We interview the brightest minds in Canadian Innovation about how they’ve adapted to working in a global crisis and what they predict the office landscape to look like in a post-pandemic world.
Today we’re chatting with the COO and President of Innerspace, Carys Goodall. We talked about what InnerSpace has been up to through the pandemic, and about what the office could look like in the future.
This transcription has been edited for clarity and may not read exactly as the interview
Can you give us a little bit of background on Innerspace, how it got started, and the business model pre-COVID?
Innerspace was founded just over five years ago. The mission is to bring all the capabilities that we have outdoors with GPS, indoors. We spend 80% of our time indoors. Yet, a lot of digital-first experiences that we know and love, like navigation, Uber Eats etc, that rely on location outdoors, stop the minute you walk through the door. We started the company with the idea that we could truly transform the indoor space by figuring out indoor location. We’re doing that by using WiFi to look at how are people and things moving in a space. How can we help to enhance that experience? And more importantly, how can we help landlords and tenants really figure out how much space they need and how to optimize it?
Obviously, that’s a big conversation post-COVID. I’m sure there’ll be many more changes over the coming 6 – 12 months, but thus far, what changes have you seen with the business?
Our focus is on corporate real estate. We work with huge campus clients, higher education universities and sports stadiums. Our customer base is the same – that hasn’t changed. Now, they’re thinking differently. People are no longer thinking about how many people they can get into a space to maximize every square footage. How do I configure my space so that people can be safe? How do I make sure that I can understand if somebody does come into my building, and they may be impacted by COVID? How can I track that? How can I think about all the strategies that people are putting into place today? How do I measure it? There’s no rulebook right now. We’re looking to other countries, but there are many variables at play right now between a business, the landlord-tenant relationship, the type of client or employee culture that you have. There’s no one hard and fast way that’s going to deem success right now. Data becomes important to inform those decisions.
Further to that, what do you think is going to be the most important factor we need to consider when we’re talking about coming back to work?
Right now it’s all about communication. You need to figure out what your policy is right now so that you can look to your customer to your employees and say, ‘here’s the plan’. Right now we see a lot of clients, still in the midst of that planning. Even as we’re seeing states and provinces open up, people don’t really know what that means. We’re seeing a lot of questions from students, customers and employees. They’re saying “I understand we’re opening up, but what are you doing? What is the actual plan?” We’re hearing a myriad of answers to that. Some tenants are looking to the landlords to provide that service, whether that’s enhanced cleaning or temperature checks in the lobby. Mr. Serbinis was on your show previously, and he said, we really need to work together here.
On the tenant side, depending on the type of business you have, you’re going to have a whole different set of strategies and variables. Can you afford to put in cubicles? Can you afford to be cleaning on a real-time basis? Should you only be bringing back people who have to have face to face meetings? Can you bring back more? What if something happens – Do you have to shut your whole building down again? Nobody can afford to do that. It’s not a viable path forward. Now, it’s about communicating what you’re going to do and then measuring it going forward and making sure that you have a long term strategy.
What data are you leveraging to help tenants and landlords in this? What can a tenant do when it comes to tracking and understanding what’s going on with their employees today and in the future?
Our platform works by understanding how people move through space. By looking at a smart device like an Apple Watch, a laptop, a phone, we understand how many people are in the space. We can answer questions like; Where are they going? How often do they spend in different zones, meeting rooms, the kitchen area? From that we can extrapolate, how many people are they bumping into on the regular? How many people are they spending time with? With something like COVID, you want to be looking at direct contacts – like when you and I spent time in a meeting together. We also need to measure indirect contact where the potential transmission can occur. Perhaps you came into a meeting space after I used it! We want to put tools in the hands not only of the business leaders and HR to say if someone was impacted by COVID, how do I understand that impact? How many came into direct contact, indirect contact and who’s okay – who’s going to be totally fine to keep coming to work?
On the employee side, we want to empower people to check their own personal data. People can find out if they’re impacted, and at what risk level. This enables people to work with their company and team and come up with the best response strategy. Should you go home and self-quarantine? Should you be monitoring your symptoms? Or are you okay?
The reality is that everyone’s going to have a different comfort level. If you have elderly parents or somebody in a high-risk category, you may want to be very conservative and very protective of your own personal health and exposure. I may not be in the same situation and therefore will have a higher comfort level. The reality is you have to have the data. You can’t have personal opinion coming into play here, you really need to affirm it with the hard truth.
That empowers the employee, the tenant, even the landlord insofar as when you have the data available to you, you can make those informed decisions, right?
There are a lot of solutions coming into the market right now. They’re all really exciting. Of course, there’s a lot of consumer-facing apps, where it’s a Bluetooth to Bluetooth connection. But it doesn’t help you with the indirect transmission. I want to make sure that businesses really are at the forefront here that they’re doing everything for their employees, including setting policy.
We need to make sure that businesses can stay moving forward, that they’re not shuttering their doors every time this happens. You’ve got law firms, essential services, health facilities, – it’s not just the big tech giants that right now can afford to be a little more conservative. We have a lot of businesses right now that need to get back fast to survive, but also to serve their clientele.
What about your team in particular? how are you navigating with working from home?
It’s been a transition. Some of us are luckier than others in that we’ve worked from home before or we’ve worked primarily with international teams, so we weren’t necessarily always face to face. I think that always makes it a little bit easier. We’re also a tech company and we’re very tech minded in that way. So that too, has made the transition easier.
We did actually give up our office. We made the decision that we were going to be remote for the time period. Right now it’s working really well and we do a lot to stay engaged with our team. We’re meeting two or three times a week. We play a lot of fun games to keep everyone’s spirits up, and stay connected at a personal level. Certainly, there’s a lot more zoom, meetings. We’re also mindful of that fatigue, making sure that people can take the time that they need.
There’s a statement that this is a new normal, but this isn’t normal. A lot of people are at home, working with their kids, teaching kids at home, they’re, managing their parent’s health and their families in general. On top of that, we just don’t have an end in sight. That stresses people out. So really, for us, it’s about making sure we’re staying connected with our team and supporting them in the ways that they need. I think what’s going to happen over this is we’re going to really see a shift between employee culture is focused on how people are at the office. Even when we do return, it’s going to be a personalized experience to who are you as an individual, and how can I as a leader help? So I think that’s actually going to be a really exciting shift in how we think about employee culture overall.
I completely agree. I’m not going to be showing up to the office just for the sake of going to the office anymore. I’ll really think about how can I be my most productive when I am there, so I can have my personal time or have the flexibility of working from home when I choose. Anything else long term that you can see changing when it comes to your office and how your team is functioning within a physical space?
The biggest fear for a lot of people that I talk to is missing out on the happy collaboration and the little moments. For example, maybe two people who don’t work on the same team come up with an idea that really helps to propel the business forward. Like you, I think it becomes more purposeful, I think you can think about different ways to sort of enhance those moments and create them. But more than that, I think you have to rethink so much of your structure. How do you communicate with people? What are the benefits that they’re going to need? It changes. Perhaps before you were giving people subsidies on their transit, or health benefits, I think a lot of that can be rethought now because now you can actually say what matters to your life. All of these things that we had as perks in the office can now become perks at home. There’s going to be a really deep connection that people can create with their employee’s overtime.
I agree completely. And it’ll be exciting to see, some of the positive impacts that we’re getting from all of this at the end of the day.
Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time. Hopefully, we can check in again and see what the office looks like in 6 or 12 months time.