Erin McDannald, CEO, Lighting Environments / Environments by LE


This week, the gang is joined by an A&D leader fresh off appearances on stage at CES and SXSW, two of the world’s most prominent tech conferences. Lighting Environments and Elevated Environments CEO, Erin McDannald, joins the pod to talk about learnings from their company’s industry-leading office digital twin, the impacts of technology on talent, and how the metaverse has the potential to eliminate… PowerPoint. A practical conversation filled with first-hand insights that you won’t want to miss.

Connect with Erin McDannald on LinkedIn!

Moments to check out:

  • Creating purpose with your workforce / when not to say ‘metaverse’ (starts at 8:10)
  • When the digital begins to impact the physical (starts at 13:55)
  • First steps and workforce insights from creating a digital twin (starts at 19:54)
  • Early learnings for the future of work (starts at 28:26)


Connect with our hosts on LinkedIn;

Bobby Bonett

Tessa Bain

Andrew Lane

References and resources:


Discover more shows from SURROUND at This episode of Barriers to Entry was produced and edited by SANDOW Design Group. Special thanks to the podcast production team: Hannah Viti, Wize Grazette, Kasey Campbell, Rob Schulte, and Samantha Sager.

Erin McDannald: [00:00:00] We are forging a way in a digital world that, that not many other companies in our space or no other company has done before, and that we have an obligation as humans to take our talents and apply them towards the human condition and the advancement of the human right.

Tessa Bain: Welcome back to Barriers to Entry, the podcast where every episode we get into it with the leaders, the designers, the early adopters and the influencers who are helping to shape what Web3, the metaverse, the blockchain, and more will mean for our architecture and design industry. I’m Tessa Vain, and as always, I’m joined by my fabulous co-host, Bobby Bonnet and Andrew Lane.

Andrew Lane: Hey Tess. Thanks for the compliment.

Tessa Bain: See what, it’s, it’s nice when people compliment you, you know?

Andrew Lane: Yeah. I think we’re generally very generous with each other. That’s what makes us a great podcast team, you know?

Tessa Bain: Mm-hmm.

Andrew Lane: A fabulous one. Even

Tessa Bain: Teamwork [00:01:00] makes the dream work.

Andrew Lane: Yeah. So speaking of fabulous, we have a really exciting guest joining us today, someone who has been engaged in leading edge technology for some time, and that’s really just starting to transition into the metaverse and. You know, I think even more excitingly, the metaverse that they’re applying day to day at their business with their staff, with their clients. Just a really, really fascinating and early immersive use case of everything that’s possible in the space. Should we just get right into it, guys?

Bobby Bonett: Let’s do it. Let’s do it.

We’re excited today to sit down with someone who is pushing the envelope and aiming to push the A&D industry forward. Erin McDannald is the CEO at Lighting Environments, which represents the world’s premier lighting manufacturers. Erin is also the CEO of environments by LE, a Metaverse workplace that we had the opportunity to experience firsthand.

Just a few weeks ago, she kicked off the year by talking Metaverse at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and today she’s joining us [00:02:00] on Barriers to Entry. Welcome to the pod squad. Erin,

Erin McDannald: Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Bobby Bonett: We’re excited to have you. And we wanted to start off by asking about your journey.

You started at LE in specification sales back in 2003. You made partner in 2009 and were named CEO in 2017. So can you tell us about that journey up the flagpole into where you are now? Sure

Erin McDannald: I’d be happy to. I studied interior design in college and I stumbled into the lighting world and really loved many aspects of the lighting industry.

I love that lighting could be quantified by math, and it was an art form in itself. Having background in design that was important to me and the business of lighting was really fascinating to me. There weren’t very many women in the sector at the time. Believe it or not, even in 2003. And so I had the opportunity to use some of the more nurturing aspects of my personality to grow the business.

Bobby Bonett: How early in your career did you [00:03:00] set your sights on CEO at LE? I mean, when you, when you walked in the door, you were thinking, one day I’m gonna be sitting in that corner office and that’s a —

Andrew Lane: That’s a very Gen Z… I don’t think, I don’t think we had those opinions as young workers in 2003. Yeah.

Erin McDannald: Well, I, I’m a Gen Xer and it’s interesting because in every job that I had been in before I accidentally stumbled into management, so I think I’ve just was a natural born leader. It’s a role that I’m really comfortable in, and so the answer to that question is right away. Yeah. I really embraced working for lighting environments and I was given a lot of freedom to explore the way I wanted to grow the business, and so in that, it came a lot of buy-in and it was easy to be invested in the company and in the people.

Andrew Lane: Okay, so it’s 2017. Yeah. You’ve been climbing the ladder for 14 years to achieve your day one objective. What are some of the early [00:04:00] challenges that you faced taking over that leadership role in like 2017 is just a little bit pre pandemic as well. So you were about to launch into an extreme period of change that may not have ended just yet.

Can you talk about that progression?

Erin McDannald: Yeah, but I became an owner in 2008 and the CEO in 2017, and I really learned how to operate a business and survive and thrive in chaos because the beginning of my ownership started in the middle of the real estate retraction. And I, I thought that was really interesting. So we started with a limited budget. I started with, having to make difficult decisions right away in 2008, 2009. So I was ready as a CEO coming into it. We were ready for whatever was next. We didn’t know what was next, but we knew something would come. And I’ve always been one of these types of people who liked to put something away for a rainy day.

So we were sort of waiting on the next recession and seeing what [00:05:00] was going to happen, and we always find that an interesting time to gain market share.

Bobby Bonett: So, uh, you know, Andrew referenced the pandemic. I mean, things changed for our entire industry in 2020. How was lighting specification affected in particular at the onset of the pandemic? And then as a follow on to that, How did lighting environments respond to and adjust to remote work early in those days?

Erin McDannald: Right. Well, I couldn’t sell digitally very well. Um, we were kind of limited to a couple of channels during the pandemic Instagram and Zoom, and that was a real challenge for me during the pandemic. And our job is to sell lights, so we kind of had to pivot. We were ready for rainy days. I’ve always preached to my company that. We want to have ninja like agility, which, you know, I have a little bit of a, that’s a new t-shirt. This I know ninja like agility, right? Mm-hmm. Yeah. And I wanted to be able to pivot and be ready.[00:06:00]

I knew that pre pandemic, that the path to growth was through technology and we were already organizing our internet of things, sector of our business. But during the pandemic we had to pivot quickly. We all went home immediately, and I started to gather data on our space. Right away. Mm-hmm. I thought it was, we were lucky to have the opportunity to have the time to have our space empty and have a mean of data to be able to compare when people came back and it, I found that to be a really valuable thing.

So we were ready and we’re in the middle of writing software. We just started writing software during the pandemic to connect our IOT platform together. Learning how to install the IOT products within spaces to create intelligent buildings and we were just, couldn’t see our people. And that was a, that was an issue for me.

So, you know, we are designers and architects that work in the lighting realm and [00:07:00] we’re used to working in programs like Revit, AutoCAD, that show our drawings. So we literally started by putting our Revit drawing in a gaming platform to see what would happen.

Andrew Lane: I think it’s an exciting kind of opportunity to make a quick pivot there.

Was there anything that you’d learned from the focus that you already had on technology and the work you were doing in IOT that you were able to apply or that helped you as you started to pivot into this world of virtual spaces?

Erin McDannald: Well, it was interesting. Um, we started during the pandemic in distribution centers and we found that was an immediate need for IOT. People wanted to know where their forklifts were and they wanted to understand. How their refrigerators, what temperatures they were operating at, and where their stock was within their space. We learned very quickly how to utilize real estate in that way, where to put stock so that we could optimize the performance of those spaces.

But our bread and butter for lighting is the [00:08:00] corporate work office space. And so we started to apply the things that we learned in the warehousing spaces and how to utilize real estate. And applied it to the workspace.

Bobby Bonett: How has buy-in been within the organization as you’ve leaned into technologies like that? Because change can be hard for some individuals. Was there an effect you saw on staff or were folks excited to be, you know, on the cutting edge from a technology standpoint?

Erin McDannald: It depended on the generation and it literally breaks down to those lines. But it has been really interesting. I think that the first mistake I made was I said metaverse.

Hmm. And they heard metaverse and were immediately afraid of what, you know, being tracked and all the nuances that are, that go along with what the metaverse seems to be. Needs a little bit of a rebrand if you ask me. But yeah, when I said metaverse, everybody was immediately closed to the idea and I had a big hill to climb. After a little while, they began to see what we were doing, connecting our [00:09:00] building controls to our digital twin, and the vision of what I was trying to attain became more clear to them. And I stopped saying the word metaverse. Mm-hmm. And we just introduced it as a new program and they’ve taken to it pretty well.

What’s interesting, I think one of the surprises that we found was that there’s a lot of joy in the workplace that was missing for a long time. We take aspects from the gaming world and apply them to our digital twin and put people in them and collaborate in them. And so I think that’s, that’s interesting.

But the aspect of joy, the retention of memory within those spaces has been remarkably surprising to me.

Andrew Lane: It’s interesting the way that that, we’ve called it the M word on this podcast with more than one guest, and it’s interesting. The way that a word can get stigma or feelings attached to it. And it’s interesting even further that when you’re [00:10:00] able to get past that word and have all of the same principles, But speak about it in the actual context of your business.

That perceptions really changed. Like I love that you bring up the word joy, but you know, what were, what were some of the other ways that you started to speak about this space and how it was going to, you know, impact the work experience that allowed you to stop using. The M word.

Erin McDannald: We just started to create purpose, and I think purpose is key. Mm-hmm. I think that Metaverse gets a bad name because it has an association for anything. You can do anything in the metaverse that you can possibly imagine. When you create purpose, then focus attention in certain areas. So for the sales team, in order to get the sales team in, we had to build a showroom.

We had to be able to build these, you know, interactive experiences so that people could go in and experience our lights in a way that we couldn’t show them in the real world oftentimes. The idea when an architect or [00:11:00] designers working on a park, um, they’d love to see the streetlights that they were or the pedestrian lights that they’re planning and putting on these parks, and to be able to experience them for yourself and be able to walk through them and walk around them and to understand what the experience is as a sun is going down and from all different perspectives.

I think it’s really important. So purpose is key to getting people in. And the more tools you write it in for them, the more they will come and the more they will stay.

Tessa Bain: You spoke about memory retention. I’d love you to elaborate on that a little bit and, and how you’re seeing that.

Erin McDannald: You know, I heard a quote today was by Dr. A and he said something to the of Zoom is exhausting because you’re only working in a two dimensional world and your brain is looking for the third dimension. And I thought that was really interesting. I Think that it’s much more [00:12:00] human experience to be in these three dimensional worlds, and when you’re receiving information on more than one neural pathway, you’re reinforcing the architecture of the memory, which is really important because you know, we’re competing against other lighting manufacturers, reps, and you know, then in some cases there are the same or similar lights.

I would want to be remembered with our clients and the experience that we deliver to them. So yeah, I always am thinking about how many neuro pathways we can excite in a sales experience.

Bobby Bonett: So this virtual world that we’re talking about with Erin is the elevated environment’s workplace, which is where Tess and I and Andrew had an opportunity to run around and experience, as I mentioned in the intro a few weeks ago.

I’m wondering beyond. You know the feature based incentives that you placed into that digital twin Erin. Were there business rules or guardrails or requirements you had of your staff to be in this space so that they immersed [00:13:00] themselves in it and they became external advocates for bringing their clients and their partners into this space as well? Or was the adoption more natural?

Erin McDannald: The adoption was actually more natural. It was an invitation to be a part of something bigger. We are forging a way in a digital world that, that not many other companies in our space or no other company has done before, and that we have an obligation as humans to take our talents.

And apply them towards the human condition and the advancement of the human race. And I ultimately, fundamentally believe that if we all did the same thing, we would all be a lot better off. So I think it’s tying it to a higher purpose and understanding that what we’re doing is really important for the world and for the advancement of digital interfaces as we know it, and actually the human race.

Bobby Bonett: Yeah, I think that’s a testament to the level of engagement of the platform and also the community you’ve built at your business, Erin, [00:14:00] that folks were interested in coming back and coming back, because I, I know for many businesses the first time you enter a metaverse is fun and interesting. You build community, but getting folks to come back on day two and day three and day 10 is a little more difficult.

You’ve been live now with elevated environments since October. I’m wondering if you can share some of the feedback you’ve gotten from guests you’ve welcomed into the platform, and maybe how that’s helped inform your development roadmap as you continue to invite more individuals to experience the environment.

Erin McDannald: Yeah. You know, but some of the things that were surprising to me is that there was a better adoption rate than I expected, and that some of the older, what I would refer to as a baby boomer generation, is advocating for it in different ways. When you change the narrative on what it is, if you stop calling it the metaverse and you call it the digital twin, there’s a much bigger adoption.

One of the biggest surprises to me, and this is that our traffic is up in the physical [00:15:00] 30%. So if you wanna get people back to work, you should build a digital infrastructure. One employee described it to me as they got a remote control for work, and there’s a reinforcement of our brand every day in the metaverse.

But there’s a reinforcement in collaboration and also a reinforcement. It’s created this fear of missing out a little bit. So it’s been really, I was surprised to see that, but I, I was happy to see that the, that the digital twin reinforces the importance of the physical real estate. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do.

We’re doubling our real estate space. By creating a digital twin and optimizing it to creating come for us as well in the same ways that physical real estate is doing for us.

Tessa Bain: I’m so curious about. The A&D community and their response. And so my background’s similar to yours [00:16:00] in a sense, more on the furniture side.

And I’m thinking like, are we doing coffee breaks in the metaverse now? Like what about lunch and learns? Like how is that experience and, and what’s the feedback that the design community’s giving you?

Erin McDannald: Well, the design community is intrigued by it. They’re not a hundred percent sure what to do with digital twins yet. The consensus from the major design firms is that our Fortune 500 companies are asking for digital twins, but we don’t know what to do with them. Mm-hmm. Um, Are there coffee breaks? Yes. Are there collaboration? Are we taking walks in the metaverse and talking about things and it, and we are, and it’s, it’s interesting to see the reactions, but I think that the coolest thing for me the other day was I was in the metaverse and I could hear that lull of chatter that you used to hear in the office when everybody was there.

There and it was a lull. You could hear the voices in the background and I’m like, this, this is the energy that [00:17:00] we have been missing all of this time and it’s here and it’s in this digital environment. I had tears. It was a great moment. Cause I’m like, that is that kind of energy that you’re looking for and that we’ve been missing since we all went home in 2020.

Tessa Bain: And it’s about that human connection too, because when we walk through the space, and I know we were all transitioning, I mean, that’s one of the features that I think is really interesting is the change of perspective, but. So we were transitioning into the outdoor garden and I was a little bit, I think I was having a drink of water or something and it was so real in the moment when two of your team members were, I was like, wait, where’d everyone go?

And they were like, oh, Tessa, they went here. You can follow them this way. I thought that’s exactly the same as if I was navigating your office in person and, and lost my tour guide job. Yeah. It’s those moments of connection that we really experienced there.

Bobby Bonett: Yeah, I mean, how are, how have you found those changes in perspective might enhance that spontaneous walk that a couple of coworkers may want to take? Obviously there’s benefit in terms of showing off product in different [00:18:00] situations, but I’m sure also for. Your internal staff, there’re you’ve found some sort of benefit, giving them an opportunity to go outside and experience, you know, your other environments.

Erin McDannald: Yeah, well I think that spatial input’s really important in understanding the dynamics of the workplace, and we’ve lost that in Zoom and I think that we’re gaining that back.

You know, I, I’ll give an example. I, if you, if you’ve played Roblox, And they have the game survivor or even big brother on there. It’s a game. In one of those two games. You both get voted out by a series of people and you’re making spatial decisions based on the fact where the avatars are standing in the space.

And if you can kind of just feel if they’re talking offline and you’re not part of the conversation and I don’t know what the mechanism and have not been able to quantify what the mechanism of how we feel and what tells we’re receiving to make those decisions, but they’re really important in understanding how people interact.

So [00:19:00] that facial input and getting Zoom and being able to observe has. Contributed to a more seamless, I’m gonna call it distributed cognition, is what we’ve been kinda talking about. It’s really the understanding of what is going on in the society around you, and the unspoken understanding of what is, what is between people.

It’s this distributed cognition. I think that that spatial input is really important for that. So I think that that perspective’s been interesting, and I cannot wait for the day that we get rid of PowerPoint and we all start walking through these immersive storytelling experiences because I feel completely unengaged in PowerPoint, and I think there’s better way to convey your brand to your clients and your employees than PowerPoint.

Bobby Bonett: Yeah. Not to mention presenting a PowerPoint, uh, speaking of the shortcomings of Zoom is just a nightmare. Also, [00:20:00] cuz you find yourself presenting this 2D material and then looking on the right bar of Zoom and seeing people holding back yawns and you’re like, oh goodness. So, you know, I’ve, I’ve lost the audience and if there was a better way as we used to present in person, I can relate.

If you’re somebody listening to the show and. And you’re thinking about launching a digital twin of your office, maybe you’re thinking to yourself, what the heck do I need? Who do I need to hire? How do, what’s like the first step I take to building a virtual version of my in-person office? How did you navigate those steps?

Obviously, you jumped in really quickly it sounds, but what were some of the staff members you needed to hire, and where did you look to bring in the outside expertise if that was required, or maybe it wasn’t in order to build the elevated environment space.

Erin McDannald: Sure. Well, in the physical world, we had the infrastructure already as a lighting wrap.

I mean, we learned, we know how to talk to, to electronic things and get them to talk back to us, and so that was an easy transition for us. But as far as the digital twin was something that we always, you know, we, [00:21:00] we built ourselves. Because we are, you know, we’re Revit & AutoCAD users, and so that was easy for us to do.

It was putting it in the gaming platform and getting it to interact with us was where we had to expand. You know, we, we hired gaming programmers to, to do that. So we have five programmers onsite right now, and we work with an offsite team of five as well, and we’re building digital twins for people. It starts out with, a matter port or a LIDAR scan of your space, and we draw it and we bring it to life in various rendering programs.

And then we instill functionality into them based on your needs. And right now it’s all custom. So, but there, there are, you know, different things that we can write in. And yeah. So right now we specialize in building controls and we’ve also adapted our metaverse to work in the workplace.

Andrew Lane: We’ve talked a little bit about the talent you need [00:22:00] in order to build this, but I’m curious, you mentioned the experience of getting your staff engaged, but how are you thinking about this in terms of attracting new talent into the firm and positioning yourself as a workplace of choice?

Erin McDannald: I do think that the Metaverse brings a significant amount of brand equity to your brand. So I think that from a perspective of forward thinking, it’s a great avenue to go. You can be anywhere in the world and work in the Metaverse, and it can be seamless. The only problem we have is time zones at that point.

Andrew Lane: it’s a big planet. We’re not gonna get over that one easily. Yeah,

Erin McDannald: I know. We’re, I’m working on it, but Yeah. But it, it is interesting. We’ve found that we can also celebrate employees and HR is having fun with our roadmap right now because they have a million things. They’d like to implement for employees and really understanding for the employees within your space that have been there for a certain [00:23:00] amount of time so you can know who to ask questions of.

Also, we’re also designing some games, some onboarding games, so that we’ve had a lot of problems with onboarding since the pandemic, and that was a problem that needed to be fixed. Nobody knows anyone anymore, and I’ve expanded well beyond my real estate footprint now because I was always stuck. With the amount of desks that I had to fill, and now I can just double up in my digital twin.

So that’s been really interesting too.

Andrew Lane: Onboarding’s, like the universal problem of any business, obviously.

Erin McDannald: Okay, good. I don’t feel too bad.

Andrew Lane: No, you shouldn’t feel too bad. But you talked about, you know, HR getting in there and, and obviously sales probably has a role to play. How are you balancing your development roadmap for the product, given that you do have now some excited internal stakeholders who are gonna wanna see features and tools added?

And obviously you have a budget associated with this and decisions to be made around what to prioritize.

Erin McDannald: Yeah, I think that’s pretty [00:24:00] easy for me because right now we’re trying to understand how digital twins can generate revenue. So if the feature will generate revenue for the company, then it’s a good idea to put it in.

And that definitely takes the front of the way.

Bobby Bonett: So how about data across whether it’s, you know, internal departments or external clients? I mean, there’s probably a lot of interesting takeaways that your HR team would be interested in as it relates to how your staff is leveraging the environment. I’m sure the sales team is interested when somebody, um, a client that they bring into the space is gazing in a particular area for an extended period of time, what that might mean.

So what are, what, you know, what are some of the interesting data points you’re tracking or maybe some data points that have been opened up for you as a result of having this tool in your toolkit?

Erin McDannald: Yeah, collaboration data points have been really interesting to me. We’re learning who’s collaborating with who I’m learning, that we’ve learned to really hone in on how to hone in on pulling data points of human behaviors [00:25:00] so that we can, the behaviors issues in the past with, um, large, um, sales, uh, CRM type programs.

That gave us a lot of data and I, and, but the, the data wasn’t, It’s hard to describe, but the data wasn’t 360 degrees around you. You have to have the right data points in order to make, make the right actions. So if you’re like, uh, for instance, as a sales organization, I will. Like understand what architectural accounts are performing for us, but we can’t keep the data point on the fact that maybe the salesperson who was the best friend of so and so was doing really well in an account and they left an account and now they’re not doing well.

The data point is hard to define with so many human nuances. So we really shifted our perspective and started to look at [00:26:00] behaviors instead of, you know, particular data points. And so in order to capture human behavior, you have to have several points of data points. In one space at one time. So you’re measuring air quality, you’re measuring where people are in the space.

You’re measuring what desk they booked and who they booked it next to, and who they’re collaborating with on a regular basis. So that was interesting. I’ve learned what lines are selling or will sell the most by the amount of samples that are moving in my sample room. And they’re all labeled.

So I know if there’s a particular manufacturer and there’s then no one in that row, they’re not showing those samples so that we have to do something to make change. All of the data decisions that we pulled and the analytics that we’ve understood, we, we understand now how much CO2 a human brings into our space.

Hmm, our physical space and how to react to that. I often think of going into the metaverse or [00:27:00] your digital twin, like setting up shop on the Mars. You have to, you know, gain control of communication. You have to understand what your environments are. And I often wondered like, Why don’t we think of the Earth like that?

Why don’t we think of our environments on the Earth like that? We kind of take it for granted because we were born here, but we’re not really thinking about how our environments are feeding us. So connecting them to the digital twin has really allowed us to look at data in a more spatial way and understand it.

Andrew Lane: Are you sharing that transparently back with employees or at least portions of it so that they can understand their own impact and such?

Erin McDannald: Yeah, they have a mobile app and it’s a 2D interface, and it tells ’em what the air quality is real time, and it tells them who’s in the office and what desk is booked and who booked what desk.

So that there is a transparency and collaboration. One of the things that we’re already intent on is not tracking people. [00:28:00] In a sense, we track things, so everybody has consented to understanding how that we’re studying the how we use real estate, but we don’t necessarily exactly know unless you’ve actually made a mark on the drawing somewhere, like if you’ve booked a desk yourself.

But as far as real time tracking within the space, we’ve chosen not to do that.

Tessa Bain: It’s such an interesting approach on this physical, digital, and I’m trying hard not to say phygital approach to work and I just did it. I interested did it anyways. It’s easy. I’d be curious to hear. Do you have any unique perspectives on just based on this experience for the future of work?

Erin McDannald: Well, I have a few things. I think hybrid is here to stay for sure. And the employees, I’ve spoken in sort of a new perspective on work in general. What’s interesting that has happened to us, and I see it, I see it happening to other people, [00:29:00] multi-vendor offices. So you know that WeWork idea, right? So you know, everybody goes, well my office has turned into a multi-vendor office.

Space because we have these options, which means that we have some of our, I our outsource IT company sitting in here with us renting desks. We have a design firm renting desks from us, and we’re kind of all coming together to create really cool things and have ideas. And I really have, I’m enjoying that.

And I also we’re seeing a trend that has been interesting to us is, The tiny office movement essentially, where there’s, there’s a lot of building of tiny or smaller spaces rather than big spaces in city centers. Everybody is kind of decentralizing a little bit and there’s a lot. Smaller offices so to think about that, we have [00:30:00] a similar situation we just built an office in Richmond and we’re tying them together digitally so that we can interact that way.

Bobby Bonett: It’d be interesting to see whether foot traffic. Migrates toward one off office or the other. Since each party will be able to experience the other office in a digital and physical space, I’m hoping you can maybe tell us a little bit about your roadmap and maybe one or two things that are particularly exciting to you or mind blowing that maybe you wouldn’t have envisioned to be possible a few months ago, but now they’re coming into reality.

Erin McDannald: And I talked a little bit about that seamless connection mm-hmm. Between the physical and virtual world, and that is a big deal for us. To me, that’s gonna be a huge day for us because that collaboration door gets opened and the accessibility door gets opened. So that means that anyone can walk up to my window in front of me and knock on the door and ask to talk to me real time.

What’s interesting to me, When you work on Zoom or Teams particularly is you can’t see behind the [00:31:00] icon. And I love the idea of being able to see behind the icon, which is what the Metaverse essentially is. So that’s really exciting for us, and we’re gonna continue to develop that seamless connection between the physical and digital world.

That is the long-term play of the Metaverse anyway. In a sense is combining those two worlds so that we’re not stuck in our phones and distracted from life, that it seamlessly integrates into our life. So that’s important. Like I said, the PowerPoints, I cannot wait for new storytelling features and those are coming soon.

And some collaboration tools that you wish you had in the physical universe. There are just simple things that notes. You know, after you’ve had a conversation with somebody, you can. Make a quick note on them so the next time they approach you, you remember what you talked to them last about, and it automatically comes up and it doesn’t, you know, it kinda, it can help you organize yourself in a way [00:32:00] that you can’t do in the physical universe.

Andrew Lane: Is that almost like an an augmented reality layer inside your virtual reality? I love that concept. That’s

Erin McDannald: why long term roadmap, I have dreams about that as well, but we haven’t started that. But I do think about being able to, Walk into our sample room and be able to virtually check out a sample and then walk in the physical world and that maybe you have glasses on and you’re able to see ’em.

But one thing that we are pretty adamant on is no glasses. And that’s important to us because we find that they’re disorienting and they’re hard to wear, and I don’t. Think that they’re sustainable in the long term, so that’s why we’re going the route of the physical real estate and putting in smart windows and projectors.

Bobby Bonett: I also wanna go back to one thing you had mentioned, Erin, which it stuck out to me, which is the power of a digital twin to enhance your brand. I’m wondering how you feel about, in particular, internal brand [00:33:00] equity amongst your staff now that folks aren’t, you know, sitting in a home office that doesn’t really have a tie-in to your environment and they’re not watching the c e o or.

Or their head of marketing also sit in their home office, but instead, everyone’s congregating in an LE branded space. How is that reinforced brand equity? I know Andrew asked about recruitment earlier, but I’m wondering about maybe employee retention in the long run, and just a feeling of a sense of place amongst your employees as they work for you and on your team.

Erin McDannald: Absolutely. I think you’re buying into a culture essentially when you have a digital twin and you’re putting people into it and you’re committing to a culture of transparency in a sense, on both the employer and employee part. You know, as equity, the internal staff, I once the biggest form of flattery for a baby is mimicry.

And in that I always thought that it’s best to meet the human in the most human of conditions, and so there’s no better digital interface. For [00:34:00] humans than one that looks like us and one that interacts with us and the way that we interact with the physical world. And I, and I think it reflects as an investment in people.

Before the pandemic, I knew the names of all the children, of all of our employees, and I lost that touch. And, um, I want that back. So, yeah, I think that brand equity, you know, the investment in the human and telling people that we’re invest in making the hybrid workplace work because we found that we could be with our families better and we can better take care of ourselves in a way that we couldn’t before. I think we have a, a lot of mutual respect for each other in our workplace.

Bobby Bonett: I’ll say, Erin, sometimes I mix up the names of my own kids, so I wouldn’t feel so bad losing that.

Erin McDannald: Yeah, me too. Me too.

Bobby Bonett: Let’s head over to the plug section. Erin, I’d love for you to share a little bit more about maybe what you’re working on at the larger enterprise at lighting environments, or maybe [00:35:00] most specifically, especially since we’ve been talking about it over the last half hour or so, how folks could experience elevated environments for themselves.

Erin McDannald: Yeah, you can visit our website at and fill out the form on our website, and we’d be happy to take you through a demo. There are some shots of our metaverse on that space too, so you can kind of take a look at that. But I’d love to invite anyone who’s listening to come and take a tour within our metaverse.

So just sign up on our website. We’ll reach out to you from retail to corporate offices to even some hospitality going on right now within digital twins and all have different purposes, but we’re having a great time. Erin,

Tessa Bain: what advice would you give or resources that you could share with our listeners out there who are looking to get into the space or even just understand everything a little bit better?

Erin McDannald: Yeah, I think as far as advice, I think if you’re looking to solve a problem, the solution should solve more [00:36:00] than one problem. And I think that in these virtual spaces you can solve more than one problem with one solution. So I think that’s been really fun and interesting for us. And I always go back to this quote from Douglas Rosh, his book Team Human.

It’s not a matter of rejecting the digital or the technological, it’s a matter of retrieving the values that we’re in danger of leaving behind and then embedding them in the digital infrastructure. Hmm. And I think that’s so profound because when I give, when I give advice to people, it’s just about embedding what’s human about us in the digital infrastructure.

And I think that would be the most important piece of advice moving forward.  

Bobby Bonett: Thank you so much Erin. We really appreciate having you, amazing insights to share and uh, and I would en encourage everybody, I’ll endorse the plug. Go ahead, head over to to get a tour of the elevated environment space.

Andrew Lane: [00:37:00] He doesn’t always endorse the plugs. Erin, that’s, and he loves the plugs, but this is, this is uncharted territory, so you’ve impressed Bobby.

Erin McDannald: Thank you, Bobby. I feel particularly special. Thank you for having me. I really had a great time.

Andrew Lane: Thanks, Erin. Yeah, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it. Great.

Tessa Bain: Loved our talk with Erin today. Everything she shared is so fascinating. She really drew on so much utility. This one aligned with me just you know, in a background in my career being in business development and sales for manufacturers and for rep groups. So not unlike what Erin’s doing in lighting environments, and so to actually be able to walk through the space and then to talk to her about her motivation, what inspired her, and what information they’re looking to draw from this.

I thought that was really fascinating because it’s a super practical way that we can start to apply this technology to what we do in our everyday lives. And I, and I really loved hearing what she said about the feedback from the A&D community and how this was working for them as they were being taken on this journey too.

Andrew Lane: I really was gonna say, building on what Tess was saying about the utility, the way that she’s taken the work they did in Internet [00:38:00] of Things and connected that into what they’re doing in Metaverse was so impressive to me. The kind of data and the kind of information that’s available to their employees, and then soon to be the clients that they’re getting onboarded with this as well.

It’s really a new kind of way to think about your office space and think about your environment and in an industry that cares so much about, you know, carbon neutrality and a lot of these other data points, an ability to actually see that in real time and experience that and understand. Like she talked about the carbon footprint of an employee being in the office.

Hmm. You know, that’s really interesting stuff that people just aren’t really doing around the water cooler. That I think was one of the more compelling areas of what a future workplace might look like when we start to see these phygital environments realized.

Bobby Bonett: I feel like every subsequent conversation we had with Erin, there are more light bulbs going off in the room.

When we were touring her virtual space, we. Made a couple of suggestions that she turned to her developer and had him put them on his roadmap. I mean, this is a collaborative moment for people who are experimenting, for people who are trying to get [00:39:00] ahead of the curve here. And I think you’ll find if you allow yourself to spend some time with the folks who are playing around or.

Or actually executing and activating, in this case, in the metaverse, you’ll start to kind of understand and feel better and, and get a real handle on what the applications might be. And you might start getting even more excited about this technology because I know that Erin was another one of those folks who after our interview, were like, let’s, let’s schedule the follow up.

In six months. Mm-hmm. Because things are happening quick here. Um, we’re excited by her roadmap. Andrew, like you said, just the connectivity she’s building through IOT. It’ll be fascinating to watch.

Andrew Lane: Yeah, absolutely. A  good plug on the return podcast with Erin as well, so we’ll all look forward to that.

But in the meantime, we would like to thank our fabulous production team of Sam Wize, Hannah, as well as Kasey. At the studio by SANDOW and a special shout out to the newest member of the SANDOW team. Rob Schulte, welcome aboard. Rob. Just a reminder for all you loyal listeners, the various entry is a part of the rapidly [00:40:00] growing SURROUND podcast network.

So make sure you go to surround podcasts. That’s podcast with an Subscribe, smash that follow button and be a part of a really exciting growing number of design conversations. And of course, as a part of that, make sure you join us next time while we continue to break down the Barriers to Entry.

Andrew Lane Host profile picture

Andrew Lane

Andrew Lane is Co-founder of digby, co-founder of Interior Design Magazine’s (MAD) Awards and co-host of the podcast Barriers to Entry.

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Bobby Bonett

Bobby Bonett is EVP of Digital and strategic growth at SANDOW DESIGN GROUP and co-host of the podcast Barriers to Entry.

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Tessa Bain Host profile picture

Tessa Bain

Tessa Bain is a digby co-founder, co-founder of Interior Design Magazine’s MAD Awards and also co-host of Barriers to Entry.

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