• 15 min read
Hybrid work model insights from our podcast discussion with Stacey Cohen
by Haworth, Inc.
Connections made from chance run-ins. The creativity generated by in-person collaboration. The camaraderie of gathering in a place where we can share knowledge and experiences. All are things remote workers miss about the office.
In this episode of Work from Anywhere, a Haworth Connect podcast, our own Christine Gritter welcomes Marriott International’s Stacey Cohen as she shares the story of the company’s redesigned headquarters. Find out how the space embraces Marriott’s hybrid work model with a hospitality mindset, creating an office hub where people choose to be.
Christine: Hello, I'm Christine Gritter with Haworth and I am here today with Stacey Cohen, the Vice President of Workplace Management for Marriott International. We’re going to have a conversation today about what's happening in the world of work, how that's changing, and what Stacey's seeing—as Marriott's been going through this a little bit.
Stacey has a background in finance and accounting, but moved from the public accounting world to Marriott in 2000. Since then, she's gradually transitioned from finance and accounting to an operations role in real estate and workplace management. Now [she is] Vice President of Workplace Management.
Thank you, Stacey, for being here.
Stacey: Thank you.
Christine: Let's get into it a little bit. We're talking about everything that's happening. People are changing the way they're approaching work, right? One of the things we've been talking about is the fact that it's “work from anywhere” now. It’s not just the work from the office.
But, every [company is] in a different place, with where they are now. Asking people to come back. Looking at hybrid [work models]. Where exactly is Marriott, right now, on that journey?
Stacey: Our story may be a little different than others. Before the pandemic started, we were starting to build our new corporate headquarters in downtown Bethesda. With that, we started our phased move-in in July. Our associates may have stayed home a little bit longer than other companies. We weren't going to bring them back to our old headquarters to then, pick them back up a month or two later and bring them to the new headquarters. So, we started our phased move-in in July, and we actually just finished it towards the middle of August.
Christine: You were kind of in the midst of this project in Bethesda, in the midst of everything going on, huh?
Stacey: Yes. It was very interesting to do a project like this in the middle of a pandemic. What I can say is returning to the office, we have a heck of a reset button that other companies don't have—because we're coming into this brand-new, beautiful headquarters that is not where we left from.
Christine: That’s wonderful. I bet that's probably a draw for a lot of people—to want to come back into a new environment.
Stacey: It is. It's been really exciting to see everybody's reactions as they come into the office, experience it for the first time, and realize how different it is from the way that we worked at our old headquarters versus now. It's bright and light and flexible, and associates really have choices of where they can work and how they can work.
Christine: Was there anything that you saw change? Or were there any moments where you were pivoting a little bit through the planning process of this?
Stacey: Like many companies, our headcount changed during COVID, and our mindset shifted a bit. We all realized that we could work remotely. [Within] our culture previous to COVID, we were all in the office every day—or on business travel. But nobody really worked remote, and we didn't have a strong policy around that, previously. Now, we have proven that we can all work remotely. We can work hybrid.
We already had signed off for the square footage [for our space]. That gave us more ability to be flexible within the space and introduce additional concepts—additional types of seating, soft seating groups, and collaborative areas. If we had to bring everybody back in every day, maybe we wouldn't have had the room for as much of that.
Christine: That is a trend. I think we're seeing a lot of people look at the original conversation [of], “How do we shift our space? And, if everybody's not coming back in, can we shed the real estate?” Not everybody has the luxury of having a lot of that space to begin with. But, [companies are] looking at ways to bring in alternative settings and choices for everyone to kind of do that.
How did you go about that process? What was the thinking behind [figuring out] what to do—to have that flexible space?
Stacey: We did programming interviews earlier on during our project. One thing that we heard over and over—not only from our associates, but also from our leaders—is, “Yes, we need traditional workspace with workstations and offices.” But, we also wanted to give [them] choice and flexibility. [We wanted] to introduce more soft seating, introduce more collaborative groups—like this fun bleacher seating that's at the end of our workstation row. [Here], you could easily have a standup team meeting for 40 people. They can all be sitting on these bleachers. You don't have to be around a conference room table anymore.
At one point during the pandemic, we started to look at that, and said, “Okay, how can we keep the space flexible—and if we need to go back to having more workstations, we can do that easily? But for now, let's bring in some of those soft seating groupings. Let's bring in that bleacher seating and try to shift the mindset of how meetings can take place and how work can take place.”
Christine: With that in mind, what do you see? I mean, this is part of the conversation, right? What is the driver for people to come back to the office? There's been a lot of thinking on this and a lot of people saying, “If I'm just going to come back in to be on virtual calls, I'm not going to come back in.”
What do you see as the main purpose of the office throughout what's happening for you guys—now that you do have people working remote, also?
Stacey: I would say it's the collisions and the one-on-one connections.
A lot can get done. I think over the past couple years, a lot of people lost sight of those connections and how important they are. Running into your colleagues in the hall. Being able to pop into someone's office and ask that quick question, instead of having to get 20 minutes on their calendar to ask that same question, when everybody's back-to-back virtual all day.
As we built out our space, we focused on the hybrid approach everywhere. Every team room, every conference room has all the technology built in, so that we're still inclusive. If somebody is working remote, they can take part in that meeting just like anybody else around the table. But if you're in the office, we encourage everyone [to] go to the meeting room—meet in person.
Our CEO was quoted recently saying, “It's almost like a family reunion when you walk down the halls and see people, now.”
Christine: I think a lot of people have experienced that. I called ours “the first day of school.”
Christine: The first day of school every year—when you come in and see people you haven't seen in person for a while. That's been kind of interesting to see.
Were there varied options as to how you put in different meeting spaces—or different environments—based on different departments or groups? Through that programming, was there anything like that discovered? Or was it pretty universal [in] how people are working?
Stacey: It was relatively universal. I would say some groups may have wanted more large work tables—thinking of our design group, for instance, who may want to collaborate with their peers looking at finishes and samples, as opposed to the finance [team], who does a little bit more heads-down work. But, don't let them fool you. They collaborate just as much, and they need those work tables too. It was [finding] the balance [in] how much we give to each group to meet their needs.
Christine: I think of this [mindset] as being from the hospitality industry. So much of the trends we're seeing now—and even more being talked about—as people are talking about the experience of coming back to the office and people having to find other places to work.
There's a merge of residential [design] and [traditional] office [design] beginning, but there's also this sense of hospitality in the office. How does that work with Marriott? What are you guys seeing? Is there a blend now [in how] you approach offices versus other properties?
Stacey: I think there has to be a blend. I think that we'd be missing out on who we are and what our culture is if we didn't embrace that. Our headquarters—it is industrial in feel. It does have the polished concrete, the open ceiling, some raw concrete. But at the same time, there is soft seating everywhere. There are area rugs, different types of groupings, and lots of wood to warm the space up.
What we like to say as we give tours is, “We spent a lot of time putting the heart and soul of Marriott into the building. It’s not ‘just another office building.’ We want you to feel like you're at one of our properties.”
In our pantries [for example], we are embracing that feel with complimentary snacks and beverages for the associates, [so they can] take their break during the day. There [are] seats and tables in there now. You can sit, have some granola, chat with a colleague and then, be able to walk back to your space and do your work—or choose to sit there and work. It just brings a fresh approach to things, and it just makes you feel good being in the space.
Christine: That's what everybody's wanting, right? That's wonderful.
[People] may be now saying, “I'm coming in to have these collisions. I'm coming in to have these conference rooms.” But how are you addressing it if they happen to take a call with somebody that's hybrid? Are there certain areas where there's places for people to focus and do that? How does that work? That's been a big challenge for a lot of people.
Stacey: We were very thoughtful in our design. On each work floor, we have nine phone rooms. We also have dedicated focus rooms, where maybe you don't have a dedicated space, but you [can] do some heads-down time [if] you really need to concentrate. There’s also a room for two people—like a little huddle space—[where] you can sit down with [someone] in casual seating with a coffee table between you. Right now, I'm actually sitting in one of those phone rooms on one of the work floors doing this interview.
[The design has of our space has] that neighborhood feel. [So], we call the individual pods for the disciplines or departments “neighborhoods.”
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Christine: That's an interesting thing too. More and more people, I think, are starting to latch onto that kind of conversation with the neighborhoods—especially with this idea of trying to integrate more collaborative [spaces].
Tell me a little bit—What does a typical neighborhood look like for you guys?
Stacey: We have all of our offices along the core [of the building]. They are not along the window. All of the workstations are more central between the window and the offices. And then, there is scattered collaborative space between workstations [and] the windows. We don't want anybody having a workstation or an office right along a window. We want that to be a shared experience for everybody. So instead, we put soft seating along the windows in groupings for one or two [people]. You might be on a phone call, so we put [in] some high-back chairs for some privacy.
The neighborhoods are visually connected, but they are separated. We put intentional signage on the columns [to] show the discipline that [calls each neighborhood home], so you know where to find people. [It’s] simple wayfinding that worked very well. Each associate coming in has a height-adjustable desk—a sit-stand desk. We interspersed the warm wood tones with the cooler polished concrete, the grays, the carpet, and the neutrals to warm the space up and make it feel more residential.
Christine: Are there break areas within places, or are there cafeterias, like [in] the place where you want that cross-functional collaboration? Where are the amenities? Is it a destination spot? Is it supported within [the neighborhoods]?
Stacey: On each work floor, we have a pantry, which has refrigerators, microwaves, and tables, as well as complimentary snacks and beverages.
But then, [there’s] our podium—what we call our bottom four floors. That's more of our public spaces and specialty spaces. The coffee bar is actually open to the public—we have a café on the first floor that is open to the public. Anybody can come in, sit in that space, and use it as you would any other café. [On] the second floor, we have a cafeteria, which we are calling the “hot shop,” as a nod to who we are as a company.
To bring the amenities throughout the stack on the 15th floor—which is our elevator transfer floor between the high-rise and low-rise bank [of elevators]—there is a mini hub as well, with a grab-and-go market. Some foosball tables for folks to have a little fun—keep it active. A genius bar to help with tech issues. Things like that.
Christine: I bet that's a very busy spot at different points in the day.
Stacey: It is, yes!
Christine: I love the third-place conversation around having a space on your main level that is open to the public, too. Are you seeing a lot of people coming in and using that—beyond Marriott associates?
Stacey: Yeah, we definitely have some regulars that we see on a recurring basis, which is adorable. There's some families that come in. It's nice to see that they are starting their day there and then, continuing on with the rest of their day. We are still working through getting that a bit more activated and lively. It was the middle of the summer as we were moving in and now, folks are starting to settle into a routine. it's fun to see folks from the public coming in to start their morning.
Christine: What’s your favorite place to work within the office—within the building?
Stacey: I get that question more often than you’d think.
I have a couple seating groupings that I like. One thing that I do with my team, personally, is when I have my one-on-one meetings, rather than sitting in my office, I say, “Hey, let's go up to the mini hub on 15.” “Let’s go down to the lobby.” “Let's go sit in the café. I'll get you a coffee.” Folks learn by seeing others do it. As we've been in the space a little bit longer, I see more and more people starting to do that.
I would say, there is this nice wooden table up on [the 15th floor]—in that hub area—where you can grab a snack, sit down with three or four people, and have an informal meeting. That's one of my favorite places.
If I just have some heads-down work, I want to focus, or I want to just work through my to-do lists, or things like that, there is some seating down in the café. Although it's very public and it's still very open, it has a really nice comfy chair. I can sit there with my coffee on the coffee table, work on my laptop, and not get interrupted—but still feel in the middle of everything.
Christine: Yeah, that's that connection. I used to want to hide more. I was in the office to focus. Now, I keep thinking, no. If I'm here, it's because I want to be around others, even if I'm not meeting directly with them. Just the sense of being [surrounded by] the activity is something, I think, we all realized we didn't miss, until we didn't have it.
Stacey: Yes, exactly.
Christine: What do you see next? Has it changed a little bit about how you guys work? [Was] the change happening beforehand, and this is just helping get there with [those] more collaborative, spontaneous [interactions]? What do you see with that?
Stacey: I would like to think that we will continue to build our population coming in the building. It is starting to grow. We have our ribbon-cutting ceremony next week, and we have other key events coming up. But what I'd like to think is that all of those nice, soft seating areas that provide that flexibility—I can't wait to walk onto work floors and see associates using those. I got so excited the first time I saw people playing on the foosball table I was like, yes, it's working!
So, I think that we'll learn in the coming months that we all are working differently now, but that connection with people and being back in the office is important. It doesn't have to happen every day, but it needs to happen often enough that you stay connected to your peers.
That’s where I see things going—[with] people coming back a bit more often, being more present, and using those collaborative areas more, as opposed to just traditional conference rooms.
Christine: I think that's a great way to head up what we all are looking at in the future. Right? As we all are looking for more connection, more collaboration. It sounds like Marriott is set up perfectly with this new space to be able to drive that, move forward, [and]create innovation.
Stacey, I want to thank you for joining us today. Thank you for telling us all about this amazing new project and for being able to give us some time to chat.
Stacey: Absolutely! It was a pleasure to talk with you today, and I look forward to doing it again sometime.
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