Speaker Spotlight: 5 Questions for Dave Witting on a “Clubhouse Model” of Hybrid Work

Chuck Leddy
Chuck Leddy
Published on 
9.20.2022

dave witting, the hybrid work conference

After decades of cubicles and open offices, the pandemic accelerated hybrid work and empowered employees to redefine where and how they work. It also enabled employers to hire and work with the best talent, accelerate productivity, and reallocate budget from real estate to other areas. In this interview, Managing Director of Digital Products at DEPT® Dave Witting shares how the company completely reimagined its office space. 

It all starts with listening to employees. When it comes to the modern office, your workplace is the product and your people are the customers. Leaders need to focus on creating experiences that engage teams while also providing all of the most critical resources needed to do their jobs well. 

Dave will be among the many workplace experts speaking at Robin’s Hybrid Work Conference event on October 3-5. Our vision at The Hybrid Work Conference is to change the way we work in order to make our lives more joyful and fulfilling. Join us as we discuss and celebrate vibrant and flexible workplaces.

Now, let’s hear about how DEPT followed through on their workplace transformation.

1. How does your organization approach hybrid work? 

Witting: We were hybrid long before COVID. We said, “you've got to be on site two days a week, and if you want to be home the rest of the week, great. If you want to come in, great." That pre-COVID flexibility became a competitive advantage for us as an employer and it allowed our 200 + people, mostly engineers and designers, to balance client-facing time and deep-focus time. We also used a “hub and spoke model” for our office strategy pre-COVID, where we had our big office in Boston [the hub] and a bunch of smaller satellite locations {the spokes]. 

When COVID hit, we polled our employees and asked: “How many of you want to come back to the office and how many want to stay at home?" And 20% said they wanted to return to the office full-time, while another 20% said they never wanted to come into the office again. The remaining 60% wanted to come back to the office between one to three days per week.

We had to ask ourselves: how do we as an employer accommodate 60% of our people who want to come in somewhere between one to three days per week? How do we plan for that level of flexibility?

2. How did you change your workplace strategy?

Witting: We started by realizing that one of our competitive advantages was offering our people a tremendous amount of flexibility. We were hybrid from the start. The data we collected helped us realize that it wasn't the office people hated, it was actually the commute. We decided that we wouldn’t do the hub and spoke model anymore. We’d have just the spokes. We call this “the clubhouse model,” with smaller offices that would be closer to where people lived, reducing their commutes.

I've read so much about the changing nature of work, and a lot of it focuses on furniture configurations, or how to make office space more adaptable. I like the fact that we said, “we're blowing up our old model, and we're trying something very different.”

3. How did you decide where and how to locate the “spokes”?

Witting: We looked for areas where we have ideally 15 people in an area. Sometimes it's a little under, but never over 15 if we can help it. We're still learning the exact metrics, but that's what we started with. 

There is obviously a baseline for a professional office, and we have that stuff. Where our clubhouses intentionally differ is in giving each office something special that’s unexpected and maybe even silly, as a way to entice people to come in and experience the community. In the Salem clubhouse, for instance, we've built a vintage arcade.

4. What about concerns around cultural fragmentation?

Witting: That’s definitely one of the risks we were mindful of, that we might create tribes or cliques. We guard against that in two ways. First, we make sure all company communication happens in Slack: every announcement, all hands, any chit chat or banter, it all happens in general channels across all our offices. 

Second, we host open house parties in each of the offices so all our people can experience each office. So, for example, there's a local bed race in Newburyport [MA]: we invited everyone to come to that office. We had drinks, food, and fun giveaways.

5. How can others decide what workplace changes to make?

Witting: A clubhouse model is far from the only available model for hybrid work. There is no shame in sticking with a central hub or maybe even ditching the office entirely and going fully remote. Ask your people for their opinions and look at all your options. Our biggest expense is payroll, but our next biggest expense is office space. Our costs have gone down as a result of our clubhouse model and the model also better addresses what our people want, which includes shorter commutes. 

Robin gives us the data around how our people are using the office, and we didn’t have that data before. Deciding what we do with data feels like a great move versus just winging it based on hunches.

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Want to dig deeper into how DEPT® handled this entire transformation? Check out their video case study below: