Hybrid Work

Future of Work Pioneers - Lewis Barker

To Lewis Barker, the office should be 'a hub for collaboration, innovation, and social interaction.' Read on for more insight into his strategies for providing an exceptional workplace experience.

Over the last three years, we have interviewed 2,000+ Future of Work Pioneers who have shared their insights into new work paradigms. Today we feature Lewis Barker as part of our series. Enjoy!

Lewis Barker is the Director of Global Workplace Services & Real Estate for Europe, the Middle East and Africa for ServiceNow. At the intersection of Place, Technology & People, his goal is to drive operational excellence and create great employee experiences for our employees & customers across the globe. This drive is evidenced by ServiceNow’s award of Best Workplace’s 2021 #1 Best Workplace in Tech U.K. which Lewis helped ServiceNow achieve as a part of the leadership team. Beyond his successful work at ServiceNow, Lewis is a Future of Work thought leader, sharing his observations in multiple interviews and panels with organizations such as the Irish Times, Density Library, Spacestor and the Financial Times.


I think the Future of Work is… 

I propose the concept of an employee experience organization where People Team (inc. Talent Acquisition), Workplace & Real Estate, and Technology team collaborate and deliver a cohesive and exceptional workplace experience.

"Enabling a positive experience is crucial for attracting talent, as it encompasses values of the business, environmental impact and workplace health which have all been seen and will continue to be key drivers in our workplaces."

The importance of flexibility within the physical workplace, around ‘how’ people do their work and ‘where’ people do their work is massively important for Knowledge Workers in the future. Companies must strike a balance between empowering employees choices and providing guidance to maintain a productive workforce. We are leaning into experimenting and iterating designs based on feedback, and as the future is flexible this will be the key to always keeping your spaces productive and impactful. Lastly, being intentful with how you brand and communicate your workspaces will be more important than ever in sharing the ‘value add’ that you can bring to the employee, department and business. The significance of building a community within this ‘value add’ will be ever so important through purposeful events that drive culture and common values throughout the employee cohort.  


What were the top three challenges you faced when Covid-19 began in 2020?

1. With the pivot to working from home we needed to keep our workplace teams whose jobs revolved around in-office activities motivated. We targeted how we could maintain a safe working environment alongside updating our SOP’s to meet different local government guidance across the globe.  

2. We had a strong in-office culture, so planning how to activate the same remotely was a challenge. Zoom fatigue soon became a very real concern, so ensuring teams had other ways to connect safely was a priority. 

3. As customer Zero at ServiceNow, we leaned into our product team when developing ServiceNow’s ‘Safe Workplace Apps’. This was both challenging and rewarding as these apps had real world consequences and enabled ourselves and other companies to return safely to the workplace. 


How has the return to work been for you and your organization thus far? Have you landed on a policy?

The policies have landed very well. Pre-pandemic we had a flexible workforce, so when the policies came in, this really formalized what was happening in our workforce anyway. We rolled out 3 personas that employees were assigned: 

  • Remote - Encouraged to come in once a month
  • Flexible - Expectation to be 1-3 days in office
  • In-Office - Required in 5 days a week (these are not mandated or checked)

Our biggest % of workforce remains in the flexible category with remote increasing from pre-pandemic numbers. The decision of persons is driven by the employee in conversation with HR and their management. 

Our mantra has always been to be a slow follower – look at what has happened with our peers and see what has landed well and not. I think the policy will be ever evolving to suit what works best for the business and employees. I can see us always leading with flexibility, as this has been evident before the pandemic happened.


What are the top three most influential decisions you’ve made over the past two years with respect to hybrid or flexible work?

1. Incorporating more event and flexible spaces in upcoming projects - Social connection is what we hear back from users of our spaces, so ensuring they have the ability to have ‘on-sites’ and connection is vital. So making the call to have a higher portion of our spaces designed in these ways will be a good call. 

2. Tightening connection with people team in EMEA / CC Teams - Throughout the pandemic we ensured we had close ties with the people team for a host of reasons. The closer alignment between the people and workplace teams has meant that our culture approach has and will continue to improve. Our Culture Champion teams are better supported by both groups, and we see this across most of our EMEA portfolio whether that be in-office activation, remote or a mixture of the two. 

3. We had the ability to save costs throughout the pandemic, which I think are serving us well during this macro-environment. Often workplace and real estate are seen as a large cost to the business which is true. But we made the decision early to cut back on in-office and perks which benefited a smaller % of population whilst a lot worked from home, so this meant huge savings. Alongside this, it’s now embedded within our workplace processes to look at where we can reduce spend whilst not impacting the employee experience


What is your current workplace strategy, and how did you determine it?

Our workplace strategy has undergone changes due to the pandemic, allowing us to experiment with new spaces and receive valuable feedback. In terms of space planning we continue to look towards projected headcount but have implemented a sharing ratio of 4-1 up to 6-1 across all departments. We continue to evaluate this and we continue to not look towards just headcount projection, but bring in utilization data alongside types of spaces driving our desired square feet in a building or when looking for space. Our strategy revolves around neighborhood physiology ensuring that those department neighborhoods have support spaces that are conducive to their working styles. In some of our locations we are looking to pivot away from neighborhoods all together and allow the workspace to be free choice, so people have more freedom to use all space types. Our technology solutions have also enabled hybrid meetings but going past just video conferencing we are enabling collaboration tools such as Miro to be integrated more into our physical workplaces.

"We are ensuring that our workforce is well educated on how to use our spaces, as informing them about how to get the best of the workspace as well as the integrated technology is important to maximize productivity and value add."


How are you thinking about your office footprint needs in the future?

We are rethinking our Real Estate Strategy in the light of our hybrid working philosophy, but have consciously not made any knee jerk reactions to reducing space. We are looking at keeping the same footprint to maintain and accommodate more collaborative environments within the office, but not looking to add square feet at the rate we did pre-pandemic. Thoughts have included additional hub locations to support the switch to locations outside of hubs to enable teams to gather and meet.

"Our ultimate aim is to maximize efficiency, support productivity and enhance our employee experience in our hybrid way of working."

Ultimately this needs to be driven by the ability of our RE footprint to be flexible and agile to meet the business needs as they shift. So, choosing the right lease deal is crucial to the success of this flexibility and agility. 


Do you have a mandate for workspace savings? If so, how are you thinking about reaching those goals while balancing employee experience?

While we do not have a policy mandating savings, we have always been mindful of costs. Our current approach to saving expenses involves reviewing our employee experience programs that have traditionally been focused on the office environment. In light of our current flexible workforce, we are evaluating the return of investment (ROI) for these in office programs such as gyms and exercise classes. Any savings identified from this evaluation will be reinvested to support our more flexible and remote workforce. This allows us to redirect funds from programs that may no longer be as relevant to our employees needs and preference, towards initiatives that better support our current work policies. 


How has your approach to real estate metrics changed as the result of hybrid work?

We’ve taken a more proactive approach to looking at utilization trends. I wouldn’t say we are pushing the boundaries, but looking at how we judge what ‘good’ capacity looks like is our main aim for this year. Piloting of sensors in locations with lease renewals is something we will do to understand what decision we should make for those locations. We are exploring metrics that capture employee experience, such as employee satisfaction and engagement.

"Both the utilization and employee experience data will enable us to tell part of the story we need to iterate our workplace strategy to better support collaboration and aid productivity increases."


Do real estate leadership and people ops leadership work together in your organization to solve for hybrid work? If so, what are some of the challenges and opportunities you see between those two stakeholder groups?

We have a cross-functional team called ‘our New World of Work’ which is composed of Workplace & Real Estate, People Team, Technology Team and the Business. This has been a great working group as all these groups have a real impact on the employee experience that we are shaping for our hybrid work policy. Some challenges that we faced:

  • Prioritization of resources - When looking at what each group wanted to prioritize was a challenge; for example, Workplace wanted to look at how we can adapt our spaces, and people teams wanted to prioritize remote working conditions. Balancing our available budget and resources and where to allocate was a struggle, but ultimately we prioritized what we were hearing back from employees. 
  • Communication and Coordination - Getting the right message articulated to employees was key and to make it very clear how we were supporting hybrid work. Lots of time was spent with the employee base and on communication to ensure we captured all the feedback and our approach was all encompassing of that feedback both from employee and business. Weighing up and managing expectations was constantly a challenge. 
  • Changing employee expectations - Hybrid work has changed employee expectations around the workplace and the employee experience. Our Workplace and People Ops teams had to work together to adapt to those changes and ensure that they were meeting the needs and expectations of the employee base. This change throughout the pandemic and even now is why an iterative workforce and place strategy is critical to success going forward.

Some opportunities we found:

  • Improved employee experience - By working together we have enabled our physical work environment, remote policies and digital tools to be aligned to support the needs and preferences of the employee base. We constantly seek feedback to iterate these plans and to adapt to business change. 
  • Increased agility - As there is a close partnership between the groups the ability to coordinate and collaborate on topics is much quicker than it used to be. 


How much flexibility do you plan on or are you currently giving employees regarding where, when and how they work?

In terms of location and work arrangements, our company has implemented a 30-day work from anywhere policy (subject to local laws and regulations.) As for the specific of the when, where and how teams work, it is largely up to the discretion of the managers to choose what works best for their teams.

"There is a shift towards prioritizing outcomes over physical presence when evaluating performance."

As our platform enables digital transformation, we live and breathe the ability to be flexible but with guide rails to ensure that our culture and business goals don’t suffer and remain supported.


What does the purpose and vision for an ‘office’ look like from your perspective in the next five years?

The purpose of the office becomes an extension of work tools for the employee and business to use. It will embed health, wellbeing and sustainability at its core as this becomes a non-negotiable for businesses with seamless integrated technology to make how the employee interacts with the space seamless and user-friendly, anticipating the needs of its occupants. 

"The vision for the office is a hub for collaboration, innovation, and social interaction - a place as more people work remote or in a hybrid capacity where they come to share ideas, build relationships and collaborate face to face."

The spaces within need to be adaptable and changing to meet the needs of the employees and business. No longer is the office a monopoly, it is now a product that needs to be sold and has clear ways to show productivity gained for the business. 

An office should and always should be designed around its people. The office will need to have seamless technology integration for both hybrid working and collaboration. The sustainability will be embedded and not considered a nice to have anymore - it will need to be seen and communicated about.


What is one tip you’d give to your peers or have you learned from your peers?

I’ve always been surrounded by people with a growth mindset, so I’ve often been told to always have a growth mindset and be forever educating and improving yourself. 


Can you share one prediction for the Future of Work that you’d strongly bet on?

That outcome based performance will be a greater focus than hours spent in various places. The line between work and life will become further blurred and have both positive and negative impacts on work/lifestyle trends. 


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