In this Digital CxO Leadership Insights video, Amanda Razani speaks with Kurt von Koch, CEO of FM: Systems, about how businesses can best manage remote and hybrid teams in this digital era.
Amanda Razani: Hello, I’m Amanda Razani, with Digital CxO. And I’m here today with Kurt Von Koch. He is the CEO of FM: Systems. How are you doing today?
Kurt Von Koch: I am well Amanda; excited to be here. So, thank you for that. Thank you for inviting me.
Amanda Razani: You’re welcome. I’m so glad to talk to you today. Can you tell me a little bit about FM: Systems and what you do?
Kurt Von Koch: Absolutely. At FM: Systems, we’re a software and technology provider to large companies and government agencies. And really what we help them understand and help them provide is that ideal workplace experience for their employees and co-workers, enabling them to really understand, you know, what is happening inside the workplace. So giving them insights into how the physical office is actually being used, but then also enabling occupants to more easily find that co-worker or reserve a conference room, you know, reserve a desk, if they need to come in for the day, and then just give the tools that the organization needs to really provide the right type of space to their occupants.
Amanda Razani: Okay. And I would think that’s very helpful in this day and age with more and more hybrid workers and even a lot more just remote workers. There are a lot of businesses probably trying to figure out how to make that work, because they didn’t used to work that way.
Kurt Von Koch: Yes, that’s one of the really exciting things in our industry during this two and a half year, work from anywhere, sort of a grand experiment that we’ve all been living through, you know? I think we’ve learned a handful of things; or really three big things: One, the technology has sincerely caught up and and you know, many of us can at least work from almost anywhere. And then with that: Two, I think we’ve also figured out that most of us really hate that commute into the office. And we’d much rather prefer and we appreciate the flexibility that’s come from that hybrid approach or that more flexible approach. But I think the third thing that a lot of our customers have really come to recognize is that it’s really hard to replicate that, let’s call it the water cooler, if you will, sort of conversation that leads to that next great idea or that, you know, solving that customer problem is really hard to replicate over zoom and teams, and figuring out, how does that workplace of the future really come together? What is that mix of occupying space? You know, bringing co-workers together? How do we do that in a mix of digital and physical ways? And that’s a lot of what we’ve been helping our customers navigate and helping them to figure out, quite frankly, as well.
Amanda Razani: Yeah, so that’s a good question. I think you said about 11% of leases across the US are going to expire. And with all the hybrid work and the remote work, businesses face the challenge of – do they need such a big office space? Or should they downsize? Do they even need a brick and mortar space? And so I’m trying to figure out, what do you recommend? Is there a way that they can harness data and figure this out? In this age of digital transformation? What how do companies know which direction to go now?
Kurt Von Koch: Yeah, without a doubt, and you know, 11% of leases coming due here shortly, the next two years over the next three and four years, almost a billion square feet, coming up for renewal. And with that, then you take that renewal that’s coming up, but then you also take this kind of rethinking or refocusing of the workplace. And you have so many customers, so many of our customers, so many organizations asking themselves, what does the workplace of the future mean for us and and how, you know, and usually it’s their second largest cost also. So what is the second largest cost really mean to us and how we spend our money, invest our money, and occupy space, some of the things that we’re seeing inside of our customers. And usually, you know, our customers that we work with are usually kind of medium to large corporations, as well as government agencies, healthcare, hospitals, and universities. And what we’re seeing inside of those organizations is really a refocusing around the mission of the organization. We’re focused in the workplace itself around the mission of the organization to be more attuned to what they’re trying to accomplish. So for corporations, it’s really about how do they go ahead and really make a workplace that’s there to solve their customer needs, providing that next new new product or new service to improve their their their end constituent or customers. The products that they buy from them, and for our Higher Education customers, it’s really about education and research, how can they do more of that inside of the campus that they have? How can we extend that ability, but then also move more and more of the administration activities out of the physical campus, and, and frankly, into homes quite often. And that’s very similar for our healthcare customers – how can they improve patient outcomes, but then also reduced healthcare costs. And a lot of that goes back to the facilities that they occupy, and being able to really rationalize and provide that right mix of space. And you know, for all those customers really have, there’s more data available to them today, all across their business, but including data from their workplace data from the buildings that they occupy, from how how their co-workers actually go in and occupy that space, how frequently they come in, what types of space they’re trying to occupy, and what kind of work are they’re trying to get done. There’s data all throughout the organization around that making sense of that data, though, can sometimes be difficult. And that’s where we oftentimes find ourselves coming in and helping our clients make sense of all the data that they have, sometimes gather more data that they don’t have yet, like, you know, the granularity of, you know, what deaths, what conference rooms? Are people actually going to and attending, what do they wish they had, you know, what are people searching for, but not finding, and then being able to then provide them with a view back so that they can sincerely refocus their workplace around the mission of the organization? And sometimes for many of our customers, that means less space moving forward. For an equal amount of customers, it actually means either more, or the same amount of space, just used differently. And so I think what we’re starting to see is, you know, organizations honing in on the type of workplace environment they want their co-workers to experience, and then rationalizing what they have today to what they want. And really a lot of it goes is coming back to a large amount of renovations happening inside of the floorplan and creating all sorts of locations for collaboration, ideation, culture, building, really being the intent around the workplace itself. So a lot of change is happening both now and into the future for the workplace.
Amanda Razani: And as far as the culture building, like you said, that watercooler analogy, getting that sense of camaraderie and the close knit team vibe, how do businesses approach that with so many working hybrid or remotely? What are some of the solutions to being able to still feel like a close knit team? In this digital age?
Kurt Von Koch: Yeah, you know, we’re seeing a lot of our customers are approaching it in ways that are a bit mixed, meaning some are requiring co-workers to come in certain days of the week, and others are taking a little bit more of an open approach where they’re saying, you know, well, we’re gonna come in for very specific, intentional, purposeful meetings, and collaboration events or culture, building events. And then we’re also seeing different sort of insertion points of a mix of virtual and in person meetings. One thing actually, that our company is doing that was inspired by something that a client of ours does is, every Wednesday, we have what we call, Take 15, which is 15 minutes of where we get together, and it’s open to anyone, but not a requirement, for people to come and just gather together. And it could be anything from trivia to some sort of point of interest conversation that takes place, and people are separated randomly into groups in order to have that dialogue. And that’s something that we’re seeing more and more of: Those types of events that are both virtual and in-person happening across organizations. I think a big point that we’re seeing with our customers as they try to navigate that culture building is that they’re looking back to the workplace to solve that problem. To create that opportunity is probably a better way of thinking about it. And what’s happening there is that the floorplan, the layout, the types of space and location of the space is really being geared toward that collaboration, ideation, culture building, and more and more of the administrative tasks all across our customer base are being pushed into the home for those hybrid, those hybrid days. There’s a small collection typically what we’re seeing is a collection of real conference rooms from small to medium to large and then Then, from there, smaller breakout rooms for that refuge for that co-worker who just needs to get work done and can’t from home. But oftentimes it is a mix. That’s over emphasizing the collaboration space.
Amanda Razani: So what about some of the more futuristic sounding technologies we’re starting to hear about like the holographic? I’ve been hearing about holographic meetings where the person looks like they’re there, but they’re actually in another country, or having meetings in the metaverse and such. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think that’d be widely adopted? Are businesses looking into those avenues more lately?
Kurt Von Koch: They absolutely are. I’ll preface all of this though, with what we are not seeing is metaverse images of, you know, unicorn heads instead of our actual face and things like that. It is more along the lines of enabling providing technology that sincerely enables you to feel like you’re talking to that person, technology that that tracks your eyes so that it lines up better with the person that you’re seeing through the computer screen, providing a view of what has been the metaverse and which has been around for quite a long time, even though it feels like we’re just now starting to talk more broadly about it. But our clients and our technology has been enabling this for for over a decade, where you know, you have a three dimensional representation of the workplace. And you have that ability to create that familiarization with the workplace, even though you’ve never been in it. And you think about all the co-workers that have been hired that have never, you know, they were hired in the past two and a half years. And they never had a true sincere day in, day out office or workstation that they were going to. So that just innate familiarity that comes from a being a daily attendee at a workplace just is no longer there. So the metaverse as we think about it, which is that 3D representation of the workplace has taken on more and more importance when co-workers are trying to say, “Hey, I’ve got a meeting with Amanda today, I want to reserve a space near her. And then I want to grab a conference room near where we’ll both be sitting. So that we can have our three o’clock meeting together.” That sort of thing, where you’re able to actually see what the workplace looks like, understand where on the floor plan you’ll be sitting and where that conference room is, so that you’re not fumbling around when you get there. And not only the flexibility that we all have, many of us have, grown to enjoy with hybrid, but also that familiarity that comes from seeing and being a part of the workplace every day; you’re able to accomplish both in that sort of metaverse approach or that 2D and 3D representation of the workplace.
Amanda Razani: And that’s interesting that you say the technology has been there, but it’s just now coming to the forefront, I guess, because back then it was more of a novelty? Then COVID hit, everybody started working remotely or hybridly. Suddenly, everyone was looking at these technologies with more seriousness, and how could they harness that technology for employees to feel like they are at home? And when they come in, they feel like they’ve been there? Like you said. So that’s interesting to me.
Kurt Von Koch: Yeah, no, you are exactly right. It’s technology that has been there for a very long time. And our clients have been using it for a very long time. But it’s just now really being talked about so much more, because so many of us are really experiencing this disconnected feeling to our workplace. And you know, how do we regain that connection? How do we come in and not have to think about where we need to go in order to go and get that meeting we need to have in the workplace? You know, I went through all the effort. I got got fully dressed, drove in or got on the train and came into the workplace. I don’t want to have to figure out where do I go next? I should have that intuitive understanding. And that’s how the metaverse or you know, that simulation of, the workplace really enables us to create a 2D and 3D environment.
Amanda Razani: Absolutely. And I feel it’s what makes employees still feel like it’s a real job, like they’re still part of a team, and they’re more invested. And I just think technology is gonna get better and better. With this big kind of shift that COVID caused. We’re going to be looking at more and more technology a little bit more closely in the future and how it can be harnessed for business.
Kurt Von Koch: Yes, that’s exactly what we’re seeing as well. And you know, customers are leaning in very hard on how can they really enable their co-workers to feel excited about coming into the workplace, make it not be something that they are hesitant to do. So removing some of those barriers, and just making them more comfortable and ready to make that to make that trip in. And that way, they’re able to really, once they get there, focus in and do what they were called to do, you know, come in and have that collaboration, go create that next new product, next new solution or solve that next problem for customers. And and I think that’s really how technology is, first of all, enabling the return to the workplace, but then also will help us have an even better workplace into the future as well.
Amanda Razani: Most definitely. Well, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your insights with us today.
Kurt Von Koch: Well, thank you so much for having me, Amanda, this was so great to be here. Thank you.