Episode 14

A Doctor’s Prescription for Workplace 2030

What behaviors, technologies and environments might keep us safe and connected in the workplace today, tomorrow and into the future? Learn some practical tips in our conversation with Brandon Cook, founder of the Workplace 2030 initiative and Dr. Maureen Miller, consulting epidemiologist/medical anthropologist from Columbia University. This will captivate you.

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I'm sure in five years there will be some large consulting company that the next time this happens you can say, 'Hey, you guys own reopening my office now, you do everything. And then you tell me when it's safe to bring my employees back, right now.' And that company will have liability insurance and all that other kind of stuff. But that doesn't exist right now. Everyone's doing it for themselves. They're bootstrapping it. So it was less about trying to provide more and more information and really, honestly, more about filtering down to, OK, what are the 10 or 12 things that I can do in my office to make that a safe environment? And some of those things are going to be behavioral. Some of those things are going to be technology and policy driven. But it is really about trying to distill the most important pieces. Brandon Cook, founder and executive director, Workplace 2030


CCB (One Workplace): [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of the ONEder podcast, and today your host, CCB, is going to have an interesting conversation, actually very interesting conversation, with two folks. We have Brandon Cook, the founder and executive director of Workplace 2030 with us, and also Dr. Maureen Miller, who is an epidemiologist and medical anthropologist from Columbia University. And we're going to be talking about the "Workplace of the Near and Far Future". So what I'd like to do is introduce Brandon and have him spend a little bit of time telling us the “why” behind Workplace 2030.

Brandon Cook (Workplace 2030): [00:00:42] Absolutely. And CCB first, thank you so much for having me on the podcast. It's always fun working with you. And this is a topic that I love to talk about. I started the Workplace 2030 Initiative, a nonprofit group in May of this year. And the reason I did that was in my professional life, I have the opportunity to work with a ton of physical security practitioners, also H.R. facility practitioners. And these people, believe it or not, are the ones who are on the front lines of reopening their offices. And none of these people and I mean, none of them have any on the job experience on how to reopen an office in the face of a global pandemic. In fact, nobody does. The closest we're going to get is probably Maureen Miller, who's on the line with us, because the epidemiologists have been preparing for this for decades, right? But everyone else in the world is shocked and trying to just figure out how to do this. And the challenge I think a lot of these people have is not only do they not have the experience, but they also kind of understand the implicit risk of if they don't do this right, they could potentially be putting somebody at their work or somebody that works family at risk here.

Brandon Cook (Workplace 2030): [00:01:54] And so what we wanted to do is really help these people and provide them resources, educational resources, so that they could feel like they were reopening their offices at the right time and in the right way, to ensure not only the health and safety, but also the productivity of the people who are coming back to the office. Because if the office is so restrictive, you might as well be at your home, then it's probably not worth going back to anyway. And the very first thing I did when I started this initiative, before I talked to any vendor, any service provider, technology provider in the space, was I reached out to Maureen Miller and I saw her on a excellent segment on 60 Minutes. And I said, that's the kind of person that we want to work with for this initiative. So I gave her a call and the first thing she said to me was, I love that you're calling this "Workplace 2030", not "Workplace 2020", because people need to understand that we're just as likely to have the next global pandemic the day after we get the Covid-19 vaccine as we were the day before it originated. And while that's a sobering thought, that's true. And so with that, let me pass it over to Maureen, who has been an invaluable resource for the initiative to share where she's coming from.

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:03:02] Hi, yeah, I'm Dr. Maureen Miller, a Columbia University trained infectious disease epidemiologist and medical anthropologist, and I love that combination because I've worked in infectious disease prevention my entire career. And through epidemiology you get the numbers, through medical anthropology you understand how those numbers came to be, what's the context, what people are doing, thinking and are willing to do to protect themselves when confronted with some sort of new challenge or disease like this. And right now, against Covid-19, the only thing that we have to protect ourselves from becoming infected are these behavioral interventions: wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing your hands. I mean, it almost feels like the Middle Ages in that we're limited to just this kind of activity until we get a helpful treatment, until we get a vaccine.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:04:02] Ok, that is just so fascinating and the idea of the combination of science and behavior, behavioral science, if you will, but in the anthropological perspective, it raises the issue of, "How are people behaving?" There's the disease and it has its own sets of behaviors, and then there is, "How are people going to behave?" So we had a little bit of a conversation about the "when" in this progression of understanding how to behave, when do you think, Dr. Miller, that offices are going to be able to be reopened?

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:04:39] I think it is going to have to be very evidence based in order for people to feel comfortable and confident going back to an office. I mean, personally, I'm terrified of going into a public interior space unless I know that there have been precautions taken and that they really, really don't want me to get sick. And I've worked with Brandon around architectural concepts, around psychological concepts that we have to deal with in order to make people feel safe and to actually be safe, because you need the two elements. People who come into an office because they're forced to and they don't feel secure, they're not going to get work done. I mean, as Brandon was saying, so you have to really be clear, transparent, and there are data available that allow us to understand when we should reopen. And we've talked a lot about reopening around the world and especially in this country. What we haven't really given a lot of time to discussing is what happens, what are the tell points when we should, perhaps, close again?

CCB (One Workplace): [00:05:49] Oh, well, that's, sobering. And saying that I was amused that the byline on your biography reads "Prevention is the Cure",

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:06:05] Absolutely.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:06:06] We're going to keep running back into the whole nature of the behavior of folks. So, Brandon, when you were thinking of Workplace 2030 and Maureen was your first call, did you have anything in your mind, any concept about the amount of information that was going to be required to share with those Human Resource and Facilities folks within organizations?

Brandon Cook (Workplace 2030): [00:06:39] I don't think I had a clear idea of exactly what information or what volume of information they were going to need to consume. What I did see was that the volume of information that was being projected towards them was tremendous. So there was like this incredible vendor frenzy going on in March and April and still today, where every vendor, either workplace services or workplace technology, is trying to reposition their existing offering or any new offering that they're working on as being like "solving the workplace health and safety" thing. And it was abundantly obvious that some of these claims were way beyond reality. It was also abundantly obvious that there was not going to be one vendor or service that could basically fix this problem for people that they could outsource this to. I'm sure in five years there will be some large consulting company that the next time this happens. So you can say, "Hey, you guys own reopening my office now, you do everything. And then you tell me when it's safe to bring my employees back, right now.” And that company will have liability insurance and all that other kind of stuff. But that doesn't exist right now. Everyone's doing it for themselves. They're bootstrapping it. So it was less about trying to provide more and more information and really, honestly, more about filtering down to, OK, what are the 10 or 12 things that I can do in my office to make that a safe environment? And some of those things are going to be behavioral. Some of those things are going to be technology and policy driven. But it was really about trying to distill the most important pieces. And that's why as part of the initiative, one of the first stages that we have was just be an innovation lab. Let's try to pull in all the best and brightest minds, the folks at One Workplace on the design side, and Gensler on the architecture side, and Accenture, Proxy, BlueJeans, Condeco, those types of companies on the technology side, and say, "Hey, if we can't do it ourselves and we own this problem and we own this technology, then how can we expect these physical security, these facilities, these HR leaders to do it themselves?" So I wanted to kind of bring it into an innovation lab and say, "Hey, you guys, we got four months, you guys got to build something really special. And then we're going to distill that information and really get down to the how to add the nuance of how to implement these things in an office and do that in a way that's not overwhelming but is more consumable for the audience." And that's been a place where Maureen has been incredibly, Dr. Miller has been incredibly valuable, in really advising all of us through that process here.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:09:16] Ok, so, Maureen, that's a handoff to you. How from a, if you could simplify the message, what would that message be, from your perspective, to the owners and managers of spaces?

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:09:33] I think all the points that Brandon just brought up, that's fundamental to how the office operates, to have some sort of contact tracing, to be transparent to employees, what everyone is doing and how it's evidence based, did they have an epidemiologist on call? But I also think that external to the office environment, that people should become very comfortable with examining the data for themselves. Harvard launched a program called The Path to Zero at the beginning of July. And basically they go down to the county level saying how many people per hundred thousand, which is a standard epidemiologic measure, how many people per hundred thousand are newly infected? And they have a system that is green, yellow, orange, red. It's very clear, very clearly delineated. Anything, when you have 10 or more cases per 100,000, you should seriously consider closing the office and creating different kinds of work systems. Now, we don't have a national clearinghouse, so that means that offices and employees have to spend some time really understanding when is there risk in the environment because right now in this country, there are lots of green pockets all over the place. We can open, we can open businesses, we can open schools. Those places can be active and that can be monitored through the Harvard program. There are also lots of red places and people may not be fully aware when they're in a red place, I mean, the information is not always readily shared. I mean, it's really difficult to get this information, but you need to understand what's going on around you before you can open or close a business. But it will come in waves. Not every place in the United States is red. Overall, we're in pretty dire shape. But at micro levels, there's a lot of places that can open up. Well, there are several places in Maine, there are places even in California that are green at the moment.

Brandon Cook (Workplace 2030): [00:11:55] And I think this is exactly what people need to understand. I mean, Dr. Miller has a very great clear way of articulating this, like this data is available. She helped Workplace 2030 initiative compile some of the best data resources. You can find that on Workplace2030.org. And I think one of the things that she's been helping us understand is, just use the evidence. It's not a one size fits all thing. At the same time, while local governments are being very prescriptive about when you should open up a nail salon or when you could open up indoor dining at a restaurant, they're not telling you when you should be able to open up your factory or your office. That's kind of like up to you to decide. And I think Dr. Miller said, look, for less than 10 out of one hundred thousand new infections, look for infection rates. And Dr. Miller told me, if I've got this right, look for infection rates under five percent, look for downward trends for the last 14 days and look for open hospital capacity. If you're kind of checking off all those things not just for where your office is located, but the entire catchment of where all of your employees will be coming from, then that's the type of time you might say we could open the office with some, obviously some protections in place. But just like she said, if you get out of that zone and this thing is in flux all the time, then you really need to think about, back to working at home. And it's not just, we open it and then we're good. It's kind of keeping up with all this stuff in real time.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:13:21] Exactly. So at One Workplace we are very, very clear in our understanding of the blend of spaces and the blend of work environments that are going to be required moving forward. And the idea of working from home, as well as any kind of collaboration within more public spaces. I do have a question, Dr. Miller, about your quote, that “the Coronavirus is a huge success story in the virus world”. What makes this, two points here: What makes this more successful, this virus? And then, what's the impact long term that you see on people as a result of this particular success?

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:14:04] Ok, this virus, compared to the other viruses that have happened in this century, like Ebola, like the original SARS virus in 2003, those had very dramatic symptoms and they had extremely high mortality rates. You saw that coming a mile off and people reacted and responded very quickly. It was terrifying to see this, 10 to 50 percent of people were dying from these diseases. That showed very dramatic impact. This virus, approximately one percent of people will die from the virus, but 40 percent, the figure vacillates. But a really solid figure would be 40 percent of cases are asymptomatic. So it is spreading and spreading and spreading. And people don't know. And it starts most likely it starts in healthy populations like school children, like people going back to university, like young people wanting to go to bars and party. Those people are much less likely to be negatively impacted and likely to be asymptomatic cases. But they start chains of transmission that move forward through populations until they finally do hit more vulnerable populations. So it is extremely sneaky. One study that I like to cite was conducted by Northeastern University, and the first case that was a community acquired case that was identified in New York was on March 1st. They estimate that more than ten thousand people had already been infected in New York City prior to identifying that case. And we were looking for it and we missed it twice. This guy had to come back to the hospital three times before they said, hey, wait a second, this is Covid-19!

CCB (One Workplace): [00:16:06] Oh, that's scary.

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:16:07] Yeah!

CCB (One Workplace): [00:16:09] And then, everything that you're sharing with us just underscores the challenge to human behavior, the connection between the amount of information that you should be responsible, personally responsible for understanding and then the behaviors shifts that you need to make in order to keep you and your family and your colleagues in your community safe. So I saw a note of something that you had worked on with using social media to bring research science into the mainstream to help change and shift behaviors. Could you speak a little bit about that?

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:16:47] Sure.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:16:48] And the impact it might have in today's world?

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:16:50] Yeah, I think utilizing social media to get out the clear, concise messages that have been garbled over the course of the epidemic, certainly in this country. But I'd say globally as well. I mean, some of the most effective public health messaging in the United States was around "flatten the curve". So we have "flatten the curve", but we are having over 40,000 thousand new infections daily. That's not good. That's really bad. What the message that was missing. Oh, you need to bring the curve down till you're having very few infections where you can actually identify new infections, quickly, isolate them, track down their contacts, quarantine them, and contain this virus. We have never contained the virus in this country ever, which is really scary. But that message isn't going out there. You can make fun, goofy, clear messages that include history. I mean, I made a video about the importance of social distancing and what exponential spread really means. So, for example, if one person gets infected at the end of 30 days, one person gets infected, they infect on average three people. At the end of 30 days, they will be responsible for 254 new infections. If you can, through social distancing or mask wearing, if you can cut that in half, that same one person at the end of one month will be responsible for 4 new cases. So that's why. And we only have behavior. We really do. Wear a mask, even if it's uncomfortable, even if you don't want to, wear a mask, personalize it and keep social distance. And that's going to become increasingly more important as the weather gets colder and people are inside more and in public spaces, we'll really have to maintain that.

Brandon Cook (Workplace 2030): [00:19:03] And that's the concept we have in a lot of the Workplace 2030 use cases that we're kind of innovating and building out here, which is that it's inevitable that you may have somebody who has the disease either asymptomatic or symptomatic or pre-symptomatic that's coming into the workplace. And so a lot of the protections are, you know, if you're running your workplace like you used to, you're going to be on that exponential spread curve. That one person could infect 254 people and a third of those or half of those may be people in your office or workplace where they're spending the majority of their time. And that's where we really put a lot of thought into working with the different partners we have. And to how do we create different controls that in aggregate will really help impact this. These are things like having a mudroom. So think about an airport, right? You've got your ticketing area that anybody can go into and then you've got your boarding area that you can only go to once you've gone through a security clearance. That same type of concept can be applied to an office. You can have kind of a mudroom health screening area where you go through and answer questions about risk and look at things like temperature, which is admittedly a lagging indicator and not the best indicator of whether somebody is infectious. But having that area where you can basically screen and then only once you've been screened are you allowed into the general population. Thinking about things like how do you do contact tracing within the limits of one specific office? It's, I think, well within an employer's rights to say, "Hey, we need everybody to participate in an automated contact tracing program here. If you're going to be in the office every day." It's going to be anonymous, so it's not going to have any HIPPA or privacy concerns there. But it's just the responsible thing to do if you're going to be around people because getting one or two people sick is one thing, but spreading it to everybody in your office or a large corporation is not only the wrong thing to do, but it's also very damaging for a company that may have to shut down an entire office rather than asking 10 people to work from home for a day. And so we're just really trying to dig into the nuance of how do you add these protections and layer these on top? And the IT security world, they have this concept of "defense in depth". And we're kind of applying that here, which is there's no one thing you're going to do is going to solve everything. But if you do kind of these 10 or 12 things, and you layer then on top of each other, you're in a much, much better situation than you are otherwise. And the whole idea here is this doesn't mean the office is going to suck. People are expecting the office they go back to you to be more restrictive. But you know what? If you really think about the last 20 years of the office, did anybody really enjoy being squeezed into smaller and smaller and smaller amount of square footage so that your employer could get more and more people crammed in to the same lease space that they had before? That kind of describes, like at least in Silicon Valley, everybody's experience of the last 20 years. And we're actually designing a workplace that we think is going to be better, that's going to be more comfortable, that's going to be more productive, more collaborative, that people are going to enjoy being in more. You may not be in the office every day, but the days you are, you're going to find more enjoyable, and the days you're remote, you're going to be able to collaborate better with the people who are in the office than you would have in last year's model.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:22:36] Right. I will say, I think it also is going to be very appropriate that the space that you have gotten for Workplace 2030 is in downtown high rise, and it is similar to layouts that many offices may currently be planned under, and therefore it's demonstrating that all of these new behaviors and all of these new technologies and all of these new resources can be implemented anywhere. It doesn't have to be a brand new tilt up a brand new workspace, a brand new campus. So I do think that we're winding down our time. And so my last questions would be for Dr. Miller. Is there anything besides what you've already shared with us, which is enormously valuable and I think very, very simple, so we can glean and maintain kind of the understanding. Is there anything else that you'd like to share with us as a final note?

Dr. Maureen Miller (Columbia University): [00:23:48] I will forever hammer the need for people to wear masks. Wear masks. This will end. I mean, we're surrounded by uncertainty and it just feels terrible. People do not deal well with uncertainty. So I want everyone to know that this will end. Google has said people don't need to come to the office till July 1st, 2021. I don't think that's unrealistic. So I think we should prepare for the long haul. Stock up on your masks, make them fun, wear them. I mean, there's an estimate by one of the data sources, i.e. to me that I've shared with Brandon. If we can get universal mask wearing, we're going to prevent 30 percent of the deaths that will happen if we don't wear masks. That's huge. That's almost 100,000 people. So mask wearing is so important and social distancing. I mean, keep your six feet away. But that's what we have right now. And we really need to recognize that we have a responsibility to use the tools at hand.

Brandon Cook (Workplace 2030): [00:25:01] Right. And don't just wear a mask. Wear it right. Don't be having it hang down under your nose. That token gesture is actually not particularly helpful. Do it. Do it and do it right. Look, I can't tell somebody they need to wear a mask at their grandmother's house, you should do that. But both of you are consenting adults and that's not what you want to do then, you're going to make your own decisions. But what I can tell you is if you're going to come into my office, you're going to be around my coworkers and your coworkers, you as somebody who runs an office space have the right to tell people how they need to participate in that. They're under employed-at-will at your organization. So don't be shy about standing up. This is not a political thing. You do what you want in your own home, but, if you're going to be in the office, you're going to wear a mask, you're going to be wearing it around people. And look at a lot of these things that are coming out, there are some incredibly helpful air purification technologies that are available out there. There are things that we can do to, like I said, "defense on death". Table stakes, wear a mask, do all that stuff, do the social distancing, but make sure that you're addressing the surfaces as well. Build in touchless access to places, or leave Clorox wipes next to every door. One way or the other, make sure that people aren't all touching the same community touch points, because like Dr. Miller would tell you, once you've done the mask and you've kind of taken care of the aerosol part of it, you should also look at the surfaces as the other vector, not nearly as dangerous, but certainly not insignificant either. So don't be afraid to stand up for what you know is right if you're running an office, and Workplace 2030 is here to help advise you on what some of those policies should be.

CCB (One Workplace): [00:26:50] Thanks, Brandon. And I will point out to all of us that Workplace 2030 in downtown San Francisco will be opening in the latter part of this month, September 2020. So you will have the opportunity to schedule visits to experience either in-person, very carefully, or virtually the Workplace 2030 environment. And I love the idea, Brandon, that you mentioned that it's "Office as Exploratorium", so you can think about it that simply, that you will have the opportunity to interact with some of these technologies and understand some of these behaviors and the designs that may support your people more effectively in the future. So thank you very much, Brandon and Dr. Miller. It's CCB signing out from the ONEder podcast. Talk to you soon.