Covid19 Dynamics- Business & People

41% of employees considering leaving?

I received this article and link from PSMJ recently in their executive forum thread.

“A recent Microsoft study found that 61% of business leaders say they are thriving while 60+% of staff-level employees say they are struggling.  What is even more striking is that 41% of those surveyed say they are mulling leaving their jobs.”  You can find an article with more detail on the survey here: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-22/bosses-are-clueless-that-workers-are-miserable-and-looking-to-leave

My commentary; this is a deep issue. So much of it involves the need for more “self awareness” for everyone. The physical, mental and emotional whiplash effect from transitioning, or trying to transition, out of COVID19 lockdown, in whatever form, is real. Working remotely stifles the full impact of social connectivity, culture, the more predictable and interactive environment of office life. Working remotely for specific reasons or for short sprints, is a great option. Staying remote indefinitely is not.

 

This is a deep well and I can’t do it justice in a short blog. But many people are tired. Many bosses are tired. Many think “they are ok” but they are not. My first question to everyone now is “how are you doing?” “Is there anything I can do for you to help?” Liberal use of calls from managers and ownership to staff via video chat really helps.

The number one predictor of long life in the top ten indicators is social connectivity and engagement. Think about it.

 

There’s turnover happening and it will continue to happen as people evaluate their life and options. We have been working to mitigate the side effects and rebuild connection and culture at my company but it’s all dynamic and an emerging picture for all of us.

I would love to hear from others on this topic. If you have story to share, please comment.

How are you doing?

The Flagship Office- The Office for the Now

Back in early December of 2020, one of my outside board of advisory members asked me this question, “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” My immediate answer was brilliant, “I don’t know.” Subsequently the board members, my partner, and I, engaged in a discussion about the pro’s and con’s of having a substantial office space that was equipped for doubling the size of our staff, assuming everyone was in the office. “What do you think the odds are that everyone will return to the office?” “Do you envision a reality where 100% of staff will be operating together 100% of the time, with no offsite remote work?” “How do we justify the overhead costs with empty space?” “What’s the value?” Many of us are asking these same questions.

I recently participated in a PSMJ (Professional Services Management Journal) webinar about current compensation strategies and the future of human resources (HR) in A/E firms (Architecture and Engineering.) Multiple surveys were taken from the 300+ participants during the 1-hour session. All were dealing with the questions of remote work, partial remote work, in-office, out-of-office, and so on. Interestingly, while multiple hybrid work models were the largest percentage of the sampling, a follow up analysis showed that only 5% of people wanted to remain remote and work at home 100% of the time. If you had gotten answers to the same question one year ago in February of 2020, prior to everyone actually doing remote work, you would have gotten a much higher percentage.

The debate is real. The questions are substantive. We’ve seen big companies choose to not occupy new headquarters buildings, to cancel new leases, and to stay in current spaces. We’ve seen some say “we’re going to be 100% remote now forever.” We’ve seen some still going ahead with buildings equipped to house all or part of their staff. But the reality is, everything has changed. What was once the norm is now disrupted. It was going this way, but the COVID19 pandemic reality accelerated the process; it created the cause-effect response available in a connected, internet-based, digital world. Response to the remote-based work environment, hybrid models, or 100% in-office, are going to vary by industry, company, and position. All I know is that it’s going to be different.

Once again, the question: “So now with COVID19 reality and remote work, what are you going to do with this building?” I’ve been thinking about this continually, monitoring our experience, getting input from others on an Executive forum thread with PSMJ, listening to staff, to podcasts, gathering information, talking to clients, related businesses, and more. I’ve been watching the realities hitting retail in the pandemic and digital environment as well. We all know that the future, and the “now”, of “brick and mortar” retail is quite different. Smart retailer’s have gone digital, while also showcasing some of their work and products in specific stores. Outlier stores have been closed, inventory in the remaining stores reduced, and more invested in online and warehoused inventory. So what about the future of the “office?” What about the future of it in the context of professional services? How about more specifically in A/E? Here’s how I envision it.

Think “flagship store.” The future of “the professional service office” is a multi-dimensional experience for all who enter, all who are affiliated with the company, including staff, clients, vendors, affiliates, referrers, advocates, collaborators, students, recruits, and more. Just as smart retailers have put in place digital infrastructure while creating a physical retail location that is experiential, showcasing products, services, and supporting their brand, such is the future of the professional services office. What does this multi-dimensional office look like? What is the envisioned experience? What is it? What is it not? It will depend on the location, industry, work type, and so much more.

It is no longer simply a place to go work for 8 hours a day and go home. It is no longer a static space to just do work and collaborate with clients and staff. It’s a “watering hole” a “community well” a “gathering place” for the industry, domain, practice segments. It is a representation of brand through physical placement of things representing the work, through digital experiences accessible in multiple areas throughout the facility, where clients can access and reference the showcased services, engage electronically, or personally. The 3-D printer is continually printing samples of products and goods supported by the service. Spaces are nimble and flexible for collaborative teams. Spaces are hybridized. Glass is more prevalent in creating separation and visibility at the same time. People can talk to a representative like they do at a bank. Services can be ordered and procured on the spot if desired. Clients, supporters, and other people connected to the company can come and use common spaces as a “third space” to use wireless, collaborate, take a coffee break. Staff members work productively whether from home or from office based on the need, the work typology, and tasks at hand. Projects are displayed physically, and electronically. The space is a shared work space, brand support, resting space, and more. It is a media center as well. The podcast (if you have one) is produced from a studio in the office such as the one I produce called “The Creating Structure Podcast.” When not accessible, staff, clients, and constituents can have a virtual experience.

Everything we do, including the facilities in which we work, are an opportunity to support and express brand; to express innovation, attract, retain, support and care. The facility, in my reality, has always been required to communicate as much as possible about who we are in the physical expression of the space.

I’m looking forward to creating more of a “flagship” office experience. That’s what we are going to do. That’s how we will use the space. Now let’s see how much we can make it a reality.

Checking In

Welcome to September. Hard to believe that it’s already “that time of year” where we are looking at the end of summer coming soon, the end of Q3 2020, and the planning for 2021 business. Crazy how time flies, even in a COVID19 environment (or perhaps ESPECIALLY.) I thought I’d take the time to catch up again for a minute on a variety of topics

The Creating Structure Podcast: We have posted two podcasts, and the next one will record tomorrow, September 2, 2020. The first two sessions have a total of exactly 100 downloads as of today. Thank you for the support. Spread the word! We will continue to interview people around topics of business, architecture, facade, construction, and more. We record and upload every other week, so the next post will be around 9/8/2020. You can subscribe through Buzzsprout, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many other major platforms. You can find us here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1236827/episodes

Glass Build: The last Podcast session was centered around relevant topics for #GlassBuildConnect which is happening through September. NGA/Glass Magazine will post our session the week of 9/7/2020. I think many in the field of curtain wall, glass, glazing, delegated design, and construction will enjoy the content.

Expansion: We have other affiliate company entities associated with Wheaton & Sprague Engineering, Inc. One of them is Wheaton Engineering & Consulting of NY, LLC. This is our New York State entity. We provide engineering, design, and consulting services for all types of facade, exterior cladding, curtain wall, in many forms and functions, to the entire State of New York. If you have any questions or needs in NYC, or other NY State metropolitan areas, please go to the “contact us” section of our website at http://www.wheatonsprague.com and you can send an email to the “info” email address.

Calling all Curtain Wall Engineers: We have job openings right now for positions centered around our Minnesota office and our Ohio Office. I say “centered around” because of the manager to whom the recruiting effort is attached. We prefer “in-or-near-office” candidates, but remote are considered as well, based on the times we live in. There’s a Senior Engineer opening for our Ohio office, and an Assistant Engineer opening in our Minnesota Office.

Focus: A quick word about focus. There’s thousands of “things” that we can do or get into, but we need to prioritize. “What are the most important items?” “What are the ‘game-changers’ (urgent and important)?” “Which ones offer the highest ROI or ROT (return on time)?” “What will have the most profound positive ‘stewardship’ impact for the business, staff, clients?” Once we sort this out, and this should be done with inputs from others to help clarify the goal, then define it clearly, put a timeline to it, and execute. It’s easy to always respond to the tyranny of the urgent, but we’ve got to make time for the important as well. Seek to SIMPLIFY. Growth and new initiatives fundamentally create more COMPLEXITY. Part of our job in leading, managing, and stewarding, is to seek to simplify and create order. Prune the branches. This is particularly hard for me as a visionary person with a growth and multiplying mindset. Having a great team of integrators, operators, and implementors is key. They are the “glue” in the “growth” process.

Again, welcome to September 1st. Hang in there. Focus on today, look ahead to the anticipation of tomorrow. Take care of family, friends, and the neighborhood. Control what you can control. Focus on mindset improvement. It’s up to all of us to help make it a better tomorrow by bring a better us to the table. Make it a great day.

COVID19 RULES

Since we are going to be in this environment indefinitely, here’s some things we’ve learned along the way and some observations on managing a professional services business in this reality.

Lead with care First: Health and wellness for clients and staff is #1. It always has been, but even more so now. Care 1st.

Over-Communicate: This is almost always true, but again, more so now. We always THINK we are communicating enough, or appropriately, but that’s rarely the case. Take nothing for granted. Communicate often, and with clarity, by any means necessary.

Get the 1-1 level: Check in at the 1-1 level with everyone that reports to you. Set up new reporting and accountability structures to accommodate the need to be “agile and nimble” in making sure no one is lost in the fray each day.

Virtual meetings: Make generous use of virtual meetings. I prefer MS TEAMS for internal meetings, WebEx for external meetings. TEAMS is a big value for driving engagement.

Office Environment: Make a safe space of beauty somewhere; make it invitational. We did so with our porch and the ability to eat, greet, meet outside through summer and into autumn.

Financials: Share the state of the business with everyone. Make it relevant to their space and contribution

New Sales, Marketing Progress, Project acquisition: Bang the drum loudly. Celebrate wins with everyone in the organization or in our respective domains (depending on size of company)

That’s all for today. I could go on and on but these are at the top of my mind.

Share your observations, insights and feedback. The more we share successes, the better we all will be. There’s enough of the “pie” to go around for everyone.

The Parking Garage Health Facility

The Cleveland Clinic turned a parking garage into a makeshift medical facility. It looks like a M.A.S.H. unit. This is a great example of “pivoting” (yes I know that’s a buzzword.) Let me back up and take you to the start.

A family member needed a Covid-19 test at the Clinic due to a required medical procedure. I was asked to drive them. The instructions said “go to the Walker parking garage lower level.” “What? Testing in a parking garage?” “This should be interesting,” I thought.

Fast forward to the parking garage. It was brilliant. It’s run with military precision. Specific cars allowed at specific times. Signage, work stations, medical professionals gowned and masked, directing traffic, helping guide, doing testing. No one got out of their car. It’s all done through an open car window. Fifteen minutes. In and out.

Why did this impress me? There’s multiple reasons. The Cleveland Clinic is BIG but they flexed. It was creative, it was clean, it was efficient and it was in a parking deck.

Here’s some of my impressions and takeaways:

1. Big business doesn’t have to be rigid.

2. I’ll bet the nurses didn’t learn traffic flow directing in school. We’ve got to be nimble and self educated in whatever we do.

3. The Clinic got creative and we can be creative in this environment as well.

4. The use of a parking deck; an ordinary, bland, concrete, parking deck. Brilliant. It’s out of the way, efficient for moving cars, isolated from the hospital.

5. Flexibility. People were working from the lower level garage. Its exterior air. There were propane heaters and chairs in strategic locations. It’s not the best space to work from. Professionals have to be flexible. One never knows what to expect next or how they can drive new value in new paradigms.

6. “Can do” attitude. The Clinic figured out a way to test quickly, safely, politely and with test results delivered between 8 hrs and 24 hrs.

Questions:

How nimble are we? How creative are we? How quickly can our business and minds pivot? Can we rally people to deliver around a cause; around a problem, and above and beyond? Are we willing to go there as leaders?

Excuses are easy. Solutions aren’t hard once we eliminate the excuse, we stop looking for others to show the way, and we take responsibility to act, lead, move.

Even parking decks can be a place associated with healing. What have you got that is being overlooked?

The Problem

The problem that we see, the thing that is visible to us, typically isn’t really the problem. What we see is the manifestation of a root cause issue; something underlying.

We say things like “we have a profit problem” or “we have a quality problem” when those aren’t the issues at all. These “problems” are simply how other root causes are being expressed.

The visible expression, what we think of as as the problem, is the “behavior.” But the root cause, the real problem, is internal; it’s rooted in our identity. This can be true organizationally or personally.

For instance, a quality problem may be linked to a lack of training. A profit problem may be linked to numerous root causes, or a broad issue like lack of organizational health.

It’s important to know the underlying issue or issues because otherwise we invest time and money solving the wrong thing; the external thing; the behavior.

It takes time, reflection, self-awareness, listening, and study to identify the underlying issues and get to work on them. But until we do, any progress is temporary and difficult. If the root isn’t fixed the problem wont go away. That’s why New Year’s resolutions typically don’t last. Real change requires a shift; a transformation; from the inside not outside.

We need to view things differently. People are great at seeing the outside when it’s what’s inside that defines the outcome.

“Out of the heart, the mouth speaks,” and other examples express this clearly.

The Escalator

I couldn’t get to the trade show floor until 10:00 am. That meant 15 or 20 minutes to kill. I looked around at the options and said to myself, “Why not stand at the bottom of the escalator? There’s no better place to see and meet people.”

In the sea of people there were two gentlemen standing near me with name tags that noted their business location; Nantucket, MA. I had just returned from a business trip to Boston the week prior, and then spent 4 days on Cape Cod. It wasn’t Nantucket, but it’s close enough. I started a conversation.

We talked about their work on the island, about the culture, what kind of support they needed, and how they managed logistics. They asked what I did. We shared business cards. I invited them to contact me anytime and they did the same. Then we both went on our way.

That was about 5 or 6 weeks ago. One of the guys, Lee, called me today. “Hi John, I don’t know if you remember me or not….” “Of course, I said. We met at the bottom of the escalator!” “Yep. That’s me.”

He said he needed some engineering support and asked about our availability at Wheaton Sprague. He asked what the next steps were. He said he’d email me the info. I said I’d assess it and get him a proposal. He said, great.

How do we “kill time” while waiting? Usually with our head in a phone or waiting in the wings. That particular day I chose to engage at the bottom of the escalator; to be where people were congregating. Who would have guessed? We never know when an interaction will lead to more. But most business is relational, whether B2B or B2C. How’s your engagement going?

Start with Zero

When my partner and I created the business, we started on day one with zero; zero dollars, two computers, some software, two clients and two projects; one project for him and one for me. We had zero revenue but we had purchase orders. That’s what we worked with. We built systems, tools, applications, and engineered work products that brought value to clients.

Fast forward to now; 25 years later. I’m getting back to this approach; to recommitting to creating new things, new services, practices, and applications, from zero. I mean, being an entrepreneur and business builder, that’s how I started; I took an idea, made it a reality, and built something that never existed prior. That’s what happens in all new businesses in some way; something comes from nothing; from simply an idea.

So we start with zero. We start with our time, our tools, and our existing infrastructure, which is way deeper than it was 25 years ago, and we build. If you want money, you’re going to have to really give me a good reason. How about selling the service and idea to the client first and coming to me with a purchase order? That’s the ultimate litmus test; the ultimate positive ROI.

Starting with zero doesn’t mean we don’t need money. It doesn’t mean we don’t get funding at some point if there’s good reason. But it does provide better accountability around creating new things and it puts everyone in the organization on a level field.

Start with zero and validate from that point forward.

The Island

Names have been changed for anonymity in this blog

Anne and Dave live in the middle of the island. He’s a contractor and handyman. Anne cleans houses. They lived in Panama for a bit and then came back to the states. The island suits them well. They invited our little group for a spontaneous visit while we were driving golf carts down dirt roads past their home one day. Of course we stopped. That’s what one does on the island.

Julius owns a business, but prefers to live on the island so that’s what he does. He’s got a management team to run his company, so his work on the island hosting people is a labor of love. He’s one of the most hospital people I’ve ever met.

Rich and Donna are long term renters. They stay for most of the winter to escape from up north. They are embedded in the community here and have lots of friends from North and South that they visit and entertain. Both are retired and don’t need to work anymore

Gary and his wife Elaine came to the island from up north a few years ago for the first time and bought a house immediately. He owns business as well but is in the process of selling. He can work remotely or travel back and forth. Either works for him. Quite the world we live in.

James and Carol have a home on the island and live part time here. They are connectors. Generosity defines them. We have become very good friends. James never met a stranger and will lend a hand to anyone in need. Hospitality is one of their gifts.

Betsy and Rob are super handy. They live here half a year in winter and spring, and spend the remaining months up North in the snow belt when it doesn’t snow. She is an artisan, he is retired from owning a trucking business. They grow flowers, orchids to be specific, and have a little greenhouse. Rob can fix just about anything. You’ve got to be able to fix stuff on the island.

Then there’s countless others; renters and homeowners, short and long term, the boat dock numbers, the landmarks, the houses, those for sale and those not; the lending library, the dirt paths, the little church, high tide, low tide, and more.

Everyone has a story. There’s common ground on an island. There’s community if you want it. People help each other because you’re always going to need help. Spare parts don’t get thrown away easily, because you or someone else will need them at some point.

We ought to live as such in our off-island neighborhoods instead of always running about in the hustle and bustle. Neighborhoods are islands within a city or suburb, but the vibe isn’t typically there.

When is the last time we talked to our neighbor, volunteered to help at random, stopped at someone’s fire pit spontaneously, or asked someone if they had a spare valve in their toolkit?

We shouldn’t have to live on an island to build community.

Selling “Experience” – The Gas Stations

There are two service stations in my town. Both are within blocks of each other. Both charge within pennies per gallon of each other for gas. Both are national-level name brands.

One always has receipt paper at the pump. The other doesn’t. One always has full window-cleaning fluid troughs at each pump. In fact, at the one, the fluid smells like Wintergreen. The other rarely has enough fluid, if at all. It smells like regular cleaning fluid.

One has an ample stock of snacks and beverages inside and a clean smell. The other is always under-stocked and has an awful odor like a bad hospital smell inside.

One has nice canopies at the pump stations, well intact, with clean lines. The other always seems to have some maintenance issues going on at the pump stations.

One has uniformed attendants inside that typically respond with a polite greeting. The other has people with no uniforms, and generally a dis-interested person behind the counter.

The price is almost the same at the one or at the other; sometimes even the exact same price. But even if not, it’s worth the extra thirty to fifty cents per fill-up, to use the one.

At which one would you purchase your gas and snacks?

In a commodity business, “the one” has learned at how to differentiate. The other doesn’t care. It is always possible to differentiate within our existing revenue stream and context; to deliver value with some thought and care for the customer’s experience.

How about your business? How about mine? What experience do we want to create? What experience are we delivering?