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The pros of dynamic work

Season 2 rolls on with a visit from Samantha Fisher, Head of Dynamic Work at Okta, an identity and access management company that’s actually expanding its number of offices even though it does not require its 5,000-plus employees to come into the office. In an insightful conversation with host Ryan Anderson, Sam breaks down the implications of enforcing a standard eight-hour workday and shares how a dynamic work schedule and environment encourages productivity, equity, and empowerment.

For more content geared to help organizations prepare for the future of work, visit https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/designing-better-tomorrow-millerknoll/.


Speaker 1 (00:05):

This is Looking Forward: Conversations about the Future of Work, brought to you by MillerKnoll.

Ryan Anderson (00:18):

Hey listeners. Today, we’re talking with Samantha Fisher, Head of Dynamic Work at Okta. Sam’s had a long career in corporate real estate, but in her current role, her focus is on enabling a highly flexible approach to working for Okta that extends well beyond their physical workspaces. What she has to share with you might surprise you, including how they’re expanding their number of offices, despite the fact that their employees can work wherever they’d like. I’ve had the chance to previously interview Sam for a video that can be found on Herman Miller’s YouTube page. And I always find my conversations with her to be insightful, enlightening, and extremely relevant for any organization embracing more flexible working. Enjoy this conversation with Sam Fisher. Hey Sam, thanks so much for joining the podcast.

Samantha Fisher (01:02):

Hi Ryan. Thanks for having me.

Ryan Anderson (01:03):

I’m thrilled to have you. And I need to give you a special shout out, because before Looking Forward was a podcast, it was a video series and you were our very first guest, talking about Dynamic Working at Okta, and it got such a positive response. I’m just thrilled that you’re back. Maybe sharing some of that again, for those that haven’t heard it, but also giving us an update on how you’re doing.

Samantha Fisher (01:23):

Yeah. I’m excited to be here. It was such a great entree. I believe I been fairly new at Okta when we first did that. So we’ve definitely learned a lot in the year and a half that I’ve been here. So I’m excited.

Ryan Anderson (01:34):

Well, let’s start with the basics. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you and what you do.

Samantha Fisher (01:38):

Sure. So for your listeners, if they haven’t had a chance to watch your video podcast, I’m Sam Fisher, I’m Head of Dynamic Work at Okta, which is an access identity company. We stand for a trust in terms of how we manage workforces and workplaces, manage access identity into different applications. I came to Okta about a year and a half ago, from a very long and storied career in corporate real estate and workplace solutions, things like that, where we really focus on employee experience and how do we think about employee engagement in both a distributed as well as centralized operating model? When I came to Okta, it was shortly after the pandemic had started, and many companies were making the transition to a flexible hybrid, making the decision around whether going fully remote. What does that look like to organizations? What does that mean to them?

Samantha Fisher (02:32):

And more importantly, what does that mean to their employees? And so, I came to Okta and it’s been a really great opportunity here because I leaded across the entire organization. And my role is super cross functional. And I’m really touching multiple, different types of the organization all day long, whether that’s other teams within our HR organization, learning and development or talent management, or our HR business partners. Whether that’s our technology teams or we’re talking with our finance teams, whether that’s engaging directly with businesses, our sustainability and social impact teams. So my role is very cross functional and my job here, is really to kind of set a strategy around what does a new model of working look like for Okta and how do we engage employees in a way so that it promotes the flexibility and choice that we are striving for in the dynamic work environment, while maintaining opportunities for engagement and community building, which we know are so important to building culture and relationships in an organization.

Ryan Anderson (03:38):

Yeah, it feels like Okta’s been really ahead of the game for a while. And I frequently reference your role and Okta as being one of those organizations that was thinking about flexible working in new ways of working before the pandemic began. And one of the things I find so interesting about your role is, even though you’ve got this fantastic background in corporate real estate, you’re really looking at changes in work, not just workplace. So give us a sense of, if you’re an employee at Okta, what does working look like for you?

Samantha Fisher (04:08):

So working at Okta is really personalized and that’s one of the things I really love about dynamic work and the way that our philosophy for dynamic work. Dynamic work for us is really built on a pillar of trust. And you hear that a lot in organizations when they talk about distributed work, when people talk about remote work. It’s all based on the tenant of trust and that you’re trusting that you’ve hired really smart, talented people and they can manage and make their own decisions about how they get work done, in the way that best suits them. And so, when you’re an employee at Okta, we trust you to make the best decisions about how and where and when, which is a big component of being a globally distributed organization. You get your work done. So that perspective of the nine to five is really out the window for us.

Samantha Fisher (04:55):

And so, depending on your job role and where your team is and how broad and broadly distributed your team is, you might work a portion of your day in the morning, and then you have family commitments or some other commitments that you do during the middle of the day. And then you might get back online and work a portion of the day in the evening. You might work a straight eight hours, if that’s more aligned with what you have going on personally, as well as with the way your team works and with the way that you best function. I like to akin dynamic work to learning styles. And so, we’ve learned over the years that there’s multiple learning styles and no one learning style can be applied to every single person. And so, I akin working styles very similarly.

Samantha Fisher (05:35):

It’s taken us a long time to get to that point where we say, not everybody works well in a straight eight hour, nine to five job, in an office. That doesn’t work for everybody. And so, what I really love about being a worker at Okta is it is dynamic and it is personalized. And we have a framework by which we enable that. And we’re working through a lot of operational components, around how do you maintain communications? How do you provide updates? What are the async tools that we’re using to make sure people know that, if you’re in another time zone, you don’t have to be on for a meeting that is when you’re sleeping. So those are all the things that, when you come to work as an employee at Okta, that we are facilitating and empowering our employees to make those decisions that make the most sense for them in a way that they’re going to be the most productive.

Ryan Anderson (06:25):

And I remember you talking to me in the past about equity and how this degree of flexibility actually promotes equitable work experiences. Is that still a priority?

Samantha Fisher (06:35):

It is. So if our foundation is trust, we have four pillars that go along with that. Those pillars are flexibility, choice, community and equity. And we talked a little bit about flexibility. That’s really around time, the flexibility in your schedule when you choose to work, choices, really a lot of it is around place. So where you’re choosing to do your work at, and it could be in an office that we have, it could be in a co-working solution. It could be at your house. It can be some other place, community, and those are the pieces that you’re really focused on to make sure all of our people feel engaged. They feel empowered. They feel connected to the Okta culture and they feel connected to their teammates and people that are potentially in their geography that aren’t necessarily on their team. And then, equity. Equity is a huge component for us and yes, the flexibility and the choice create that equity.

Samantha Fisher (07:27):

But there’s also equity that, because we empower our employees to make those choices. We’re not saying, “You have to come in these days the week”, or, “You have to come to this office”, or, “You can’t relocate”, or, “You can’t take advantage of a mobility policy.” That equity is for every employee in our organization. And that really creates a stronger organic culture than one where if we were to say, “These are the required days in the week”, or, “These are the required work styles.” By promoting that flexibility and really focusing on the trust factor, people organically and are naturally driven to do their very best work in the ways that are the most productive for them. And they feel equitable because they get to make that choice.

Ryan Anderson (08:14):

Those pillars are powerful and they’re very intuitive. So I love that. Let me ask though, the question that is probably on many of our listeners’ minds, because so many of our listeners have a role within the design or management of workspace. With this much freedom and this degree of choice, what’s the role of workplace? And how has this moved towards dynamic working impacted your real estate footprint? It sounds like you still have offices. Tell us about their purpose and what you’re doing with them.

Samantha Fisher (08:45):

Personally, and at Okta, we believe that offices play a role in the entire ecosystem and life cycle of an employee. They’re part of the community. When you buy a house and you live in a community, you build this infrastructure of support and network and you see it manifests itself daily, in the way that people care for and take care of each other. That’s your home network, that’s where you live. And so, that’s really the purposes that we believe our offices now serve. It is a place for caring. It’s a place for engagement. It’s a place for relationship building. It’s a place to grow your personal networks. It’s a place to grow your professional networks. It’s a place to have learning and development and career opportunities, because maybe you don’t have those things easily accessible to you in your home office.

Samantha Fisher (09:36):

So for us, our offices really serve a very different purpose. Now, our intent around how we think about those, is manifesting itself in our design standards in, there’s a lot of community spaces that are being built in our spaces. We are retro fading or when we do a new build, there’s less one to one desk ratios. It’s more shared spaces. There’s a lot of smaller conference rooms and then larger conference rooms, which is a bit of a pendulum swing from probably 10 years ago, when I was designing workspaces where we were really focused on medium size conference rooms. Now, we’re focused on the small ones for the onesie, twosies, maybe three people conversations and the really large ones, because the teams are coming together. They’re organically choosing to come together on certain days, because they want to be together in the workplace.

Samantha Fisher (10:26):

They want to be together in a place. And while that’s happening in our physical real estate, which we’re committed to, we have not reduced our footprint. We have sublet some spaces in some of our locations, but primarily what we’re seeing is growth particularly internationally, not as much domestically, because we have other solutions like co-working or LiquidSpace pilots or things like that we’re doing, but primarily in our international locations. And so, we’re seeing growth and that growth in a physical space is both demand generated by the business and the business teams and what they’re doing, the geographies that those teams are in and the customers that they’re servicing. And then, our workplace data, that’s telling us what people are doing when they’re coming into the office. So for an example, we might have a whole new class of new business development representatives in a specific geography, and they’re all fresh recruits out of college and they’re trying to learn from each other and they want to understand how certain things get done, and they want to build this professional network.

Samantha Fisher (11:33):

And so what we’re seeing is, there is a demand by those teams, particularly if they’re in a geography internationally, that they want to come together. And so we just make a decision about, what’s the best way that we can support them do that. And whether that’s a service office with WeWork, whether that’s an on demand location that they can book with each other, or whether that’s a fully managed Okta office, but we make that decision. We have a series of decision making that we look at to understand what kind of office we need to have, but that’s the intent of our offices. And so, we are committed to having the right mix of physical and virtual presence.

Samantha Fisher (12:14):

And for those physical presences, we want them to be in places where people can take advantage of them, whether that’s locally, because they live near them, or whether that’s through traveling to come together for a team event or an Okta for Good event, which is our social impact arm. Whether that’s supporting the community, investing in the community, whatever that looks like for our employees, we want them to come together and do that as a team, because that’s where we know relationships and deep trust and rapport, and just that community feel is built.

Ryan Anderson (12:46):

You’ve said so much that I want to unpack. But one thing that I don’t want to skip over is, it sounds to me like in this model, the office isn’t necessarily viewed as the place to be productive. It sounds like you’ve embraced the idea that productivity can happen a lot of places. And the physical office takes on a new heightened role around the health of the community and the culture, but not necessarily an exclusive focus on being productive.

Samantha Fisher (13:11):

That’s a hundred percent right. And our CEO, Todd, came out earlier this year, and actually I think it was last year in Twitter and talked a lot about that. Our focus for the office is not productivity. We know that people can be productive in a multitude of ways. And again, it comes to, what is the best working style for each individual? Just like, what’s the best learning style for each individual? And some people are super productive in an open environment where they can brainstorm and bounce ideas off of different people and whiteboard. And that’s the way that they’re the most productive, but there’s plenty of people that are also super productive when they’re better in a quiet environment, with no distraction and they can focus on what they’re doing. And those are two different work styles. They’re congruent.

Samantha Fisher (13:56):

They’re not independent of each other, but they happen in different places. And so, we have team members that come in because their productivity is really dependent on getting together with their team in whiteboarding sessions and doing things like that. So we want to enable that, but we also want to enable the folks who, that’s not part of how they get work done or how they process information. And so, that’s the equity component coming back into that is, the office isn’t just about coming in and putting your headphones in and focusing on your keyboard for eight hours. It can be that if you need it, but mostly that’s not what we’re seeing, even when I go into the office and I’ve been to four of our domestic offices. What I’m seeing and what we’re seeing from our workplace data is, people are coming in and they’re using that time to build their team building, to build their relationships.

Samantha Fisher (14:48):

Maybe they’re working through a super complex, challenging problem. And I’ve talked a little bit about this too, about asynchronous work. And sometimes async as great as it is. It’s sometimes difficult to get to the root of the problem in async. And so, we see a lot of teams that, maybe they’ve done a fair amount of async and this is one thing, one challenge that they want all five of the people. They’ve all agreed. They’ve all come together. They sit in front of a whiteboard and they hammer out a problem that they’ve been working on, and that just feels better to them. So we want to enable both of those types of working styles.

Ryan Anderson (15:22):

Well, having heard that, I’m going to amend what I said earlier, which is, this is a highly broadened definition of productivity. I think it’s a more enlightened view of productivity. It’s not just, as you described, sitting in front of your laptop, typing away. It’s thinking about all of those interactions and how they contribute to the organizational performance at Okta, and supporting those things that, clearly based on your description, would be tougher to support if you didn’t have an office or a whole series of offices. And I think it’s awesome that you’ve actually expanded your real estate footprint and your number of locations as a result. You’re not the first organization I’ve talked to that has really embraced flexible working and actually grown the number of spaces they have. Sometimes I tell people that and they seem surprised, but I think it just goes to show you that, if you rethink the fundamental idea of what an office might be and make it what the employees might want it to be, there’s still very much a reason for them to exist and even to thrive.

Samantha Fisher (16:19):

Agreed. And I think it has to be decision based by the employees. So I just did a piece for another article and we talked about what that looks like for our offices. So we have around 5,300 employees and almost, not quite half, but 40% of them choose to make the decision to come in to work in the office at some point every week. So 40% of our employees are coming to an office at least one time a week. That could be, we could be having multiple people coming in, but that’s powerful. That’s truly equity and empowerment of saying, “You have this choice, you have this flexibility. What works best for you, because if it works best for you, it’s going to 99% of the time going to work best for Okta. And what we’re trying to do for our customers.”

Ryan Anderson (17:08):

It seems like location strategy becomes a major challenge with this model. You’ve mentioned a few things in terms of having data around either your employees or where they might be, or how they’re using their facility. You’ve also mentioned using coworking. Is this the role that coworking plays? Is it a solution to address space or areas where you might not have a space, but where you might be thinking of a space? How do you figure out where you need Okta spaces and where you might lean on coworking?

Samantha Fisher (17:36):

So I think it’s actually a mix of two things. I think it’s, one, is your talent strategy. And so, I think you can’t build a workplace or a location strategy without a workforce strategy. And many companies struggle with that in general, around talent. And even in a distributed environment, talent has pockets. And so you have to really understand, what is the talent that you’re going after? Where do they live? Where do they want to live? You have to really understand your talent strategy and what’s important to you as an organization, because there are organizations out there that will say, “This is the talent that we’re going after. And it’s in this location and that’s okay. And we’re not going to broadly define that or make that more expansive.” So I think the first thing that organizations really have to do is, understand what your talent strategy is and what’s the intent behind how you’re doing your talent strategy.

Samantha Fisher (18:27):

And then, as you lean into your talent strategy, and for us, our talent strategy was really to be more globally distributed. We really wanted to tap into talent, where they were at and not necessarily say you had to move to San Francisco or you have to move to Chicago, or the places where we had physical footprints or in places where we had a physical office. And instead of saying, “This is where we’re going to put offices, and then we’re going to hire around it.” We reversed it, which I think is what a lot of companies are trying to figure out, that the best way to do, and said, “Where’s the talent at?” Okay, great. So if the talent is widely distributed across the US, we’ll just use the US as an example, then we’re going to have a physical presence on the coasts.

Samantha Fisher (19:09):

And primarily in urban locations, because we know that’s where a lot of talent aggregates, particularly for our business, which a lot of our business is in our go to market teams. And so those are generally, it’s a young demographic, they’re coming out of college. A lot of times they stay around the places where they went to school at, or they might be relocating home. But we saw a huge opportunity in Thailand pipeline in those locations, which is where we put a lot of our physical locations initially. Now what we’re seeing is, as we broadened our talent strategy and our talent pipeline is, new critical mass areas are popping up for us. And so, that might be, DFW is a huge opportunity area for us. We don’t have a physical location there, but that’s where our pilot with liquid space comes in.

Samantha Fisher (19:55):

We have a area popping up in Atlanta. We have an area popping up in Boston. So we see these areas that start popping up all over the place. And our goal in that is exactly what you described, Ryan, where we will have an opportunity to on-demand, find some on-demand space for those employees that really supports the community building. It also supports the productivity if they want that, but it’s really to bring those teams together in a way that builds the Okta community there. And then we start to step to the next one, which is, “Okay now, are we ready for a service office?” Which would be a provider of some sort, whether that’s WeWork or Convene or Industrialist, all those different service providers, that’s where we would have a service office.

Samantha Fisher (20:38):

And then at some point, if we continue to have growth in that area and it makes sense for us to do it, we might move to a fully managed, leased Okta office. So that’s our progression. And we do have specific numbers and metrics that help us make that progression, but that’s where we start. We start with where’s the talent at and what is our talent strategy, and how do we want to leverage that talent? And how does that help us from an operational perspective, run our business? And then we come behind with, okay, now how can the location strategy support the talent strategy? Because, the talent is the most important part.

Ryan Anderson (21:14):

Well, shout out by the way, to our mutual friend, Mark Gilbert, at LiquidSpace. I think the role of coworking, but also aggregators within the world of coworking and flexible workspace are playing such an interesting role. Hey friends, we’ll get back to our episode in just a moment, but first I want to take this opportunity to let you know that Looking Forward is part of Surround, a podcast network curated by StandOut Design Group. Surround brings together some of the best architecture and design driven audio content available. So if you like what you hear from us, visit surroundpodcasts.com and check out some of the other great shows on the network. As I listen to you describe this, what keeps coming to my mind is just how critical this link to human resources is. And I think a lot of people have been talking about it, but as you get tactical around understanding changes in the workforce, understanding location, where that hiring might be. It makes so much sense, particularly for a role like yours, which is not just focused on the physical environments, but all facets of dynamic working to have that strong HR connection.

Samantha Fisher (22:17):

Agreed, 100%.

Ryan Anderson (22:18):

Well, I want to pick up on something else you’ve mentioned a few times, which is asynchronous work patterns. I think when I talk with organizations, most are struggling with being too dependent on synchronous collaboration, meaning way too many video meetings. In fact, it may be the single most cited reason I hear that people struggle to come into the office is that, if they’ve got six or seven hours of video meetings along, that it’s not particularly enjoyable to make a commute and just sit in front of their laptop in the office. They want to spend more time interacting with others. And the topic of becoming less synchronous, balancing those synchronous interactions, either in person or on video with asynchronous collaboration tools, asynchronous work processes, is one that I actually wish I heard more organizations talking about, because it feels to me like a key critical component to really supporting a flexible distributed workforce. Tell us a little bit about asynchronous collaboration at Okta and how you’re sporting it.

Samantha Fisher (23:19):

So this is an area that, like most companies that are making this transition, particular companies didn’t start as remote first. We’re working through it, to be fully transparent. We haven’t figured it out necessarily any more than anyone else. We are in the process of publishing some documentation internally, that talks about adapting to asynchronous work. And what does that mean for employees that are making a switch from traditional legacy, in-office type working? What does that mean for new employees that are coming from either another organization that was in-office or even another organization that was remote? And then what does it mean for our new hires, college hires? I think asynchronous working is a challenge for many organizations on a couple of fronts. Most organizations are driven by delivery and execution, not necessarily strategy and white space thinking and things like that.

Samantha Fisher (24:20):

And so it’s challenging in an asynchronous environment because, what I have personally experienced is, there is a lag that happens when you’re working asynchronously, that doesn’t happen obviously, when you’re working synchronously. If you’re sitting in a room with people and you’re all talking and you’re trying to problem solve, you’re doing it together. And it’s happening real time. When you’re doing the same thing, asynchronously, it doesn’t happen real time. You might start a document or you might start a Slack and you send it to someone who’s working in a different time zone. And by the time they get into that document, you’ve sometimes in some cases, have moved on to something else. And so, the flow by which work happens, gets interrupted, or the flow by which to some degree, thinking happens, might get interrupted. And so what I think organizations really have to do is, create the time. We put a lot of time demands on deliverables.

Samantha Fisher (25:19):

Many of us, myself included, underestimate the complexity of things and how long it takes to actually get things done, particularly when you’re working cross functionally. And that’s what asynchronous work is a lot, you’re working in small teams, but a lot of times you’re working cross functionally, because a lot of cross functional roles have that distributed impact and that distributed footprint. And so, I’ve learned a lot from other partners and other teams that I’ve talked with, around giving people the time to truly formulate ideas and put them out there for other people to read. So, as an example, I was at the Running Remote Conference in Montreal earlier this year. And I was on a panel with probably folks that you know, chase Warrington from Doist, and Darren Murph from GitLab. And we were talking about async, and how do we do async well. And one of the things that both Darren and I talked, or actually chase and I talked a lot about was this concept of, it has to be done now, the imediacy that people feel when they work in an organization.

Samantha Fisher (26:23):

And to some degree, there’s even more pressure when you’re working remotely, because we haven’t made the transition. I think just in general, as an industry to managing performance by delivery, as opposed to managing performance by presence. And through overheard conversations, or you saw something on a whiteboard, you kind of know what’s going on. And so, I think a lot of employees feel the pressure to deliver more quickly in a virtual or remote environment, because that’s their measure by which they’re getting assessed. And so, the challenge that async sometimes poses is, it’s not always quick. It can be, but if you’re really doing something with a lot of thought and you’re trying to problem solve, that’s not going to happen quickly in an async environment, because people need time to put something on a piece of paper, formulate some thoughts, share it with some other people.

Samantha Fisher (27:18):

They add some additional thoughts. Now, maybe you’re tweaking it on the margins or they’re tweaking it on the margins. So again, back to my conversation with chase, we were talking about something that he started at Doist. And he put something out on a document that he shared with a number of folks at the organization. And it took a week. It took a week for them to get it all through the processing and the commenting and to something that they could actually action. That is just not the culture of a lot of organizations, and maybe because he works for a company that is really internationally based, it’s more acceptable.

Samantha Fisher (27:57):

That’s not a US culture kind of thing. We’re speed. We’re fast. That’s the way that we have functioned for many, many years. And so, async is a challenge I think, for a lot of organizations, because you do feel like there is a lag that doesn’t happen when you’re working synchronously. And so, async can’t work for every scenario, but organizations that are making this transition to flexible, hybrid, dynamic, or even fully remote, really have to figure out how to help their employees make that transition. And more importantly, give them grace and permission to take a little bit longer to do something.

Ryan Anderson (28:36):

Well, I think that you’re honing in on this transition from not necessarily being remote first, to behaving this way is a real challenge. I’ve gotten a chance to be a part of some teams and to observe some teams that maybe originated their work as remote first. And asynchronous can be very, very fast, because you’re building the entire process around it. But I do think you’ve put your finger on it. Most organizations haven’t started that way. By the way, for the sake of our listeners, if you want to know more about this, Darren Murph, Head of Remote at GitLab was our guest on episode two of season one, of Looking Forward. So you can check out that episode and hear more about what he has to say about this topic too, but it sounds like we’re all on that curve together, that learning curve together.

Ryan Anderson (29:19):

Sam, I know we’re getting a little bit long on time. I could talk to you and this is not hyperbally. I could talk to you for hours, because I love these conversations, but let me ask a couple of key questions here, before we wrap. One is, because you’re looking at all these different facets of flexible working. Are there other things we haven’t talked about beyond the spaces, understanding the workforce planning, asynchronous collaboration, that you would say in your experience, an organization really has to figure out if they’re going to support flexible working in the future?

Samantha Fisher (29:51):

I think a lot of it comes down to the people and how do you help people make the transition from being in-person working leaders, to virtual and distributed team people leaders? There’s a difference. In my opinion, I’m very fortunate to have worked for Capital One. Again, not necessarily a plug for them, but they really focused on, how do you grow a people leader? And it’s a different skillset than being a leader that manages work. And so in a distributed environment, the employee experience and how managers and leaders show up differently to support people working in a virtual environment is really different. It’s a very different muscle. Most companies and organizations, I would suspect, that are making or looking at making this transition or thinking about making this transition, haven’t really thought about it. How you manage performance. How do you look at growth and succession in the organization? Promotion, how you think about diversity, inclusion and belonging.

Samantha Fisher (30:58):

How do you think about enabling people to be invested in the things that are the most important to them, as well as the company? With hopefully the extra time that they’ve got from having less of a commute schedule, but being a people leader is in my opinion, different than being a working leader. Working leaders can make sure that work gets done and they can hold people accountable and they can do KPIs and they can do OKRs, whatever acronym the organization uses, but really being a people leader is less about telling someone the path that they need to take, versus guiding them in a way so that the path that they choose gets to the same outcome. They might take it a different way, but that’s okay, it gets to the same outcome. And so, your outcome and results oriented and less about the path that they take.

Samantha Fisher (31:50):

But part of that means that you have to enable them and support them and care about them, and coach them and mentor them. All those words that we talk about when we talk about great leaders. Whether that’s coaches or professors, whatever that looks like, great leaders really help their people make the best decisions for themselves. And that’s a different muscle, I think, in corporate America than what a lot of people have either been used to themselves when they were managed or led, or that they have not had the opportunity to experience. And more than likely, hasn’t necessarily been coached or taught in a lot of leadership classes.

Ryan Anderson (32:30):

Yep. That’s a helpful and a really important distinction. And what you’re saying makes so much sense, because clearly, if you’re dealing with a more distributed workforce that’s operating more flexibly, you just can’t oversee the work in the same way that historically, management allowed you to do. So let me wrap with this question. You’ve been thinking about flexible work for a long time. You’ve been right at the epicenter of one of the organizations leading it. If you look beyond the next few years and you think long term, where do you think it’s going? What excites you? What’s what concerns you? What do you see in the future, as best you can?

Samantha Fisher (33:06):

So what excites me about it, and this is going to feel a little… It’s Wednesday. So I can’t really say throwback Thursday, but it’s going to feel a little throwback is, the fact that we are embracing this concept of flexibility. And I’m going to call it the concept of flexibility, and I’m not going to call it remote work, virtual work, dynamic work, because really what we are embracing as a global workforce is this concept of flexibility. And that work doesn’t have to happen in an office, and that people can be trusted and we don’t have to micromanage them. Again, I’ve been in workplace for a really long time. It’s been on the periphery for many years. It’s not like this is necessarily groundbreaking. We’ve talked about activity based settings. We’ve talked about different design settings.

Samantha Fisher (33:51):

We’ve talked about all these different things, but historically in the US, only your very top performers that you were concerned about losing or through acquisition, and you had people that were in previous locations from the old company that you acquired and you wanted to maintain, really were able to take advantage. And when I say take advantage, I’m using air quotes, because while they might have worked flexibly, they really were not empowered or engaged or enabled by the organization, because the organization was still HQ focused. So the thing that excites me the most about this is that, just as a global community, we are beginning to embrace this concept of flexibility. It’s going to look different for every company. It’s going to take some time. We’ve only been doing it for a hot second. Nobody knows what it looks like. So anybody that says they figured it out, that is not true.

Samantha Fisher (34:39):

There’s many of us that have been doing this for many years and we still don’t know what it looks like, but the fact that we’re embracing, it’s a shame that it came because of a pandemic, but we know from history, there’s big inflections in timelines that change the way we do stuff as a culture and as a community and as a human race. And those inflections really make a difference in how we look forward. So that’s what I’m excited about. What I’m concerned about, and it’s the same thing. Honestly, I think I talked about with you in the last one is, it is big, heavy lifting work. It’s not easy to make a transition. It’s literally like the whole analogy of trying to turn a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean with a rudder that’s the size that goes on a a 25 foot John boat.

Samantha Fisher (35:24):

That’s what we’re talking about here. And so, it’s a lot of work and I worry that companies will just find that it’s too much, it’s too hard. They don’t really know what it looks like. And maybe they’re not ready to make an investment in someone like myself or Darren, or some of these other great people that are leading this charge. And they’re just doing it side of desk. It’s not a side of desk thing. It really does need to have the investment of headcount, authority within the organization, empowerment and decision making. And without those things, it won’t be sustainable. It can’t survive. And so, that’s what concerns me the most as we move forward on this.

Samantha Fisher (36:05):

But what I hope is that, as companies realize the benefit to them as an organization, which is really talent, talent acquisition, talent retention, the ability for people to really bring their whole selves to organizations and do really amazing work, is just a great opportunity for them to embrace it. Because when people feel that wholeness for themselves and then ability to invest in things that are super important to them, whether that’s community building or something with their religious affiliation or something with their adoption or any of those things where people feel like they can fill their personal tank, the want for work just naturally happens when they’re really excited about things.

Samantha Fisher (36:48):

That’s just great. And so, what I think is going to happen over long term is, and Darren said it, “Remote work will just turn to work.” I think that’s super optimistic for a lot of companies that are making the transition from office culture to hybrid culture. But I think what you’re going to see is more companies get more comfortable with it, and they will see the benefits of it. And instead of us having conversations about, what does remote work look like? Or what does remote spaces look like? We’re going to be talking about culture and environment and employee life cycle, and how does the new way that we work, just work better for everybody?

Ryan Anderson (37:28):

Well, my friend, thank you again for sharing your insights and your experience with me and with our listeners. We appreciate having you as a guest on Looking Forward, again.

Samantha Fisher (37:36):

Thanks, Ryan. I really appreciate it.

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Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is one of the contract furniture industry’s leading voices exploring how changes in technology, design, and management practices are reshaping work.

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