Andrea Sarate Show Art

Episode 130: February 1, 2020

Your office, or physical workspace: It has an effect on your attitude, your outlook, and your performance. That’s why companies and organizations turn to workplace strategists to help them design a space or facility that promotes excellence, collaboration, and wellness. Andrea Sarate is the Senior Director of Workplace Strategy for Colliers International – a commercial real estate brokerage firm. For 10 years, she’s helped organizations get the most out of their physical space. She joins us on the podcast today to talk about workplace strategy, how it ties to productivity, and how the right work environment can lead to happy employees and a healthy bottom line.

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  • What is the role of a workplace strategist
  • How does one become a workplace strategist
  • What skills are required to become a workplace strategist
  • How does the workplace influence culture
  • What is the process for determining the proper workplace environment
  • How long does it take to design a new workplace
  • What contributes to good workplace design
  • Does good workplace design effect productivity
  • How does age effect how a worker views the workplace
  • Should offices employ adjustable height desks
  • What’s the next big thing in workplace strategy
Katherine Rowe: Thriving Among Rapid Change Transcript Download (pdf)
Ken White:

From William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, this is Leadership & Business. The podcast that brings you the latest and best thinking from today’s business leaders from across the world. We share the strategies, tactics, and information that can make you a more effective leader, communicator, and professional. I’m your host, Ken White. Thanks for listening. Your office or physical workspace. It has an effect on your attitude, your outlook, and your performance. That’s why companies and organizations turn to workplace strategists to help them design a space or facility that promotes excellence, collaboration, and wellness. Andrea Sarate is the Senior Director of Workplace Strategy for Colliers International, a commercial real estate brokerage firm. For 10 years, she’s helped organizations get the most out of their physical space. She joins us on the podcast today to talk about workplace strategy, how it ties to productivity, and how the right work environment can lead to happy employees and a healthy bottom line. Here’s our conversation with Andrea Sarate.

Ken White:

Andrea, thank you very much for joining us. A real pleasure to have you on the podcast.

Andrea Sarate:

I’m so thrilled to be here. It’s an honor. Thank you so much.

Ken White:

You’re the first Executive MBA student, current student to be on the podcast. That’s great.

Ken White:

Thank you.

Ken White:

Yeah, yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

I hope I represent my class well.

Ken White:

And I’m sure they will tell you. Won’t they?

Andrea Sarate:

Oh, they will.

Ken White:

You have one heck of a class. One thing you and I have in common is on a regular basis we get to walk into Miller Hall, the home of the business school here at William & Mary. And as someone who’s been doing that every day for six years, every day I walk in, I just say, wow. I mean, it has an effect on everything. Does that sort of wrap up what you do? Is that what companies are trying to do, and organizations are trying to do, make people feel good by the physicalness of the place?

Andrea Sarate:

They are starting to, and that’s what is making being a workplace strategist so exciting right now is that people have realized that workplace can be a wonderful tool to really positively impact business. And really help with that attraction and retention of top talent, the workplace. Glassdoor.com did a survey workplaces and the top three reasons that people either like or dislike their work environment.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

And their job.

Ken White:

So what you do? You are a workplace strategist.

Andrea Sarate:

I am.

Ken White:

What does that entail?

Andrea Sarate:

It entails the application of research and experience, understanding how people work. What do they need to work? What are their tools that they need and technology they need so that they can do their best work? My primary goal is to help companies create environments to enable their people to do great things.

Ken White:

How does one become a workplace strategist?

Andrea Sarate:

Well, actually, that’s a wonderful question because everyone comes to it differently. I myself am an anthropologist. So for the liberal arts majors out there, yes, anthropologists do get jobs in Corporate America. But a lot of people come through it as either facility planners and managers, or designers, interior designers, and architects. Anyone that has an interest in how the workplace is created can eventually become a workplace strategist.

Ken White:

What are some of the skills required?

Andrea Sarate:

Patience, a lot of listening. And I really think the most important one is a just innate deep curiosity about people. Who are they? What do they want? How do they work? And importantly, especially for me as an anthropologist, what is the cultural goals that you’re trying to set for your company? You can influence culture. You can nudge it with a workplace. You can’t build it or change it or create it, but you can kind of push it along. So if you want to improve the culture of your company or shift it a little bit, taking it to the workplace is a great place to start.

Ken White:

And so what’s the process like? Can you take us through?

Andrea Sarate:

Sure.

Ken White:

Is there a process that you generally put into place, or does it vary?

Andrea Sarate:

There is, it is always tailored to the client, which is another reason I like the work is every client is different. Even clients I’ve worked with for several years as their needs and their people evolve and change over time, I had the opportunity to do more in different sites. For example, you spending time in Florida or in Texas? I like the Texas example best. Dallas and Fort Worth are 45 minutes apart, and they are so different culturally.

Ken White:

How about that.

Andrea Sarate:

So a law firm, for example, has an office in Dallas will create a very different environment than the law firm office in Fort Worth, even though it’s the same organization. And so looking at that, the first thing I always want to find out is what’s important to you. I would like to ask leadership, what keeps you up at night? And the answer is resoundingly getting the right people and helping make sure I keep them and give them what they need.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

And the workplace is such a great tool to help impact that. So the first is asking a lot of questions. Finding out what your goals are and then also looking, observing. I spend a lot of time in my client sites watching how they work, seeing what spaces they have, what they don’t. A lot of times I’m working with people, for example, when they’re relocating. Their lease is up, or they need to build a new headquarters because they’ve outgrown the one that they have. And I’ll come in and help them figure out what does that space need to be like in the future. But you know that takes a while.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

That might take a year and a half, two years. So part of what I love to do is also look at the existing space and figure out what are the missed opportunities you have right now. Since you’re not waiting for the new building to make improvements, you can have some impacts. Now, my own office, I work for Colliers International in Dallas. We’ve got some wonderful space that no one is using. So the operations manager and I were looking at floor plans yesterday and making plans to remove some equipment and put up some walls and make little phone rooms.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

For the brokers, which is going to be exciting.

Ken White:

So you talk to the leadership. What about the folks who work there?

Andrea Sarate:

Absolutely. I try.

Ken White:

And how do you do that?

Andrea Sarate:

I do focus groups and interviews. We start with a survey, so we get quantitative data about the workplace. But then I also do focus groups and interviews to get that qualitative data, and I always divide individual contributors from the people, managers from leadership. Because what I found over time is generally if your boss is in the room, you’ll give a very different answer than if your boss is not in the room.

Ken White:

Right.

Andrea Sarate:

Still might be a good answer, but it’s best to create that candid opportunity to speak.

Ken White:

What contributes to a good workplace design? How do you know you’re on the right path?

Andrea Sarate:

Well, there’s always the issue of capacity, but most importantly, and this is the big issue that a lot of companies are figuring out today is you need a diversity of spaces. You need lots of different kinds of spaces. We don’t just sit knowledge workers or what we like to call judgment workers. We don’t just sit in one place doing one thing all day long. We get up. We move. We go to meetings. We interact with people both physically and then via the web. Now we have colleagues in other places. Are we providing the right kinds of spaces to support all of those activities throughout the day? Thinking about human well-being is incredibly important. We spend a lot of time at work. It needs to not be terrible while we’re there. We also want to make sure that we’re connecting people. For example, do we have a bunch of tiny little refuel stations with a coffee pot and a tiny little fridge, and everybody eats at their desk? Or do we create a cafe that people can go sit in and have their meetings there when it’s not just lunch? You have their one on ones and have those what we like to call social collisions, so I think that sounds a little violent. But those social moments that are the social glue that really holds all of us together and really is what makes a team makes a teamwork.

Ken White:

We’ll continue our discussion with Andrea Sarate in just a minute. Our podcast is brought to you by the Center for Corporate Education at William & Mary’s School of Business. If you’re looking to raise your game and take your career to the next level. The Center for Corporate Education offers non-degree programs that help you become a more effective professional. Topics include business analytics, communication, leadership, strategy, accounting, and more. The programs are taught by William & Mary’s MBA faculty. The faculty ranked number one in the nation by Bloomberg Businessweek. To learn more, visit our website at wmleadership.com. Now back to our conversation with workplace strategist Andrea Sarate.

Ken White:

When you think of building you’ve worked on or a facility, you know that you think, man, that’s just that was an A-plus. Can you give an example of why it was so good? What worked?

Andrea Sarate:

Oh, gosh. Yeah, I built an office in Hong Kong, did it all via headset and Skype, which was pretty fun.

Ken White:

Wow, yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

I was hoping to go but didn’t get to, that was okay. And what was so great is they had been in kind of rented office space. It was super generic and didn’t have anything to do with the company or the people. It was just bland space they were sitting in. The new office not only represented the brand of the company, but we engaged all the employees to come up with the names for all the conference rooms. Think about their decorations like what did they want at their desks to represent themselves and their family, and the office to personalize it a little bit, own it. And we also engaged a feng shui consultant because it was in Hong Kong, and we wanted to respect the culture there.

Ken White:

Hmm-mmm.

Andrea Sarate:

So I think it’s important. Any office to be really successful has to be really thoughtfully considered of place. What you need in Hong Kong versus what you need in Stockholm. We built an office in Boulder, and you have to give them storage for all their mountain bikes.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

Because they do that in Boulder.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

In Stockholm, we had to give this huge locker room a shower facility. Because to take advantage of the limited daylight, they all go out at lunch and spend two or three hours, you know, skiing or cross-country skiing or whatever. And they all come shower and then they work at night once its dark again. That’s not how they work in Virginia, for example.

Ken White:

Right, yeah. Can you tie a good design to productivity? Did you see results?

Andrea Sarate:

You can. You can. Typically, it’s tricky because a lot of those productivity measures are owned by H.R., you know, performance reviews and evaluations. However, in the times that we’ve been able to work with H.R. as a partner, we can see engagement scores increasing after a workplace project. That’s also why post-occupancy survey is just as important as finding out what needs to be fixed ahead of time because then you can measure your success.

Ken White:

So after they’re in the facility for a while, ask how’s it going? What if the answer is that, not great? You can obviously make some changes, right.

Andrea Sarate:

Exactly.

Ken White
And tweak things.

Andrea Sarate:

And you should. And that’s the other important piece about workplace strategy and why I love my job. It’s never-ending. You know, our tools and technology and how we work is changing all of the time. So you should always assume that with every workplace project, you’re going to hopefully get 90 percent right and build and know that there’s gonna be changing. Because what will happen is people will get in the new space and have new opportunities to work differently.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

And then they will, and then their needs will change.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

So you’re always checking in and working on it. If it’s if you’re doing it right.

Ken White:

Any parallels with generations and age of workers, younger workers like this, older workers like that?

Andrea Sarate:

You know, that’s a wonderful topic for discussion on LinkedIn these days, is the generations in the workplace. And I can say that it seems to be largely about life stage. Whether or not you’re the demands of your family cycle, you know, are you going to get kids from school or daycare or pick mom or dad up from senior care? Those kinds of things, having that flexibility that again gets back to well-being. Are we addressing your needs as a person? Do our policies reflect that? And so that’s really more of a policy issue, but it’s absolutely about talent and people. And generally, as long as you’re taking account that people have lives and other obligations. You’ll be in good shape.

Ken White:

We visit so many organizations here in the business school, and so many of them have a bunch of cubicles.

Andrea Sarate:

Yes.

Ken White:

I can’t imagine people love those. What’s the thinking on that? Sometimes we have to have them, right?

Andrea Sarate:

Mmm-mmm

Ken White:

What are they good? Are they bad? Do we try to fix them? What’s your feeling?

Andrea Sarate:

Well, you know, what’s funny about that is some people love their cubicles. And if you were to take them away, they would just flip out.

Ken White:

Yeah.

Andrea Sarate:

Cubicles provide some acoustic barriers. That’s actually acoustic fabric that’s in there or acoustic material in the cubicle. So that provides some assistance. But most people like to tack up personal items

Ken White:

Right.

Andrea Sarate:

And really customize their space, and having all those walls of your cubicle can let you do that. The biggest issue is really about having an ergonomic workspace that is supporting your physical self. So having adjustable height tables, ergonomic task seating, and importantly, individual task lighting. Not everyone sees the same way, and having a bunch of fluorescent lights in the room may not be the right level of brightness for all the different kinds of people you have in your space. So giving everyone a task light can go a long ways to helping people be productive.

Ken White:

How about stand up, sit down? How much of that do you see and what are companies and organizations doing?

Andrea Sarate:

Well, really, adjustable height work surfaces should be standard. And the idea is that the human body was meant to move. It’s not good to stand all day. Just good as it’s not good to sit all day. The idea, generally speaking, guidelines are that you want to be standing at least 15 minutes out of every hour since you have 2 hours total by the time you get through a regular workday. I like to call it the prairie dog effect. Like after lunch, you’ll see one person stand, and then boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, everyone else will start. They will be like, oh, right, my desk moves; I should get up. And so when you first implement adjustable height desking, you need to recruit your standing leaders, or you can put timers either in your outlook, your calendaring system. Or there’s some systems where the desk itself will tell you; hey Andrea, you’ve been sitting for a couple hours time to get up.

Ken White:

Interesting.

Andrea Sarate:

A lot of options for that.

Ken White:

I’ve seen some conference rooms that have solid walls, some glass, some frosted glass, just considering laws and culture. What what’s the way to go at this point?

Andrea Sarate:

Typically, glass is always welcome because you want the light from the windows to people to penetrate the conference room. But having that frosted band in the middle does allow for privacy because there are times if you’re putting your financials. You don’t necessarily, or maybe it’s your performance scales.

Ken White:

Sure.

Andrea Sarate:

You don’t want to have those. You want to be able to have confidential materials. So by having that, being thoughtful about confidentiality, having that be an option is a great thing. There are also some products that have the current, and there’s a particulate sandwich within the glass. You can flick a switch, and it will go opaque.

Ken White:

Nice, nice.

Andrea Sarate:

That’s pretty fun

Ken White:

Temperature. It’s fun in this building where we work. Everyone wants a different temperature. How in the world do you deal with that?

Andrea Sarate:

It’s a lot of negotiating. There are some technological systems that you can have an app, and you can control what your temperature is. That gets really challenging from facilities management perspective. If everybody is messing with the thermostat, facility managers hate that. So typically, it’s about balancing. Usually, if there are hot and cold spots, it’s probably been a few years since your HVAC system was balanced, and you need to come back in and check them.

Ken White:

If you have a crystal ball, what’s coming down the pike? What’s the next big thing in the next 5, 10 years that we’ll see in your world and those of us who work in buildings that we’ll see?

Andrea Sarate:

I think the greatest challenge we are still facing is telepresence. How are we going to solve the issue of the fact that our team members are all somewhere else? I’m my team is all located all over the U.S. So we have we use Microsoft Teams, for example. We all get on camera, and we talk and have our team catch-ups that way. But it is a little awkward. Most companies can have a lot of talent. They may have entire teams of software engineers, you know, in some other country in another time zone. How are you including them, when you’re having those brainstorming sessions and your whiteboarding and collaborating? We haven’t found a way to do that yet, well. There’s a lot, but there are a lot of really smart people working on it. So I think that’ll be the next thing.

Ken White:

That’s our conversation with Andrea Sarate. And that’s our podcast for this week. Leadership & Business is brought to you by the Center for Corporate Education at the William & Mary School of Business. The Center for Corporate Education offers programs that help you reach and exceed your career goals. And the programs are taught by the William & Mary MBA faculty. The faculty ranked number one in the nation by Bloomberg BusinessWeek. To learn more, visit our website at wmleadership.com. Finally, we’d love to hear from you regarding the podcast. We invite you to share your ideas, questions, and thoughts with us by emailing us at podcast@wm.edu. Thanks to our guest this week, Andrea Sarate, and thanks to you for joining us. I’m Ken White, wishing you a safe, happy, and productive week.

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