Clint Robinson, CEO of Lane, argues that the workplace ecosystem is still very fragmented and out of date. The culprit? Different operating software and systems with no technology in sight that seamlessly ties them all together. With remote and hybrid work on the rise, this needs to be a top priority for organizations.
One of the problems we have in this ecosystem of the workplace is everything is still very disconnected; everything is very fragmented. There’s lots of stakeholders to come together to make things work for the modern office. And they’re just disconnected. And there’s no technology that ties them together and makes things easy to use. You’ve really got to put that technology layer in place because that’s what your customers are expecting to exist now.
Frank Cottle [00:00:41] Clint, welcome to the Future Work podcast. It’s really great to have you with us today. And thank you for joining us.
Clinton Robinson [00:00:47] Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here and get to talk to you about the future of all things work.
Frank Cottle [00:00:51] Well, we’re looking forward to that. Before we get started, I’d like to give everybody a little background on who you are. You have a tremendous reputation as a technologist and a serial entrepreneur, actually. And I guess you’ve dedicated your career to solving complex problems technologically. I know you launched several companies when you were younger, and you launched Lane recently. And Lane has become the world’s largest, most interactive platform for the workplace. I know you’re used to speaking and doing things on a conference. So, let’s just get into this Future Work podcast.
Clinton Robinson [00:01:34] That sounds fantastic.
Frank Cottle [00:01:35] Let’s do with the kind of couple of questions for you to start to start things off. You know, when we talk about the future of work, it’s always about people ultimately. And so, in your view, what does the future office look like for employees?
Clinton Robinson [00:01:52] Oh, wow. Yeah. And that’s like a top of everybody’s mind right now, especially because covid. Right. And like, what is happening. How far in the future do you want to go? It’s just like two years. Is it five or?
Frank Cottle [00:02:04] I think most companies today have a mid-term plan of twenty. Twenty-five or twenty-three is kind of short term for a lot of large companies and then government and really the larger companies seem to have a 2030 plan coming at them. No one knows what that’s going to be because we don’t know how things are going to evolve. But I think people are looking out about that for that.
Clinton Robinson [00:02:30] Totally. Yeah. Let’s think 2030 that we’re in 2021 and look how long it took video to get adopted and covid just came in like accelerated that so quickly. People weren’t really having virtual meetings before covid and then it came along. And now that’s kind of how we have meetings. So, I think the Office of the Future has really been changed by that dramatically. I think in twenty thirty we’re looking at like a real hybrid, truly hybrid, meaning we’re going to have video conferencing, VR type meetings, in-person meetings plus distributed workforces where that that giant headquarter office may be a thing of the past. And our employees are going to be working remote and distributed where they come into smaller satellite offices when they need to do that personal like in-person meeting. And I hope by 2030 it’s going to be all driven by technology that makes it seamless, makes it really easy to use for everybody. I think that’s the ideal future of work that we’re all looking for. And then we’re going to see over the next couple of years how it actually plays out in reality.
Frank Cottle [00:03:37] Well, you know, it’s interesting. Everybody’s using this term remote work as if it means we’re not connected somehow. And the reality is you and I right now, I’m in Newport Beach, California, at my residence and you’re in Toronto, Canada, the nice deck overlooking the city. You and I are in our workplaces, but we’re not even remotely remote working because we’re totally connected. So, I think people, when they think of remote, they think of that as being a look at the sign off here. They think of that as being a distance issue or a disconnected issue. And it’s really, we are fully connected. I know we’ve been using video as a company. I think our first video installation was in nineteen eighty-two and it was, it was ridiculous. Ridiculously expensive. Ridiculously complicated. Yeah. Only engineers sharing giant documents for projects. We’re using video back then the third party connect to different systems that didn’t speak together, but we still used it and we felt that we were able to even then reduce our travel time by about 50 percent, our long distance. And we’ve used we’ve always used it and always had a remote operating company or distributed workforce. And there’s nothing that has ever been in our way because of it. So, I think it’s attitudes that we’re going to have to overcome as opposed to practicalities.
Clinton Robinson [00:05:28] Absolutely.
Frank Cottle [00:05:30] What do you think about the common comment that comes up? So, we have to preserve our company culture and it’s like does everybody have to be in the same room to believe the same things.
Clinton Robinson [00:05:43] I think they’ve already they had two already and that’s why I like this whole covid thing is such an interesting accelerator on top of everything that we’re doing. Company culture already had to evolve, and people have adapted and found new ways to bring people together and make them feel connected, even if they are remote during this time. I think yeah, I agree with you, which is remote, really mean now. And like a hyperconnected world, to truly be remote, you’d have to be pretty far away and like actually disconnected from the Internet, which is getting less and less likely anywhere you go. So, I do agree, like the word remote doesn’t really make as much sense anymore. You’re still connected even if you’re working in another city. You could be in a city in Europe working for your company. But you but you’re definitely connected. You’re used to that great coffee shops to go to coworking places and opportunities to hop on video chat and meet your company. I think I think it’s definitely harder to establish a culture that where everybody is just digital. But I think it’s definitely possible. And I think also, like we know the future of work isn’t 100 percent digital. It’s not all online. There’s still tons of opportunities to meet up and meet each other and meet. Like actually this week we’re doing independent meet ups around the world with us with our company because we are a remote company now. And we’ve actually got different meet ups for groups of like 10 to 15 people, depending on their geographic location. We’re all going to meet up on a day and meet all different kinds of people from the company, get together and have a culture building activity. So, I think if people are really worried about that, I think they didn’t have a strong culture to begin with and they’re missing a ton of opportunities to like still.
Frank Cottle [00:07:22] Absolutely. I think you hit it right there that but if you don’t have an if you don’t have strong philosophies to begin with and strong culture structure to begin with, then even if you’re all in the same room singing the same song at the same time, it doesn’t matter overall. You know, when you talk about remote, you just referenced what one aspect of a digital nomad might be working in London versus New York or something like that, but still work for the same company. We think there are three layers of digital nomad that impact what you’re talking about, really. And the impact culture and the fantasy layer are that you and I grab our surfboards and we go to ballet, and we had to do some sort of gig and surf all the time and pretend we’re working. That’s, I think, the classic vision of the digital nomad.
Clinton Robinson [00:08:22] That sounds great. Very unrealistic, though.
Frank Cottle [00:08:30] It’s very limiting and there are very few people can actually do it. Then you have what you were describing in what we refer to as the slow made digital slow map, meaning they move maybe from Berlin where they live for six months, and then they move down to Barcelona for six months, maybe up to London. Maybe they move seasonally with the weather, but they’re still there working for the same company, and they have a job that they can do remotely. It really doesn’t matter where they are. They move, you know, semipermanent basis. And then there’s what we call the lomad, the local digital nomad. And if you think about it, you’re a Lomad. I’m a little mad. OK, the greatest percentage of workers when you talked about hybrid work today are already digital nomads. They just haven’t been defined as a group and they haven’t learned to function overall in that capacity structurally. But we are all travelers. There’s no such thing as a as an office occupier anymore. Everybody’s a traveler. Everybody is a lomad in some respects. And I think that just that recognition of that aspect of work sort of makes the thought processes about hybrid work or remote work or we think very easy and very practical.
Clinton Robinson [00:09:58] I love that terminology because most of our staff that are twenty-five to thirty-two are also nomads, as you described it. They actually want to they don’t want to live in the same city for too long. They want to do six months here, six months there.
Frank Cottle [00:10:14] We have the people that are the producer of this podcast that falls into that category is moved around several times. And he’s been part of our team. And he does a great job. And there’s no recognition that he’s not there. We have several quite several people like that as well. So, it works overall, particularly for younger people. I think it makes them better employees honestly, because and teammates because they have the chance to learn more. They have the chance to expand their thought processes more, maybe pick up another language or understand another culture better, which just makes them a much stronger contributor to your team.
Clinton Robinson [00:10:57] And they’re happier. When you’re when you’re talking about culture like that could be a big part of your culture is embracing that kind of lifestyle that people want to live. And I think the like the future of work is most of it’s going to be about how do you adapt to what did the employees want? Because the employees are emerging as a as the strongest driving force in how companies function. Like what? What are your employees and what? Because it’s so hard to attract and retain like the best people right now. Yeah, that is. And that’s always been a problem. It’s now a bigger problem. And because of covid now it’s an even bigger, bigger problem. We’re facing like the great resignation as people just don’t want to come to work anymore unless you can offer them something great. And I think this is something you really got to embrace. You’ve got to embrace this and offer this. If we can let our team be Slowmad, Nomad or Lomad. Any one of those are great. And I think that’s kind of the future work where we have to support all these different working modalities for our team because they’re all equally important. And it’s very unlikely that we’re going to build a company of hundreds of people that all have one working modality that seems very unlikely that we’re only going to have Slowmads are only going to have people who want to come into the office or that seems unlikely to happen.
Frank Cottle [00:12:17] Well, I think you mentioned an age group of volunteers, your first category, your supplement category. I think that as you look at working modalities, as you call it, it has a lot to do with the maturity of the individual. By maturity, I’ll use age, maturity, not emotional maturity. At a certain point in your life, you want to explore and look at things at a certain point in your life. You start to settle into things with a partner at a certain point in life. You’ve established your home base with a family, and in each of those cycles, you shouldn’t have to necessarily change jobs or change companies. You should be able to see the end fulfill the growth vision that you had when you started your first jump start. Well, I’ll take this job for a while and then I’ll get a real job. Oh, I’ll take this job for a real job for a while and then I’ll see if I can turn it into a career. No, you can start your career and go through this work phase from day one and follow your dream. You’re right when you want to. You don’t you don’t need to hold that off. But I think that’s an offering that companies can make to win the war for talent with a lot of people, and it is started long before it was started aggressively in 16 and 17. And we were talking to larger companies that putting together flexible workplace programs back then because they couldn’t hire talent if they didn’t do that. And their idea of a flexible workplace program was, well, you can work from home one day a week. You know, it’s right to flexible, flexible. Now, I think H.R. is going to be a driving force rather than an administrative function in the way companies are organized economically. Yes, they have been in the past. They’ve been on administrative function and an overhead. But I think strategically they will be a driving force in the way companies are created and the way they’re organized and managed overall, not just taking care of bits and pieces.
Clinton Robinson [00:14:38] I 100 percent agree with that. Actually, most of the companies that buy our product, it’s actually driven through our natures. Rolling out this new like title called Head of Workplace Experience or head of employee experience like this is the driving force now in a lot of organizations. And it makes sense, right? Because every organization in North America is predominantly payroll driven. Right. Where all we have thought workers, we don’t have as much manufacturing anymore. We don’t have as many people who like produce physical goods. It’s people who are thought workers that, you know, like our company, 90 percent of our cost is payroll. Right. So, of course, it’s in our best interest to maximize that. Well, first, attract the best people, keep them here, maximize their productivity, give them whatever they need to be as successful as possible. It’s kind of just makes sense. Right. And I like I love what you said, too, about this was already happening before. Covid actually feel like a lot of this stuff was happening before covid. And there were all these things that we already knew that we should have been doing, like these open floor concept offices where everything’s just super noisy and nobody can concentrate like we knew that was a bad idea already. Right? Like we knew that before covid. And we should have been all going in this direction. But for some reason we weren’t. And it’s I totally agree. Like, we there was a lot of knowledge before covid some people were taking action. And it’s not like covid invented all these new ideas. It feels more like it just kind of shook people up and made them realize what they should have already been doing all along.
Frank Cottle [00:16:13] Well, I’ll tell you where that shakeup has come. I think I think the people in H.R. knew they needed to have something to win the war for talent or to at least be in the game overall. But I think what covid has done is the same little story. Oftentimes you have the CEO and the CFO of a company walking through the all the corporate headquarters during code and they look around and the CEO, the CFO, you know, where is everybody? And, well, they’re all working somewhere else. The whole place is empty. Right. And the CEOs as well. Company is doing fine. Yeah, and the CEO of. We don’t need this anymore. And so that comes down to repurposing one, and soon as the CFO says that the brain starts going and the CFO says, wait a second, I have a million square feet of space on an average of a seven-year lease term at four dollars per foot, blah, blah, blah, blah. Why does a quick calculation that says I can move everybody down to a three-year cycle by going to remote combinations of remote work, tech work or work from home or work from business owners, coworking centers, third places, etc. I can scalp 60 percent of my long-term lease viability, which is dead on my balance sheet. And I can move that into available funds, and I can grow the company at twice the speed. Yeah, so soon is that when they stop and say, well, you know, we have an obligation to our employees and they say, wait a second, why do we employ these people? Well, it’s because we have a bigger obligation to our shareholders. That’s right. OK. As soon as you align their obligation to their shareholders with the opportunity or the obligation to employees. That is what will drive affirmative action and that is happening right now that will repurpose a lot of cities and so the commercial space on a lot of cities and when that happens, we’ll see and look around you. In Toronto right now, the cost of living in downtown Toronto and a nice apartment, condo or residence is very expensive.
Clinton Robinson [00:18:46] I think it might be the highest in the world right now…
Frank Cottle [00:18:52] look around you and look at all the commercial buildings and say, well, if we took a third of that space and turned it to residential, what would it do? That’s right, OK. It would reduce pollution because you wouldn’t have to have people commuting into the city that we’re occupying that space. It would vitalize the center of the city because people that worked in the city lived in the city, and it would reduce the cost of that residence in the city for people so they could afford to live in the city. So, this whole thing of remote workers, we’re talking about it or flexibility in the workplace has a massive effect, effect not just on the H.R. department, a particular company, or the fact that you and I want to take our support to go to Bali. It has a massive effect on the repurposing and redesigning cities overall.
Clinton Robinson [00:19:50] Absolutely. And I think what you just described to generate some more interesting city, because one of the problems is way more interesting. One of the problems with the CBD in Toronto 10 years ago, it’s getting better now because they’re introducing more residential on the weekend or even like after hours and on the weekends. It was a ghost town. There’s nothing there. It’s just nice and there’s nothing to do. Nobody goes there.
Frank Cottle [00:20:17] It’s a part time city.
Clinton Robinson [00:20:19] That’s right.
Frank Cottle [00:20:21] Even Manhattan is like that. You don’t say how many people get on a train and commute into Manhattan or London is like that in certain places. So, this is a big deal where we’re utilizing our cities mostly 10 or 12 hours a day instead of twenty-four hours a day. So, we have a massive, massive wasting asset as a culture and as a society that as it us in pollution, in time and lifestyle, in everything that we do
Clinton Robinson [00:20:55] If you think about who’s really good at figuring out how to generate revenue out of things. It is commercial real estate industry like they will pivot into that if it makes sense, and they will start switching commercial real estate into residential. We’ve seen like a lot of our customers; we’ve seen the rise of the mixed use building probably is an actual office. Some flex, some quote unquote, flex working, plus some interesting retail restaurant. And that makes it more interesting. Place to go. If you’ve kind of like diversified your portfolio of stuff to do in the city by doing that, too. Right. So, it’s well, these interesting scenarios, when you start to do that, everybody kind of wins out of doing that. Like the downtown is more interesting. So, the restaurants are getting more business. You’re getting more tourism to the city because you’ve just you’ve just made something more interesting.
Frank Cottle [00:21:48] No, you have. And when you think about it sort of like what’s old is new again, going to the older part of the city, go to Toronto, look at the storefronts, then look up and say, oh, yeah. The folks that run that store used to live above it.
Clinton Robinson [00:22:04] That’s right, yeah, everything old is new. That’s for in that cycle forever.
Frank Cottle [00:22:11] It seems a little bit above the cows that they kept. You know, it’s the concept of live work. Has been around since probably the cave days, you know, I mean, that whole concept when we started building high rises. The live work concept changed radically, and when we built the transportation infrastructure to import workers, if you will, to the high-rises. That changed everything, and now we’re going to reduce those high rises for the live work concept that by the happening all over the world that we should. What do you what do you see as the biggest problems coming up for the worker? What do you see as 2030? What do you think the workforce is going to have to deal with aside from change as a problem?
Clinton Robinson [00:23:09] I think what one of the problems we have in this ecosystem of the workplace is everything is still very disconnected. Everything is very fragmented. There’s lots of stakeholders have to come together to make things work for the modern office, and they’re just disconnected. And there’s no technology that ties them together and makes things easy to use. And if there’s anything the modern person wants, not even just the modern worker, but we’ve all come to expect that everything is enabled through technology. And it’s really easy to use now. Like if I want to book a person’s apartment in another city, I use something like Airbnb, or if I want to get a ride from place-to-place B, I’m going to call an Uber or Lyft and or if I want to get food delivery, I’m going to get something like Uber Eats or postpaid. So, we’ve kind of come to expect this this ease of use of everything in everything else in our life. But the world of work really has not caught up to it. And if we’re moving to like, you know, the future worker, it’s going to be we’re going to layer on some flex. They’re going to be you’re going to switch between a Lomad to a Slowmad, to an actual digital nomad, kind of throughout your career or even through maybe a couple of years. But really, everything’s still disconnected and there’s friction everywhere that makes that actual kind of hard. Like, if I wanted to drop into Berlin next week and book a coworking or flex workplace on my on my company’s bill, it’s actually not that easy as this isn’t like a one clicks order. It’s like a twenty click order.
Frank Cottle [00:24:37] You’re right. It I think there are a number of systems out there now that have global booking capabilities for meeting rooms, virtual offices, the business and coworking space. But people aren’t as used to using them, particularly in the large corporates. And I think this is something I’m going to reverse this plug over to Lane for a second. This was planned as part of the podcast. But I think it’s an important point is that large corporations are used to moving people around and tracking them. They’re used to it. They’ve been doing that for decades, and it’s their travel management systems.
Clinton Robinson [00:25:23] That’s right. Yeah, exactly,
Frank Cottle [00:25:24] The travel management systems, they know when you book after you’ve booked that coworking place in London, before you booked that, you booked an airline, you booked maybe a hotel, not in London, you wouldn’t have booked a rental car. And then separately, you booked a meeting space or a working space through another system. What they already know your cost and they track they know down to the seat you sit in what you paid for it. If you’re a senior manager, whether you’re flying business class or enhanced coach, what you’re allowed to fly. They give an exceptional report. If you’re a senior manager and you’re only allowed to do a hands coach, but you chose business class, then you’re executive above. You get an exception report and grind you on it. And they know all that already. They know minutia and detail beyond anything that’s in facility management. Why aren’t they using systems like that and maybe this is a direction for even more than it does to track the work force in the same way they track it, it gives them a master contract capability. It gives them the massive amount of data to understand how to shape things. Those systems are already in place and it’s through the travel management. That’s why I say there is no office occupier. There are only travelers. Use the damn travel systems.
Clinton Robinson [00:26:57] That’s got a very good point there. So, when I go back to the fact that the workplace ecosystem is so fragmented and out of date, so if you take one of our customers, they’ve got 200 offices across North America that use a product, each one of those offices is in a different office building to manage by another company and maybe has a different owner. So, all of this and that time’s up by two hundred. So, the software systems or even processes that exist at all these different locations, they’re all running on different software with different stakeholders. It’s all completely disconnected. So, you’re totally right. I can do I could book my flight to L.A. and like land in L.A., but I want to be able to open the door with my phone and book my desk before I even get there and show up. And people know that I’m in that location. And the problem is there is no technology layer that exists right now because there’s just tons of disparate systems that you need to connect to make all of that stuff work. And that’s why they’re not doing this right now. It’s just a monumentally hard problem to solve right now. And one of the reasons we created this platform called Lane.
Frank Cottle [00:28:06] Well, you know, it’s funny, I’m very familiar with the travel industry because we previously owned a large data company in that industry back in the 90s and. In the 90s and going into about ninety-six, ninety-five, ninety-six, all of those problems were solved by what we call travel agents. Yeah, it was called by people. That’s right. With a person there that have the capacity to provide that layer of service. And then we’ve devolved from a service concierge level structure to a fully automated structure. But having a knowledgeable workforce that provides that layer of service to bridge until the technology exists, we shouldn’t be nonfunctional until the technology exists. And by the way, we’ll never build it right. If we do that, we should look to companies to provide a people there to handle on behalf of a company, which they can very easily. We used to do it quite effectively. We can do that interfacing now with virtual office managers, let’s say, as opposed to just, you know, having the space available. So, there’s a whole other layer, I think, in between that can be built as we move forward. You know, we’re running late on time. I think we do keep this going for another hour if we wanted to. But just one last less thing to close off with, with your thoughts on what are the tangible things that you think people can do today? What can they do right now? The top three things to move themselves effectively towards that future of work and feel as if they’ve actually accomplished something?
Clinton Robinson [00:30:03] Well, I think if you’re a commercial real estate, I think it’s time to start layering on that technology layer that makes things easy to access. If you want to offer flex space or you want to offer turnkey conference rooms or anything on the spectrum of Flex, you’ve really got to put that technology-to-technology layer in place because that’s what your customers are expecting to exist now. So, everything from how do I access the building to how do I interact with services and amenities? There has to be a technology layer on top of all this stuff. I think if you’re a company, the top thing you can do is start thinking about how you power this this hybrid work model. So, we know that we’ve got like Zoom or Google meets or Microsoft team that allows people to connect digitally. But how do you bring people back into the office and give them something in their hand that is easy to use as Airbnb so they can access the office and understand what’s going on and put their book, their space, what culture events are happening, what’s going on in the neighborhood and a lot, and give them that easy transition so that maybe I want to work in a New York or I want to work in Berlin. And how do I make that as easy as possible for my employees to actually access? And then I think the top thing for employees is start demanding this from your employer. You really should be asking them, why don’t I have a remote control to the office that connects me into all these things? So, I think those would be the top things for each one of those kind of stakeholders across the ecosystem.
Frank Cottle [00:31:31] No, that’s a pretty heavy duty to do list for a lot of people, but I think I think you’re right on that regard. If someone wanted to reach you personally, how would they do so?
Clinton Robinson [00:31:46] You could send me an email, or feel free to look me up on LinkedIn. I check my LinkedIn pretty often, so just Clinton J Robinson.
Frank Cottle [00:31:55] Thanks. That’ll work. Well, we really appreciate your time today. I know how busy you are, and I know our audience appreciates it as well. This is a vital topic, the new provider of vital insight towards that topic. So, we’re very grateful to you. And thank you very much.
Clinton Robinson [00:32:13] Thanks, Frank. Always a pleasure. And enjoy it out there in California.
Frank Cottle [00:32:17] Absolutely. Take care. Bye.
Frank Cottle is the founder and CEO of ALLIANCE Business Centers Network and a veteran in the serviced office space industry. Frank works with business centers all over the world and his thought leadership, drive for excellence and creativity are respected and admired throughout the industry.