Manage Smarter 180 — Steve Chaparro: International Workplace Office Design for Optimal Culture

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Steve Chaparro is a best office design and organizational culture expert and communicator who speaks worldwide about how companies can transform their workplace culture through intentional co-​creation and communication. 

He is founder and principal at Culture Design Studio, an organizational design agency, and the podcast host of The Culture Design Show. Someone who sees how architecture and design can be so much more informative in shaping the workplace culture and feeling.

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Steve discuss best office design:

  • The intersections of architecture design workplace and culture
  • How physical space affects work performance and productivity
  • Open office design debate
  • How to mix space and finishes designs to optimize your company
  • How smaller square foot per person may be more functional

There’s never going to be a silver bullet for any kind of space and companies should consider spacial diversity."

Steve Chaparro

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International Best Office Design for Culture

Manage Smarter 180 Length: 00:22:25

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Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast with C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop, and retain talent, improve results and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Managed Smarter Podcast.

Audrey Strong: Lee, our guest today, I love this he's an architect, but he said that he got creatively frustrated and then that blasted his brain into a whole new intersection of architecture, design workplace and culture. It's like phaack.

C. Lee Strong: And then now let's add to, it's like its one thing to have to worry about all of that in an office design setting, but now you also have to worry about that in a work from home setting as well. So, that's something I'm really curious about, but certainly setting people up in their ideal work environment so they can perform at their peak is ideally what we want to shoot for when we talk about the best office design and we're talking about workplace and it doesn't matter of the workplace is in an office, a satellite office or from home. It's something that we have to be mindful of because we definitely want to get the most performance out of all our reports. 

Audrey Strong: That's right and that's his jam. So, welcome to Manage Smarter everyone. I'm Audrey Strong, the vice president of communications here at SalesFuel.

C. Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith, I'm the president and CEO of SalesFuel.

Audrey Strong: And welcome to our microphones everyone, Steve Chaparro. Hi, Steve.

Steve Chaparro: Hi, both of you. Thank you so much. I've been looking forward to our conversation today. So, thank you for the invitation.

Audrey Strong: We're going to learn a lot from you today. So, for those of you that don't know Steve, he is an organizational culture expert and communicator who speaks worldwide about how companies can transform the workplace culture through intentional co-​creation and communication, and as well as design. He is the founder and principle at Culture Design Studio an organizational design agency. And he's got his own podcast host of The Culture Design Show and someone who really sees how architecture and design can be so much more informative in shaping not only the workplace culture, but also the feeling. And like Lee said, if later this year we're actually going back into offices, you'll have some ideas for changes people might want to make. So, I don't know where you want to start, Lee. I know you want to start about op maybe open spaces.

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. Well, okay. You teed me up there. So, Steve is like can we officially declare the open office design dead, because I never liked it to be begin in with. And then after a pandemic virus or whatever, I like it even less. So, going forward, is it dead?

Steve Chaparro: I will give you an answer with a qualifier. My answer is no, it's not dead because if you have it as a choice or a sort of a menu of types of spaces, it definitely has its purpose still. But if you think of open plan as a silver bullet, I would say that that's not a good plan.

Audrey Strong: You said the open plans too, of the Google and hey, we have ping pong table. It's the drink station, that's like that's 10 years old. 

Steve Chaparro: If it's just one type of space, meaning the open plan that you apply for all contexts in almost all activities within a company. Yeah, there's never going to be a silver bullet for any type of space. And I actually subscribe to the idea that a company should consider what I call spatial diversity. And it's the idea that you take a look at the activities that you are trying to house, that you are trying to promote and then you create a space that is specific to that particular activity. So, you have different types of activities. And I think that if you start to really think about what types of activities you're trying to house, and you can be very intentional about how you design those spaces. Some people might say, “Well, geez, you're telling me I need a space for individual work. You're saying that I need a space for people to commune, you’re saying I need a space for all these different types of activities, wouldn't that result in a bigger office design space?” Not necessarily, if you actually do the math, it can actually be smaller square foot per person because you're being intentional. So, much of our office design space is actually wasted because we're trying to think of it one size fits all or one type fits all. And it results in some wasted space. 

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. It's sort of like it it's a place to house people so that people have a place to do their work, as opposed to let's think about this in terms of functionality. So, it's like I want to have a space then for small meetings, for breakouts and from brainstorming. I want to have a space in more of a classroom type setting. I want to have a collaborative space in for all my IT developers then to work together and to shout ideas back and forth. I want to have my sales team together but my people that are on the phone lot and they like that need their own private offices where they can close the door and everything like that, but they still need to be with an earshot of their assistants and everything like that.

Steve Chaparro: Yeah. And I think those were considerations that were becoming so much more important even before COVID. Now that we're in and hopefully exiting COVID it becomes an even more important question because I think people are starting to reevaluate what I call the value proposition of the office design space. They are really reconsidering, okay, if we're thinking that a hybrid, working from the office and working from home might be the answer because some folks might say, I only want to be in the best office design. Some are saying, I only want to be remote, but I think really what's going to happen is it's going to be a hybrid approach. So, then the question then becomes, “Well, what activities do we have people do at home? What activities do we have people do in the office?” And for those new activities in the office, or at least newly defined, then what are the spaces that are best used for that? Because at think sometimes those dedicated offices, they may not be used. So, many offices that I've seen you have a lot of these executives that are on the road a lot, and that have their corner office that has a large square foot per person. And they lay empty for so many hours if not days of the week. And so again, if you get geeky about it and you start to even do what we call a utilization assessment is like, you look at the spaces, how much are they being used as a percentage throughout the week? Could they be better used by actually redesigning them for different activities? And so there's so much in this one particular conversation that is really interesting. 

C. Lee Smith: So, let's talk about a post COVID world which is now we're starting to see that, that's a possibility, talk about hybrid. So, now people have proven they can work from home and so it's like, well, so they're going to be doing more of that in the future. You might see a lot more people than instead of working from the office five days a week, working in office three days a week, working from home two days a week and the varying that up. So, now you've got even more empty office space and or that scenario, right? 

Steve Chaparro: Yeah. I think when you think about what the post COVID office looks like, I think it's really important for companies to really do some serious intentional assessments. I think, not only is it about what do we use the office for but if we have some underutilized space, there might be some other things that we can do with that space. But I think if people start to really reevaluate that and I think it's just really interesting that sometimes folks will realize that they have 50% of their spaces not being used or will not be used because they're really thinking. And so I think there's so many different ways to consider. I subscribe to this quote that Winston Churchill shared back in the World War II and the parliament building had been bombed. And he was basically making a pitch as to how the parliament building should be rebuilt and he had this one phrase that I love. He said, “We shape our buildings thereafter they shape us.” Not only does that apply to our physical buildings, but I also think our physical structures, but I also think that it applies to our cultural structures and our organizational structures. So, we have to really understand how do we shape our space so that it can then shape the way we interact and the way that we work. And I think too many people allow predetermined spaces to predetermine how they act and it just doesn't work.

Audrey Strong: So, let me ask a question and I'm going to interview both of you. I'm going to turn the tables. What do you both and Lee, as a CEO and Steve, you as well with your own firm, what kind of activities do you guys think going forward should be the mandatory in person activities that you have to come in for? That begs the question, so I'm asking it.

C. Lee Strong: All right. Well, I'll just simply say anything that's collaborative. I think it works much better when you're in person and there's a lot of information that you miss on a zoom call and you miss everything basically from the chest down, you're missing that. You're missing a lot of subtle mannerisms. It's hard for you to actually read someone's face when they're a little square box with about 10 other square boxes on the screen. And whereas if you're in person, it seems to me like you have a certain energy, which comes with it. So, for me, anything that's collaborative at all, I'd like it to be in the office, if it's possible. It's not always going to be possible because we’ve got people, even in our company, we got people over in Asia, we've got people in other parts of the country even, so it's like, that's not always going to be possible but for me, that's numero uno. 

Steve Chaparro: Yeah. I completely agree with that. I think anything that is collaborative, if you can at all, tried to make it in person. So, I think that's one thing the collaborative, so C. Lee, you've mentioned that and I think also anything that will result in community building or team building. So, sometimes if you have team meetings or you might have a town hall, I think it's really important. I mean, I think I've experienced that so many different domains in my life that you could be almost 100% virtual. But when you have those few times throughout the week or throughout the month or quarter where you actually get together, I think the fact that you have been virtual and now are coming together in this communal fashion actually skyrockets the sense of camaraderie in even a more powerful sense because I think that sometimes when we are physically adjacent to each other or in proximity, 100% of the time we take for granted our social need to be next to each other. So, when it's few and far between, and we actually do to get together, the impact is just amazing that some people say, “Okay, we're going to have our annual conferences and the entire company gets together.” Well, that's one thing I think that's only one thing, example from the past, but I think if we make them certain rhythms that we can have to get together, but I also think that it relies on each individual company. There's not a template for every company. I think that's going to rely on the individual nature between two people within a team, within a department and with a company. I think it really takes a leadership capacity of saying, okay, what would look good for us and re-​evaluate that. The big word that I have coming out of COVID is intentionality. And I hope that we never lose that.

C. Lee Smith: Yeah. The other thing is that going into it now is like, people are really going to be looking forward to these events. We used to have a family lunch once a month we used to have happy hours on Thursdays, things like that. And some people kind thought it was kind of a pain in the butt or it's like drudgery or like it's like some people just didn't want do it now. It's like everybody's [crosstalk 00:12:27].

Audrey Strong: Everybody shows up. 

C. Lee Smith: Exactly. So, it's like and we have an opportunity right now that people have the proper, have a great attitude towards it, a great mindset toward it. And like that let's do something really fun, that represents our culture as to who we are, collectively, but also here's an opportunity to make our mark and to do something really great because we've got everybody's attitude in a place where they're going to be accepting of it, at least starting now anyway. 

Audrey Strong: Let me ask something for the small businesses that are listening to this and leaders that are trying to build their business. So, our offices at SalesFuel, Steve, you would love them, Lee did a whole redesign and we have a huddle room, which is for those little team building exercises with the monitor on the wall and the tall table. It's all glass. You just go in there and slide the door shut and you brainstorm. But something as simple as taking a door, which is, Lee, you made this choice, taking the solid wood doors off of the offices and putting in a door that has glass in it, made a huge difference. 

Steve Chaparro: Yeah, the firm that I used to work at before was visionary studios. And we prided ourselves in being spacial storytellers. And the stories that we were telling were the cultural narratives or the cultural stories of the organizations themselves. And so we wanted the space. We wanted the way the spaces flowed with each other. We wanted the color, we wanted the materials to really echo what that culture was all about. So, let's just say, for instance, if there was a company that valued transparency as something that they touted, but all of their doors had no windows or all of the conference rooms had no way to see into it. I know there's privacy, but you can still be transparent and private. And so I think what you did see Lee, of being able to have those windows on those doors gives another sense of embodiment of that value. Like, hey, we're having this meeting, but people can see in there's visual transparency, but there's physical privacy.

C. Lee Smith: The HR person is the only one that has a solid door. 

Steve Chaparro: Yeah. [Crosstalk 00:14:45] Privacy is paramount. 

Audrey Strong: That makes sense. What are some of the other simple changes you can make like a glass door that smaller businesses could make and it wouldn't cost them an arm and a leg? Because buildings are expensive.

Steve Chaparro: Yeah. Buildings are expensive. And I don't think that you necessarily have to spend the same amount of money per square foot all across the space. That's another thing that visionary studios espoused greatly, was you pick some of those statement spaces, those accent walls, or you create a pathway that accentuates how you're traversing from one space to the next. So, I think you start to look at what are some statements, spatial statements, color statements, because honestly how much more does, say a green wall or let's say the green that you have on as part of SalesFuel logo, let's say you had a wall. I think that's green? 

Audrey Strong: Yeah, that’s green.

Steve Chaparro: That's you had a wall that was either green or orange and how much more per square foot does the orange cost than a white? It’s rhetorical. There is no difference. But the impact that it has is astronomical. When you have that sporadically around the office, the materials you could have pretty say four floor linoleum or some type of sheet flooring, you could have some spaces, have one type of flooring. And then another one that is a little bit more costly to really accentuate some things. So, I think from a materials perspective, from the physical appearance, like solid door, no door window, you have open plan. As we said, okay, maybe open plans isn't great for the entire office, but there might be certain places, certain nodes, if you will, throughout the office where that is actually a really good thing. There might be a certain team that actually works better in that environment. Like I would say engineers, probably not a good spot because they are really task focused. A creative team who's coming up with ideas and branding and think marketing maybe, they might be a good candidate for an open plan just for their section of the office. So I think, yeah.

C. Lee Smith: So, two things on that. Last thing you just said, like, but the thing is our creative people they also get loud and the engineers don't like it. 

Steve Chaparro: Yeah. And that's where if at all possible, but it's true. I think we have seen that too. I think sometimes the adjacencies is a really big thing. There's a type of space that one team will thrive in that another team doesn't thrive in, so, okay you don't put them together. You put them maybe in a different part of the office. So, there's a lot of different ways that you can be intentional with material spatial adjacency, all of that stuff. 

C. Lee Smith: And the second thing is Audrey, it's like, you'd be amazed at, after a year of COVID away where I managed to keep the living wall alive. It's…

Audrey Strong: Yeah, we have a wall covered in plants.

Steve Chaparro: It's still mostly green, but it's like, yeah, a little bit of yellow in there.

Audrey Strong: I'm proud of you. That's great.

Steve Chaparro: Talk about a green wall. There you go. A living wall.

Audrey Strong: Hey, we asked you Steve, your number one problem or mistake that you think managers make, and you talked about it for yourself. You said one of the greatest mistakes I have made as a leader was thinking that I had to know everything. So, how have you worked your way out of that as we wrap things up here? 

Steve Chaparro: So, this comes from my background I think, my background in architecture. When you think of an architect, you think of your guy, okay. A client comes to me with a problem. I am the sole genius that is going to create the solution and present it to the client. I think for any sort of subject matter expert out there, they have been relied on to provide that answer. While things are way too complex, ambiguous, uncertain, volatile these days for any one single subject matter expert. And I think many times the leaders consider themselves as those SMEs in any particular company. So, if the leader kind of acts as the architect that so genius, who says, okay, I know where we need to go. I know what it needs to look like. I know what the steps are. There's only so far that CEO's going to go. But if that leader transitions from being an architect, a vision to a facilitator vision, say, “Okay, here's the direction, but I need you to come along with me because you are the subject matter experts in our company and maybe specific tasks in terms of culture and expertise. I need you to help me give flesh to the spirit of my idea.” And so I think being able to allow the collective genius of the ranks within your firm is paramount especially in the day that we live in right now.

C. Lee Smith: Here's where I want to go. Here's why I want to go there. Does that make sense? Give you an opportunity for some respectful pushback after that, then it's like, okay, how are we going to get there? That's what I'm counting on you to tell me. It's like, you tell me, I hire good people, talented people, pay them something like that, you tell me what I should doing. And don't rely on me to be telling you everything. 

Steve Chaparro: Yeah. There's so much respect that a CEO gains, when you are honest and vulnerable says, “Okay, I'm here to have a vision and to share with you a direction, maybe not a destination, or if I give you a destination, it's a placeholder because I don't want to defraud ourselves of the potential of going further or even a better direction. So, here's a direction, here's where I want to go. Maybe by the day that I — but yeah. And when you allow the employees, or I shouldn't say allow, when you invite employees to voice their expertise, voice their knowledge, the engagement goes to the roof. The ownership goes to the roof, and frankly, the solutions are going to be far better than [crosstalk 00:20:58]

C. Lee Smith: The quality is far superior because you're not relying on one person's brain. You're relying on many and it's so much better. 

Audrey Strong: I was muted because our SalesFuel mascot, the yellow lab, Emma was barking in the background. So, I'm rattle off your website real quick before she does it again Steve. stevechaparro​.co is the website and C‑H-​A-​P-​R‑O. And I hope you get some clients out of this, Steve. Great thinking, great stuff. Enjoyed this very much. 

Steve Chaparro: Thank you. If I may, I have a free resource, if that's okay.

Audrey Strong: Oh, great, please.

C. Lee Smith: Fantastic. 

Steve Chaparro: So, at my website, stevechaparro​.co/​f​r​u​s​t​r​a​ted, you use that word early in the introduction. I have a free audio course that I am preparing for frustrated visionaries and this will help them to be able to transform their frustrations into movements of change. So, it's a free audio course that is available to your listeners.

Audrey Strong: Love it. Thank you so much. I'll put that in the show notes for them. Thanks, Steve. 

C. Lee Smith: Wonderful. 

Steve Chaparro: Thank you so much. 

Thanks for listening to our episode on international best office design for company culture. If you enjoyed the show, please rate and recommend on iTunes, overcast, or wherever you get your podcast. You can also get more great information at salesfuel​.com.

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