Here at Robin, we eat, sleep, and breathe all things workplace. From the agency our founders started to the 100+ employee company we are today, we’ve seen the office - and everything in it - evolve remarkably over the past 5+ years.
I sat down with seven of Robin’s leaders to reflect on 2019, and what they predict will happen in the coming year. From employee centricity to the technology driving us into the future, here’s what they see having the biggest impact on workplace experience in 2020.
First, let’s introduce our interviewees:
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Robinauts weigh-in: Workplace Trends from 2019 to 2020
1. Employee centricity and workplace wellness were big themes in 2019. How do you think companies will continue to focus on the employee experience in 2020?
Both Sam and Jackie anticipate organizations will focus on employees by way of creating more personalized experiences at work.
Sam believes, “getting to know what each individual employee needs based on their role or location and then figuring out ways to unblock more parts of their day” is how orgs will create more people-centric workplaces.
Jackie thought similarly adding, “companies are going to have to start incorporating more customizable experiences in the details of day-to-day work from choosing what kind of desk set-up you want to what kind of locker you’d prefer – things like that. Nobody is going to work at a startup because they have free lunch and a ping pong table anymore.”
Emily honed-in on how employers need to personalize the employee experience through more flexible policies. “I think we're definitely seeing many companies pushing for more flexible policies that allow for both improved wellness and positive employee experience."
Cole and Brian thought organizations would need to really reflect on their work environment to see if it actually accommodates for how their people want to work.
“As space becomes more limited, companies will have to be able to do more with the space that they have." - Cole
Brian agreed that keeping people in the office may not be that easy of a task. “Now that people are super mobile with small, tiny laptops and good batteries, it’s hard to keep people in an office -- especially younger generations. Now you're seeing companies spend a lot of time on building out spaces that have much better utility for specific types of work.”
Brendan thought employee experience would become a common org-wide KPI. “I think there’s generally been more awareness around employee experience and that organizations are buying-in and believe in the movement. In 2020 and beyond, I think more employee experience benchmarks will come about and it'll become a standard operating procedure within workplaces.”
Finally, Zach anticipates new job titles focused exclusively on employee workplace experience will become more commonplace. “Right now, there’s no one clearly responsible for this. I think you'll see more workplace or employee experience-centric titles. Some of those will be brand new role but a lot of them will be a re-labeling of roles that have evolved over the last decade but now “workplace experience” won’t be fourth down on the resume. It’ll be the title role”.
2. The open office still receives a lot of bad press. What direction do you think the great #openofficedebate will take in 2020?
While the topic of employee experience offered more varied perspectives and different hypotheses from the Robin crew when it came to the open office our interviewees came to a pretty clear consensus: it's not going anywhere.
“I think the latest with the open office debate is that it's old news now. The open office is here to stay.” – Jackie
Beyond that, our interviewees were generally hopeful about the future of the open office. Even though, as Brian put it, “‘open office’ is almost a bad word. It has a negative connotation and could go for some rebranding.”
Despite the typical negative associations that often come with the open office – more sick days, noise, lack of privacy -- Everyone thought the open office would only improve over time, especially now that we understand it’s more nuanced than the “quintessential cafeteria-style seating,” as Zach described it.
Emily, Sam, and Cole all believe the open office will turn to focus more on how the space supports employees instead of employees having to adapt to a uniform workplace.
“The goal is to make employees happy. More organizations will probably start to break out the office into something like neighborhoods. Activity-based work isn't new. But I think it's becoming adopted as more and more companies are starting to segment out the office based on activities.” – Cole
“The new open office will depart from the one-size-fits-all approach. I think it's going to be pretty important that people figure out what is common to all versus unique to some and design offices accordingly.” – Sam
When it came to what physically would change about the open office, Brendan offered an interesting comparison to help visualize how organizations could create flexible work environments within an open office:
“I think there's a world where we start to look at floor plans as green grass Lego grids that you can make buildings, spaces -- anything on top of. A floor plan will become a free canvas to shift and move things around like phone booths, pods, or moveable walls. This will help with adoption because half the problem with change management is people feel like they need to reinvent the wheel over and over again. Prime example for this is with phone booths, you don't have to reinvent the wheel.”
3. What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on the workplace industry in 2020?
The majority of interviewees were all in on occupancy as the key to the workplace castle and sensors as the best way to gather occupancy data.
“Occupancy will be a non-issue by next year through the use of video cameras and sensors throughout a floor, placed under a desk, and in and around soft seating areas." – Sam
“I think the proliferation of sensors is going to be the big 2020 trend. We’re hearing sensors come up a lot in conversation, and we're seeing our customers start to deploy them. It's going to be really important for us to take all that information back to our product and provide better value in our product, both to the admins for being able to enable better space planning but also, it really does empower the employee to have a real-time view of where they can get work done right now. Like if I walk around the corner to a café area, can I know in real-time if all the seats are full? Or if it’s noisy in there?” – Brian
Brendan wasn’t quite as sold on the imminent effect sensors would have. As he put it: “I think we're in the crawl, not walk stages for sensors.”
Instead of sensors, he and Emily both opted to double down on digital communication tools – anything from video conferencing software and hardware to business messaging apps – as playing a large role in our current daily operations as well as in the new year. They both agreed that optimizing the tools already in place will only continue to improve the ability to collaborate and accommodate more flexibility at work.
“That's going to continue to shift the narrative of what the purpose of the physical office is, which is to facilitate the best work possible and be a benefit to an employee, not just act as a desk to sit at.” – Brendan
Finally, Jackie and Zach thought in-office apps woven into the employee experience would be the key to connect their employees with the space around them more meaningfully.
“With in-office apps, instead of issuing a badge on an employee’s first day, they can download an app to get in the door, find their team, and find a seat. Or say you’re visiting a different office. They can use an app for that, too.” - Zach
“Interactive mapping technology combined with sensors combined with moving to a more mobile world. Everything is moving to a more mobile world and if organizations don’t follow suit it’ll be difficult to succeed.” – Jackie
4. Which workplace industry trends do you think will fade and which will persevere in 2020? (Ex: Remote work, IoT, hot desking, biophilic design, noise-canceling headphones…)
This quick-hitting question re-emphasized a few key trends mentioned throughout the interview. Here’s the breakdown of what trends Robinauts saw taking center stage or fading away into the background in 2020:
Robin recap: Workplace trends that will persevere in 2020
- In-office apps “Apps deliver the same value as other tools but don’t require heavy lifting on the end-user.” - Brendan
- Flexible/unassigned desking “Maybe this will be the year people realize they don’t need a desk all the time.” – Zach
- Remote work/Flexible schedules “This workstyle is so dependent on change management and constant coaching, but people are investing in it.” - Brendan
- Pods “Think room-in-box type solutions you can drag and drop.” - Emily
- Employee-centric design “As an employee, you get to be a part of designing where and how you work.” - Jackie
- Expansion of workplace-specific vocabulary “Think about talking about the workplace in terms of zones or neighborhoods instead of by floor.” – Sam
Robin Recap: Workplace trends that will fade away in 2020
- Biophilia “Give me another succulent plant shop on a corner and I'm gonna lose my mind.” – Jackie
- Cafeteria style-seating “No more ping-ponging between a desk and a meeting room.” – Sam
- Room and desk check-in technology “Banking on sensors to automatically do that for employees.” - Cole
- Noise-canceling headphones “In a perfect world where you can control your environment, you may not need them.” - Emily
5. What is the one thing you’re most proud of the Robinauts achieving in 2019? What is one goal you have for the Robin crew in 2020?
2019 was a big year for Robin. Despite raising our Series B, none of the Robin leaders mentioned it as the piece they’re most proud of from the last year. Unlike prior questions, every single person had the same answer: our people.
“I am most proud that we were able to double our team in size.” – Emily
“To begin the year at 60 people and to exit the year basically doubling that, it really requires everybody to be on the same page and have the same focus about what we're trying to do here each day.” – Jackie
Not only did we grow in size, but we grew well. Zach and Jackie both commented on how the Robinauts created a vision and lasting goals to rally around for 2020 and beyond:
“At the start of 2019, we didn't have a vision statement, we didn't have values, we didn't even have a consistent monthly team meeting. And I think that we have sorted out so many of our basic foundational tasks this year as a team that we really can conquer just about anything we want to in 2020. I always say that I joined because there weren’t years of legacy red tape. The business wasn't running out of money. There wasn't a CEO who didn't care. And there wasn't a long list of external problems. It was just us. We were our own blocker, and now we’re not. And we need to keep it that way.” – Jackie
“I am proud of the team for identifying what we want to rally around and delivering on it.” - Zach
With a clear roadmap ahead of us, it’s evident we need to keep doing more of the same, but do it even better.
“My goal for the team would be continuing to expanding in new product areas while still investing in making our existing products even better for our customers.” – Emily
“I want to see us achieve our sales goal not just because we have a great sales team, but because the whole team, including customer experience and product, continues to deliver.” – Brian
6. Fun question: Robin expanded to a second floor in 2019. What workplace amenity, design feature, or piece of technology would you like to see between the two floors?
When the sky's the limit, you’d anticipate a wide variety of answers. When asked what they’d like added to our two-floor Boston office in Seaport, five of our seven interviewees responded with the same answer:
Cole took a creative spin requesting a spiral staircase or a fireman’s pole and Brian wanted an atrium to physically connect the two floors. It’s evident Robinauts are invested in maintaining a centralized culture and vision across our two floors as we continue to grow over the next year.
Apart from the staircase, Zach asked for more phone booths or spaces to take short, private phone calls. Sam, who is very well known for his out-of-the-box ideas asked for a new floor plan in the “eudaimonia style”, more screens on the walls like he saw on buildings during his recent trip to China, or some type of “stunning” water feature.
It was great sitting down with a few leaders from Robin to reflect on 2019 and look towards 2020. We discussed many different workplace trends and emphasized how vital our own people are to ensure future success. Want to be a part of our fast-growing, passionate team? Check out our available roles here.