Checking in with Anita Kamouri: Top criteria for the modern workplace
For another edition of The Check-in Q&A series, we spoke with Anita Kamouri, Co-Founder and Vice President of Iometrics.
Anita shared insights from her recent work-from-home research, discussed the changes that organizations and managers will need to make, and emphasized a need for flexibility as we move forward in the workplace. Check out our full conversation below.
Thank you, Anita, for being here. Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about yourself and about Iometrics.
Anita: My background is in organizational psychology. I worked in HR at the beginning of my career, and then started getting involved in the impact of the workplace on people, very early on.
And it was just really an interesting area at the time, from an HR perspective, in seeing the impact the workplace has on attracting, energizing, and connecting people back to the organization.
From there, we just started getting into workplace strategy, and we’ve been now doing this for about 20 years. The funny thing is, we have always been about flexibility in the work environment, network of places. For all these years, it feels like we've been pushing a rock uphill trying to get companies to adopt work-from-home. Now, ever since COVID-19, it's there, it works, and people love it. So, it's been interesting.
We definitely have a history of really trying to integrate human resources, the workplace, technology, and create that holistic employee experience that really works. So, that's been what we've done with Iometrics. (click to tweet)
Recently, we conducted a big survey sponsored through IFMA's Workplace Revolutionaries, which we did in conjunction with Kate Lister at Global Workplace Analytics.
We learned a lot about how working from home is working, and what implications this has for the future of work in the workplace. So, it's really fed into just everything we've been doing along the way. It’s just good timing - and it’s really an interesting time in the workplace and corporate real estate in particular.
Absolutely. There are lots of downsides to what's going on. But, the upside is all of this visibility, awareness, and education. Can you share with us what you think is the biggest pivot you've seen people make or that you have made?
Anita: Yeah. I think from our standpoint, we've always kind of practiced what we preach. So, we have been very virtual, very remote, and this has been kind of a really seamless transition for us.
So, when we look at our client base, there are really two types:
- There are the ones that have been adopting this whole focus on agility, flexibility, and workplace technology.
- It's been interesting to see them make this transition, again, very seamlessly. Now, they've gone electronic. All their documents are in the cloud. With this transition now, they've had to focus on a few other things, making sure everyone is really up-to-date on the technology side, but also culturally, they were able to make that transition.
- The other clients who've been in that zone of exploring new kinds of workplace strategies were much less ready.
- I think this whole experience has helped them understand how important it really is to make a strategy change. For them, the big pivot has been technology. Some didn't have the equipment or the right collaborative technologies. Maybe, they've done meetings, but they didn’t really have virtual teaming applications.
Managers were not ready to manage remotely. That's one of the biggest pain points we know - managing people that you don't see every day because so many managers just rely on that informal touch base. (click to tweet)
We're also seeing that about 25% of business processes are really difficult to do virtually. With the majority, people are making do, but there are definitely certain things that maybe either require in-person meetings or signatures, for example. And businesses are, again, scrambling to figure out how do we deal that.
Then there are cultures and connections. How you continually communicate and try to keep people connected is a big deal. And that's been really difficult for the people who’ve had to do this overnight. (click to tweet)
So, I think that in terms of the short-term pivots, those are all the things that they had to like grapple with right away. As for long-term pivots, they're starting to really think about different questions:
- How much space do we need?
- What should it look like?
- How much of this work-from-home do we really want to continue doing?
- What does it look like when we reoccupy?
I mean, you just can't have people go back to the same place. It's not necessarily going to feel safe.
So, there's both the short-term pivots that we've seen people do for the last couple months, and now the longer term pivots, as they start to think, "Okay, what's next?"
So, you bring up this reoccupation. That's a perfect segue into my next question, which is, what does a team in Iometrics see as the "return to office" like, what is that going to look like?
Anita: From our research, first of all, we know that people like work-from-home, and they want to continue working from home. Managers are actually very accepting of it now, where some have been the barrier in the past. They are seeing that people can be productive, and this is kind of working out all right. We know that there's that implicit demand, but we think there are going to be three scenarios going forward, and different companies will adopt different ones.
But we're seeing a lot of companies wanting to get back to normal, right? So, say they already renovated their spaces - they had these nice open collaborative kinds of environments that worked well before, and they think they'll work well in the future.
We want to get back to normal, so they might be doing all the extra cleaning, and maybe some separation, and whatever they have to do to make it safe. They really want to bring people back in, create that cohesion and interaction and get back to normal. Now, whether that's going to work for them in the long-term or not, time will tell.
Then, I think there's a second scenario that I'm going to call the "blended scenario." This one recognizes that people are maybe good at continuing to work from home. And if it works for them, it works for us. So, maybe we have them come in and out of the office because we really value the interaction, and people value that interaction. What we found is the number one thing people are missing right now is interaction. And even though they're still productive on these video calls, it's not as satisfying.
The in-person meeting is just another level of interaction. So, say they come into the office two days, work from home three, or vice versa - it’s that whole idea of still having a space away from home to collaborate and work, but you kind of go in and out.
Moving from being fully remote to a flexible scenario will feel comfortable. It involves some long-term change, but people will want to continue doing it, and companies are much more open to it now. (click to tweet)
They may even be able to save on real estate, because what we find is that people are even very open to going to unassigned desks or workspaces when they come back. So, the idea of you might need a little less space might take a different form. These are all small changes that can happen.
And lastly, I think there’s a number of organizations that are looking at something very bold, like the future of work. This whole thing with COVID-19 and working from home, it is a major change, but it's also happening at a time where society is changing. We're seeing crazy changes in all facets of life right now. And expectations change, expectations about work change.
You're seeing people that say, "I don't even want to live in this place anymore. I'm going to go live with my family, but I still want this job." And so, it's a very different way of thinking and working.
Companies are looking at a very different future, making big changes to work processes, and being open to where people are. That is bold, it's very future-oriented, it's very people-focused, and it may take a little more time. (click to tweet)
With all the changes that are happening, a lot of organizations may need to really pivot their business models to be successful and competitive in the future. So, there are three different levels of change we're going to see and different companies are going to be adopting those. It just depends on the culture, the business, and the people.
Yes, it'll be really interesting to see how these companies take the opportunity to innovate in the way they work.
Anita: That’s so true - it's innovating in the way they work. And as a result, this tells you what the workplace should look like. But, you have to start by asking, “How are you good at work? What's your focus on people?” It's people first. And then we'll ask, "What do we need in terms of a physical presence?"
People-first is actually one of our values at Proxyclick, so thank you for mentioning that, even if you didn't mean to. One final question: do you have any advice for people who might be kind of struggling because of COVID-19?
Anita: Some of the key struggles really have to do, first and foremost, with the collaboration and interaction. Unfortunately, video meetings aren’t as satisfying. And we've kind of been holed up in our houses for months. And it's tough, but maybe you need to think of it in terms of structuring it a little more.
You do these calls. You get a group of people and have a virtual happy hour. Whatever it is, you just try to keep connected and keep the relationship strong because your friends were at work. The people you'd have lunch with every day - it’s odd not seeing them anymore. So, just don't rely on the meetings, but try to make the informal chats still happen.
The other big thing, especially for the millennial generation, is learning.
So much of learning happens in-person, by informally watching other people, working alongside other people, asking questions. A lot of that has been lost and it's difficult. (click to tweet)
Companies have even continued hiring through this, so, you've got new hires that have not even gone through the normal onboarding process.
You've got to just think about how you learn, and all the different avenues that there are. In terms of mentoring, maybe that means talking to your HR person or your manager creating a formal mentoring program to compensate for the informal encounters that you’re lacking.
Just like everyone else is working differently, you really need to work differently as a manager or leader.
If you are a manager or leader, it's becoming more about coaching and keeping people connected. You start to become more of a person that really helps people thrive in a whole new environment. (click to tweet)
You bring up a good point. It's really about being more thoughtful about everything and just taking the time to learn and research and listen. And then, figuring out the next steps.
Anita: Yeah, listening. If it is about people first, then people need choices. They may not feel comfortable coming back in. And they should have that choice to say, "Hey, I'm going to work this way for a while until I feel comfortable or safe."
But this is a time for leaders and managers to really listen to gain insight about their people. We've had the benefit of all this research on work from home, and how people feel and think and what they want. So do that in your organization if you haven't yet because it's going to give you so much insight into where people want to be going forward.
That can really help you plan for what's next, and what the workplace might need to be in the future. Without those insights, you're kind of flying blind.
And we don't want to do that! Well, thank you so much for your advice and your insights. And so, hopefully, everyone that's listening will take your words to heart.
Anita: Yeah. Let's hope so!
Thank you again, Anita Kamouri!
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