Remaking the workplace

Remaking the workplace

  • 5 June 2020, 12.30–1.30pm
  • Light at the End of the Tunnel is a Q & A event series, happening every Friday lunchtime AEST, for as long as we all need it. Hosted by Parlour and Monash Architecture this online talk series is to help our communities navigate the world of work, the futures of the profession and paths forward in the midst of the pandemic.

Click the image above to watch the recording.

What are the futures of the workplace? How can we remake it to be more flexible, more inclusive and more effective? What have we learned during the pandemic that can be taken forward, and what old habits should we leave behind?

Jess Murphy has a broad perspective on these questions. As convenor of Architects Champions of Change she is familiar with architectural workplaces, and she brings further insight from the corporate world. Jess will discuss these questions with Naomi Stead and Justine Clark – and you, our active and highly engaged audience.

– Hi, everyone, my name's Naomi Stead and I'm a professor and Head of the Department of Architecture at Monash University, which is hosting this virtual event.

As always, I'd like to begin by, on behalf of Parlour, acknowledging the traditional custodians of country across Australia's many nations and recognising their continuing connection to land, waters and culture. We pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging and to the indigenous Australians who are part of the Parlour community. In addition, we felt that in light of ongoing events, not only in the U.S., but now also increasingly in Australia, it would be wrong for us to not say anything about how questions around race and discrimination and systemic racism particularly precipitated by the recent and tragic death of George Floyd are not isolated incidents and of course, they are also evident in Australia as well. And that, we feel that we want to acknowledge this because we don't want to remain silent, which really isn't a kind of viable position. But also to agree collectively that we all have a shared responsibility to dismantle systems of systemic racism, and particularly unnecessary deaths of indigenous Australians, which is, of course, a major ongoing problem. And even as it's up to each of us to work out how, and in what way we do this, that it starts with listening and education, which is of course, the entire Parlour ethos. So, as you know, earlier this week was the last day of reconciliation week. And we just encourage you to think about learning something more that you didn't already know about Aboriginal Australia. Take some time to do that, Australians' history and think in particular about listening to indigenous voices as you do that.

So this, as you know, is the third in the series of the "Parlour: Light at the End of the Tunnel" events which look into architecture as a professional, discipline and a practice and how it's been affected by the pandemic. The first two sessions were big picture, scene setting discussions, and asking where are we now? Laying the groundwork for a series of more detailed sessions with focused advice for particular groups. And I think this session with Jess Murphy whom we're very honoured and pleased to have as our speaker is a kind of a bridge, I would say, between the really big picture and the more detailed advice.

So the first session, two weeks ago was Misty Waters focusing on work and workers in architecture. Last week, we spoke to Helen Lochhead. Of course, the National President of the Institute of Architects focusing on the profession as a whole. And this week we have Jess Murphy.

So this session will focus on ‘what next’ in relation to the changing shape of work in the workplace, returning to the office and the lessons that can be taken forward from the pandemic experience.

Justine will introduce Jess more fulsomely in a moment. But I just want to run through some nuts and bolts. Many of you will be very familiar with this by now. Please, with a big group like this, please make sure your microphone is on mute. But please, we encourage you, if you're willing, to please leave your camera on because we find it pleasing and also community building to see your lovely faces. And we found that even with 170 people, we haven't had problems with bandwidth. So I can tell you it will work, if you feel willing to do that.

The format as you know is Q&A, it's meant to be informal but informative. And while Justine and I originally conceived this as a kind of, it would start with an interview between us and our guest. In fact, we've found that the audience has had fabulous questions from the very beginning and has put them in the chat. And so we've taken questions from the audience throughout. So we will continue to do that today, I think, it's an ongoing experiment. So if you have questions, please put them in the chat function and what we'll do is select questions and ask that particular person to say their question in person, put on their camera, put on their microphone, ask the question in person. Also, please feel free to add observations and experiences into the chat where it's a fascinating, parallel narrative. And it's really helpful for everyone to hear everyone else's experiences. So please feel free to do that, that is explicitly encouraged for you to offer your own perspectives in the chat. And even though we won't get to all the questions, we keep missing out on some fantastic questions, which is disappointing, but they will help to inform the subsequent sessions and also we have ideas about frequently asked questions and how we might use this material on Parlour website going forward.

So Justine, would you like to introduce Jess?

– Thank you. So hi everybody, nice to see you all again. Some of you I saw last night, lovely that you're here, for another session. So as Naomi said, particularly in Misty's session, there was a lot of discussion about flexible and remote working, a lot of sense of how this kind of crisis is an opportunity to kind of reshape how we work, where we work. And I think as Fiona Martin said, work being something that you do rather than somewhere you go. And so it felt to us like this is really worth a kind of more extended discussion.

So we're very pleased that we've got Jess here today to help us talk through that. Jess brings a really broad perspective to these questions, which I think will be incredibly productive. She leads her own boutique consultancy company providing guideship to both Australian and multinational organisations. So she's really familiar with the kind of workings of the corporate world, at the kind of bigger end of town than many of us operate at. And she describes her role there with that work as bringing progressive thinking with practical application. While Jess has become very familiar with architecture in recent years, also, she is been the convener of the Architects Male Champions of Change program. And in that role has come to have a quite a thorough and deep understanding of the way architectural practices work, which is often quite different than the way some of the corporate business world works. So she kind of operates as a hinge between these worlds. And of course, that corporate world is often the client for many architects. So I think it's yeah, she's got this great perspective. I think the other interesting thing about today is that Jess, I think, it's probably fair to say is mostly familiar with the experiences of larger businesses and larger architectural practices. And we know that many of you in our audience, all bring a lot of knowledge and insight about what happens in smaller and medium sized practices, I think there's a potential for some quite productive conversations there.

So welcome Jess, thank you for joining us and let's just get going. I think that we'd like to start, Jess is really just a sense of what your observations are about what's been happening within the architectural practices that you're familiar with. What kind of themes are emerging and how are they managing this new work world we find ourselves in so far?

– Thanks Justine, and a pleasure to be here with everyone today. What I thought I might do is start off with some observations that actually came from some of our MCC colleagues, and then look at my observation. So put this into context, as Justine mentioned, I convened two Male Champions of Change groups for architecture. And the particular observations I'm going to share with you today came from an implementation team meeting that was led by Monica Edwards and Karen le Provost who are the leader ILs in that space. And I think it's really interesting because these are the words that are coming directly from the practices.

So, four core observations that came through was that the most recent experience has promoted an environment of trust, and one where we look out for each other. Second, the need for effective communication and setting clear expectations has been amplified. Third, everyone felt the permission to work flexibly and finding that balance between work and life was given, particularly in the early stages when we're all reacting quite chaotically. And I think the most interesting insight that has come through from our work with the implementation leaders is this fourth one, which is they felt the pandemic has evened the playing field. And I thought I might expand a little bit more on what I'm seeing as I work with the architectural practices, particularly on that point.

What has seemed to come through consistently is almost this democratisation of people feeling that they can contribute. And today's session on Zoom actually amplifies this, because we're all given the same size video box, where our heads are being visible. There's no hierarchy in terms of people sitting in a different position in the room that might amplify the different statuses at play. And even more so in the practical application of having your voice heard, the Zoom meetings actually bring forward a type of equity where everyone has a chance to contribute and we're managing these meetings a lot more effectively. So I think, one of the observations that I've had is that perhaps this has broken down some of the barriers that might have led for some people to feel quite 'not heard' or not given the opportunity to have their voice heard. This is potentially being a productive change for that. And I think the other piece that's come through very strongly in the work that I've been seeing is this increase in connectivity. And what I mean by that is that the practices that I've got exposure to have gone out of their way to check in with employees, whether that's through surveys or actually picking up the phone and having a dedicated resource to make those calls to individuals. All of the practices that I work with have actually increased that level of engagement to obviously ensure that mental health but also the compassion that's required when you're leading through such as significant change, like COVID-19, put across all of us.

So a lot of the practices are talking about how one of the things that they want to make sure that they're holding on to is this increased engagement. Things like running yoga sessions in the morning collectively with the team, having quarantini drinks in the afternoon, seeing people show up in their living rooms, in their workspaces, which are actually having the pets and the kids walking through, that all humanises each other. And so that level of engagement has significantly increased. And a lot of people are saying that they want to hold onto that.

– Hey Jess, I wonder, can I just push you a little bit on this question about evening the playfield or sorry, levelling the playing field? Because I find it very compelling what you're saying about how we all have the same sized box and no one can be sitting at the head of the table, literally.

However, I would really like to believe that what you say is true. But my experience has been contrary to that, though, my experience has been that people can absolutely hold the floor and absolutely dominate, and that their old patterns of domination have tended to be reinforced and perhaps even strengthened. So maybe the experience that you've been having is with either exceptionally well cared meetings or cultures that were already somewhat egalitarian, because I wonder about the dark side of what you're saying, or the less positive take on that question.

– And that's actually an interesting perspective because, I mean, I know myself I've been part of meetings where some of the participants in the meeting have been quite aggressive in the past. When we've had meetings face to face and thumb to the table, quite loud in their voice. And my experience is that I never see them look themselves on screen. It literally is holding up the mirror and moderating their behaviour because they can see themselves on screen. And so, I found a significant decrease in some of the aggression and just even the really, ‘out there’ behaviours that have been demonstrated in the past. So I find what you're saying quite curious because, I mean, just from an effectiveness point of view, chairing a meeting, the whole point of chairing a meeting is so that you have people's voices heard. And so Zoom actually allows a little bit of equity to come into play there. So I mean, I think that's a really interesting point to expand further on. And I've got no doubt there will be research done off the back of this around meetings that are done virtually and the effectiveness of them.

– I also think it's a matter of the kind of existing cultures. And so I guess organisations who at least have made a start on the way to try and to think about equity issues and have people on board to greater or lesser degrees in it, are possibly operating differently than organisations where those things are all entirely new or weird. And I think it's also familiarity or not, with remote working, which is, I mean, I certainly think there's a, I mean, because the other side of this I suppose, discussions around equity is the kind of broader discussion that's happening and there was a great piece in the newspaper today by Ray, the workplace. Basically, arguing that the kind of iniquities become amplified culturally, the cultural and social inequities are being amplified. And so I think it's a sort of bizarre shuttling between the amplification of social equity on one hand and then the kind of potential for a flattening of hierarchy within the space of a meeting or an organisation. I think it's not either/or, they're both at play.

– And I think also what also comes into play here around that coming around evening the playing field is the fact that in some organisations, in some practices presenteeism was a core factor around how work was allocated, and opportunities provided. And the fact that that levelling of the playing field that we're all working remotely, has seen that others have had opportunities that before perhaps weren't given because there was an assumption made around not being in the office. But when everyone's out of the office, I think that provides a greater scope of opportunity. But also, I mean, we've been doing work on the, how you allocate work out and making sure that it's not based on being in the office and site, et cetera.

And so I'm hoping that with this new change of the way that we're working, it's broadening people's perspectives around how you allocate work out and who's the best choice for those elements within a project. And offering a whole lot more scope around flexibility and availability across broader than the eight to six working hours that were originally put into play.

– I think that for me, that's where the kind of potential is, in that, we've short circuited this discussion about whether people can work flexibly and remotely. And I think flexibility in time and flexibility in location of work are not always the same thing. But, we're short circuited that discussion, I've also been hearing already that in some places, feel like it's all just going back to how it was. So when, I think, Jess, the people we've been talking to, are like, "Yes, how can we use this? "Are we going to go forward? "And it's all going to be different." But then the profession is a very uneven place.

I was also interested to know how your clients in the corporate world are going. Are there differences between the way they're responding and the way the people you're familiar with in architecture are responding, or is this kind of similar?

– Yeah, so if I look at Flex in particular, one of the organizations I work for is a large financial services organization, has 30,000 employees. Four weeks before COVID hits, they had a report from their risk function to say that at the most, four and a half thousand people could work remotely. That was the capacity of their infrastructure. COVID hit, within a weekend, they had 28,000 people working remotely because it was just how they had to operate the business. So what this has done is has actually, the business necessity to survive and continue on has created a whole new way of innovating in terms of thinking and breaking down those barriers, both mentally that we've created for ourselves, as well as some of the risk appetite that perhaps a lot of clients were saying, "It's too risky to do this." It's taken that away and it's allowed people to go, "Well, we have to do it, there's no choice here. "We have to do it."

So to your comment before, Justine, around going back to normal, in the corporate space, it very much is not about going back to normal. The terminology, it's not about bounce back, it's about a spring forward. What can we do to really reimagine what work looks like? And one of the most interesting conversations I've had is this concept around three different spaces that corporates are looking at the moment.

First one is the work from home space and what they can do to support people working from home. So that's all about technology and equipment to ensure that they're set up for success.

The second one is realising that we're humans, and that we need to interact outside of these small little rooms that we're operating in, in our own homes, and that we need to go into spaces like libraries and parks and cafes within our local hub. And so what can they do to support that type of infrastructure, particularly in larger CBD locations?

The third one I find really interesting, it's this concept of reimagining the office space, particularly in the corporate world, for moving from that central point of where you go to do work, or going 'back to work', that central head office concept. And reimagining into what they're terming, a nest. And what I mean by that is the nest is being seen as this collaboration point.

That the only reason you'd need to go back to head office site or 'the nest' is to collaborate and connect with others. And that might be once a week or once a month. And that's the rhythm that they're looking at. And that comes down from a health and safety perspective around the social distancing requirements. You simply just cannot have thousands of people coming into the one central point. But also reimagining the fact that actually people are far more productive in their own space now.

A lot of people have learned how to make it work for them, not everyone. But there's options now where they're going to look to increase the amount of people working from home, and actually reimagine that head office space to be this 'nest' where you come in, to collaborate, not to have meetings but to collaborate with others. And I think it's this hybrid model that I'm finding quite interesting and obviously offers a whole load of opportunity to this industry around redesigning homes, as well as redesigning corporate spaces to really maximise what should be 21st century thinking around what we do.

– Okay, I think it's fair. I mean, I think these things are very interesting for an architectural audience, both in terms of thinking of their own workplace, but of course, also thinking in the work that architects do in workplace design. And we have, I know, a few people here who are involved in that. Sue Whittenham, are you there? Would you like to ask about this ‘nest’ metaphor? Where are you Sue?

– Here I am.

– There you are.

– I am. Yeah, with the ‘nest’ metaphor, I thought back when you were doing work profiles for flexible work programs, we would look at work styles and corporate centres. And we were distinguished between nesters, networkers and nomads. And the nesters were always the people we had to blast out of the office because they refuse to give up their desk. The idea of if you were and they were the people who spend above average time at their desk in any work environment. And I think we all, this whole idea of nesting and of feeling that we need to be surrounded by our stuff, by our papers, by all the things that make us feel comfortable and at home, we have to rethink what that is to be able to function in a distributed workplace. So the metaphor, I'm not so thrilled about but the idea of, or the recognition that a distributed workplace is the way forward, 100% and fully support that.

– Yeah, and I have to say, that's certainly not my term that's being used. And I think it was more around when you fly from the nest, and then you come back home every now and again, but in my head, I was thinking, it's sort of like I didn't grow up where my parents live at the moment, I didn't grow up in their house. And so when I think about collaborating on a personal sense to me, I always think of the nest as my parents' house where all of us congregate on those special occasions, and then we move back to our own worlds. So that was sort of how I connected that analogy in my own mind. But I completely get your context there Sue.

– Jess, as it happens this morning, I was in a separate training session, which was for heads of department in my institution. And the trainer asked us to think about what was the metaphor for how we were all kind of surviving, let's say or traveling. And one of my colleagues said, "Oh, it's really like we're all in the lifeboat "and my job is to stop people "from stealing each other's water bottles "and then ultimately throwing each other overboard." And that he really felt like it was going to become a "Hunger Games" kind of situation, which is supposed different in the universities, from architectural practice.

But the point that the trainer made was your metaphor is all wrong, we're never going back. It's never going back to normal. You need a positive metaphor and to craft a story that people can get on board with, literally. And she was saying, "What other metaphors are there?" And he was saying, "Oh, drinking from the fire hose. "or drowning." They were watery, strangely enough. So is that something that you have encountered as well that people have to get over basically the grief that we will not be going back to how things were?

– Absolutely. But I think it's different for each of us individually. So, I love the analogy that we're all in the same storm, but we're all rowing different boats. And some of us are thriving in this particular storm. Some of us have just gone, "Amazing, "I've been waiting for something like this to happen. "And I am just going to absolutely make the most of it." And I have to say, I'm one of those people. I've had to redesign my whole business structure in the last four weeks, because all the work I do was a lot of face to face consultation, a lot of face to face leadership delivery, it's all going virtual now.

So the world has completely changed. But that opens up so many opportunities.

So, I'm one of those people that are thriving in this space. But then we've got the other end of the spectrum where for a lot of people, there is an immense amount of grief around the changes that have been forced on them, that they feel that it's not in their control, that it's being done to them. And so I think as leaders, as compassionate fellow humans, we need to recognise everyone is on a different spectrum to how they're choosing to react to this. And, my personal belief is that a lot of this stuff does come down to how you view the world and your choices that you have. And yes, a lot of the choice that we have had previously has been taken away in terms of coming into the office or how we interact with friends and family and kids going to school. But also we have a choice around how we choose to view this and I choose an optimistic view that actually this is going to help us become better.

A lot of the outputs that I've seen from individuals is they're far more connected with their families. I literally lived out of a suitcase for the last three years, I've been home 12 weeks straight. I can't remember the last time I was like that. And at first I grieved because I was doing some pretty cool stuff and it all had to be put on hold. But now I feel so privileged that I get a chance to really be with my family. And I get that all of our, sorry I've got a fly buzzing around. I get that all of their contexts are different, but I also think we have a choice around how we can view it and what we can do to move forward.

So your colleague who perhaps is feeling overwhelmed, I think the best thing we can do is just acknowledge that it's normal to feel overwhelmed in this situation. That's the first part and then it's about what we can do to make this situation work for us. Because that is the only choice we have, is making it work for us and we can control how we think that through.

– So there's quite a lot of comment going on in here, which I think is a really important point and we've discussed this in previous sessions too. And I know also with Iugis, with the MCC is that the equity fault lines are also around what kinds of home spaces people have access to, whether they're trying to care for children, whether they're actually as, I think, I certainly feel very privileged. I'm very well set up to work at home because I've been doing it for so long and I'm lucky, I've got a nice house.

Of course, many, many other people are not in that situation. And that often happens across age groups, but it's not only that, it's in whether people are parents, whether they may not. So there's quite a bit of people commenting on that in here. Naomi, do you think we should call on someone or should we just raise the issue?

– Let's go to Alex Wilson's question. Alex, do you want to ask your question?

– Hi, I'm interested in the fact that this could turn into an opportunity for employers to shift costs onto their employees. So a lot of people I've spoken to are very excited about the fact that they could reduce their office spaces and save money. And we're doing a couple of major workplace projects at work, and also thinking about it just in terms of our own practice. But then, at the same time, quite a few of our junior team members, they live in shared houses, they had five people working in their living room, and every time there was a Zoom call, they had to ask their housemates to go and move to the kitchen so they could have a Zoom call with our clients and stuff like that. And so for a lot of people to work from home, they need a bigger space and particularly junior people, junior staff members, often don't and those with families as well.

And so it feels quite unfair and then hearing the perspective from some of our clients who aren't architects, they're more corporate type of employers, they're getting quite gleeful about the fact that, "Oh we're going to half our costs, "we don't have to keep everyone at work." I'm a bit worried about that aspect of it and also, within architecture, particularly, I think junior staff, at the moment, because employment's pretty shaky at the moment, like a lot of projects are going on hold, we don't know what the future holds. And the junior staff are probably the most vulnerable at the moment. There's real competition for jobs. And I'm worried that people won't speak up as a result because they just want to hang on to their job.

– Yeah, let me respond to the first part. And then just some thoughts I have on that second part of the question. With the first part, I think employers looking to shrink their office space has been an ongoing reality for the last 10, 15 years. I know one corporate that houses 6,000 staff but actually only had seats for four and a half thousand staff. So that, I think, it's been a reality, may not have been a reality in architectural practice. But it's certainly been a reality for the clients that you're dealing with. I think there's always going to be some employees that must have access to the office space. And that's from a productivity perspective around just their home space isn't set up, and also a safety space.

So I know a number of corporate clients and practices that have had to ensure that their office space is still accessible for those where it's not safe for them to be at home for a variety of reasons, or just can't be at home because of a variety of reasons. So you will always have, in my mind, a percentage of employees that will need to work in an office space for a range of reasons. And a percentage of employees that I think will continue to want to work 100% from home because it works for them, whether that's from a commute perspective or, again, a lifestyle perspective, and then you've got everyone in between. So I think that it's not a one size fits all, and it's certainly not 100% and zero. I think there's going to be scale being applied here.

To your second question around younger employees and the fact that we are in a recession. Let's just absolutely accept the fact that the economic climate from six months ago has changed, no doubt about it. And for a lot of us, we've never experienced being an employee in a recession. And this is where I would highly recommend younger staff or those that haven't had that experience, you should be looking to tap into mentors, people within your practice who have gone through it, who can help give you guidance, because you know what? Most of them were younger at the age that people are now when they went through it and in their experience. So it's a perfect time to be able to set up some mentoring relationships. More than that, you can reciprocate, because a lot of those older employees, directors, et cetera probably, and this is an assumption, not all of them, but probably some of them aren't as tech savvy as what some of their younger employees are.

And so there's an ability here to actually reciprocate some mentoring, one from a technology perspective in getting them comfortable using technology in this new world, but also sharing their experiences around what they went through and some of their tips and hints around how to cope with a recession as an employee. And that's up to each of us. We shouldn't be sitting back thinking, "Oh how is my employer going to help me do this?" This is about you stepping up and making it happen. People want to help, they just need to be asked. They can't read your mind, so go ahead and ask for support and nine times out of ten, people are more than happy to share with you their experiences. So that's maybe a couple of tips from my perspective that may work for some.

– I mean it's a very interesting disjunction of how do we, again, there's a lot of discussion going on here, about the shifts of cost onto employees, electricity, et cetera, et cetera. Absolutely fundamental concerns that this could be a catalyst for cost reduction and the RSA exploitation. At the same time, as the conversations we had probably more in that first session with Misty there was a lot of people saying, "Well, we're really, there seems to be so much opportunity "for how and where we can work." So we have to kind of find a way to work, to take the good things, but not for those to be levers for exploitation.

Sarah Aldridge has made a couple of good comments now. Sarah, do you want to pipe up on these kinds of questions?

– Hello.

– Hi Sarah.

– Just on the first, which I didn't make comments about, on the first point around accessibility and levelling the playing field. As a regional practitioner, this online forum of these kinds of events is just absolutely fantastic for me. And it means that for once I can join in these conversations and I can access this content and I can have these conversations albeit online, and it's been absolutely brilliant. So I really want to say thank you to Parlour for organising these and for everybody else, because I know there's a lot going on, who have organised these events, it's been really, really fantastic, so thank you all.

So my situation is I am a director of a small practice. There's two directors and two employees and our employees are both fairly young. One has young family, one doesn't. And they both have been working from home during the pandemic as we have as well.

One of them, due to a software issue, had to come back to work last week and I've never seen anyone so happy to be back in the office in all my life because she's in a small flat with her spouse and a young child. And whilst we gave her the chair to take home and computer and offer to upgrade the internet at home so she could actually work properly at home, I think it was pretty tough because her husband looks after the child some days and child's in childcare other days and I think trying to do the sort of work that we do would quite obviously requires concentration, requires a fairly big computer and a kind of set up on a desk and it's pretty hard to set up a package of drawings on a laptop on your knee on the sofa. And I think for her it was just an absolute relief even though she has to drive an hour to get to work. For her, I think it's an absolute relief to get in the car and come back to the office and just be able to sit at a desk, have a cup of tea and actually have a bit of have peace and quiet and brain space to do the sort of thinking that really does need to go into a drawing package.

So for us I mean, we're a husband and wife team, for us, it's been easier I guess, because when our staff are in, I work from home and when the staff aren't in, I'm back in the office so we can sort of juggle things. We have access from home, we've got laptop at home, you can juggle things to suit so there's not that many people in the office.

But I think what you're talking about, the distributed office, seems like a really good idea because it's that flexibility that we need as employers and our employees need as well so that if one employee is finding it hard to work at home, they can come to work. I can make more space in the office by working from home, for example. And it seems like that, I mean, I know it's very different, if you've got four people in office, or if you've got 4,000. But for us, it's that flexibility and that ability to be able to juggle both which is really working for us at the moment.

– Yeah, and I think that's the thing is that everyone is in different circumstances. And it's just getting permission to people to say, "Hey, listen, this isn't working for me. "But I've got a solution that I'd like to talk to you "that will, how can we make this work?" And one of the things that I have certainly witnessed with the Male Champions of Change work is that people are having far more human conversations around what's going on. And there's almost this… people sharing their private world that perhaps they haven't shared before, but they're now knowing that they have to, to make this work for them. And so there's this higher level of psychological safety that's being demonstrated both from leaders as well as employees, because you're getting this insight into people that you've never had before. And I want to encourage that, because it's only when we have transparent conversations that we can actually deal with what's going on and support people.

Now the flip to that is if people come to you and you don't feel that you can cope with what they're disclosing, don't shut them down. Like just say, "Listen, I'm not quite sure how to respond here, "I need time to think about it, let me come back to you." Because it's only through that open communication. And you don't need to know all the answers, you just need to say I need to reflect and come back to you. And having that open conversation's pivotal. Yeah, and I think that's a wonderful experience that you're offering and acknowledging that everyone has their own way of doing things.

– Naomi, do you want, I've so taken over here a wee bit.

– I was wondering whether, because we've gotten some good questions here in chat. I wonder if we might go back to an earlier one from Simone Bliss. Simone, would you like to put your question? I think I saw earlier that Simone is on a mobile.

– Hello.

– Oh there you are.

– Yes, here I am. Hi everybody. I'm calling you from a van studio. My question was just around a number of things to do with the cultural and atmospheric relationships of setting up an office and setting up a dynamic between people that is very much based on a natural conversation, which I think Zoom has, when you were talking about the even playing field, I think that it's been good in terms of people not being able to talk over the top of each other, but I do get the sense that being an introvert or an extrovert plays into that and there are some really important subtleties of having a team dynamic in one room. That we're all trying to aspire to through design, but also through office culture. And I'm interested to understand how those sorts of things can be held on to when workplaces are smaller, or some people might move into a large office because they want to be part of that buzz, and that vibrancy, whereas others might enjoy being in a smaller space.

So, yeah, I'd love to hear from you Jess about how you can hold on to some things of some of the atmosphere and culture through the new norm.

– Yeah, great question and one I'm actually quite passionate about because my very strong position is that pre-COVID, workplaces were set up to absolutely favour extroverts. It was all about collaboration, time, having the way that corporate offices are set up, the bump factor, bumping into people and the constant meetings, et cetera. You were rewarded for being in the office and having a loud voice. And I think post-COVID, I think that it's actually levelling the playing field between extroverts and introverts in the sense that as an extrovert, and I am, I actually have to be far more mindful and Zoom is a great way to keep me in check around my contribution to a meeting, because it's really obvious when I'm over talking, as opposed to in a room where you forget about it, because you're in the moment, you're in that space. So I think my perspective is that Zoom is potentially helping introverts get a little bit more access to voice because of the more equitable view that we're having on Zoom.

Having said that, it all comes down to the person who's leading the meeting. And if you don't lead inclusively, if you don't look to ensure that people have equal talk time then that's on the leader around conducting meetings effectively. Just on that note, one of the great ways that you can measure psychological safety in a meeting environment is measuring equal talk time, regardless of hierarchy, regardless of personality preferences, if you've got high psychological safety within that group of people, then everyone is contributing equally. If there's low psychological safety, then you've got loud voices that are dominating. So just bear that in mind when you go to your next meeting in Zoom or otherwise. And this also relates to how people show up is around that psychological safety and equal talk time. My sense is that Zoom's enabling that.

The one down thing that I'm experiencing with Zoom is that I spend a lot of my time reading body language. That's one of my key elements to help take in information and I find Zoom fatiguing, like you wouldn't believe. Like at the moment, I'm looking at so many different faces just seeing how engaged you are, because that's my normal style when I'm in a meeting room. But looking at, I mean, I think there's about 40 faces on my screen at the moment, it is cognitive overload. So what I'm doing to make sure I keep that connection with people, to talk about that engagement piece is I'm actually just picking up the phone and having a phone conversation.

So I think that Zoom has its place, absolutely. But nothing is more meaningful than someone picking up the phone and having a one on one conversation about you. So I would encourage people, in this new environment to make sure that you're picking up the phone, having those one-on-one conversations because that's when you unlock what's really going on for a person.

The other thing that I just want to raise, is that the second wave will come. We will all be in lockdown at some point in the future. If we honestly think that we're going back to normal, you need to just chuck that out the window. Normal is out the window, pre-COVID. We all need to be planning for the fact that this will happen again. And if you don't take advantage of this opportunity, both individually and organisationally to prepare for this happening again, it is a missed opportunity and you will fall behind your competitors, but also your own peers in terms of how you prepare for this. So eyes wide open, this is going to happen again, let's all prepare ourselves for it.

– Right, well that's the instruction everybody, now we'll hop to it. I wonder Kally, are you there? Your question around blended working. Your commentary about how the blended phase of everyone at home, other sort of mid thing is a kind of more challenging. I wonder if you want to--

– Hi everyone. Yeah, I think I made a comment first about choice. And I think if people have a choice to work from home or to work from the office, particularly at this point where people have different health concerns, they have different levels of comfort, is great. But once you bring that back, or once you start staggering. And as we continue, we have the situation where we have part of the team in the office and part of the team working from home.

I guess anyone who's ever worked part time or who's ever worked from home while the team's in the office, or even who's worked on projects where you've got multiple offices involved will probably relate to the experience of being left out of a meeting, being left out of a chat that happened at someone's desk, joining in a boardroom meeting on audio where you couldn't hear the people in the room. And so you create, while everyone is equal, when we all dial into Zoom, when we have a situation where you have five people sitting in a room and one person dialling into the meeting, you create another sort of inequality.

– Completely agree with you. And in fact, leading organisations are saying that it's either we're all in person, which let's face it, it's never going to happen now, or we're all dialling in. So even if you could be sitting behind me, you still have to dial in because it's equity of access. So people are understanding. I mean, it's always happened, as you've noted before, where there's been inequity of access, but now it's come to the forefront and great organisations, great leaders are saying, "If one person has to dial in via Zoom, "we're all dialling in via Zoom. "To make sure we've got that equity happening there." Because I completely agree with you, there's nothing more frustrating when you've got five people in the room and you're the person virtual, you just miss out on everything. And the leaders who potentially have never experienced that before, have now experienced that and so are now looking at with more intelligence, emotional intelligence, around making sure that's levelised out.

– Have you got any tips for managing the audio of the Zoom with multiple people in the same open plan?

– Yeah, so headsets so having a--

– We're still getting a bit of reverb but yeah.

– Yeah, and that I mean, you know, it is what it is. But someone was mentioning around having flatmates all in the same kitchen space where they're on different calls. I was on a call yesterday with a corporate client and she had her headset on. Someone in the corner that could see behind her was sitting at the kitchen bench with their headset on everyone was on a Zoom call. But they were just talking quietly but straight into the mic, and they were making it work. So I mean, it's not ideal, but you got to work with what you can.

– I wondered if we might, Justine, I don't know, I'm trying to read your mind. But I was thinking that we might go to a question from Matthew Graham.

– You have read my mind perfectly. That's the one I was about to go to. Look at us, we're twins.

– I thought I would have created some controversy there. I guess in the architecture industry, we always talk about work-life balance, where a lot of us are working longer hours, regardless of the level that you're at. And I was just wondering now if working from home is creating a better work-life balance, or is it encroaching upon our personal lives where the lines of home and working are now blurred?

I don't know about you, but I'm in my lounge room now and it's kind of being converted with my wife as well and it no longer feels like a personal space for us anymore. So it feels that we have to either escape to outside the house or to the bedroom. And you do kind of start working longer hours and before you know it, at seven, eight o'clock and you should be having, probably not working so much, I guess.

– Yeah, I completely agree with you and I don't actually like the terminology work-life balance because that's just ridiculous. To me, it's always been a work-life blend. And where for certain maybe one day, it's more work, less life. The other day, it's more life, less work. And I think we've got to acknowledge that people are in different situations and I've got three kids at school. So in the mornings, I had to get the kids sorted around their schoolwork. So there was no way I could actually be on a meeting or engaging in my work because I actually had to get the kids' school sorted so that they could be set up for success.

And so it's acknowledging that each of us have our own constraints in this new world, both from managing our life commitments, as well as our work commitments and having those open conversations. I, personally, have been completely delighted with some of the conversations I've been having with a number of the directors of these large practices who've actually said that they loved spending more time with their family, having lunch together as a family. And there's some of the new practices they'd want to actually build into their new world. One person was talking about decreasing the amount of care for their children because they actually want to spend more time with their children, and this has allowed them to be a more active parent.

Now, everyone's circumstances are different, everyone has different priorities in their life. So it's not a one size fits all. But I think what we need to realise is that working nine to five in those windows of hours, that's just one form of working, that we can actually work it to suit ourselves. And as long as we're communicating with our teams around saying, "Listen, I can't do it this time, "but I can do it that time." As long as you're, in my mind, coming up with the solutions around how you can make it work and we focus on the output not on the input. We focus on the output and you're meeting those output requirements, then let's treat each other as adults and give each other permission to make it work.

It's the 21st century. I don't know about you, but I don't need micromanaging. I just need someone to trust me that I can get the work done and leave me to it.

– So Jess, I think this takes us, I feel like we could go on for another hour here. But I think this takes us to something that would be very productive for you to offer. I mean, like you, I've been quite heartened by some of the conversations on those Champion practices, and I really hope that they deliver on it. But I'm also very aware that, as I said before, the world of architectural practices is very uneven, and there are some practices that have some less than ideal workplace behaviours and habits.

So I wonder what advice you might offer to people who are employees around how they, especially in a situation where they're anxious about their jobs, about how they might approach conversations around this sort of flexibility, approach conversations around these kinds of good management practices that we're talking about when they're not in their formal leadership position. I mean, I feel like we could have a whole session on that, but let's just have a snippet from you now.

– So I think the best way to approach any of these conversations is to look at it from a macro perspective. So don't put it in, this is my experience, here's what I need you to do, it's really frustrating. I would put it into broader terms around, here's what I'm observing, have you read the latest report from Parlour around implications? Have you seen what's coming out from the ACA? You want to create conversations that are based on fact and data. And there's a lot of positive stuff coming out around health practices are thriving in this new working remotely environment.

So I'd be focusing, first of all, any conversations around some facts and data that support whatever it is that you're trying to put forward. I'd also then say it's really interesting times, we've had COVID-19 force us into doing things differently, we're facing a recession at the moment.

So we'll have to do things differently, won't we? Won't we have to do things differently to survive? So you're already opening their mind up to a whole lot of things that they will need to do differently. And then you need to put yourself in their shoes. How is your suggestion going to support them? It's not about you, it's about what's in it for them and why you would put forward an argument. Why would they do that? What's the benefit to them?

And then you put forward that it's a pilot, then you say, "Well, here's what I'm proposing. "I'm suggesting that we give this a three month window. "Here's what I'm going to do to track success, "here's the feedback, "here's the people that I'm going to engage with. "I'm putting forward an opportunity to pilot this "and then we can decide what we want to do "at the end of the three months." Now, if they're not open to a pilot, I think you've got some significant issues that are much broader than whatever it is that you're asking for. Now I get that we're in a different environment and perhaps, you're anxious about pushing things.

But I do want you to think about bigger term and happiness and engagement with an employer that won't give you the opportunity to pilot something as long as it's reasonable and is of benefit to both you and them. At the end of the pilot, my experience is that if it's worked in the first three months, there might be some tweaks that need to be made but pretty much things are going to stay as long as you're open to those tweaks and feedback. That's what I've seen work, but my biggest advice is it's not about you, it's about what's in it for them and make it about how they can benefit from this as well. Very hard to not doing a proposal and a business case that puts that forward.

– That's fantastic advice, Jess. I think that was really, really well put and that's certainly been our observation as well. And it's usually my job to keep us to time. So unfortunately, we only have one more minute and Justine has some announcements she needs to make. So Justine.

– Do I? What are those announcements?

– Next salon?

– Yes, well, no, okay. So actually, the big announcement that I might like to make builds on the conversation we've been having, which is that Parlour and the Champions are collaborating on doing an industry-wide survey on workplace and well-being in this current environment. And I'm trying to put that together now. And this builds on some of the well-being surveys that the Champion practice have been doing within their own offices. And we're taking that experience and extending that to the kind of bigger questions that we're interested to know too about how or all of this is impacting people.

So, running through these conversations, it's fantastic to see quite a few people, both employees and employers talking about support around tech and Wi-Fi and costs. And of course, other people finding that there's none of that at all. And so we're really interested to kind of map what's going on, how is that working? And the intent is to launch that early next week. And I hope the reality of my weekend will mean that that's possible. But I think, one of the things that I've enjoyed about working with the Champions is their kind of interest in sharing the knowledge that they're developing. And I think vice versa, the Parlour community has a sort of really broad experience across a very wide range of kinds of sizes and types of practice. So I think there's a real opportunity to work together on that. Then we're going have another one of these next week. We haven't quite worked out the topic for that yet, but we will again.

– Justine, I've just had an idea. Maybe we could do one on leadership and maybe Eloise Atkinson should be part of it.

– Sure, Eloise are you there?

– You made a very good point in the chat, and I think it's particularly tough for leaders at the moment, it's tough in the higher education sector, and it's very tough in architectural practice. So we'll do that at some stage, whether it's next week or subsequently, we'll look into that.

– And I'm very keen to do one on negotiation, which might build on some of the things that Jess was talking about then too. So anyway, we'll have another great theme for you next week. We had of our first salon on last night, which we had a few tick challenges with sound. Many of you were there, but it was pretty successful. We've had a lot of good feedback, and we'll be running another one of those probably every month. We're just looking into that because this is this whole new world where we can just test things out. So we're busy testing, we're just limited by the time we have to make stuff happen.

Thank you again to Monash without whom we couldn't be doing any of this and particularly that amazing Erin. Thank you to our colleague Susie, who's in here behind the scenes making stuff happen. Thank you to Jess, of course, for her wonderful contribution. And I'm always interested to pull Jess to the world of Parlour. And I'm very happy to have you here, thank you very much.

– My pleasure.

– Thank you to our sponsors, AWS who really have this broad-brush support of our whole event program and of course, to all of our other sponsors too without whom none of this would be possible. And we know that, as I said last time, it's a tricky time for people to hand out money to others, but we would really hope that Parlour is delivering for everybody as a result. Thanks again Jess.

– Thank you Jess, thank you linesman, thank you blind persons, bald persons. I think we're done.

– I think we're done, see you next week.

– Bye everyone.