The Remote Show

Show Notes:

Kate Lister is president of Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), a research and consulting firm that helps employers understand and prepare for the future of work. Her expertise is focused on workplace, workforce, technology, and other trends that are changing the who, what, when, where, and how of work. She has been helping public and private sector employers implement and optimize hybrid-remote work strategies for over 15 years.

Working with some of the world's most respected product and service providers, GWA helps make the 'people, planet, and profit' business case for workplace change and collaborates to publish a wide range of original and secondary research.

Kate is a highly regarded speaker and writer. She has written or co-authored five business books, numerous white papers, and scores of articles for major media outlets. Her firm’s research has been cited by hundreds of publications including the Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and many others. She is a member of the strategic advisory board and leadership team of Workplace Evolutionaries (WE), a global group of leading workplace thinkers and doers who are dedicated to "changing the world one workplace at a time.” In July of 2020, Kate was one of three witnesses invited to testify before a congressional committee on the future of telework in government.

As a resident of San Diego, Kate teases clients that she charges extra if she has to travel anywhere that's too hot, too cold, too wet, too humid, or too buggy.

Links to Kate's stuff on the World Wide Web:

Global Workplace Analytics


Tyler Sellhorn (00:02):
Hello, everyone. My name is Tyler Sellhorn, and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work, with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:23):
Our guest today is Kate Lister. Kate is President of Global Workplace Analytics, a research and consulting firm that helps employers understand and prepare for the future of work. Her expertise is focused on workplace, workforce, technology, and other trends that are changing the who, what, when, where, and how of work. She has been helping public and private sector employers implement and optimize hybrid remote work strategies for over 17 years.
Tyler Sellhorn (00:49):
Thank you so much for being with us today, Kate. You are at the forefront of what's going to be happening here in the next 15 months, but you've been doing it over the last 15 years of what's going to happen when we're on the other side of the pandemic, right? A vaccine is broadly distributed. I'm so curious, tell us what you've been telling people for all this time. What are the ways that we're going to go to work in the future?
Kate Lister (01:19):
Yeah, well, I feel like I've been pushing this remote work rock uphill for now, it's actually 17 years, and now it's chasing me down the other side. So my shtick for the last 17 years has been the people, planet, and profit proposition, that this is something that is good for the employer, is good for the employee, and it's good for the environment, and it's good for society. And there were the early adopters, and they have allowed me to earn a living over the last years, but starting the beginning of last year, the business just absolutely exploded, as you might expect.
Kate Lister (01:59):
And it's almost as though there's what I did before, and March of last year forward, because you almost throw out all of what you did before. History doesn't matter now, because the future is going to be so different. What you don't throw out is all that we've learned over the years about what makes a remote work program successful. So the kinds of queries that I've been getting from customers have changed over the last year. At first, it was, "Ah, what do we do?", and the answer was, "Communicate, communicate, communicate. Just sit tight, get the tools working." And then slowly, it's become a question of, "Well gosh, who are we going to bring back?" But that kind of got put by the wayside when it looked like this was going to be long-term.
Kate Lister (02:48):
Then we started worrying about culture, and connection, and onboarding, and that's kind of where we are today, except that I can say that really, in the last month, we've started to see the companies make their declarations, begin to decide what are they going to do for the future? What kind of company are they going to be in the future? Because that is going to define the rest of their decisions. I mean, I'm working with companies that are mostly face-to-face cultures, the Fortune 1000, and for them, it's not going to be an all remote decision. And so, that means what do we have to do to get our places ready? What does it mean to our long-term real estate strategy? What should that place look like? What is the purpose of place now when people come back?
Tyler Sellhorn (03:32):
Let's zoom in on those real estate decisions. I know that you spend a lot of time analyzing and working with employers on, how do we optimize our workplace for our employees? And what are the trends that you're seeing, what are the questions that employers are asking of themselves, that you're helping to answer? What's on their mind? What are we going to expect coming forward?
Kate Lister (03:55):
Yeah. Well, I think they're facing the music. Workplaces have not been built for people for a very long time, in spite of what they say, that, "We care about our people, and the architects are designing places that are good for people." Excuse me, if somebody has to wear a headset so that they can concentrate. Hello? Not good for people. The big open offices, they didn't work, they were distracting, they were horrible for introverts. We kind of got past that, but that kind of came out of the last recession, when it was all about saving money. So let's just chop, and chop, and chop and make their spaces and places smaller and smaller, and I think part of the reason that people are so eager to work from home now, is because the places that they worked were so crappy.
Kate Lister (04:41):
Now, employers are saying, "Well, wait a minute. If we've got this groundswell of people that want to continue to work from home," and by the way, they wanted to work from home before. The numbers have not changed. 80 to 85% of people, historically over the last 15 years, have said they would like to work from home at least some of the time. And everybody likes to make this conversation polar, like it's either all in or all out, but reality is that we're not going to move the Titanic and make this sort of wholesale change. If it does happen they get to all remote someday, it's going to happen slowly.
Kate Lister (05:17):
So I think the reality that they're now facing is that if they want their people to come back, they have to make it a place that people want to come, and that is the question they're asking themselves. And to answer that, you have to ask the question, "What is the work they're going to be doing there?" So we kind of acknowledge, in terms of the statistics, it looks like we're going to wind up with something like 15 to 20% of people working remotely full-time, up from less than 5% before the pandemic work from home, half time or more. So huge change there. About 10% wanting to go into the office full-time, and then the rest in this hybrid mode.
Kate Lister (05:56):
The managers want to make it work from home one to two days a week, the employees want to make it work from home three to four days a week, but they're all acknowledging that that place of work is going to have to be more we space, and less me space, because what we do best remotely is focused work, and people talk about we're doing so much more collaboration now. We're not. I mean, the numbers are somewhere in the 60, 40, 50, 50 range of focused work versus teamwork and collaborative work. So those places and spaces are going to flip. Instead of having 80% private, they're going to be 80% collaborative, and I hope that we've learned our lessons from those open offices, with no choice, and that we do build in the private spaces, the places that people can go for focus, the introverts who don't have space at home, who don't want to work at home, but need a place to get away when they're at the office.
Kate Lister (06:54):
In so many ways, the pandemic has not created new trends, it has just accelerated the trends that were already going, and one of those trends was activity-based working. So in that office, you've got place for small teams, large teams, small meetings, large meetings, social areas, caffeination areas. I mean, really, the only thing a company has to get right is heating, sound, clean bathrooms, and good coffee, and most of them have not made that work before this, and one thing I'm truly looking forward to in these new places and spaces of work, is that we will be able to get out of the bathroom without touching the handle. I mean, I think that is just an incredible silver lining to this pandemic.
Kate Lister (07:36):
So in doing that activity-based work, companies are also making the wholesale change to go to unassigned desks. Again, something that has been happening for years in the US, more so in Europe. So you come in and you've either reserved a space, or you go to a drop in space, and you move throughout the building during the day to work in the places and spaces that suit the kind of work that you're doing at that moment. So they're going this way, wholesale. Before the pandemic, we were working with a company that was either going to go all unassigned, was going to go to activity-based working, was going to ask people to give up their office, or was going to incorporate remote working. We would've spent a year to a year and a half getting the practices and the protocols right, doing the change management. Because when you take something away from people, it's like, "Where am I going to put my children's photos?" I mean, those spaces are important to people. It's why we have homes. We want something that's ours. And so, we really need to be cognizant of that.
Kate Lister (08:38):
I'm nervous, quite frankly, I never thought I would say this, that companies are moving too quickly in this, because they feel that they've been pretty successful, right? It's, "Hey, 80% of people are saying that they're more productive or less productive. Okay, we got this remote work thing, let's move on from here, let's let them work at home," but they haven't done the change management, they didn't grow up all virtual, they don't have the practices and the processes. And the reason that people are so exhausted with Zoom for example, is because they haven't put new practices in place for when do you use Zoom, and asynchronous communication versus synchronous communication? And just thinking through all of the things that we have done analog, and making new ways to do them in the digital world.
Kate Lister (09:23):
And so, I'm not seeing companies put a lot of attention to going back and fixing those things. I'm not even seeing a lot of attention to doing the change management of, "Hey, okay. It's time to come back, and where's my desk?" They heard it coming because their stuff got shipped home, but that's a heck of a way to introduce people to a new way of working.
Tyler Sellhorn (09:43):
Yeah, the thing that I'm hearing you say is that even for those hybrid teams, those hybrid organizations that are going to have a mix of both, and it's not going to be an all remote situation, that they're being forced by this all remote moment, to be much more intentional about how they return, right? Even if they are going to go all in the office, there's going to be some knock-on effects of having gone away, and now come back. I'm hearing you say both/and, right? I'm hearing you say, Considered, I'm hearing you say intention, I'm hearing you say, do things on purpose, set this up in a way that is going to maximize everyone's effort, be it away from the office, or be it together co-located.
Tyler Sellhorn (10:32):
Okay. So one of the things that I'm really, really curious to learn more about, you had mentioned earlier about onboarding and culture. What are some of the best practices you're seeing people implementing as they're thinking about, "Okay, if we're going to stay remote for parts of times," what are the things that people are doing that are going to maximize the feeling of belonging as a part of a group, and feeling like this is a thing that we're doing together?
Kate Lister (10:56):
Well, it's important that whatever they do, they do for both people, the people that are in the office, and the people that are not in the office, because we don't want to create an environment of haves and have-nots. There's also an issue of equity of the people that just simply can't work from home, the blue collar people. There has to be something in it for everybody. So it has to sort of start at a level of culture that is about flexibility, that is about flexibility in all of its forms. So you may not be able to work from home, but maybe you could do a four day week, and for some people just changing, allowing them to schedule their own break time would be a relief. So there really has to be a strong cultural shift, so that we don't create this divide between people.
Kate Lister (11:39):
What I am seeing companies do that they shouldn't be doing, is they're trying to replicate the virtual world in the face-to-face format. So people talk about, "Well, we need to reinvent the water cooler." Who said the water cooler was the best way to collaborate to begin with, right? Why don't we use technology to improve the way we work, rather than replicate old practices? The other one is onboarding. 60% of people quit in their first two years, and half of them quit in the first six months. So that onboarding thing that you're trying to replicate, maybe just ought to rethink the whole thing, scrap it and start over. I think there's a big lesson that companies need to take from the all virtual companies, because they just don't have experience with this, the companies that are new to this. And so, it has to be about finding the right match, finding the people that actually will fit with your culture, and doing a much better job than we have done in the past of acclimating them to who you are, and what is the real purpose of the company.
Kate Lister (12:44):
And that's another thing that I think is coming out of this, another accelerated trend is that we're realizing that that really is the key to everything. It's that we have to be engaged in purpose. People will work in horrible conditions, the entrepreneur in the garage, if they're doing something that they're passionate about. And so, all of these things that we think we do with bean bags, and sliding boards, that's not what matters. We need to get to the intrinsic motivation, the things that make me want to really go the extra mile for this organization.
Tyler Sellhorn (13:21):
Something that I heard you saying that I thought was really interesting that I want to dive deeper on, you were talking about the things that all in-person centered organizations should learn from all virtual. I'm wondering if there are some things that you would say, "Okay, I wish more all virtual companies did this like the co-located organizations," or in the reverse? What are some things that the co-located people need to learn from the all virtual? What's in that space of things that we could kind of take from each problem set that we could kind of learn from each other?
Kate Lister (13:54):
Yeah, I think the direction is more what the in-person can learn from the virtual, because that's the world we're in now, and that's the world that we're not used to. So, things like we assume that we need all this face time, and that we need to be physically together, and yet, some of the most innovative companies in the world have proven us wrong in that. And if we want to hire the best and the brightest from wherever they live, they're not going to live within drive distance of your headquarters. So we've got to stop thinking that way, we've got to start thinking about the bigger picture of the availability of talent across the world, the benefit that that has to diversity. You think about Silicon Valley, they're designing software and hardware for what the rest of the world is using when they live in a little bubble, and they're not like the rest of the world. And so, bringing some other voices into those environments is going to do nothing but good.
Kate Lister (14:55):
We also assume that we need a lot of face time, as I said, and the science just doesn't bear that out. The science says that once we have trust bonds, getting together once or twice a year is really all that we need, and I have certainly found that in my own experience. I mean, I sometimes meet people at a conference back in the old days, and I can't actually remember whether I've met them in person, or whether I just feel comfortable with them because I've been interacting with them virtually.
Kate Lister (15:24):
I think that we could learn things about leadership from all remote organizations about being very purposeful, of infusing the company culture in every conversation, who we are, what we stand for, how you individually, and as a team, are connected to meeting those goals. The word intention comes up a lot in my mind. We've sort of, we being the face-to-face people, have let remote work happen, we haven't made it happen, and that leaves a lot on the table, and that's not really possible, now because the numbers have grown so much.
Kate Lister (15:58):
I mean, I was saying that years ago, and that we had to be intentional. There's never been sort of a Jack Welch who stood up and said, "Six Sigma is the greatest thing since, and we saved so much money," and all of that, and therefore, there was no real training around it. When he stood up and said that, there were programs, and all kinds of training, and all kinds of culture change, and it was really a thing, but we've never really had that for remote work. But I think now that all of these companies have stood up and said, "Hey, this is what we're doing," has spawned some of the, in the case of a lot of the remote work companies, open source sharing of this kind of information that we have needed for a very long time. In terms of documenting, thing that we can learn is creating a central repository, one source of truth, so that you don't just pick up the phone and call Joe, have the accountability to go do it yourself.
Tyler Sellhorn (16:53):
Yeah. Pick up the phone and call Kate, right?
Kate Lister (16:56):
Yeah, exactly.
Tyler Sellhorn (16:56):
Pick up the phone and call Kate. Well, I know for myself, you were mentioning open source documentation. I became a successful remote worker, thanks to the resources of places like We Work Remotely, like GitLab, like Automattic. Those are the places that have open source as a core fundamental of their values, but also going out into the world, like just how they're operating their companies, I'm very grateful for that as an individual. So one of the things that I am interested to learn from you is, what is a story or a narrative of a previously in-person co-located organization that really implemented the opportunity to work remotely in a really positive way? What's a story that you could tell around that?
Kate Lister (17:42):
I really admire Dell. They have had a robust remote work program for over a decade. I mean, think about that. We were still using pagers. Think about the technology that they did that with, and they had a goal of having more than, I think 50% of their staff work remotely one or more days a week by 2020, and by March of that year, they had well exceeded that. I was just talking to their Director of Remote yesterday, and she said, "95% we have working remotely." And they got into it very early on, because they saw the benefits, they saw that they'd be able to hire better talent, that they'd be able to retain people, that they would be able to save money.
Kate Lister (18:25):
It's funny, companies often get into this with the strategy of, "Oh good, we're going to save money. We'll get rid of that real estate," but the benefits they find from it are what keep them in it, and I think that has happened in the pandemic. Early on, it's like, "Boy, maybe we don't need all this space," but then very quickly it became, "Wow. Think about what this could do to our talent pool," and look at how engagement has gone up, and look at how productivity has gone up.
Kate Lister (18:50):
So Dell is one that I really admire. They were very intentional about it, they were very structured about it, they trusted their employees, and you asked the question earlier about what can we learn from all remote companies, trust, trust, trust. Goals, goals, goals. Give people the goals, work with them to develop the goals, give them the tools they need to be successful, and then get out of their way. We've known since the '50s, HR experts have been telling us since the '50s that that is the way people work best, but we've largely ignored it.
Tyler Sellhorn (19:25):
Okay. So tell me Kate, what are companies asking for right now?
Kate Lister (19:30):
One of the biggest things we've been doing is just talking to leadership. So they've formed their cross-functional teams, they're looking at how do we deploy remote or hybrid, and what is that going to mean to the organization? But then they're sort of hitting this stumbling block because what they find in all of their surveys, is that a lot of people want to do it, and that management isn't quite bought in. They've seen the productivity, but "We want to get the gang back together. We all belong in the same building," that kind of thing, and sorry to say, it's the gray hairs that are the ones that are sort of having the hardest time letting go.
Kate Lister (20:08):
So I'm coming into board rooms, for example, and giving presentations about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of remote work in the future, and it's not just about remote work, it's about how the whole ecosystem of work is changing. The employer-employee relationship is going to be very different in the future, that we will have internal talent boards, as well as external talent boards, that we can't hire people with the skills that we need, so we have to go outside. Charles Hardy in the 1950s, envisioned what he called a shamrock organization, and that was this kind of core team of people that were executives in the company, and then there was another petal of the Shamrock that was the outsourced. So you outsource your payroll system, you outsource your real estate and all those things, and then we have this other core that is what we would now call gig workers and freelance workers.
Kate Lister (21:01):
In the '50s, this was his vision, and that's clearly what's happening now. We have to face the fact that we're not using people to their best abilities. This whole internal talent market, I think is one that is really going to mushroom. I can't wait for the time that I'm sitting in front of the computer, and I'm putting together a PowerPoint presentation, or maybe something better, and the computer haptically tells me that, "You're not very good at this. And by the way, did you know that we have 120 people who are on our internal and external talent list who are very good at doing this, who are lower than your pay grade, and who could be doing this for you? And also by the way, did you know that Jim just did a presentation on this, over in accounting or whatever?"
Kate Lister (21:49):
There's so much waste in an organization, because we don't even know what we're doing internally. So I think that's going to be a real change, and that's one of the things that I like to talk to boards about, is having this much more open, flexible, contingent approach to the world. Not just about remote work, it's about flexibility for everyone, and it's about equity and all of those things.
Tyler Sellhorn (22:12):
Tell us some more about the systems that you've seen supporting that kind of a company structure. What are the ways that people, you're talking about the future and the past in that very description, right? The ideas are not new, but the ideas are also new of like, how do we make that system exist and be able to be used by organizations? How are you seeing organizations take those different cores, and get them to talk to each other in ways that help the business drive itself forward?
Kate Lister (22:40):
As in all of the recessions, we're seeing a move to more contingent talent, and that means going to some of the job boards and some of the newer ways of hiring people, you don't just go to your temp agency, or thinking outside the box of how do you get that best talent coming in, and then how do you integrate them? Because this is always a concern with a company when we're bringing in a contractor. They're not really ingrained in the culture, there may be some jealousy among the employees because, "Hey, why didn't I get to do that?" or "Why are they making more money than I am?" And those are all things that companies need to think through, but it's just really opening their eyes to the world is much bigger than just putting an ad on LinkedIn or calling your temp agency, that there's lots and lots of ways to attract talent and to procure great talent. And maybe it's just in little bits, maybe it's just for this project, and maybe it's for the long-term, and maybe one leads to the other.
Kate Lister (23:45):
But just as we've seen the consumerization of everything else, we're seeing the consumerization of work, and people are choosing to be independent workers, and that seems to increase after every recession. It's like, "Whoa, I got laid off and I started something new, and I kind of like this." I'm a little afraid that we're not quite ready from a social structure point of view, to support that kind of infrastructure. Health insurance is the big issue in the US, it's the reason most people won't leave their jobs to start a business. So something has to be done fundamentally about that.
Kate Lister (24:20):
Something has to be done fundamentally about the tax laws and the labor laws that make it incredibly difficult to hire people and allow people to work across state lines or across country lines. It's not something new, these aren't new laws, but it's something we haven't really faced in the past because we haven't had this mass of people that are doing it. And then now all of a sudden, we've got Philadelphia fighting over their employment tax because they've got a building there that's empty, and they think that they should be able to tax the employees who aren't in it. This is something that's probably going to go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Tyler Sellhorn (24:56):
All right. Well, it looks like Kate, you have been engaged in these ideas and these movements for so long, and we are grateful for you running away from the boulder that you've pushed up the hill for so long, and we're excited to try and Fred Flintstone our way on top of that boulder with you, the rest of the way, past a broad distribution of the vaccine. So thank you very much for taking this time to share your learning with us today, and we'll be looking forward to following you in the future. I'll be including in-
Kate Lister (25:28):
Yeah, thank you, Tyler.
Tyler Sellhorn (25:29):
Yeah, you're welcome. I'll be including in the show notes ways for people to stay in contact with Kate. She's active on LinkedIn, there's lots and lots of research, and of course she's available for consulting. I know that I've greatly appreciated the ways that she's been learning out loud in those social media spaces. And thanks again, Kate, for taking the time to learn with us today.
Kate Lister (25:49):
Well, thank you, Tyler, and thank you to all of the remote work organizations, because you're pulling us along, us being that older generation, and we're learning a lot from you, so let's keep that going.
Tyler Sellhorn (26:03):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show, and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. If you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at [email protected]. That's [email protected]. Thanks again for listening, and we'll talk to you next time. 

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