Manifest Density: Sponsored by Microshare

Manifest Density - Episode 61 - Tracy Brower - ’Not your father’s workplace’

May 5, 2022


'Not your father's workplace'

Steelcase workplace expert and author Tracy Brower on the importance for the workers to know about their work environment.

Dr. Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRW is a sociologist studying work life fulfillment and happiness. She is the author of two books. The Secrets to Happiness at Work provides insights for joyful work and life and how to choose and create purpose fulfillment. Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work provides new perspectives and alternative ways to consider and achieve work-life “balance” (hint: it’s not about balance, it’s more than that). Tracy is also a contributor for and Fast Company, and a Vice President of Workplace Insights with Steelcase.

Tracy has over 25 years of experience working with global clients to achieve business results. She is the recipient of various speaking awards as well as the Innovative Practices award from the University of Houston Stanford Alexander Center for Excellence in Real Estate and the Constellation Award for top global executives achieving business results.

Previously, Tracy was the Global Vice President of Workplace Vitality for M&M Mars (Mars Drinks) as well as the Director of Human Dynamics + Work for Herman Miller and the Director of Performance Environments and Living Office Placemaking for Herman Miller. Over her career, Tracy has had the opportunity to engage with many of the Fortune 500. She has also taught college and university courses and was previously a member of the selection committee for the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research.

CONNECT & FOLLOW: You can find Tracy on LinkedInTwitterInstagramGoodreads or here on In addition, her amateur photography is available on Unsplash. Or to reach out to Tracy, this contact form is available.

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Podcast transcription

The transcription of this episode is auto generated by a third-party source. While Microshare takes every precaution to insure that the content is accurate, errors can occur. Microshare, Inc.  is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.

Michael Moran [00:00:00] This is manifest density. Hello, everyone, and welcome to this latest edition of Manifest Density. Your host, Michael Moran, here to explore the intersection of COVID 19 global business and society. Manifest density is brought to you by the Global Smart Building and ESG data company Microshare unleashed the data. Well, today I speak with Dr. Tracy Brower, Ph.D.. MB M.S.. RW I got to say, I don't know what that is, is a sociologist, and she is studying work life fulfillment and happiness. She's the author of two books, The Secrets to Happiness at Work, which provides new perspectives and alternative ways to consider and achieve work life balance. Hint, she says in her bio, It's not about balance. It's more than that. Tracy is also a contributor to and Fast Company and a vice president of Workplace Insights at Steelcase. Well, Tracy, welcome to the podcast.

Tracy Brower [00:01:01] Thank you. I appreciate it. Looking forward to our conversation.

Michael Moran [00:01:05] Well, I wanted to start by asking, you know, what is it that you saw in this discipline, workplace fulfillment, workplace, you know, safety that they drew you and how did you get into this career?

Tracy Brower [00:01:22] Yeah, that's a great question, right. It's fun to look back at how we got into it and the interesting path. So I have always been interested in organizational culture and kind of people and the sociology of work. How we affect our work, how it affects us back in place ends up being the stage where so much of that plays out. You know, our work experience, our work environment, the workplace brings people together. So that's really been the thing that's interested me is that it's it's a place where we can really, really understand the dynamics of people, understand the dynamics of leadership, understand dynamics of, you know, some of our fundamental human needs like trust and psychological safety. So I think it's just a really, really interesting lens for all of those aspects that are interesting to me.

Michael Moran [00:02:10] So one of the things that happened as a result of the pandemic to our company is that we went from a company that largely interacted with I.T. departments and facilities management teams to installed smart building technology. They were the buyers, so to speak, to now a world where the h.r. Director, the wellness chief wellness and safety officers, as well as other c-suite figures are incredibly interested in the physical safety of the spaces that the workers and employees and customers and tenants are in. Did that did your approach to to your discipline also evolve with them?

Tracy Brower [00:03:00] Yeah. So interesting to hear you say that. Yeah, we are absolutely seeing this really interesting connection. And there's actually an organization called Connect, which has been talking about the super nucleus. And this is the intersection of real estate and facilities with i.t. And with h.r. And I think the pandemic has just magnified that that overlap in the middle of the three circles of the Venn diagram of this super nucleus speak to the greater concern for so many departments, kind of figuring out the best way to create a work experience. And so we are definitely seeing more h.r. People at the table h.r. Taking a greater role in the decision making and having a greater influence. Definitely that expanded concern about safety, security, the experience that people are having and how we meet all kinds of needs from that experience, not just engaging and inspiring, which are utterly critical, but how do we help people that feel safe and secure so that they can be comfortable in the space, so they can be part of the culture, so they can be in person to build relationships and perform brilliantly. It's just really interesting the way many of our roles have shifted based on some of those shifting expectations of employees.

Michael Moran [00:04:21] Yeah, we've been saying, you know, basically that the pandemic kind of shined a light on the previously taken for granted. Environment in which we sit in the, you know, the what we thought of as just space and air. In fact, it contains, you know, multitudes of things that can be either harmful or or beneficial. You know, things like CO2 and things like, you know, volatile organic, organic compounds, which are really just that the odd gases and smells that come off of things like new carpets and furniture or cleaning materials, all of these things suddenly are in the minds of employees. And what's really interesting is that the tight, tight labor market, which is not just about COVID, I think people mistake that. It's also about demographics. You know, we're the baby boom is no longer booming. And we've got smaller workforces, we've got older workforces and many people retiring so that the labor market has tightened and now employees suddenly have much more leverage and much more ability to demand certain things at a workplace. Is that true?

Tracy Brower [00:05:34] Yes. Oh, my gosh. It's so true. I've been listening to so many economists lately and demographers and you're so right. They are saying this talent revolution isn't going anywhere. Anytime soon we're going to be struggling. The statistics the statistics I'm hearing is we're going to be struggling with this talent revolution for probably a good five years or so. And it's about supply and demand, right? Like when there aren't enough workers, workers can demand so much more. And I really think it's such an interesting moment. Right. Like all the things we took for granted are now absolutely explicit and they are thresholds to entry. So, I mean, honestly, I never thought about I know I was a germaphobe before. It was cool to be a germophobe, but I also never thought very much about the cleanliness of my work environment. Of course it was clean, you know. And now I think we've got employees who are looking for a level of security through cleanliness and air quality, like whoever the average employee wasn't thinking about air quality three years ago. Right. And now it's such a fundamental concern, not just in terms of the reality of our cleanliness and security, but our perception of it. So like we're hearing customers saying, you know, instead of the cleaning happening on third shift anymore in the office, it's happening more during the day because we want to you know, we want to see that cleaning happening or we want to walk into a building and feel like it smells clean in a in an appropriate safe kind of, you know, not a heavy scented way, but more in a cleaner kind of scent. And I think that, like, if we look at our Steelcase data about employee expectations, people want a greater level of belonging. They want productivity, they want comfort, they want control, and they want safety. And that is things like psychological safety, but it's also just basic safety that has to do with what we talked about and even, you know, like circulation patterns and density of the environment and the extent to which we have more private spaces where we can kind of be together in a safe way if we feel less safe in an open environment. So all of those expectations are shifting the way we think about the work experience pretty fundamentally.

Michael Moran [00:07:51] Tracy I have a colleague here who I will not name, but he listens to the podcast who said I wouldn't buy air quality, who cares? Who cares? And I said, I know you wouldn't buy it, neither would a brontosaurus, but you're a boomer and you don't understand the modern market. I know that in my attempts to hire younger people, they care very much. First of all, where we are, where they have to live, if it's in some place they don't want to live, they're not interested in the job no matter how much I pay them. This is just I think it's a millennial and Gen Y kind of prerogative. It's they're going to create a life as opposed to a career where if someone had told me, you know, honestly, Mike, one of my first jobs in journalism was Newark, New Jersey. I can make fun of Newark because I was also born there. But it's not exactly a garden spot, particularly in the eighties. It wasn't. And I just went there because that's where the job was. And I figured maybe they'll send me to another difficult place next and eventually I'll work my way up like some baseball player going through the minor leagues to the major leagues. But I don't think that that psychology exists anymore. People seem to be very in touch with essentially happiness, the pursuit of happiness. Do you do you see that as well?

Tracy Brower [00:09:10] Yes, 100%. There's actually been some really interesting studies on this, where through the pandemic, Americans priorities have shifted very significantly and they've shifted toward an emphasis on family and friends and community. They've shifted toward an emphasis on quality of life. They've shifted toward this. Is really interesting. A greater number of people want more adventure and there are even a greater number of people who want to go skydiving. Right. Like they're really thinking about their experiences outside of work. And this is really interesting. There's so much data about happiness and work and work life. And of course, work is part of a full life. It's not some separate thing. But the thing that a lot of people don't realize is when you're happier outside of your work, you also tend to perceive more happiness inside of your work. We're aware of the opposite about when you're happy you're at work, you tend to perceive greater happiness everywhere. But when you're happier outside of work, that perception of happiness inside of work is is higher as well. So this idea that you're mentioning about, you know, people are creating a life and the thing that we're seeing in the talent revolution is this idea of zoom towns, right? Like people are significantly migrating out of major metropolitan markets and they're going to mid-market because they can, you know, buy a buy more house or more yard or more school district for their money. And they know they can work remote to a greater extent. And so I think part of this idea of like what people need from the work experience has to do with sending a message that we're attending to employee needs. So, yeah, we care about you and therefore we're thinking about your quality, we care about you. Therefore we're thinking about the cleanliness of the environment, we're thinking about the density of the environment. We're attending to those details. And that's really smart in terms of viral control. It's really smart in terms of safety, period, but it's also really smart because it just creates a culture of like caring for employees and respect. It creates and sends a message that employers care about employees. And that's a big part of employee decision making today. You know, where where can I get the best quality of life and where will I be most respected and where will I have the best experience? Those are important business questions today from an attraction retention standpoint.

Michael Moran [00:11:33] I'm glad to see that. I'm sorry to have missed it.

Tracy Brower [00:11:37] Exactly right there with you.

Michael Moran [00:11:40] Hold that thought. We're going to take a quick break to hear from our sponsor.

Sponsor [00:11:45] Manifest density is brought to you by Microshare, a world leader in the technologies that they're helping the world return to work safely. Our ever smart suite of smart facility solutions, including indoor air quality monitoring, predictive cleaning and room occupancy solutions, bring safety, wellness, sustainability and operational cost savings to indoor spaces. Learn more at microshare i o.

Michael Moran [00:12:14] Okay. I am back with Dr. Traci Bauer, who is studying work life fulfillment and happiness. That sounds like a fun thing to study. Are you fulfilled and happy studying work like fulfillment and happiness?

Tracy Brower [00:12:30] Oh, my gosh. That's a great question. Nobody's ever asked me that. I love it. Yeah, absolutely. Oh, my gosh. They say whatever you choose to study, choose well, because you will be talking a lot about it. And this is a perfect time. I have a journalist ask me when my book came out, ask me, you know, Tracy, are you a little tone deaf? Is now really the time to be talking about happiness with all the difficulty? And this is actually the perfect time. You know, interestingly, when things are upside down and inside out and we're facing a lot of difficulty, that is exactly the moment where you can kind of reset, reimagine, assess where you are, reprioritize and kind of create those conditions for happiness. So it's actually a great time. And yeah, it's it's a very fulfilling path to study fulfillment.

Michael Moran [00:13:22] So, you know, one of the things that we have done at MICROSHARE is to try to address some of the needs, new demands that have been raised by employers and employees, mostly, actually, but also landlords, people who, you know, interact with customers. All of them are very, you know, conscious of the need to show that they've learned something from the pandemic. You'll see this is obviously evident in the things like the hand sanitizers that are everywhere and little notes about how, for instance, United Airlines I was on the plane the other day and I picked up their their magazine, which I'm surprised still exists since they publish a magazine every month. And it said this magazine cleaned with special microbial something, you know. And so everybody's very conscious of these things. So we've tried to address this with technology. I mean, data driven cleaning, to your point earlier, is something that we really pioneered and, you know, essentially clean. Well, what you need to clean don't go around like patent taking territory in Germany and clean everything in the building if no one's been in that part of the building. Right. So, you know, concentrate on what needs to be, you know, routine of where it used to be that people would show up after work hours and you might say hello in the hallway as you were leaving, but now you want to see those cleaners in the conference room after the conference that you just had is over. All of that new stuff, air quality concern about, you know, utilization of the building. I mean, all of these things we're trying to address with technology. But technology comes with a challenge, right? There's a change management thing. Anytime you hang something on the wall, the first thought everybody has is that's a camera you're watching. It's Big Brother. How do you balance the benefits of technology? Like the like the the solutions that we deploy against the fear or anxiety that such things might create?

Tracy Brower [00:15:31] Yeah. That's that's a big one, right? Because it's the perception that you create as much as the reality of what you're doing. And I actually I actually wrote an article about this before the pandemic, and I think it's actually still relevant. It's the article is called like Give to Get or something like that. And the thing that I think is so important is to be really clear with people right away. Like, like we have customers who will install sensors to, you know, measure density will oh my gosh, if people just discover a sensor and they haven't been told about it, they're going to have kind of the worst conclusion, like what are they.

Michael Moran [00:16:11] Set up for?

Tracy Brower [00:16:11] Right, so.

Michael Moran [00:16:12] And so I think off the wall.

Tracy Brower [00:16:15] Yeah, exactly. Or we've had stories about, you know, people who are trying to flush them down a toilet or take them apart or I mean, it's just crazy, right? Because because we are often mistrustful and people don't trust what they don't understand. So I think part of the change management pieces like communicating right away, obviously being really transparent, I think to being really clear about the why of what you're doing, being really clear about what information is collected and what's not, being really clear about how the information will be used. But to me, the big thing with kind of neon lights around it is the idea of what the employee gets. We as humans have a real propensity toward reciprocity, so when I receive something, I want to give something and vice versa. That's just part of a human dynamic, a human condition. And so there is this give to get with technology. Like if you're pulling information about me through multiple channels, what am I getting as a result of that? Well, I'm getting better safety or getting, I don't know, better ability to manage my calendar because you're giving me insights about how I'm using my time or you're giving me better development opportunities because I'm entering information into a system about my career goals and my performance capability. Those are examples of kind of that you have to get. So you're going to measure my utilization of the space. If you're going to measure where I am in the space, if you're going to measure, I don't know the quality of the air in the space. And that's going to impact on knowing where I am and how I am moving about the space. I want to know what my guests are out of that. I want to know what the benefits are for me. I mean, it's just so old fashioned, right? Like change management is about people really understanding not just the why, but what's in it for them. But I think it's even more relevant now as technology becomes so ubiquitous. People will trust it more to the extent that they understand what's being measured, how it's being used, and how it benefits them.

Michael Moran [00:18:22] Now I want to ask you to hold that thought. And we're going to we're going to come back in a moment after we hear from our sponsor again. But I wanted to ask you, when we come back about, you know, some of the reactions you've seen to to these types of changes and these types of initiatives and how to manage all that. Got back after this word from our sponsor.

Sponsor [00:18:47] Microshare is proud to support Manifest Density, the podcast that examines the intersection of COVID 19 business and society. Each week we bring you conversation with global leaders and visionary interveners who are helping the world adapt and apply the tragic lessons of the pandemic so the planet can build back better. Subscribe to Manifest Density on our website microshare. I o or download it on Apple, iTunes, Google Play, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, and a host of other podcasting venues.

Michael Moran [00:19:27] Okay. I'm back with Dr. Tracy Brower. Tracy, before we took that break, we were talking about the change management process. We we obviously help our clients in this and we warn them, just hang those sensors up because they will get ripped down. And we try very hard to provide, you know, some kind of a roadmap to how they should do this. We found that one of the things that's useful is all of the kind of back to office or back to work subcommittee that have proliferated, the task forces proliferated all over the corporate world that if you can get the employees involved, they're not just have the CFO and the facilities manager and the director, but actually have somebody represents the interests of the employees. That's very powerful. And when you have an initiative like this, let's say you're putting air quality monitors out. That employee then is the spokesperson for for the employee base. They can go and say, hey, we we've been shown that this is coming. Here's what it does. It's not what you think it is. Is that a is that a viable approach?

Tracy Brower [00:20:45] Yeah, 100%. We do so much to work with our clients around change management. So I love where you're where you're going on this and what your emphasizes that employee voice is so important. People are so much more likely to buy in when they feel like the authors of their destiny. And we always say, you know, you can't give everybody a vote, but you can give them a voice. And so that participation in the process of returning to the office, that participation and, you know, giving feedback about what's working in the space, what's not working, the space is so important. It's so great to even have like a liaison committee kind of thing, right? Where you've got liaisons from different departments who are meeting together and getting updates, and then they can have kind of that two way communication from in to their department about things. And I think to really engage in them, right, like, like attention is the most scarce resource today. There's so much coming at us that you like, you don't even know what the attention do anymore. But when we can engage people with curiosity, you know, engage people about, you know, experimenting in the space. And I think the cool thing about experimenting, the cool thing about kind of engaging their curiosity in their participation in something new is that we send the message that we're not stagnating, we send the message that we're a learning, innovating kind of organization. We send the message that we are moving forward and trying new things and we are listening to you as we do that. Those are all really, really powerful ways to engage people and powerful ways to come to better conclusions. Right, because who knows better about the space than the people who are living in it? So that process for employee voice, that process for experimentation, that invitation to curiosity are really great ways to inspire people, not just engage them, but inspire them as well and give them the opportunity to be part of the future.

Michael Moran [00:22:41] Well, Dr. Tracy Brower, your most recent book, The Secrets to Happiness at Work, I assume you can get that on Amazon and a number of other places. Someone.

Tracy Brower [00:22:51] Yeah.

Michael Moran [00:22:52] Where else would someone go to to follow your work and learn more?

Tracy Brower [00:22:56] Yeah. Thanks for asking. So Steelcase dot com has tons of great research. Tracy Broadcom. I have all of my articles and books there and resources and content forms. I'm also on LinkedIn. Tracy Brower, Ph.D. And I'm all on all the other normal social media channels. And you can get my books. The Secrets to Happiness at Work is the newest on any of the kind of places where you would buy books Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Target, you indie books, you name it. And so I thank you for asking. That's great. I love it when people reach out and have sharing of their own experiences because we are all learning together.

Michael Moran [00:23:34] Well, thanks. And that whole concept of normal social media, but that's a whole other podcast. We'll do. We'll do that. But of course, you can learn more about how microshare or something get the world safely back to work with our ever smart suite of products ever smart solutions, boost efficiency, enable cost savings, and bring safety and reassurance to the people inside your buildings. You can learn more at ww w microshare. Got it. You can also subscribe to this podcast there or you can download it on iTunes and Google Play and iHeart Radio and Spotify and all sorts of other places that I don't ever go. That's going to do it for this week. On behalf of Microshare and all its global employees, this is Mike Moran saying thank you again to Dr. Tracy Brower and to you the audience. So long be well. Thank you for listening.

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