julka

Shelly Langona (RJE Business Interiors) and
Sam Julka (DORIS research)
Connect with Shelly
Connect with Sam

Highlights

The future of the workspace

Shelly: “…probably something different needs to happen with my space. Maybe I need more, maybe I need less. Maybe I need the same amount. But what I need inside of there is going to look very different. And so we’re helping people identify and working through that process with them. So I think the future is still undetermined from the standpoint that people are still working through what they need. But I think we’re going to see a lot more collaborative spaces and a lot less of these individual workstations or private offices that might have existed before.”

“Me” to “We”

Sam: “So I think I think that space will transform, like Shelly said, maybe away from the individual, maybe even more from that “me” to “we” that we’ve started to experience… folks want to have opportunities to maybe not commute every single day into the office. Maybe I don’t have to fly out to Denver for a meeting that I can just do over a Zoom. And I think that we’re going to continue to get creative in terms of when and where we are in physical space.”

Transcript

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Steve:
It's well-established that the employee experience can directly affect the customer experience, which means how your employees work together matters.

Sam:
I think that space will transform maybe away from the individual, maybe even more from that "me to "we" that we've started to experience, folks who want to have opportunities to maybe not commute every single day into the office. I think that we're going to continue to get creative in terms of when and where we are in physical space.

Steve:
Understanding how your employees collaborate, especially in this age of working remotely on this episode of The CX Leader Podcast.

Announcer:
The CX Leader Podcast with Steve Walker is produced by Walker, an experience management firm that helps our clients accelerate their XM success. You can find out more at Walkerinfo.com.

Steve:
Hello, everyone. I'm Steve Walker, host of The CX Leader Podcast. Thank you for listening. On The CX Leader Podcast, we explore topics and themes to help leaders like you leverage all the benefits of your customer experience and help your customers and prospects want to do more business with you. For almost a year now, many companies have had to work remotely, changing the way in which their employees interact. While I don't have specific numbers on the subject, I can imagine some companies had an easier time absorbing that change than others did. And since we've established in previous episodes that the employees experience can have a direct effect on the customer experience, it's important to explore all aspects of how CX can be improved. I'm really excited about my guests on this episode, one I've known for a long time, and the other I met through the one who I have known for a long time. So I just met the other. But they're really, really two really bright people in their industry. And I just had the privilege of watching them present the results of a fascinating study about workforce collaboration and productivity and how it can be impacted by the workplace environment, whether that environment is your home office or a physical office or a hybrid of the two. In fact, as a small business owner myself and having a fairly significant investment in my own office atmosphere and stuff, this was a topic that was of great interest to me because right now I have a lot of office that nobody's using. But it's been interesting to see that even just in the past few weeks, since New Year's, you know, there's more people that are coming into the office every day. So let me introduce you to Shelly Langona, who is the president of RJE Business Interiors here in Indianapolis. Shelly, welcome to the podcast.

Shelly:
Hi, Steve. Good to see you.

Sam:
And Sam Julka, who is the president and founder of DORIS Research. Sam, thank you for also being on the program.

Sam:
Thank you. Excited to be here.

Steve:
So I got to tee this up a little bit for our listeners who are really customer experience professionals. But I think this topic, you know, when we first when you guys showed me this a couple of weeks ago, I was just flabbergasted with how good this work was that you've done. And I just know it's going to be of interest to our listeners. So full disclosure, Shelly Langona, I have known her basically her whole career in her company, her family's company has decorated the last two offices that we have built for our company. So it's a long relationship. And obviously they're a leader in kind of the office equipment office design space here in the Midwest, part of the United States. And so, Shelly, if you want to just give a little perspective on this and sort of how you a little bit more about your role in RJE and then also why you wanted to go out and study this, I think would be helpful. And then we'll we'll go to Sam for a little more of the details on the study itself.

Shelly:
Yeah, absolutely. And it's been fun to know you for so long, Steve. And then it come around. We haven't talked in a while, which we joke for like nobody's seen anybody in a while. But it's nice that we can we can do it this way. So I met with RJE for just over 12 years and RJE is a workplace solution organization. Our goal is to help our clients fulfill many needs, primarily around space, but obviously around different things they're trying to fulfill. And that has a lot to do with other people and their culture. And that is a huge thing for RJE. And that's exactly what launched us into talking with Sam and her team at DORIS about this study. As you can imagine, when the pandemic hit for us, a company again based on culture and people and thriving on helping people in their space. It's a bit of panic, right? We're all like, how are we going to manage this ourselves, let alone how do we that partner for our clients? So I can't take all of the credit for starting to talk with Sam and her team about this, our owner, Denny Sponsel, for those who may know him, he definitely was very passionate about figuring out how we best help our clients, but also how do we really understand what is happening. And I'm sure, as you heard, I know Sam heard, as the pandemic hit, everyone had all the things like, oh, this is going to happen or that's going to happen, or I'm more productive at home or I'm going to work at home forever or I need to be in the office or whatever it may have been for them. It was a lot of just that. People saying, I think I think this might be I've heard my brother say all of these things were happening. So then he took it upon himself and he talked to our leadership team. We have four markets across the Midwest here. And he said, I have this idea. What do you guys think? How do we really dig into finding out what people from different markets, different sized companies in different industries are really saying about what they see of the future of the workspace? So in true Denny fashion, you know, he charged into a meeting room that Sam and one of her partners were working in one day in our space. And he said, I have something I need you guys to help me with. I have this problem, this thing that's quite frankly nagging me and driving me crazy. How do we sell for this and how do we find out what people are really thinking. And Sam will tell you a little bit more about that. But one of the things we all warned Denny is it may not come out the way that you think it might, but that's actually the best part of it, is that it was going to come out to be something that was the truth about how people were really feeling, what they were seeing.

Steve:
So, Sam, I met you just a couple of weeks ago when you presented this information to me more as a client of RJE and it kind of a small business owner that's kind of worried about some of these issues. But you have an interesting background. And you found this research company, so why don't you just before we get into the results of the study, just tell us a little bit about your story and how you formed DORIS and what the focuses of DORIS research.

Sam:
Yeah, sure. Thank you so much. I'd love to. So DORIS was founded on the heels of a graduate school thesis project that I did back in 2012. And so I actually had worked as an interior designer for several years after completing my undergrad, and I ended up going back to school and I pursued a master's degree in design research and design thinking. And while I was doing that, I realized that there was maybe a hole in the industry that I had just come out of. And so I had I would normally work on these large scale interior design projects for these commercial office spaces, and we would engage, I don't know, a handful of people in these projects. And so talk about customer experience and put that into who is the customer, sometimes within any large organization. It's also the employees. Right. And so through learning about design research and design thinking, I thought could we create a better experience for the folks that work within an organization that's thinking about making physical change to their space. So think about how detrimental that experience or how traumatic it can be for the folks that go to work every day and are very used to something similar. And then all of a sudden sort of without any input, a handful of people change it on them. So I tried to understand and research, could we build a process that would be much more inclusive of, let's say, many of the employees that worked within an organization when that when that moment in time was going to happen. And it happens to all organizations every now and again, just like you talked about, you all have made a few changes just within your tenure. Right. So I founded a company on the heels of grad school called DORIS. The company that I founded is called DORIS, and it's named after my grandmother, Doris who lived to be 98. DORIS is an acronym as well. It stands for "Design Oriented Research for Impactful Solutions." So we get to kind of talk about a person and talk about research when we're introducing a company that's that's really all about people.

Steve:
So that's a really cool story. And thanks for sharing it and congrats on your success here with with your vision and dream for this. So when Denny barged into your conference room and came to you with this idea, you know, I mean, you've known Denny a while. Did you think he was crazy or did you see some brilliance in there?

Sam:
Denny, what I love about Denny is his passion. I don't think I've ever gone to work one single day and where Denny was around and he wasn't in a good mood and passionate about something. And so when he rolled in and we were probably deep in the middle of some strategic meeting and just started telling us, I'm so aggravated. My neighbor says they're more productive at home, how do they know that can't be true? And so in the room with me was our vice president of operations at DORIS. Her name's Megan Tooman and she's a master's degree in statistics. And so she kind of immediately knew, I think I can… I think I can help Denny here with he's looking for data. He's trying to get us to come in and sort of better understand what's his neighbor even saying. Why are they saying what does this mean to them? So Megan immediately said, Denny, give me about a day. I think I can frame something for you that we can actually go out and try to better understand, really the problem that you're facing. That is, you know, people are talking about something, but maybe maybe we don't know exactly the nuance level to what to what they're experiencing and what they're saying. Maybe we can go help try to define that better.

Steve:
You know, this podcast is typically listened to by customer experience professionals, and very few of them went to school to become a customer, customer experience professional. Many of them sort of got drafted into this role. But there's an element of them that have come out of the pure market research background. So one of the things that really intrigued me about your presentation was the elegance of the research design that you did to try to study this problem. So I I really believe, like a big part of our audience will love a quick description of of the methodology that you developed and how you went about collecting this information. So can you just give us a kind of a brief overview of the methodology that you design?

Sam:
Yeah, for sure. And I mean, I'm a huge research nerd and I have found my people here. [Laughing] So when we talk about design research and if we were going to like, look it up, it sits in a different camp than market research, but it's probably adjacent. And I think, you know, what folks might initially assume design research is, is that it's we're doing research to inform some kind of a future design outcome. But there's there's sort of another level behind design research. And what it is, is it's thinking about researching something from the lens of a designer. And so it's different than scientific research when we're going to go into design research, all of the tools and methods and protocols that we're going to use, we're building them from, again, the lens or the thought process of a designer. So they're going to be very high touch something that is and that an individual, a person we hate to say the word user, because we want to make sure that people know that we value them as unique people. We want to design a method that they're going to want to engage with. And that's probably coming through. Even in the delivery that you saw, Steve, of how we're presenting, what we're finding. We want it to be easy, quick to understand. So in this particular study, I think what you're asking me is maybe how did we collect our data? So we are in the middle of a pandemic virus, traditionally loves to be in front of people and engaging them. We do a ton of interviews. Our favorite thing is to be in a room with someone and we like to pepper them with questions, kind of like you get to do here on this podcast. We're very curious, but we also like to have very tactile tools when we're doing that. So we might be asking them to sort cards or arrange popsicle sticks, mean anything that can kind of unlock the way they're thinking about something in the middle of a pandemic that became harder. We've got very good at using tools on Web conferences such as Zoom. But we it wasn't just still a straight interview, kind of verbal. We have all kinds of tools that we end up engaging them with or sorting things digitally. But we did several interviews in this particular project. We did, I think seventy seven one on one interviews across 16 different organizations to really learn what was going on with people, whether they were working remote in an office somewhere or some kind of hybrid of the two. And then here's where it gets really nerdy. I think maybe Megan, our statistician, built built a tool that all of our participants installed on their smart device. And they quantified for us what they were doing throughout a day. So we were able to see how were people meeting and then how were they collaborating? How are they engaging? What types of devices were they using? How effective were their meetings, what types of meetings? Where they with who where they with, how long were they? So we had all this quant data that we were able to map up with this qual data and then really tell an interesting story.

Steve:
And again, I signed up for your presentation really out of my own selfish business interests and kind of some issues that I was dealing with related to my office space and my employees. But the more we talked, the more it struck me that this is a thing that customer experience pros need to be on top of. So I just think it's a tremendous resource.

Steve:
I want to take a moment to tell you about Walker's new report, "Next-Level CX for B2B Companies," which focuses on helping B2B companies rise to the next level of CX excellence. Walker collaborated with Qualtrics XM Institute and discovered some insightful conclusions about CX maturity and how B2B is performing compared to B2C. Download the report for free today at cxleaderpodcast.com/nextlevelCX.

Steve:
So, Sam, one of the things that was most fascinating to me is and you'll you'll do a better job of setting this up, but for for my purposes, you know, we kind of use corporate speak when we think about our – not our users – our people; are our most valuable resources. That we use corporate speak. But they interpret it in a different way. That has a lot of meaningful implications for how we do work and then how we also engage people and work, especially in these unprecedented times. So could you give us just a little talk through that and share a little bit of that?

Sam:
Yeah, I think this is my favorite part of this study and it's something that we talk about a lot at DORIS. And it's foundational even to many of us have this master's degree in qualitative research. People do not understand, maybe you would call it jargon, we always call it tribal language. It's hard for people across diverse backgrounds to assimilate with something that's tribal to one group. And we ended up studying five different we're calling them components of this study. So they were creativity, innovation, strategy, collaboration and productivity. So we just as researchers, what a fun project we got launched into the world on. Go look at those things.

Steve:
And that's to me, that's corporate speak.

Sam:
That's very corporate speak and jargon. Right. So…

Steve:
I use these words all the time.

Sam:
And we all do. We all do. And it's and then we we all understand them differently. We all apply our own definitions kind of behind the scenes to those words. And what's fun about the way that we did the research was we're talking to all these people very qualitatively and we get to bring all that data back in. And our researchers here at DORIS have these very grounded in theory, very specific ways in which they go about sifting through this qualitative data. And when they started to do that, something that jumped off the page to them was that we would ask somebody a question about one of those words and they would feed us answers back in different types of languages. And so, for example, when people talked about creativity, what we started to find through patterns was that they they immediately started talking about energy. And so they would say, well, it's I get a lot of energy when I'm with. And so that word energy started slipping in everywhere. And we thought, OK, there's something to this when people what creativity means to people, your everyday regular people is energy. And that's what they feel and that's what they want. And so all five words ended up pairing up with different words that were more meaningful to your sort of everyday person that doesn't care about corporate jargon. We remember back to when Denny kind of burst into that room, what he was interested in understanding was productivity, because he was kind of frustrated with everyone saying they were so much more productive at home. And what Danny was hearing probably from a let's call him a C suite executive, what Denny was hearing was businesses are so much more productive with everyone working from home. That's probably in his head how he was translating that. But when we started to get out and talk to people, what we better understood was when they were saying productivity, what they really meant was their individual responsibilities. They were able to focus and fulfill those types of individual tasks at home better. And that's what they were saying. But that just wasn't what Denny was was hearing. So we started to talk with Denny about it as there's sort of two types of productivity that are coming forward here. There's we called it little "p" productivity when we're talking about an individual and they're talking about productivity because they're able to check things off of their list. That's what they're saying. But when we're talking about the overall productivity level of a business or an organization, that's not what people are. They're not translating it to that. You are maybe at an executive level, but that's not what your neighbor is saying. And that's not what most people are saying when they're saying they're there's so much more productive at home. They might be individually, but there's a much greater system into what productivity is for an organization.

Steve:
There was another one I think you talked about that actually was collaboration. How does that translate?

Sam:
Collaboration to me was was it pretty straightforward. People associated collaboration with accessibility. So I cannot collaborate with my colleagues or anyone if I don't have access to them. And to me that that made a lot of sense. The one additional one that sort of surprised me was innovation. And so when people talked about innovation, the word they used in association with innovation was communication. So I need to be able to communicate with a wide variety of people if I'm going to be innovative. And so sort of at the individual level, they knew that they they kind of couldn't do that in a vacuum. And so that word communication became such a hot topic alongside innovation and again, that one is just so emergent to me as a researcher, I would have not thought of that in the beginning.

Steve:
Shelley, back to you. But what does this hold for the future of of office design? It's obviously it's dependent. Not everybody can work from home. You know, we have to I keep reminding my folks of how lucky we are of how well our business has translated. And, you know, kudos to those folks that are out there really on the front lines in this situation. But just sort of some overall thoughts or topics you see about the future of of office design.

Shelly:
Yeah, I'll go back to the way that the study that Sam's team performed for us ends, and that ends with these three different models. Right? If you were only at home, only in the office, or if you're in a hybrid model, what what could those scenarios look like? And I think that's the first thing organizations have to really identify and think through for themselves. Because when you think about the future design of the workplace, it's be easy for people to assume that an RJE or someone could come in and tell them exactly, you need this many individual workspaces, you need this many collaborative areas. You need this many things. And I think we're seeing is that through Sam's work they did for us is that this hybrid model is most likely going to be the model in which a lot of people go back into the office. And so that can look many different ways for people. Right. Is it certain departments that come back? Is it a rotating schedule? What does that look like? But when you go back to creativity and innovation and collaboration being these really foundations that people are like, that's where the success of moving a business or lies. That's the type of work we need to happen in the workplace. Right. Maybe those individual tasks are getting done at home, as Sam alluded to, checking off my list. But when I need to get to this foundation of a driving business and moving our goals forward, we need these things to happen. So what I think is going to happen, Steven, we're starting to hear this. As I know, probably something different needs to happen with my space. Maybe I need more, maybe I need less. Maybe I need the same amount. But what I need inside of there is going to look very different. And so we're helping people identify and working through that process with them. So I think the future is still undetermined from the standpoint that people are still working through what they need. But I think we're going to see a lot more collaborative spaces and a lot less of these individual workstations or private offices that might have existed before.

Steve:
Well, you know, I'm a kind of a glass three quarters full go my myself. It helps me cope if I stay optimistic. But, you know, there are parts of the pandemic I'm really grateful for. Like, I don't really miss going to catch a 6:30 a.m. flight. I don't really miss, you know, fighting rush hour traffic in Indianapolis on a January morning to get downtown for a 7:30 breakfast that we could just do over Zoom, you know, but I miss being with the people. I really do. I think it's hard to keep your culture when you're just staring at a screen all day. You know, we're social creatures and I think people are going to want to come back. And I do think there are some limits, particularly, you know, in in businesses that are very relationship and service driven. So, Sam, you had so many good stories about things you've learned along this, but any other kind of key findings that you'd like to highlight for us?

Sam:
Yeah, I mean, I would piggyback on some of the stuff that Shelly talks about that we think is probably going to be true when we're talking about physical workspace in the future. I think we even have quant data to prove that in the middle of a pandemic and we're not endorsing this, but quant data would show that when somebody needed to have a meeting in the name of creativity, they were doing it in person in very high quantities. And so we're not sure how they're pulling that off. But if they were doing that in a pandemic, you can only imagine that they're going to go through the efforts to come together when they need to do something like that. So I think I think that space will transform, like Shelly said, maybe away from the individual, maybe even more from that "me" to "we" that we've we've started to we've started to experience. But also the agency that you're talking about, Steve, you know, folks want to have opportunities to maybe not commute every single day into the office. Maybe I don't have to fly out to Denver for a meeting that I can just do over a Zoom. And I think that we're going to continue to get creative in terms of when and where we are in physical space. We're so fascinated by this that we're actually in the throes of a second study that we're calling "Hello Hybrid. Ready or not, here it comes." And I think that's the hybrid model. Like Shelley said, that's where everyone is going. And I'm completely glass half full as well, Steve and I think I think it's a better model for humans, people in general, this hybrid model. And I think we're going to stumble out of the gates. Another finding from the study was that middle management is highly stressed out right now. We've put a lot of pressure on them to figure this out. And one guy said in our study, I don't remember when I got an MBA ,I don't remember going to the class that said how to manage a remote workforce during a pandemic.

Steve:
I missed that class, too.

Sam:
Right. So we need to figure out how to give these people some support that are that are going to have to figure out what's the new policy, how people feel well, throughout all of this, how do we maintain culture? So I think I think that hybrid is so wonderful. And I think we have to really try to focus some attention on how to pull it off really well.

Steve:
Shelly, Sam, this is the time when in the The CX Leader Podcast where we ask every guest for their take home value, and that's kind of your one best tip or your one most immediate implication of what we've been talking about here and what our listeners should take from it, that they can apply and improve their own employee and or customer experience in this case. So, Sam, why don't you go first and Shelly will have you wrap it up, Sam.

Sam:
You know, if I'm a business leader, I think what's really going to be important is to start talking, talk to your workforce. You've got to get out there and find out, ask them questions. Let them give you the tough answers, because it's not going to be pretty. That is where you have to start. There is not a silver bullet. You cannot read every white paper and then write your plan. You got to talk to the people that work with you.

Steve:
Shelly, what's your take home value for our listeners today?

Shelly:
So very similar to Sam. And maybe that's just because we spend a lot of time together. But I was really going to boil down to people. I mean, it really is about the people and understanding what works best for your people, too, because like you said, Steve, it drives when your people are happy and centered and and, well, that drives a customer experience. And so really focusing on them and working with them and finding out what they want and what is working for them. I know Sam and I are both working mothers and I. I have just felt a different type of flexibility in this than being giving myself more grace on what if it's 8:05 when I get here because the morning was super crazy. It's OK. I know what I need to get done and we have a great culture and people and we want to keep that going. So I think for organizations, think about that and how you keep your people there, because it in turn will drive a healthy business and happy customers.

Steve:
Shelly Langona is the president of RJE Business Interiors and Sam Julka is the founder and president of DORIS Research. Shelly, Sam, thank you very much for being a guest on The CX Leader Podcast and sharing your expertise today. I really appreciate you doing this.

Shelly:
Thanks Steve. And maybe we can all go to breakfast, but not at seven thirty. [Laughing]

Steve:
Yeah, I'm more of a brunch guy these days. Just in case, but I know the research is private and you own it, Shelly, but I think if somebody would like to continue the conversation, can you give us like a LinkedIn profile or an email or your website or something?

Shelly:
Absolutely. Absolutely. We would love that. You can contact us to to get access to this research on rjebusinessinteriors.com. There's a contact us page and you can fill that out. Those emails come directly to myself and I will reach back out to you immediately and we can talk about how to best get this information to you. We would love to explore that with anyone who is interested.

Steve:
Great. And I just checked it both of your on LinkedIn so you can you know, if people are interested and want to talk to you more, they can find you on LinkedIn. And I'm sure they would love to keep talking about this topic. If you want to talk about anything else you heard on this podcast or anything about Walker or how we could help your business customer experience, feel free to contact me at podcast@walkerinfo.com. Be sure to check out our website, cxleaderpodcast.com, to subscribe to the show and find all of our previous episodes, podcast series and contact information so you can let us know how we're doing or even suggest as today we got one today that somebody suggested a great idea for a future podcast and we're already working on that one. The CX Leader Podcast is a production of Walker. We're an experience management firm that helps companies accelerate their XM success. You can read more about us at Walkerinfo.com. Thanks for listening and we'll see you again next time.

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