Mark Dixon is the founder & CEO of International Workplace Group (IWG), formerly known as Regus, the world’s largest provider of flexible workspace solutions. They have over 3,300 locations and 15,000 team members in 120 countries around the world.
Mark has a unique and diverse background leading up to his current role. He actually dropped out of school at the age of 16 to start a business delivering sandwiches by bicycle. He has been a logger, a miner, a barman, an investor, and a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman–all before founding IWG in 1989.
He always knew he wanted to go into business, but he also realized early on that he needed experience and training and that’s definitely what he got throughout every job he had. He learned other languages, he tried multiple different roles, he soaked up what he could from the people he worked with–and all of it led him to his current position.
As Mark shares, “I’ve worked with some fantastic people, either within the companies or advisors or people I know. And, you know, in those days–and still today–I’m still learning today, you’re sort of like a sponge. You just got to be whoever you’re speaking to, whatever you’re doing, you try, you know, you’re learning lessons. And COVID, you know, this whole crisis, I’ve been through many, many crises over the period of time that I’ve been in business, this is a huge one. And you’ve had to reinvent very quickly, and sort of apply, you know, all those 45 years of experiences to what you know now. And it’s very hard to learn all that, you know, you’re not going to get a lot of it with an MBA, it’s gonna come with experience.”
This past year with the pandemic really showed most businesses that they could continue to get things done even during shutdowns, thanks to technology. They realized that not only could the business keep going, but a lot of employees were happier because they weren’t commuting every day, they could work in comfortable clothing, and they could spend more time with family.
Now that we’ve all experienced this for over a year, a lot of companies are exploring how they can allow employees to have more flexible work options. A big topic of conversation lately is will the office go away completely. Will most companies continue with remote only working?
Mark and I agree that while companies will give employees more flexibility, the office is not going away anytime soon and there is still value in having people come to work in-person. But most likely it will be more of a hybrid format, where people can work from home at times and come into the office at times as well.
While it is possible to keep everyone remote and get work done, as Mark points out bringing people together, at least some of the time is key, otherwise you just create a bunch of digital nomads. This can be dangerous because it makes it easy to lose the company culture.
The key is having a convenient physical office (or offices) that people want to come to, at least from time to time. This is where collaboration, social interactions, networking, etc… can happen. It is also important to have an agenda to accomplish while people are there so you don’t have people sitting around staring at their screen by themselves.
“You’re going in there to do creative stuff, you’re going in there for your boss to thank you and hand you a, you know, a bottle of wine or something for doing a great job in front of everyone else. So you can’t do that over the internet. So you’ve got to try and have a sense of belonging, and a feeling of purpose. And you can do a lot of it when people are decentralized, but you can’t do all of it. It’s a really important factor. So the companies of the future will have a number of hubs around the country, they’ll bring people together.”
Hybrid work is about making work convenient for employees and allowing them to work from wherever is the most productive for them each day. Some people may not have space to work from home and working from a Starbucks or Panera can be difficult with all of the noise and distractions. Some people live 3 hours away from work and hate their commute. Others may not have the discipline to work at home efficiently. So it’s all about providing different options for all of the different needs.
Giving people options helps the morale of the employees, they feel like they have control over how and when they work, they are happier because they are less stressed, and they are more productive.
This way of work also helps companies have less fixed costs. Mark says he has seen a number of companies take the money they have saved from having people work from home and they have re-invested that money into HR programs that help them get to know employees better. Sometimes leaders feel like they know their people because they all sit in the same building and they see each other every day, but that’s not necessarily the case.
“You know, it wasn’t the office that was the magic ingredient here. It was the people themselves. And it’s about companies focusing on people as people. They had brilliant talents that you didn’t know about because you hired them, you asked them but you didn’t ask them again and again.”
The first thing Mark believes leaders should do is take time to research–there are so many materials and resources out there for companies that want to start hybrid work. Look into what other companies are doing and what has worked and what hasn’t.
After you’ve done your research it is crucial that you talk to your people to find out what they want. Survey your people to see how many of them want to be able to work from home at times, and how much time they want to work from home. How do they feel about working from a local office part of the time and working from home the rest of the time? Their feedback can help you develop a strategy.
For most companies, leaders who don’t give employees the option to work from home at times will most likely lose a lot of good people.
Some leaders might worry about failing at implementing hybrid work, but don’t worry Mark says while you may not get the right productivity out of it, you can’t really fail. If you get it wrong, he says, it’s because you haven’t thought enough about your people.
Staying connected with your people is so important, especially when you are working in a hybrid setting. It’s easy for employees to feel lost or disconnected, so it’s up to the leaders to make sure that doesn’t happen. Call people on their birthday, start meetings off with a casual conversation, send out a weekly or monthly update email. Think about the things you do in your office right now to stay connected and then just figure out how to do that when you are all more spread out.