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Work-life Integration and the Modern Workplace


In this podcast Shane Hastie, Lead Editor for Culture & Methods spoke Peter Miscovich co-author of the book The Workplace You Need Now: Shaping Spaces for the Future of Work  about creating human-centric working environments where work-life integration of mental wellbeing, social wellbeing, and physical wellbeing matter.

Key Takeaways

  • The shift to remote and hybrid working had been happening slowly until 2020, when suddenly around 3 billion people globally shifted to remote work
  • Workplace design has been largely optimised for in-person working, and that needs to adapt to the human-centric needs of today’s workforce
  • Organizations that embrace human-centric, hybrid and flexible work behaviours,  management styles and cultural norms will be the big winners in the future
  • Experimentation and learning needs to happen around all aspects of working – time, space and technology are three areas where organisations can look at different approaches
  • Work-life integration requires the balance between mental wellbeing, social wellbeing, and physical wellbeing


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Good day, folks. This is Shane Hastie for the InfoQ Engineering Culture podcast. Today I'm sitting down with Peter Miscovich. Peter is one of the authors of a new book, The Workplace You Need Now: Shaping Spaces for the Future of Work. Peter, welcome. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.

Peter Miscovich: Shane, it's a pleasure to be with you today.

Shane Hastie: My first question to my guests is almost always, who's Peter?

Introductions [01:25]

Peter Miscovich: Well, thank you. I've been involved in hybrid workplace transformation for over 25 years. Began my early career in architecture and design, have an engineering background. I was former Andersen Consulting, Accenture partner and then PwC advisory partner, and then came to JLL 15 years ago to lead our global workplace transformation and strategy innovation practice. So I've helped to transform 1.5 billion square feet of corporate real estate. I've worked with almost every major financial institution and technology firm, and I'll add life sciences to that mix and telecommunications and media. I've also served on a number of boards. I serve on the Accenture technology vision board under Accenture's Chief Technology Officer Paul Daugherty and I serve on the series sustainability NGO board focused upon climate change risk and investments to mitigate climate change risk.

So over the past 25, 30 years, I've been focused upon workplace transformation at scale. I pioneered early programs in the 1990s with AT&T, IBM at the time, Accenture, Citigroup, PwC in really examining how technology can enable new levels of human performance and how the physical and digital workplace evolution can help enterprise performance and business performance. So I'm a bit of a hybrid myself, Shane, in having an engineering background, but yet focused on technology, focused on behavior, focused on human performance and then physical workplace design and the physical digital, if you will, blur that we've all been experiencing certainly in the post pandemic world.

The shift to hybrid and remote working has been going on for a long time [03:13]

Shane Hastie: Talking about that physical digital blur, is that has been so much of what has happened in the last few years where there was the radical shift for most technologists, not everyone, and certainly not every role in every company, but the vast majority of our audience will have experienced that radical shift from working predominantly or if not entirely in person to suddenly remote. And now we're starting to see the hybrid workspace come back. What are the big challenges and the current state of the workplace when we look at that today?

Peter Miscovich: Yes, I'll be glad to share maybe a bit of history, Shane, if that's helpful,

Shane Hastie: Please do.

Peter Miscovich: Relative to the evolution. So if we go back to the 1990s and the early 2000s, the majority of the work, and this is from our work with Accenture and Gartner and Forrester and McKinsey and Brookings leading think tanks, but certainly from a historical perspective, work was office centric and location centric actually for the last 90 to 100 years. And it began shifting in that 1990s, 2000s timeframe as mobile technologies, the advent of wireless technologies. I had an early white paper Shane, where I predicted that wireless would come into the office environment, and I published that white paper in 1999 and four CIOs challenged me in stating that wireless will never come to the corporate workplace due to security issues and we'll never see wifi or wireless in the workplace.

So even in those early days, 1990s, 2000s, there was a lot of resistance to the transformation that was already underway. In the 2010 to 2015 and as we approached 2020, we saw the advent of the cloud. I'll use 2007 and 2010 as pivotal years, iPhone, iPad, mobile technologies, 4G now moving to 5G wireless. And so work was leaving the office 30 years ago when I began my journey in terms of hybrid and remote work. And I've been working in a hybrid or remote manner myself for over 25 years. What happened in March 2020, which is really fascinating at scale, is we had three billion people over a period of three to four weeks all go remote. And I think we had many clients, many of my clients for instance, that had frontline workers who never really went remote. It had to be on the front lines with our consumer products clients or other critical workforce cohorts.

The chasm in workplace design represents the societal shift that is happening as we move to more human centric working 05:53]

But then a majority of the office-based workers, knowledge workers in particular all went remote. And the chasm that that occurred from 2020 March to I'll say even 2023 March, is that there's a deepening divide between the historical office centric design that was based upon consistent work experiences. It enabled in place physical serendipitous collaboration, it required visibility based management. That 90 year ecosystem of office based work was disrupted at scale. And we're moving now in 23 through 25 through 2030, certainly into a human centric model. And we're leaving the location-based, office base work design model, but we have many leaders, many managers, many folks even in the tech sector that are still very much tied to that office centric work model. And so as the new model is emerging, providing flexible work experiences, intentional digital collaboration, empathy based management, human centricity, regenerative workplace, which we've written a lot about, it's a huge shift.

It's a societal shift. And many folks in leadership, many of the C-suite folks that I work with, senior leaders are very uncomfortable with the shift that's occurring. And so there's expectations today from management. I have multiple clients, I can't name them, but you would know all of them. And the CEOs are mandating three days back, two days back, four days back in the office. And what will most likely evolve over time is that there'll be hybrid centricity, human centricity as the go forward model and moving away from a place-based approach to work to probably a time-based and then I'll add probably a virtual metaverse based hybrid approach to work.

And that transformation could take three years, could take seven years, could take 15 years. But clearly the transformation that started 30 years ago is now accelerating. The pandemic was an accelerant to the transformation of work. And those organizations that are embracing these human-centric hybrid and flexible work behaviors and management styles and cultural norms will be the big winners in the future in our view. But the tension and the conflicts and the continuous experimentation we see continuing for the foreseeable future, certainly over the next two to three, perhaps five, seven years.

Shane Hastie: What are some of the experiments that our listeners could consider trying?

Experiments and rapid learning to find what works best for your ecosystem [08:37]

Peter Miscovich: The experimental landscape is quite vast, and I will share several. So for example, I have an R&D technology group, even during the pandemic and post pandemic that's been experimenting with a 8:00 AM to 12 noon, 1:00 PM three days a week, sometimes two days a week, hybrid patterning whereby they get together in their scrum teams or innovation teams or R&D teams for a period of time, usually in the mornings eight, 9:00 AM to 12, one, sometimes they'll have lunch together and then they disperse in the afternoon to do their other work either at home or co-working sites or wherever. And that's an example of looking at a time-based solution to hybrid versus a place-based solution. And they've been highly effective. It's very intentional. They look forward to their time in the office together. And that time together is orchestrated in a very intentional and successful synergistic way.

And it's built upon itself. It's actually proven very successful for this firm, both in terms of their innovation cycles, their product development cycles and the like. I have another client organization that's highly remote digital first. They have built a large retreat center. They have 80,000 employees, primarily tech and engineering, and they're bringing those folks through that retreat center at a pretty strong episodic cadence. And groups of cohorts of R&D, engineering, software development will get together. There's opportunities for brainstorming. You can go for a hike and have a meeting. It's community building, but it's not office space. It's strictly innovation slash retreat, regenerative, resort if you will, almost environments. And so that's another example of where innovation and new ways of working can be orchestrated outside of the traditional or typical corporate office environment.

Experimenting with the metaverse [10:43]

And then I'll use a third experimentation which has been published from our work, for example, with Accenture, 120,000 folks. We've exercised for the last two years, metaverse training, metaverse socialization, lots of experiments in the virtual mixed reality world at Accenture and with Accenture clients that we're partnering with in using the Metaverse, not as a sole means of hybrid workplace experimentation, but an opportunity for immersion in some cases for socialization, in some cases for onboarding, training and engaging employees perhaps in a new and unique way relative to collaborative, socialization, behavioral shifts, upskilling. And we do think again, by 2026, 27, we'll start seeing more and more of the extended reality, mixed reality Metaverse, virtual reality environments. We'll all be in the Metaverse probably one to two hours a day by 2027, and it may be bumpy and a ways until we get there relative to the technologies. But those are three examples of both time-based, if you will, hybrid experimentation as well as place-based and technology-based experimentation, pilot programs that are scaling well and showing good promise for future success.

Shane Hastie: So three distinctly different but very interesting experiments.

Becoming learning organisations [12:09]

Peter Miscovich: Yeah. And I think Shane, I've been in the trenches of hybrid work for many years and I've always been a big believer in experimentation. And what's fascinating, it's great to hear, for instance, we have Microsoft as a client. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, one of his pillars of Microsoft's vision and mission is having this learning mindset and a mindset for experimentation. We were doing a lot of this hybrid piloting 15, 20 years ago. The technology hadn't quite matured then. But what's fascinating today, Shane, is that our insurance clients, our consumer products clients, our financial clients, our governmental clients, our educational clients, certainly our technology clients are all experimenting. And we're hoping that the experimentation continues.

As the economic headwinds develop and uncertainty continues as we go into 2023, there are those who believe that we'll retrench back to old ways of working, but our sense is that this level of experimentation will continue. The talent war, if you will, especially for tech talent and digital talent will continue to be a challenge for many organizations. And the only way to engage talent and to innovate and to innovate both business model product innovation is through experimentation. And as workplace and hybrid work, experimentation becomes part of the DNA of any leading organization, those that experiment more and embrace experimentation and that learning mindset per Satya Nadella will be the leaders and will take market share. They'll be the success stories of 2026, 2027, 2030 and beyond.

Shane Hastie: Looking to those leaders, looking to that future, what are the challenges and the opportunities for organizations? So if they want to become one of these leaders, if they want to attract great talent, and if we're talking to our listeners on this podcast who are typically the technical influencers, technical leaders, what can they do?

Leaders need to embrace the changes that are underway [14:17]

Well, the one thing that we share with our executive leadership teams consistently is that they need to embrace the present and embrace the changes that are underway. And that requires sometimes intentional forgetting and intentional letting go of historical work behaviors and work norms. And then I would add to really start listening to your people. And we will soon have potentially five if not six generations in the workplace. And Google just announced this morning a very interesting hybrid workplace pilot, and they're piloting the program slightly differently for their cloud engineers and some of their other engineering groups. But what I found fascinating about this Google pilot, and I would recommend again, commend Google for their ability to really listen to their employees and understand what do their people want and to take an empathy based listening approach for every group, for every cohort in your organization.

Work-life balance doesn’t really exist today – the need is for effective work-life integration [15:22]

And the question and the challenge will be, and it is for many of our clients right now, technology clients and our clients in general, is that you may not be able to provide a human-centric individualistic program and cultural norm for everyone, but you've got to be able to meet people at least halfway and show with good intent, with good transparency, with mission-driven authenticity, that you're really listening to your people. You want to give them the tools and capabilities and practices and policies that will make them successful and to meet their life-work balance or life-work integration, I should say. And for years, people have, many organizations, many HR, think tanks and the like have professed the need for work-life balance, which doesn't really exist today, especially in our whole accelerated post pandemic world of ambiguity, complexity, disruption, acceleration. But the majority of employees today want life-work integration.

And the majority that I know want to work for organizations that will enable that in a way where they can have a healthy balance between their lifestyle, their work style, our research in the regenerative workplace to have the balance between mental wellbeing, social wellbeing, and physical wellbeing. And if you're a leader out there of a large tech team, if you're listening to those employees and to your people and you have empathy for them, and as individual managers, you show enough caring and enough ability to flex and meet them at least halfway, I think you're going to have committed employees who are going to be exceptional performers. And I think that's a major societal shift in organizational shift, Shane, that I think is a very positive outcome from the pandemic.

The challenge with it is that most leaders and many CEOs and executive leadership teams find that level of engagement either to be threatening or they're not comfortable with that level of transparency, openness, and empathy. And so here in lies a challenge that we have from a management and behavioral and policy perspective that will probably continue over the next two to three years or longer. And it might require the next generation of managers who will have all of these great values and capabilities, who will probably be the next leaders to really actualize what we're describing.

Shane Hastie: So that sounds to me like a generational shift. Are we teaching this next generation of leaders to be more humanistic or are they just following in the footsteps?

The generational shift in leadership attitudes [18:03]

Peter Miscovich: Well, it's a great question. I have nine godchildren and they're all pretty much Gen Z. They range in age from let's say 15 years old to 32 years old. So maybe young Gen Y, mid-gen Y. I think they have a level of digital literacy and awareness of the world and awareness of the globalized interconnected world that I think surpasses any previous generation. So I think their mindsets and their values are already quite advanced and prepared for what is coming. I think where we need to do a better job, those of us that are more senior to Gen Y or Gen Z or Gen Alpha that will soon be following Gen Z is that we've got to mentor and enable and share with them some of the good humanistic lessons that we've learned. And this is where time spent in personalized intentional mentoring and engagement is really important.

And it's in all the surveys, Gallup surveys, all the HR global workforce surveys show that Gen Z, they very much appreciate in-person engagement. It's really interesting. There's also a survey for Gen Alpha and Gen Z, which is fascinating, that they find that in-person engagement is so unique that it's sort of like for those of us we were raised where going on a vacation was something unique and kind of experiential. They feel like they're so connected and so accustomed to their digital literacy and their digital lifestyles that's sort of in-person, human to human in real life, IRL engagement is considered sort of an interesting novelty to them and they really treasure it.

And so I think we have to think about how we make those in-person moments that matter meaningful, both from a learning, mentoring and perhaps even reverse mentoring perspective. And I think the challenge today at a generational level with social media, I have my issues about social media and its negative impact at a societal level and how we need to perhaps engage differently, especially with our younger generations as they manage through all the complexities and all of the mental and emotional and psychological challenges that social media presents to them as an entire generation. So I think there's a lot of great generational exchange and partnership that will help that next generation. And we do need to make the time and the effort and that intentionality and again, strong empathy to understand what they're experiencing and what they're going through and how we can help them better navigate.

So I know that's a rather lengthy response, but I think there's a lot of complexity to the generational evolution that's occurring. And if we have five or six generations in the workforce, virtual, digital, physical, digital, whatever, combination thereof, it's going to require a lot more good communication, authenticity, transparency, empathy to make that multi-generational workforce high performing. So I think the effort definitely needs to be made. And I think there's a bit of fatigue Shane, post pandemic for all of us. And I think the ability to refresh and regenerate right now is really important as we move into 23 and 2024 and beyond, as we still need to heal our psyches from the post-traumatic stress of the pandemic at a societal level. And I don't know if everyone agrees with that, but I think there's a lot of post pandemic, post-traumatic stress from the pandemic that we've never really recognized at a societal level that we do need to recognize and heal from.

Shane Hastie: How do we start? How do we start the healing? How do we start the changes towards the human-centric workplace?

Start with quiet [22:03]

Peter Miscovich: Well, I always start with quiet. And I've known Cal Newport who many in your audience may know around deep work and deep thinking, and I've been a practitioner of meditation for 24 years, 25 years. But we have to start with quiet, and we have to start with the quietness in terms of listening to ourselves. And I think that healing and that regenerative process begins with the quietness of our own consciousness and tuning into that quietness and getting grounded and healed, if you will, in terms of our own sense of self and sense of wellbeing and sense of wellness. And then I think the next step in the process is the listening, the listening and deep listening and listening without judgment, listening unconditionally if you will, and listening that will hopefully lead to understanding. And then with the understanding, I think we can begin to co-create, co-partner at a generational level or cross-generational level, some of the potential solutioning that is required.

And what I just described, I think will heal political divides. I think it will heal racial divides. I think it will heal cultural divides. I mean, if we think of the war in Ukraine to the politics of the US, to the rise of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, a lot of it's around the fact of sort of a non-humanistic, non-listening, non-quiet, non-empathy based approach to life. And so I think the pandemic in a very, I mean, as horrific as the pandemic was, it was also a wake-up call to tune into our deeper selves, and to find that quiet within ourselves, and to listen to ourselves and to be guided to listen deeply to others, and hopefully then gain that empathy and understanding to co-create and partner together collectively at a societal level to the healing and I think the path forward that we're all seeking as we move ahead.

Shane Hastie: Shifting context slightly to just talk about the book, there are three key themes in there, the personalized workplace, the responsible workplace, and the experiential workplace. What do you mean by personalized workplace?

The book: The workplace you need now [24:26]

Peter Miscovich: We wrote the book, our CEO and our head of research and myself in early 2021 in three months during the middle of the pandemic. And at the time we divided the book up into three sections. And as you name them, the personalized section, the responsible section, and then the experiential section. And the personalized section of the book is really about the individual and it relates to some of what I just shared relative to how to make the workplace and the hybrid work environment work for the individual at a personalized level. And so if we think about personalization today, whether it's retail or vacationing or personalized learning, the ability to have a personalized work experience is one of the key tenants in the book. And it all centers around what we call this win-win win theme. The future of work needs to be a win for the individual in terms of personalized work.

It needs to be a win for society in terms of responsible and sustainable workplace and real estate practices. And then it needs to be a win for the organization in terms of experiential outcomes and experience. So the personalized section begins sort of that individualistic journey. How do we make the hybrid workplace inclusive of technology enablement work for the individual? And then how do we make the hybrid workplace ecosystem in the second section work for society in terms of responsible workplace practices, responsible technology, real estate practices? And then finally the third section is focused on the win for the organization in terms of delivering these experiential outcomes. And the experiential outcomes are enabled both by technology, by physical space, by services, by human interaction, all of the things that we experience every day. How do we make those meaningful moments that matter every day for our people?

So the book was a bit prescient, if that's the right word. And we were not sure in January 2021, for instance, whether hybrid work would stick. I was a strong believer that it would stick, having practiced hybrid work for many years and seeing that over time as any exponential growth curve can relate to that slow growth, slow growth, slow growth, and then exponentially, it really begins to take off. And I don't know if hybrid work follows an exponential growth pattern, but as we look at personalized work, responsible work, experiential work, all of that certainly seems to be moving forward in 2023 post the book being published in late 2021. And we believe that all of the trends we predicted will probably continue as we go to 2027 and beyond.

Shane Hastie: So what is a regenerative workplace?

What is a regenerative workplace? [27:23]

Peter Miscovich: I spoke at several conferences in the fall on this topic, and the challenge at a societal level right now at an organizational level is that anxiety, depression, loneliness, fear, insecurity, I mean adolescent suicides, all of those mental health crises are at an all time high. And as we look at how we orchestrate work and workforce policies and workplace transformation, the regenerative workplace begins to address in again three very specific areas, how do we enable and help with mental health and mental health interventions both in terms of work, work practice, management styles, engagement levels? Again, going back to empathy and listening. So the first element of the regenerative workplace is really the mental wellness and wellbeing element. And then the second element is the social wellbeing and socialization, having a sense of community, feeling that you're part of not only an organization, but you're part of your community, part of your network of community members, whether that's a virtual community, could be an in-person community, but socialization and social wellbeing is the second pillar of the regenerative workplace.

And then the third pillar is physical wellbeing, and that involves everything from not being on Zoom or Microsoft Teams calls 15 hours a day. The ability to work in a manner where your physical health, both from things like ergonomics, from sleep patterns to eye strain, to the ability to exercise and engage and take care of your body as best we can in again, this very accelerated period of disruption and accelerated change. What's fascinating is we have several clients now that have global wellness executives within their organizations, often reporting up to the CEO or chief human resource officers. And we're finding at the enterprise level, companies are beginning to understand that if they take care of their workers and really provide this regenerative workplace approach, mental, social, physical, that the rewards from a commitment perspective, a performance perspective, a wellbeing perspective, a reduction in healthcare cost perspective are going to be considerable.

I've been in the trenches, Shane, on sustainability for 25 years and in the trenches of integrative wellness for 20 years, and some of these things just take a long time. I was hybrid working for 25 plus years. So we believe in the next 10 years, regenerative workplace practice will become the practice, but it's going to take perhaps again, another generational shift to fully embrace it, to endorse it, and to practice it at scale. But the pandemic was a big wake-up call, especially as it relates to mental wellness and mental wellbeing. So we think it has a future and we strongly believe in it, and we're helping advise our clients to embrace the regenerative workplace leading practices.

Shane Hastie: Peter, some really, really interesting and deep thoughts there. If people want to continue the conversation, where do they find you?

Peter Miscovich: Well, they're welcome to reach out to me via LinkedIn or I'm glad to share as a follow-up from your podcast, my email address, it's Peter, P-E-T-E-R dot Miscovich, And I welcome technologists and the technology sector very openly. I think the human centricity of the technology sector is really key and critical to our future. Shane, I've been working with ChatGPT and had about 10 years of immersion, and I have a couple of articles focused on artificial intelligence and work automation, and I do think the human centricity and the humanistic values of the technologists who are listening to this today, they are critical to the future of all of us in terms of how we navigate and how we move forward with all of the incredible technological change that is just beginning. So I embrace your audience in a big way and would be glad to be a resource to you or to your audience in any way that I can be helpful.

Shane Hastie: Thank you so much.


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