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20 min watch with captions and full transcript

Glenn sat down with Elliot Felix, Founder of Brightspot Strategy, to talk about workspace and how offices can be better designed to accommodate how people really experience work.

In this episode, Elliot shares his tips for:

  • What factors you need to consider to make a workplace work for your people
  • How to create or redesign a supportive workplace with a limited budget
  • How to showcase your people, your purpose, and your values in the office


Elliot’s rebel wisdom includes:
  • Think about how your employees work, and what they’re working on
  • Consider your culture and mission when creating your workplace and reinforce cultural norms, even in relaxed work spaces
  • Focus less on generational differences and more on individual preferences
  • Think about the workplace as a place to support rather than contain people
  • Focus on continuous improvement versus space overhauls - find quick adjustments to test and assess and experiment with variety & choice of workspace
Our favorite quotes:

If you're thinking about space in purely functional terms, then you're missing the boat because you're only satisfying a small part of what people need to feel connected to their company and to their colleagues and to their work.

One thing that organizations can do is understand their people and how and where they spend their time and then better align their space with that.

In terms of the culture, I think you have to change the mindset and say this is safe to try, as opposed to we have to create the perfect informal collaboration area.

Elliot's interview

GLENN ELLIOTT: Hi, it's Glenn here and today we're in New York and I'm with Elliot Felix, Founder at Brightspot Strategy. Today, we're talking all about workspace.

Elliot, tell me about Brightspot.

ELLIOT FELIX: Brightspot's awesome.

GLENN ELLIOTT: (Laughs) Brightspot's awesome! What do you do for people?

ELLIOT FELIX: We improve how people experience the workplace and that starts with helping them understand that the workplace is more than a space that you go to, but it's really something you experience and that experience is made up of the places you're in, the people you're working with, the purpose you're trying to achieve, the projects you're working on and it's really how all those come together that creates an experience for people.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Well, that's interesting. So we're starting to think of the workspace as much as the place you go to get access to technology and colleagues, is a place that you experience work.

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, I think the reason we think about it that way is that, maybe this is a crazy idea, but spaces are for people and people have experiences over time, right. They interact with their environment, with their colleagues, with their customers, with their clients, with their content or information and so if you're thinking about space in purely functional terms, then you're missing the boat because you're only satisfying a small part of what people need to feel connected to their company and to their colleagues and to their work.

Male: This is so good. How do you want to deal with outside noises? Toward the front of the interview, there was a truck backing up.


Male: Yeah, it's was I think it's you are in New York-


Male: It wasn't huge, I just wanted-

GLENN ELLIOTT: I think it's okay.

Male: Alright.


Male: Just keep it rolling?



GLENN ELLIOTT: Because you're going to get that in New York.

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, I also think we can bring it into the conversation. We can say this is a bustling place or something, I don't know.

Male: It's good to know.


Male: So we're still rolling.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Yeah, if the fire alarm goes off we'll rethink.


Male: Yeah.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Okay. I'm just trying to think what you just said last.

ELLIOT FELIX: You're missing the boat if you're just thinking about it as functional.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Okay. So thinking about workspace as an experience, what are sort of things that I should be or that we could be thinking about doing to make our workspaces different?

ELLIOT FELIX: Well, I think it all starts with the fact that the space is there for people. It's there to help them do their work and help the company succeed or the organization succeed. It could be a non-profit, it could be any sort of organization and so I think the first part of that is understanding people, so understanding their needs, what are their different work styles. You know people work in different ways. Some people are more introverted, some people are more extroverted, some people need quiet to focus. Other people go to a coffee shop to focus, right, so first thing you need to do is understand your people.

Then I think the next thing you need to do is understand their work. What are they working on, what kinds of projects, what's the rhythm of their work and then you need to think about culture, right, which brings those things together, the people, the work, the culture. Think about values, the purpose of the company, how what they're doing on a day-to-day basis relates to that, how that purpose is made visible. That's I think one of the interesting things about our work is the more digital it becomes, it tends to be a bit more hidden. So how do you make it more visible what you're working on, who's working on it, what the results are, what your impact is.

So when we think about an experience, it's really of course as a starting point, it needs to work for people. People need the tools. It's the bottom of the Gallup pyramid. People need the tools and equipment to do their job and they need to know what's expected of them and these are the table stakes, but to move beyond that you need to think about the purpose, you need to think about the people and how they work and what they're working on.

GLENN ELLIOTT: So that's interesting. I like that. So three things there. I think about the people, the work they're doing and the culture of the business, the organization-


GLENN ELLIOTT: I'd love to unpack those separately, so thinking about the people?


GLENN ELLIOTT: So I know a lot of the time I talk to leaders and the HR people who are struggling still with thinking about the millennials. And to them millennials work in a different way. I know that my own staff work with headphones on and some employers find that really difficult and should they allow that or should they not? Do you think different generations want to work in different ways?

ELLIOT FELIX: Well, I think there's lots of different studies and research about that and I think the more important distinction is not from generation to generation, but it's person to person. And so whenever we're creating an experience for a company, helping them redesign or design their workplace experience, some kind of assessment is always part of that so we're observing people, we're interviewing them, we're serving them and we're getting a sense of how and where people spend their time. And those are actually much more significant differences between the way you work and the way I work, let's say. I'm just using us as an example. Actually, we probably work pretty similarly, but those are much more significant than the differences from a generation to generation because people have different work styles. They think in different ways. They process information differently. They may have different personality traits and we tend to focus more on those than generational things.

GLENN ELLIOTT: So essentially thinking of your people have different styles and are different, but the traditional corporate office it treats everyone the same, doesn't it? You rather have these kind of cubicles, which we maybe see more in the states or the kind of the open plan office where every desk is the same.

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, it suffers from two big problems, it's the one size fits all assuming that everyone works the same way so therefore they get the same space and that space is assigned to them limiting their choices and also assuming that they have to do all their work from the office and then the other thing is it assumes that work is monotonous and there's no variation in the work. Forget about person-to-person, but over the course of a day. And so I think one thing that organizations can do is understand their people and how and where they spend their time and then better align their space with that. In fact, that's one of the things we do pretty routinely is we compare the amount of time people spend doing things with the amount of space they allocate. And they almost never match up before you do some kind of intervention. So a very common thing is people will spend more than half their day collaborating with others, but maybe only 10-20% of the workspace is devoted to collaboration.


ELLIOT FELIX: Right, so then everyone's running around saying, "We don't have space to meet." Well, of course you don't, right, if you're spending half your day meeting, but only a quarter of your space is for meeting, it's not going to work so well. So providing more variety, providing more choice, giving people the flexibility to work where and when and how they need to. Those are really foundational ideas.

GLENN ELLIOTT: So essentially, so we've got-

ELLIOT FELIX: But still new for a lot of organizations.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Very, very new. Very, very new. Majority of offices I go into that everyone's got the same cookie cutter desk and they feel quite wedded to it, too. It's their desk, it's their kind of area of the world marked out as their territory. So you've got different people have different styles and I reckon different ways, but even within the same person, different work to be done.


GLENN ELLIOTT: Maybe reading, writing, collaborating ...

ELLIOT FELIX: Sometimes you need a white board to brainstorm at. Sometimes you need a place to focus where you can write something. Sometimes you need to be talking to someone else. Sometimes, you're having coffee. Sometimes you want to be on a couch. Sometimes you want to be out of the office, right?

GLENN ELLIOTT: Yeah. That's interesting. And really we're sitting here in the Brightspot study so we're surrounded by books, which is interesting. This makes a cultural statement to me that it's okay to sit and read here, whereas in many corporate office I go to, there doesn't appear to be any suggestion that that's a worthwhile business activity-

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, well I think back to the earlier point about it's not just the space, it's also the culture. I think we see that a lot. We go to an organization that has lots of informal areas that are never used. Part of that I think is how you communicate. I think it's also how leadership leads by example. One of the things that I'm very careful about is when we created our office, first of all, we thought about it more like a home in the same way that you want lots of different places to live, we want lots of different places to work. So we have a study, we have a front porch, we have backyard, we have a den-

GLENN ELLIOTT: And they're the names of your rooms?

ELLIOT FELIX: Those are the names of the rooms, you're right. The rooms have those characteristics, but we also created norms for the spaces. As a company, here's how we want to use this. And I'm very careful to reinforce those norms and I sit in the formal spaces and I get work done. Lots of great work happens on the couch in our front porch. That's a place for visitors when they're waiting when they just come in, but it's also a place for us to get work done.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Seems to me, I've worked in a, I guess, a space like his for a while, which you helped us put together, but I know there's certainly a lot of companies where they'd be willing to buy out people sitting in a relaxed way and thinking about are you working as hard if you're lounging on the sofa with your laptop, as you might be sitting bolt upright in chair.

How do you help companies come around to seeing the value in a more relaxed or more nuanced workspace?

ELLIOT FELIX: Well, I think there's a couple things and some of them have to do with space and some of them have more to do with the company and the organizational design and the organizational culture, but I think from a space standpoint, one thing you can do is try things out and I think we're a firm believer in prototyping and piloting things. I think most workplace change initiatives fail by some estimate 70% and I think part of that is because they make them big and slow and risky or they don't involve people in the process or they just think about space and they don't think of the services and the events and the programs, and the people and the culture.

So our approach is to really think about small pilots, things you can quickly try out, create on informal area, see how it goes. And I think then in terms of the culture, I think you also have to change the mindset and say is this safe to try, right, as opposed to we have to create the perfect informal collaboration area. Maybe it's you have to find something that's safe to try in terms of how you support an internal collaboration area and if it's a reversible decision, then you would just change course if it doesn't work. You'd try it in a little bit different way.

GLENN ELLIOTT: So that's interesting because that's a very different way to think of that workspace than I've thought of it before. Because I think we often think of workspace as a huge project, which has got a big budget attached to it. We do it once every five or 10 years-

ELLIOT FELIX: Slow, costly, risky, complicated-

GLENN ELLIOTT: There is a lot of capital expenditure. It's a big deal and what you're suggesting is we could working ongoing changes to our workspace in a much smaller kind of just trying things out way without spending a lot of money.

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, people talk about continuous improvement in their organization. Why wouldn't they want their space to continuously improve or with them or to help fuel that continuous improvement, right. I think you can put systems in place to monitor how you're doing. I think most companies have some kind of regular survey. Part of that survey you can ask about space or the impact of space. At Brightspot we do a quarterly pulse survey that looks at things about the company, things about our space, things about our policies all these kinds of things and it helps us take the pulse and that also gives us, if we change something, that gives us pretty immediate feedback on whether it's working or whether it isn't.

The other thing I was thinking back to your point about people might be concerned. They see people in informal areas. Are they working? You need to have ways of measuring your success other than the visual appearance of work, right?


ELLIOT FELIX: So if your key performance indicator of productivity is do people look like they're working hard, I think your success is going to be limited. You have to have other ways of knowing that.

GLENN ELLIOTT: I do get that. I like-

ELLIOT FELIX: And be talking to people.

GLENN ELLIOTT: I've heard that so many times about home working. If they work from home, how would I know they were working, and my answer's always if you have no measurable output, maybe the job doesn't really exist. Maybe there's no reason for that person to be at work at all.

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, there should be measurable ... It could be qualitative and quantitative, but there should be some measurable outputs so that you can tell how good a job somebody's doing. I think about there's a famous, at least in my circle, there's a famous Seinfeld episode where George figures out that the best way to show people that he's busy is to just look angry all the time. And so the more angry he looks, the more convinced his boss is that he's working really hard and he's quite productive. So if that's how you're measuring performance then workspace I think is the least of your problems, yeah.

GLENN ELLIOTT: So you talked about how we need to think about individuals all are different. Even within the individual, their day, as their day progresses, there's different types of work in the day and sitting bolt upright with an office desk isn't necessarily the best way for all types of work to be done. And we talked about the culture, too. And then also this idea of it hasn't got to be a massive project, just do small things that are safe to try.

ELLIOT FELIX: And those are actually the ingredients of how you change your mindset from thinking about workspace to workplace as an experience because I think when you think about it over time, people have different moments in their day, they have different touch points they interact with colleagues, with information, with customers, with space and that's all part of a kind of a culture in an organization that has values and vision and purpose. Those are what get you from the space as an inert container, a gray cube, to this is a workplace that has people and projects and variety and it's there to fulfill a purpose and it's something that you can try out and continuously improve.

GLENN ELLIOTT: That's interesting. You kind of made me think-

ELLIOT FELIX: You hit on the formula right there.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Thinking about the workplace to support people rather than contain people.



ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, if space is a container then it's only fulfilling a very limited I think part of its mandate or its potential.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Yeah. So give us some things we could do like if someone is watching and actually thinking, oh wow. My workspace is pretty traditional. How could someone who hasn't got a lot of money, can't move the office, can't just move to a cool part of town, hasn't got a Google, Facebook budget. Is there anything small that they could do, try out that's safe to try?

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah. Well after you hit on the first part, you have that as your mindset, the first thing we tell people when they have limited resources, which is kind of everybody, right, I don't think anybody has money to waste, is make sure you're not wasting money and the way to do that is really two things. One is do some kind of assessment, so surveys, interviews, observations of people so you have a sense of what the needs are because you really want to focus on A. Things that are going really well. You don't want to mess those up. Maybe there's ways to amplify those and B. Figure out what the pain points are and make sure whatever you're trying out is solving those because it's going to take time. It's going to take money and you want to make sure you have an impact.

I think the other thing is find some quick things to try. I think three things come up pretty often in our work. One is showcasing the purpose and the people in the process. So find a wall where you can make these things more visible where you can be really explicit about this is why we exist. This is our mission. This is our purpose, help people feel more connected to that, then find a way to showcase the people that you have, pictures of them, pictures of events, outings and the projects you're working on, the things that people are doing and what they have accomplished. So it's more visible and people can be more connected to it.

I think the other thing is that people have a lot of meetings, but generally work happens in more than a 60 increment. So maybe create a project space where some things can be left up on the wall, the project can have more a visible presence and maybe people go to that space to work on the project and there's a kind of an association between the space and the work. And a lot of creative ad firms, a lot of creative agencies work this way where they assign space to projects rather than people. So that's something to try out to better support projects.

And then I would also just experiment with variety. Most organizations are lacking variety in their space. They're not giving people enough choice, acknowledging that there are different ways of working and there are different kinds of work throughout out the day. So maybe if everyone's seated, you have some standing desks. Maybe if all the meeting rooms are enclosed, you have some plans that are more open or more casual or more informal, that kind of thing.

So pick a wall to showcase your people, your purpose, your projects. Find some different ways of supporting projects other than the ephemeral meeting room and experiment with some more variety and choice.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Great advice there. It feels like we need to be more flexible with our workspace making it a bit more like home? You didn't ever like school as well actually, where Christmas is a fun place to be and experiment more.

ELLIOT FELIX: Yeah, I think those are all great ideas.

GLENN ELLIOTT: Great. Well, thank you very much, Elliot. It's really, really great to see you. Namaste. So that's it for today. There's more from Elliot and more about workspace in the Rebel Playbook for employee engagement, which you can buy now from Amazon or your favorite bookstore and of course there's a lot more interviews like this on the website, rebelplaybook.com.

So signing off from New York, thanks ever so much.

Thank you Elliot.

ELLIOT FELIX: You're welcome. Thank you.