Ryan Anderson is the Vice President of Global Research and Insights at Miller Knoll, leading research efforts in partnership with global collaborators and sharing insights with organizations around the world. With nearly 30 years of industry experience, Ryan’s work focuses on how places can be better designed and managed to support positive and productive experiences.
About this episode
Ryan Anderson spent 10 years of his career studying the intersection of technology and the workplace, and noticed that organizations were struggling to create balanced and flexible workspaces to support their employees. After studying the state of return to office across the US and Europe, he determined that employees wanted more control over their work week and schedule flexibility. Anderson suggested designing with employees instead of for them, and cultivating a conversation about how the team can be more productive and impactful. By recognizing the value of strong and weak ties, and shifting away from individual workstations, organizations can create a more community-oriented and productive space.
What you’ll learn
How is the state of return to officevarying across different cities?
What strategies can organizations use to design workspaces that work for their employees?
How can organizations cultivate productive communities that foster a sense of belonging and purpose?
Frank Cottle [00:00:53] Welcome to Allwork.Space and the Future of Work Podcast. Today. Our guest is Ryan Anderson, vice president of Global research and insights at Miller Knoll. His team leads all research efforts in partnership with a wide variety of global collaborators and is active in sharing the insights gained from that research with organizations across the world. With nearly 30 years of industry experience, Ryan’s work is centered on how places we inhabit can be better designed and managed to support positive, productive experiences. Ryan hosts Herman Miller’s Looking forward podcast on the Future of Work, regularly speaks at public events about Miller Knowles historic and current research and has been featured in a wide variety of publications such as The Wall Street Journal, NPR, the BBC, Fortune, and Bloomberg. Ryan. Welcome to the future. Work podcast. Great to have you on board.
Ryan Anderson [00:01:47]Thank you, Frank. It’s a pleasure to join you.
Frank Cottle [00:01:49]Well, Annoy, you and I had the opportunity to chat about a week or two ago, I guess it was, about some of the things that you guys are up to, and I was fascinated by a lot of it, the scope and the bandwidth that you cover. One of the things that’s most topical on the news right now. In fact, I just read an article yesterday about New York City mayor and the governor of New York, both newly elected, talking about redesigning the entire city of Manhattan around a population realm. They’re calling it public realm and literally wiping out large swaths of office buildings, which are now reported to be as high as 50% vacant in the city, replacing those buildings with residential and adding tremendous parks, et cetera, and turning New York into more of a walking city than a driving city. That’s massive. I’m assuming they made all those decisions based on your research. What’s your thought on the return to office versus the redeveloping reengineering of cities so that people maybe don’t return to office, but cities become 24/7 instead of six to six?
Ryan Anderson[00:03:18] Yeah, it’s a great question. Well, a few things come to my mind. We have been studying kind of the state of return to office and changes in how organizations work across the world for a while. And personally, I think I’ve been in 14 different cities in the US. And Europe in the last maybe two, two and a half months. It’s highly varied. The state of return to office is more varied than I think what you might typically read. I think a lot of what’s being written about is focused on New York and London, maybe San Francisco, because that’s where a lot of the reporters are. And I will say those large cities and here in the US. San Francisco and New York in particular, seem to be facing really unique challenges. I don’t know that you’d find the exact same set of conditions in Austin or in Kansas City or in Chicago but commute clearly plays a factor. There are some other factors that I think are really impacting return to office rates in a given city. But as it pertains to kind of the health and vibrancy of cities, the move towards more walkable cities, 15 minutes cities, et cetera, started well before the pandemic. And we know that any city that really wants to thrive has to balance out its emphasis on working locations with living locations, entertainment, all the richness of what a city can bring culturally. And having that be in balance is something that a lot of cities are trying to work towards. So, if, as an example, New York starts to convert a lot of buildings into residences, I don’t know that that’s bad, actually, for offices. Long term, it means that people who want to live in the city will more. Affordably be able to move into the city and have a much closer proximate relationship to their office, but also the bars, restaurants, theaters and all the other things that we might love to enjoy in New York. So, they’re trying to achieve an equilibrium that other cities may have found in different ways.
Frank Cottle [00:05:11]Well, I think that’s possibly right. We said for quite a while that and this again, it’s pre pandemic, that the cities that are commuter dependent, if you will, especially when that commute is 45 minutes or longer on average, that those cities will have to be redeveloped entirely as we look forward. And it’s not just the pandemic issue that was really just still is in some cases that was just a little benchmark along the path, but the path had already been well defined. And I think the path is defined by technologies that we’re using today to accomplish work and how we choose people that we want to work with, our organizations. We don’t choose the individual anymore by location. We don’t say, hey Ryan, you live in Michigan. I’d love you to work at my company in Michigan. Say, hey Ryan, you’re the best there is. I don’t care where you live. I want you to work with our organization. That itself in the War for Talent, which started in 1617, I think is more telling, oftentimes even, than the commute issue. Our recognition that I want the best and I don’t want to uproot their family. I don’t want to pay for their move. I’d rather give the money to them than to Beacons. So, all of those things were already changing. And as we return to the office, we’re seeing in our own industry around the flexible workplace sector for three years now, again, pre pandemic, we started, we were saying you don’t want to put a building or a business or a coworking center on a metro path. You want to put it on a bike path. And if you look at the trending for the flexible workspace sector, that’s where most of the new development has been the last three and four years has been into the secondary and tertiary markets.
Ryan Anderson [00:07:23]Yeah, we’ve seen that too, particularly with coworking being more suburban or rural even. And I think to your point, the larger trend that was happening before the pandemic was the work was already spreading out. This idea of distributed working, the spreading out of work started really when we got WIFI right. People started to spend more time away from their workstations across the facility, across the campus, across the globe. The organizations that I think have fared very well are those that either pre pandemic or since have decided to either be really intentional about supporting distributed work or be really intentional about supporting flexible working, because both force you to take a look at how the work gets supported. When people are in a variety of locations where I think a lot of organizations are just stuck, are the ones that started with hybrid. There’s nothing wrong with hybrid. It’s a good end state to work towards, but it really refers to a state of balance in terms of working locations. It’s not a starting point if you just tell everyone, okay, we’re hybrid. But you don’t go back, and you take a look at the work processes and say, well, how does this team actually function? How can we allow more flexibility? What does it look like to have more distributed team members? It doesn’t get you anywhere. And so, if I think about our research, particularly as a founding member of a group called Future Forum, we’ve determined that flexibility is the driver for most employees around the world. We survey 10,000 employees every quarter. They want flexibility in working location, but the higher priority is actual schedule flexibility. And by that it really refers not just to working hours, but more control over your work week. And I think what happened for a lot of organizations is they went into some sort of crisis response to working during quarantine, and they’re still living in it. It’s not really like they embraced a more flexible work model. People are spending their days filled with meetings, particularly video meetings. That’s highly inflexible. It doesn’t give you a good chance to go hang out with other people in an office. It also can be exhausting. We’re seeing burnout rates hit an all-time high from our studies, I think it was 42% of US workers last time I looked at our data. And so, we’re in this weird situation where the employees are seeking flexibility but just telling someone they can spend a couple of days in one location versus another location doesn’t give them that. And at the same time executives have said, well, this is our policy and people don’t seem to be abiding by it. So, there’s this really unfortunate standoff happening, particularly for large organizations that can’t seem to get unstuck from hybrid but need to go back to what you just talked about, which is what? Supported, distributed, flexible workforce.
Frank Cottle [00:09:59]You use the word flexibility about 19 times in that response and I’d like you to try and define what flexibility actually is.
Ryan Anderson [00:10:09]Yeah.
Frank Cottle [00:10:10] What is flexibility in the workplace? Because it’s a term we all use. But I think we each have different perspectives of what it might mean. I think the employers do, as you were pointing out.
Ryan Anderson [00:10:24]Yeah, I think at a practical level it means allowing teams and the individuals within the team to have more autonomy over how, when and where their work happens. And to enact it, you really need to be able to give more control to specific teams and team leaders to say how should we do what we do? So as a given team we might say, well, like for my team, we might do certain types of ethnographic research, quantitative research. We might do different types of insight sharing. It’s up to us to say how should we do this? This is how we did it before. This is how we had to do it during 2000 and 22,021. What does it look like for us to do a better job of this and in that process make sure that the individuals and the team as a whole feel like they can make this work sustainably? Because this is about sustainable productivity, really. And that means having to get inputs into what each team member is going to face in terms of challenges along the way. If we look at specific life conditions like being a caregiver of a parent or a child or a pet, there’s a need typically for more schedule and location flexibility. It might be that somebody has unique cognitive, sensory, physical needs that may factor into how and when they do certain types of work. It may be their work process. You got some people that are much more analytical, much more process oriented that may need to work in a slightly different way. But as complicated as that is, it starts with having teams that actively talk about is there a better way to do this? And there is a good business incentive, by the way, organizations should want their teams to feel empowered and equipped to say is there a better way to do this? Both for the organization and for all of us? Because that’s the key to being resilient and I just don’t think that’s where most organizations have landed. Most organizations are still trying to replicate in office experience with tons of meetings, maybe a little bit of asynchronous collaboration on platforms like Chat or Teams, but they really haven’t evolved significantly. And most team members feel maybe less empowered to actually change the work process than maybe they did even before the pandemic.
Frank Cottle [00:12:28] Well, it’s funny, I think you’re migrating toward the conversation, towards the concepts of inclusive design, to where you’re saying the workspace and the work process really should be designed more from the bottom up than from the top down. And maybe I’m putting words in your mouth and you’re saying, no, I’m not saying that. But it seems to me that that’s where the direction that your thought process is going. And one of the things that I know we’ve made is an adjustment in our own company, and it’s almost counterintuitive. We still have the requisite number of Zoom meetings and all those things. And we’ve always been a remote work company, very scattered distributed company overall. We think of ourselves as distributed as opposed to remote because remote can have a negative connotation as well as a positive. But we started reinstalling travel processes and saying, no, the executive team needs to go to where the work team is. Zoom meeting doesn’t cut it. So, let’s get our executive team traveling out to where the remote workers are or where the distributed workforce is on an ongoing basis. Is that a trend that you’ve seen much of, or are we breaking new ground?
Ryan Anderson [00:14:01]I think you’re doing a good job of breaking new ground, and I think your characterization of how we need to design differently is spot on. That’s why I smiled so big when you said it. It’s not that you got it wrong. I think you nailed it. To be really blunt, I think most facilities have been designed in the last ten or 20 years with a somewhat rudimentary understanding of the work that actually gets done there. The program development processes, the needs analysis, they were more established during an era of desktop computing where the work was more predictable. It wasn’t necessarily geared towards the way we work now or the way we’ve been trending towards work. So, I think the key is to design with employees. Not just for employees. Hey, designing for them as opposed to just leadership is a good thing, but designing with them is a really powerful process. I’ve run into a lot of situations where the customers we serve get nervous about that. And I often remind them, this isn’t about asking everyone what they want. That would be a big mistake, because you’re never going to be able to give everyone what they want. It’s more like seeing your workplace as a product and the facilities and corporate real estate team as the product owner and trying to know your customers. Tell us about you. Tell us about your team. Tell us about how you’re working. Tell us about your struggles or your experiences working from home. Tell us about your experiences working from the office. If you get a group talking about how they’d like to work, most of them are not going to say, oh, the ideal situation is for all of us to work out of our spare bedrooms for the next five years exclusively. There’s various experiences people want to have in a collocated way. There are resources, tools that you can provide in a space that I think are super beneficial to teams and individuals. And the more you get to know the people, the more you understand the broad range of their needs and conditions, and you can begin to solve for those team level, community level, even individual level needs once you understand those patterns. But it’s very difficult for me to imagine organizations being really successful in designing spaces that really work for people without engaging them more. And I think we’re at a point now where we have to conclude that if the spaces don’t work for the people, then they don’t work well.
Frank Cottle [00:16:11]It’s funny when you talk about the people, and I’m listening to you again, I’m picking up on words, and you’ve used organization many times in this last part of our conversation, and that implies to me that you’re talking about large organizations, but the great majority of employer employee relationships are in one to 25 person companies. And so how does the smaller company, the 25 or even 50-person company that might be headquartered in a city or headquartered on the edge of a city or in a suburban environment, how do they apply these issues or this application to their workforces effectively? Is it a design issue? Is it a policies issue? Is it a free for all issue because they don’t have the rigor or the disciplines of major HR departments working with major designers, they can’t call the biggest landlord and have them bring in Gensler to redesign magic space for them all populated by Miller Knoll. They can’t do that, right? Majority of the world.
Ryan Anderson [00:17:28]Yeah, actually when I was referring to organizations, I was using that term more to avoid the term company than it was to imply large. And the reason I say that is.
Frank Cottle [00:17:39] You got government in there now.
Ryan Anderson [00:17:41] Actually, we’ve seen some really exciting things from GSA and other government organizations. Yeah, we serve the MillerKnoll family of brands, collective of brands. We’re serving big companies, but we’re also serving small ones. We’re serving nonprofits health care systems, schools, even restaurants and other environments. And actually, a lot of these principles transcend all those. Generally. I actually think it’s more achievable, it’s a little bit easier for smaller organizations to do this than large ones simply because the larger the organization and the more distributed the team members, the tougher it is to really be close to how they work and to hear from them. I think the key for smaller organizations is to actively cultivate a conversation about how things are going workwise, how are our work processes? Does it feel like we’re able to be as productive and as impactful as we can be? And if not, what can be improved? The spatial implications will come out of it. And I think it’s actually a bigger challenge for the large organizations where many of the leaders aren’t very close to some of the work being done or where maybe some of the cultural factors geographically are a little bit less familiar to a big organization. And if you look at, I think, the return to office rates and some of the articles that are being written about them, this has generally been a large company in large cities challenge more than it’s been a challenge for smaller organizations.
Frank Cottle [00:19:09]Yeah, I can see where the challenges are in that regard, and yet I’m still not clear on what the small organization can do. They don’t have the resources necessarily to redesign or to restructure in the same way. So, I see that as a greater challenge for them than for the larger organization.
Ryan Anderson [00:19:36] Well, certainly an organization that has some money to invest in good consultants or help to get through this process might have an advantage. But I don’t think most organizations actually are holistically transforming their spaces to try to achieve this. Most are incrementally improving the existing real estate portfolios they’ve got. Maybe they’re embracing some flex-based solutions as well. Maybe they’re investing in some home office solutions. But it’s more about just having a sense of the nuances of what organizations are doing in their work and when they might like to be together. Right. We know that most organizations have planned their workspaces to be pretty workstation heavy historically. Right. This was one of the things that concerned me most about the workplace in 2018 and 2019 is that we’ve been seeing desk utilization rates drop for a decade. Yet organizations seem to be densifying and putting more and more workstations on the floor because they assumed the old model of working, that if somebody needed to work, they would do their work in an individual desk throughout most of the day in an office. And now I think there’s almost a bell curve of experiences that employees will describe that they need. Some are very social around being part of the community, being closer to managers, reconnecting with people they haven’t seen in a long time. And the other is around doing more focused, concentrative work. Our research continues to indicate that a lot of people struggle with focused productivity at home simply because distractions occur. And so, if the workspace can be enhanced a little bit and some of this is not even spatial, you can do it through protocols, like maybe designate a group of workstations as the Quiet Zone or the study hall, then you’re just giving people, like, a greater range of experiences within the office to suit what might be deficient at home. And so, I don’t know that it’s super resource intensive as much as it is about being in much closer conversation.
Frank Cottle [00:21:32] Well, you mentioned quiet, Zona. I know some recent narrow research has focused on the concept of quiet and the importance of creating quiet places to have productive work inside of an office environment. I know we’re just redesigning one of our own facilities that hosts about 60 or 70 people, I guess. And that’s we’re trying to spread things out, move things around and create less the sound intrusion for everybody there specifically for that purpose. So, I think that is an important issue. But you think of the office as a place to work. How do you relate it to and within the concept of community, though?
Ryan Anderson[00:22:28]I think that is you’re pinpointing a really crucial question because I don’t know that most leaders think about this this way, but what makes their company a company or their organization? Organization is not just having a group of individuals that are individually productive but having them have some sort of shared sense of purpose, sense of belonging, sense of achievement as a team. And so, organizations are productive communities and it’s what differentiates them from just being a bunch of freelancers working in a gig economy, you can put together 100 freelancers to go do a project, but what really makes organizations work is whether or not they can function as a community. And most are really struggling. So, in our work we work with a variety of social science scientists to understand the dynamics of work. There’s a common framework in the world of sociology all the way back from the early seventy s at Stanford, known as strong ties and weak ties. And the idea is that your network consists of people that you’re really close to. This isn’t just your work network by the way. This is like your whole life network. Those are your strong ties. Those are the people you rely on day to day. It’s your family, friends, your closest coworkers. And then you’ve got all these other people in your lives that are your weak ties or extended relationships. It could be people you knew well but haven’t seen for a while. It could be a barista who just remembers, hey Frank when you walk in the door. And weak ties are a really critical part of functioning communities. It’s what gives people that sense of belonging, a sense of safety. And what happened during the pandemic is when we physically quarantined and when we hopped on Zoom, which was almost a digital quarantine, we started working very closely with our strong ties. But hundreds, or certainly dozens, but in many cases hundreds of people in our work lives that were part of our extended community’s kind of fell off the radar. You stopped seeing them, didn’t have any reason to schedule a meeting with them. And so, the physical environment. While I do think it needs to support individual focused work, that’s really critical and it is acoustical privacy. It’s also visual territorial informational. It also wants to be very community based. So, you can imagine a situation where you walk into a facility, there’s kind of a social area to reconnect with those weak ties. Maybe there’s a group place for assembly events, big onsite sort of things. Maybe there’s some team neighborhood so that those strong ties can get some quality time with each other. And then there’s a separate section where you can go to be as an individual. And we’ve seen people use the same amount of square footage or square meters or even less to offer this variety. But of course, what has to happen is you have to move away from traditional occupancy planning where everybody gets x amount of square feet of per meter for their individual desk because a lot of that sort of individual task work can be done in a space that doesn’t have to be an individually assigned workstation. So that comes to my mind.
Frank Cottle [00:25:21]Well, everything you just referenced of sections and areas and theaters and events and all that, that’s all-big company stuff. Okay? So, I’m going to roll back to the sense of community, of close ties or near ties and looser ties, whatever the term was and I’m going to use the coworking environment. A coworking environment can take that solo-preneur that individual, the small company and a lot of times offer all of those features of community and of areas and of diversity that you’re just saying is available in a large company, but it can offer them to individual. And so that is something as we look at the future of work and we look at the migration towards new work models if that flexible workspace model of Coworking of Business and Serviced office centers and things that has historically provided all the big company benefits in terms of facility. But to the individual or the branch or the agent or the contractor to give them the same benefit of the large thing. And I think as we look towards future work, that’s a work model that we’ve talked about working from home, we’ve talked about working in the corporate office. But you can also work near home in many of these facilities which have the capacity, especially if it’s organized properly, to interface with the other two very smoothly.
Ryan Anderson [00:27:01] Yeah, well, I’m going to gently push back on you on the notion that it’s a big company thing because I have worked with many organizations that are smaller that let’s just say it’s a 50-person organization where they support work from home. Maybe they’re even going so far as to providing a chair or a webcam for people to work from home. And then their physical office footprint isn’t rows of desks. It’s something that feels more like a nice airport lounge where there’s a social zone. There’s also a quiet head down zone. It doesn’t have to be huge, but instead of it being a traditional office, it’s referred to as a hub or a studio. If I think of some of the kind of remote work excuse me, remote first or work from anywhere companies we serve, organizations like Atlassian or Shopify or others, they do have these sorts of spaces that feel very much like a hub, and it can also be something done for very small organizations. Now, having said that, I do think coworking and Flexplaces plays a heightened role, a more important role in making sure that everybody has access to these sorts of spaces in the future. Having formerly worked for one of the larger, the largest coworking companies out there, I think the emphasis on renting desks was a mistake, as was maybe an overemphasis on coworking being in city centers where lots of people from lots of different organizations got together. But if I look at the rise of really effective flexible workspaces, those that might be suburban or in other parts of the city that are a little bit less demanding, as far as commutes, that allow people from the same organization to have a little hub, a little space of their own, a place to function as a decentralized community I think that makes so much sense. And a lot of our customers have embraced flex space as part of a larger corporate real estate portfolio. It’s good for their agility, but it’s also good just to be closer to a more distributed workforce.
Frank Cottle [00:28:52]No, I think both of those issues of agility and proximity, that the flexible work sector plays a huge role in that overall. Let’s jump. Take a big jump. Let’s go into the Metaverse and hey, my avatar is cooler than your avatar. Let’s jump into the meteors. A lot of conversation around that, and we actually refer to it not the metaverse, because that’s the meta of everything we think of the meta of work, of the workplace, if you will, from a technology point of view. But what are your thoughts on the migration towards metaverse elements? Whether it be augmented reality, virtual reality, some mix of the others? I know we just did an experiment through all work team with one of our editors who spent a day working as a holograph in the studio, and it was really fun, and we couldn’t tell the difference. I’ve worked in a holographic studio for a couple of days. I worked in the metaverse wearing a headset for a few days. Knocked the coffee right off my desk, by the way. I lost my place in reality, and it was interesting, but it was also exhausting and partially because it’s breakthrough and it’s also new. You’ve got so much to learn. But what’s the role as we go towards these augmented and virtual reality structures? I’m not talking metaverse. I’m just talking about the practical side. What’s the role. Of the employer in providing a workplace that is extended. And what should they be providing in this regard to people who are working from their homes to bring them into a more inclusive environment?
Ryan Anderson [00:31:01] Yeah, that might be a separate question.
Frank Cottle [00:31:04]I’m rolling three or four into one, but you see where I’m going. The employer right now says, hey, you’re working from your house. Great. Here’s your laptop. Bring them back the office with you, will you? That’s what most people are doing. And then they spare bedroom, kitchen table, whatever works. I think the employer, if they’re going to have people work from their residence more than a certain amount of time, more than one day a week, that there’s an obligation on the part of the employer to define that there is a suitable workplace. If not, they should have them work near home at a coworking or a business center, as opposed to from home, where a suitable workplace can be created. But how do we blend all this with the new technologies coming along? That’s an open-ended issue, and maybe the last one we can address. But I think it’s important to look at that as we consider the future of work.
Ryan Anderson [00:32:09]I do too. And I’ll give you just a little qualifier. I spent about ten years in my career specifically looking at the intersection of technology and workplace, including when I was specifically with our Herman Miller brand as Director of Future Technology. That was my job. I was also VP of so let me qualify it by saying a couple of things. First is the Its world knows what the hype cycle is. This is Gartner’s publishing every year of what technologies are most hyped. And it’s a cycle that includes a high point called the peak of inflated expectations. That’s followed by a phase called the trough of disillusionment. In my opinion, metaverse experiences, work experiences, are at that peak right now. And the metaverse as a term, this is a little bit like what happened with cloud, is rapidly expanding and beginning to gobble up things that we wouldn’t have called the metaverse before. So, we did cover this on Miller Knowles Looking Forward podcast, but I’ll give you kind of my quick two cent. The first is that the bigger, more interesting topic here is Web 3.0, which are the set of various technological advancements enabling metaverse experiences. With the metaverse, it’s things like yes NFT, but also the blockchain and what might be referred to as token gated experiences. It’s this idea that our identity and some of the things we own digitally travel with us throughout the web. Now, what’s being overemphasized is this idea of virtual worlds. Virtual worlds as a metaverse. It’s the way most people refer to it, and specifically VR experiences. Those aren’t new. VR has been around for 40 years. We’ve already had flight simulation training in VR decades ago. My kids played on Roblox and Minecraft and now those are being referred to as metaverse experience. Honestly, Roblox may be the best example if you take that sort of approach. I don’t see any indication at this point. And again, this might be different, but if it’s different, it’s probably going to be ten or 15 years from now that virtual worlds are a place where most people will want to work. Partly because of what you said, being in immersive VR for any long period of time can be a very disorienting, actually not healthy experience. The Metaverse as virtual worlds probably will continue to be great for games, for going to virtual concerts, for entertainment. But I don’t know that there’s anything right now that leads me to think that work will be done there. For me, the better perspective is to recognize that when we say remote, what we’re really talking about is the untethering of work from a location. Our work is becoming digitized. The physical objects that once run our desk, a calendar, pictures have become apps. And an employer, in trying to create the equitable healthy experiences you describe, should think about, okay, what are the tools? I’m giving our employees to make sure that they can access the work digitally and that improves equity but recognize that we are physical beings. Even if we’re in a virtual world, we’re physical beings that are doing this work somewhere, either in our home or in a flexible space or in the office. And is that space optimized for whatever that person is doing, whether it’s exploring a VR environment or whether it’s sitting across from a person having a cup of coffee? Some of the early platforms like Spatial that claimed that was going to be where meetings happened in the Metaverse have already pivoted. Spatial has been now focused on doing NFT art gallery events, which makes more sense to me than having events entertainment. But I will say if I go back specifically to Herman Miller back in 2008, herma Miller entered into Second Life. I think Second Life was a precursor to what we now call Metaverse. They sold virtual Eames Lounge shares hadn’t Whole Island to explore that brand. So, it’s not that any of our brands are luddites and we’re avoiding technology. Actually, we have a really robust Web 30 leader and program. I just don’t know that when we all talk about the Metaverse, we should jump to the idea that we’re going to be sitting around wearing goggles, having meetings. I think that’s probably less impactful than what some of the underlying technologies can do for our work experiences, for the real estate industry, for the practice of design, which is more complicated but more interesting. And it’s going to take a long time to play out, if I’m being honest.
Frank Cottle [00:36:39] Well, a good example of simple evolution. I started building office buildings for flexible workspace in 1980, and in 1981 I had a full video conferencing system.
Ryan Anderson [00:36:50]Yes, that was that was early.
Frank Cottle [00:36:53]Oh, yeah, every building. That was good news, bad news. I couldn’t find anybody to talk to, so we had to go through third parties in order to connect other systems because the systems weren’t functioning together, et cetera. And yet look at us today. This is a long 40 years plus in the past, okay? And it’s taken that long for us to be absolutely comfortable as you and I both are working in a remote environment yet working together. And we’re doing a project right now. We’re working on a project together. The project is to bring information to a broad audience, but we’re comfortable doing that as if we were in the same room. Okay? So, there is a gestation period. There’s a big difference between the cutting edge and the demand edge. And I think we are now pushing, starting to enter the demand edge for Web 3.0 products.
Ryan Anderson [00:37:56]That’s a good way to phrase it.
Frank Cottle [00:37:58]Remember again, I was pre computer in.
Ryan Anderson [00:38:03]My well, I’m not just blowing sunshine at you when I say I’m not surprised at all that you were that early adopter of video conferencing, because I know you’ve been on the edge of a lot of things. And you might appreciate this quote from my favorite tech futurist, Paul Sarfo, when he said, let’s not mistake a clear view for a short distance. So, I think we’re into that range. And if we look at video as an example, it has taken so long. At the same time, it hasn’t really been a substitutionary experience fully for being in person, that the rates of social isolation and burnout are high when we don’t get a chance to also be in person. So, there’s a maturation process where people need to begin to take new technologies, play with it, try it, experiment, eventually find the balance. I think we’re still finding it with video, if I’m being honest, and it’ll.
Frank Cottle [00:38:49]Take a while for others. I don’t know whether holographic technology is going to become the next version of that or another version of it. I know I had a Holographic receptionist in a box, looked like a Disneyland event in a box in 1984.
Ryan Anderson [00:39:07]Wow.
Frank Cottle [00:39:07]And my clients hated it. Hated it. That lasted about six months. But you try these things, and you try to figure out what will work and you do have to push the edge. And I’ll leave it with, I think, what you guys are doing at Miller. Noel, I know you’re a huge contributor to our industry in thought processes overall and to future work in general, and I really appreciate the comments you’ve been able to share with us and hope to bring it up again sometime.
Ryan Anderson [00:39:41]I would love that. I’ve been a fan and a follower of what you do for a long time, so it’s been a privilege to be able to spend time with you and those listening. So, I appreciate it.
Frank Cottle [00:39:51] We’ll look forward to it. Take care.
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.