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Success from Anywhere Podcast | A Seat At The Table, with Despina Katsikakis




Karen Mangia

Today on success from anywhere, we'll explore how to create space, the kind of emotional and physical space that improves the performance, health and well being of the people inside that space. Please welcome to the show, internationally recognized thought leader, Future of Work, innovator, and global lead of total workplace for Cushman and Wakefield Despina Katsikakis. Hi, Despina! Welcome to the show.


Despina Katsikakis

Karen, it's great to be here with you.


Karen Mangia

Well, we're creating space for a compelling conversation today.I like to ask every guest the same opening question, what was your first paying job? How did that inform or inspire your career trajectory?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, let's talk about my first paying job in terms of what I studied. I started working with an international architecture firm in Chicago, just before I finished my architecture degree. It was incredibly revealing, because I quickly became disillusioned by commercial architecture, you know, the design of offices was primarily focused on efficiency, standardization and cost, instead of actually trying to understand the priorities of the people using the space. That experience literally set off a career long passion, to understand the changing user requirements and expectations, and to create spaces that engage and inspire people to be there.


Karen Mangia

What strikes me about your observation is how many architects win awards for how the outside of a building looks and how we would find it odd if we went into a major city. The skyline was composed of unanimous looking buildings. Yet, when we walk inside of a space, like an office, how many of those look truly ubiquitous.


Despina Katsikakis

That's a fantastic observation and so true, we tend to think about architecture as objects, as opposed to thinking about the total experience that they create, and also, very significantly, how resilient they are to adapt to changing needs and requirements. I think that is one of the important aspects that we're becoming more aware of, particularly with a greater emphasis on sustainability, that our buildings need to be resilient, they need to adapt, they need to evolve their priorities in the same way that we do as individuals and as an organization.


Karen Mangia

Resilience is the topic of our time, and that includes the spaces we're in which are in a sense at the forefront of that discussion. I mean, how do we enable resilience in the people in our organizations based on how we design and create space? What do you think about creating space now? How is it different from how it was even five years ago or two years ago?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, it's a great question. My work focuses on creating spaces for people to do their best work. I believe that physical space has enormous power, to both Express and to shape culture, to influence behaviors and to impact our well being. I've been talking about this as a subject for well over 30 years. Now, interestingly enough, when we think about the concept of creating space, I think space has both a physical and an emotional dimension. On a very personal level, I try to create space to think and space to be fully present in both life and work. Again, space needs to allow you to do all All of these aspects, but I think what we are finding in this effectively, let's call it post pandemic awareness, is a new purpose for space. That's where a lot of the discussion and the debate has been. I think there's some tremendous opportunities at the moment to really think differently.


Karen Mangia

What do you see as those opportunities? How do you frame them? Or how would you coach people to think about space? Now?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, there's this huge debate about, you know, is the office dead? Or, you know, are we going back to the office? There are a couple of things that are really interesting about this debate. One is that it's a binary debate, it actually looks at either or you either go to the office or you don't go to the office, the office is dead, or the office is here to stay. When we're not really thinking about the total aspect of what this means, I think it's fair to say that, actually, since the introduction of mobile technology in the 90s, work has been able to leave the building. What we saw is really being reflected in the utilization of office spaces and desks pre pandemic. On average, a typical office space was only used 50 to 60% of the work day, across most sectors. Now, the pandemic really validated that we can, in fact, work remotely. It accelerated the trend for flexibility. Our data certainly showed that people have remained productive while working remotely. But it also clearly highlighted that there were many challenges. Connection with people, connection with culture, mentoring, and learning really suffered. This was particularly challenging for younger people. I very much believe that this is not a binary debate, and the office is definitely not dead. But the purpose of the office will be incredibly different. When we think about a future where we embrace the idea, that work will no longer happen in one location, we will increasingly be leveraging what I call an ecosystem of physical and virtual locations, which will include the office, include the home include the city and third places, and they will be tapped into to support our convenience, our functionality, and, and above all, our well being, because that's one of the things that really has become critical.


Karen Mangia

You highlighted this battleground and a limiting belief that many of us are holding of, it's either all in the office or all at home. What you're highlighting is there's a range of choices available. What's critical is to divide, define and design the purpose and flow of each space. How do you work with organizations to not only consider that in a thoughtful way, but also to get that message to the employees to whom they're offering these choices?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, first and foremost, what's really interesting is that there is not a real clarity as to how much choice is being offered. There is a lot of clarity about how choice is really critical for employees to do their best work. I think this is a huge moment of transformation for leaders, right? How do you really engage people in the right way? One of the ways that we've been doing it is to really begin by understanding what the priorities are of people in order to be effective. We know that people want flexibility and choice of how, when and where to work, but how does that change? How can we really demonstrate that this is actually a value? Right in the early days of the lock downs, we pivoted our proprietary survey tool experience for square foot to actually understand what people's experience was at home. We surveyed over 165,000 people across 100 countries around the world. We've been tracking how expectations have changed every few months since the lockdowns. Really interestingly, we now have over 7 million data points. One of the most significant findings, which I think really impacts leaders, and what they need to do in the future, is that 90% of people felt trusted by their manager to work remotely. This is a shift from sort of 35 to 40% pre pandemic. This is huge. What that means is that we're in a situation where about 79% of people expect flexibility of where they work. Location of flexibility, and 94% of people expect flexibility when they work. Schedule flexibility. Now, this is really interesting, because what we're finding is that as we're moving into navigating what the future is, the organizations that have actually empowered people, and have given them choice and control over where they work. Those people actually report 27% better experiences than those without choice. Even more interesting, when employees have a choice of schedule, and when they work, they have 40% better experience. Now, the kind of final piece to this puzzle that's gotten us very excited, is that when we actually look at our data, we have found a direct correlation between having better workplace experiences, and improved employee engagement, pride in the company, the ability to write, and wanting to recommend the company to others. These are all metrics that have direct impact, as I'm sure you know, on talent, attraction and retention. Choice matters, above all, but it's really challenging for managers and employees to navigate how to provide that choice. As we saw a lot of mandates, you know, early on, in post pandemic, so a lot of conflicting messages.


Karen Mangia

Employees are looking for meaning rather than mandates. It sounds like clarity within their communication. You hit on an important point in that range of choices. Employees are not sending a message that they never again want to come into a physical office to do work, right. What it seems that they're saying is I want to choose and when I come to the office, I want that to have a purpose. What does your data reveal about the use cases that are most compelling, where employees would opt into an office experience versus a work from home or a third party location experience?


Despina Katsikakis

So this is really interesting, because what you're highlighting in the way you frame that Karen, is this, this notion of intentionality, right, coming into space intentionally. In fact, I think intentionality is something that is becoming critical to everything we do. I choose to sit in my study today, because I intentionally know that I can focus and concentrate and have this conversation with you totally uninterrupted. Now, the choice of staying at home for people is predominantly driven by focus. Our ability to focus tends to indicate that the home is a better location to be totally uninterrupted and to focus. It also is driven by work life balance. The third important factor is avoiding difficult commutes. When we look at why we go into the office, it is all about people. It's about intentionally connecting with colleagues. It's about connecting things with events. It's connecting with learning, connecting with leadership and being mentored. It is all around human connections. Now ironically, one of the interesting aspects that we've been finding is that employee wellbeing actually increases when people go to the office three days a week, because I think one of the things that comes into play is more compartmentation. of work. Life, we've seen so much blurring, right and people want to have that ability to kind of be able to break things down a bit more.


Karen Mangia

In fact, some of the research you shared with me prior to this conversation, you measured employee wellbeing, what are some of the improvements you're able to quantify, because lots of listeners are looking for ways to measure progress and measure what matters and you've got some compelling data about employee wellbeing.


Despina Katsikakis

So first of all, it's always important to note that, you know, space, physical space, directly impacts our well being, because we spend 90% of our time inside buildings. Buildings have a big role to play in our wellbeing, whether we choose to manage that or not. What we're finding from my data is that employee wellbeing and best work go hand in hand. Employees with high levels of wellbeing are two and a half times more likely to say they can do their best work at their job. What we did is we began to unpack what are the critical aspects that impact wellbeing. We found that the ability to feel inspired, to be able to renew throughout the day, to achieve work life balance, to focus, to be creative, and to have effective networks are most important to wellbeing. If we think about the office, the office needs to become an inspiring destination that supports people to do their best work. It can say, well, how does that happen? Of course, we know there is a direct correlation between access to natural light biophilic design, bringing nature in the office, and of course, quality of air, and human performance. I always laugh that within three months of the pandemic, we all became air quality experts. It's really important that we hold on to that, because there is critical data that demonstrates that spending $1 a square foot to improve the quality of fresh air in a building can significantly impact cognitive performance, and mental well being. The other thing that's really exciting is that for the first time ever, we can now use sensor technology and our own personal devices to measure the quality of air and light in buildings. We can adapt the environmental conditions to meet our personal needs and we can access amenities and services and effectively connect with colleagues. In the right building, I like to say that we can potentially aspire to leave work feeling better than when we arrived.


Karen Mangia

That's going to be a breath of fresh air to lots of listeners. Your story about air quality reminds me of a swag bag I received at a conference recently. The swag bag had some of the usual suspects and my favorite piece of swag that I have never received before. Was a portable air purifier designed for you to put on your desk or to take to a hotel room. Since I travel frequently, I thought this was amazing. I never knew there would be a day when I would be more excited about the air purifier than I was about the specialty branded high end gummy candy.


Despina Katsikakis

Well, it's a fantastic thing to have a portable air purifier. I will tell you some of the scariest data is if you have an air quality tracker and you look at the quality of air in some of the environments that we typically use airplanes hotels are some of the ones that you mentioned. This is I think this is a really important moment for how that awareness of the impact that buildings can have on human beings can actually be used positively, to really support us to feel better to do better work to just hybrid work.




Karen Mangia

I appreciate your approach to create space with purpose and intention if you started with surveys, and you didn't stop there. You take some trips and travel and spend time in organizations and in buildings literally observing how people are moving about the space and how and where they're interacting. What are some of your key discoveries from your observational data?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, it's very interesting, because I think human beings are creatures of habit. One of the big challenges that organizations are finding today with implementing hybrid working policies and new types of environments, is being able to not just create a solution that adapts to individual needs to functional needs. And, and, and very importantly, I should say, recognizing that it's not a single solution, and one size fits all. But the flip side of this is being able to nudge people to change their behaviors accordingly. What we find is if we are trying to come into the office to intentionally connect with others, to intentionally be more social creators, networks, but our default is to come in and use a desk, we almost need to be retrained to be nudged into these new behaviors. We're doing a lot of testing with clients where we're building out labs and pilots where you can really take an embrace an agile mindset, and use a test learn and iterate process, where you engage the employees and the colleagues actively, so that not only do they have a voice, but they co create appropriate policies and design solutions. You develop and evolve those based on feedback and evolving needs. It becomes a much more dynamic approach to how you use the office. I think you started earlier by saying how, you know, offices historically have been sort of static and consistent inside. I think that this moment is really to embrace a more dynamic and evolving nature of the office.


Karen Mangia

Yes, and we all feel greater ownership of what we helped to create. When we can bring new life into our offices and spaces, whether that's plants or participation. We feel differently about the space we are in and we feel energized.


Despina Katsikakis

Absolutely.


Karen Mangia

Yes. Something I hear people say because I work for a big technology company. This all sounds great if you're the Silicon Valley stereotype, right? Of course, big tech companies embrace natural light and plants and biophilic design. But we're filling in the blank, manufacturing financial services. I don't think this applies to us. What do you see as the variances by geography and by industry? Because we have listeners from across all segments and from all over the world, listening to the show?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, you mentioned financial services. That's interesting because overall we find demand for flexibility and choice across all industries. But there's some particularly that data points with financial services that I find very interesting. Financial Services pre pandemic had the worst extreme areas scores of any industry, which I personally think were reflective of the very strong presenteeism and control work cultures as trust increase, and probably the most important data point was that 90% trust that I mentioned earlier, we also saw experience scores increase significantly over the last two years, and financial services experience moves to be in the middle on average, alongside many other industries. What we also saw that, in this industry, there is, ironically, two things going on first, the first mandates for people to come back into the office, so that control again, but also the highest demand for flexible and remote working than any other industry. But again, you know, it's important to caveat that as it's not one size fits all across, let's say, a bank or across any organization, you'll need to really understand the cultural, the social, the functional, the personal, and emotional needs of people and adapt the solutions accordingly. I mean, interestingly, you said about geographies, if we look around the world, I know, I always look at pre pandemic data with what's, what the expectations are post pandemic. If we look at pre pandemic data in the US in Europe, about 60% of people were expected to be in the office full time, compared to 90% of the people being expected in an Asia out. When we look at post pandemic expectations, while they've all shifted towards more remote and flexible, working, proportionally, Asia still has the highest figures, but they've gone from 90%, down to 25%. Whereas the US has shifted to only 5% of people being expected in in Europe to 10%. On average, I think 40 to 45% of people expect to be in the office two to three days a week. Again, it comes back to that more dynamic and intermittent use of the office and greater intentionality.


Karen Mangia

And that brings me back to a word you used a little bit earlier in the conversation, presenteeism, and the reason that word stands out as so compelling to me is presenteeism represents a particular playbook about how we believe work should happen, where it should happen, when it should happen. What limiting beliefs do you find that leaders are carrying that stop them short of realizing some of the benefits you've been describing to us?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, probably one of the most often heard limiting beliefs is that you need to be in the office together to effectively collaborate and innovate. We've heard that from a lot of very visible leaders globally. What's really interesting is that over the past two years, we have seen the implementation of very effective virtual collaboration tools. But what we also find through our data, and through our workshops and observations that you mentioned earlier, is that actually, many leaders still use old ways of working. Even though they are the ones that are rolling out these new technologies, enabling tools, they don't leverage synchronous collaboration effectively. They still focus on input and office presence as being the real demonstration of work. I think it's really a very crucial moment because both adapting new behaviors, and bringing in a focus on employee empowerment will completely underpin any successful outcomes of future working practices.


Karen Mangia

And what you said, there in some sense, challenges the business model of companies who do real estate and commercial real estate for a living, right? What I've heard you say is it's not, you know, physical space or just this space. How are you shifting your workflow, whether that's changing your habits in the physical office, or the way you use technology to make sure that knowledge and connection and collaboration move from space to space in a more seamless way?


Despina Katsikakis

Absolutely. Yes.


Karen Mangia

In your introduction, I referenced the total workplace. I want to make sure we spend a few minutes talking about that, what is the total workplace? What are some of the design principles our listeners could begin to incorporate?


Despina Katsikakis

Total workplace addresses the three key questions that our clients are asking, which is how is work changing? Where will people work, live and play? Then, what are the implications for real estate? When we look at how these things are really evolving in the war for talent, location becomes much more complex and fluid. We're seeing clients shift to distributed operating models to access a broader talent pool. Increasingly, we're seeing them leverage regional cities with good universities, so they can tap into talent directly. Of course, those cities offer a combination of quality of life and affordability. Almost moving to talent becomes a really important lesson, and way forward. The other aspect that's really critical is something we've already touched on, which is, in this context, the role of the headquarters is changing to become that unique, inspiring destination that really facilitates learning, facilitates innovation, collaboration, and connection with colleagues and company culture. I think we're really seeing a very different approach to real estate. But you mentioned this issue of behavior. One of the important aspects that we help our clients do is to really think about physical space, as an amplifier of the ecosystem mindset. To really think about how you bring together different functional and operational roles within an organization to facilitate human resource policies, technology enablement, and physical space solutions, to bring those elements together, becomes a very important part of what we address. It's not exactly as you said, not just about the space. But it is first and foremost about the people and their behaviors. The space becomes that amplifier an enabler.


Karen Mangia

You've painted a compelling picture about your vision of employees being able to leave an office feeling better than when they arrived. What's the biggest threat? Do you see us realizing that vision for the future of work?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, it's a couple of things that I've already mentioned. I think we already talked about the limiting beliefs and behaviors of managers, which, you know, there's no doubt they are fundamental inhibitors to hybrid working. But the other significant challenge, which I started mentioning earlier, is overcoming organizational and functional silos, and the misalignment of policies, technology and physical space. We saw something really exciting happen in the early days of the pandemic, where these functions actually came together as Emergency Task Forces to support employees as we went into lock downs. For the first time we had that integration. However, over the last year, we've seen divergence come back into play and that's a really high risk. To give you an example, I was working with a client the other day whose HR group had developed 17 hybrid working policies, none of which had any input or alignment from real estate. You can immediately see where the tensions are going to come up. As we move towards higher cost pressures, a challenging economy, ensuring those cross functional accountability and aligned outcomes will be critical to help organizations balance the ways they are and the actions they need to take to reduce cost to deliver their carbon targets, of course, to increase employee engagement and experience.


Karen Mangia

Well, what workplace conversation would be complete without a little water cooler chat. We all know people tell us they miss the water cooler experience of spontaneous conversation. In the show, we do a virtual watercolor segment I called take five. Now these are five quick questions with your quick answers. Just to have a little fun with the conversation. Are you ready? Yeah. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?


Despina Katsikakis

Oh, gosh, I'm really boring, actually, because I always wanted to be an architect. Well, I suppose you could argue I don't really work as an architect. But I am an architect at heart. Yes, I always wanted to be an architect.


Karen Mangia

What is your favorite guilty pleasure office snack?


Despina Katsikakis

Chocolate covered almonds. Absolutely. Chocolate.


Karen Mangia

Sounds fairly healthy. I mean, we’ve got dark chocolate, almonds, salty, and sweet. I love it.


Karen Mangia

Your secret is safe with us. What is the most creative excuse you've ever heard? Or maybe given for missing a meeting completely?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, I don't know if it was creative. But I literally had a colleague once put in a team's chat, “Apologies, but my waters have just broken, and I cannot take the call”, which I thought was extraordinary that she even had the mindset to put that in.


Karen Mangia

What do you keep on your desk that inspires you?


Despina Katsikakis

I have photos of happy times with my family.


Karen Mangia

And to whom are you most grateful for investing in your career?


Despina Katsikakis

Oh, well, that has to be Dr. Frank Duffy. He was the pioneer of workplace research and strategy. I had the great privilege to work with him for over 30 years, I joined his firm in 1984. As we're talking about this subject, he always enabled me to create space, to challenge limiting beliefs, to grow, to learn and to innovate. I'm always grateful to him for that.


Karen Mangia

Thanks for joining me at the watercooler and one question, as we conclude, what is one small step every listener could take as soon as this show ends, to move toward the vision of that total workplace total employee empowerment that you described earlier?


Despina Katsikakis

Well, I think the opportunity is now for businesses to actively engage their employees to co create hybrid work models, and to really create the opportunity to have an effective mix of time to support their work life, and to also be accountable for delivering agreed outcomes and leverage physical space, as I said earlier, as the amplifier of that ecosystem mindset.


Karen Mangia

Well, thank you, Despina, for joining us today on the show and teaching us about how to create space. Everyone, check out, follow and find Despina Katsikakis and learn more about how to create a future of work that works for everyone. Thanks again for joining us today on Success from Anywhere because success is not a destination. Success is not a location, not even an office. Success is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere.

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