The way we plan for workspace will change. It won’t be about square footage, but how many rooms, desks, or parking spots organizations will need on-demand.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Jon Fan.

Jon is the Chief Product Officer at Envoy. A former Box, IBM, and Benchling leader, Jon has spent years building products for startups, enterprises, and every size company in between. Today at Envoy he oversees the company’s product strategy, product design, and research & development efforts. He’s also taken point on executing the vision for Envoy’s workplace platform, helping third-party developers and vendors create apps that power the workplace on Envoy.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

Ilove building products that make people’s lives better. My first job out of college was as a software engineer at a security startup. It was a foundational experience that laid the groundwork for my career in Product Management and my current role as Envoy’s Chief Product Officer.

During my time at that startup, what I valued most were my interactions with customers. I was able to collaborate with them on what they needed in-person, and in their own environment. I would then work with my engineering teams on building solutions to the challenges they were facing.

I recall visiting an automotive manufacturer at their offices in Detroit and receiving very blunt but constructive feedback on a product we were building for them. They pointed out that our software didn’t support the way their teams worked together, and we discussed what needed to change. I brought that feedback back to my team, and we were able to ship a better solution that helped that company as well as many other organizations meet their security needs.

Fast-forward to today, I’m leading a product team that focuses on the most topical and relevant issue of our time: the future of the workplace. I love addressing the challenges our customers are facing in their workplaces and working to solve them with my teams.

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

Work — and the workplace — has always been and will always be about groups of people physically coming together to solve problems. Yet at the same time, the type of work we’re doing and the scope of that work will continue to rapidly shift. ChatGPT’s meteoric rise as well as the popularity of other AI-enabled software will make it easier to automate manual or repetitive processes for the workforce, freeing us up to focus on the more complex, harder-to-solve problem sets.

More short-term, machine learning will drive the way we plan and think about office utilization. As an example, organizing schedules and seating charts today takes a lot of effort, forethought, and coordination. You’re trying to figure out what you don’t know. How are people working together across departments? Which teams collaborate and when? Machine learning algorithms can help us identify those patterns that develop over time. Once you understand how people work together, you’ll be able to better predict how to set up an office optimally, without requiring a lot of manual effort or guesswork.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

As a software person, I’m definitely biased. I see how technology can help future-proof an organization. In that context, data and data fluency are key components to helping employers predict the future and plan ahead. Businesses have always collected workplace data, but not every business knows how to use its data.

Before the pandemic, the job of workplace forecasting was a lot easier. Leaders made decisions knowing most employees would be in five days a week. Now with flexible schedules, it’s difficult to know who’s in the office on any given day or how to make cost-efficient use of your resources. That is why employers need to have access to their workplace data. They also need a reliable workplace platform that makes data collection and analysis efficient, and will scale for their future needs.

For operational “future proofing,” a single source of truth for everyone and everything coming into a space is critical. Employers want to see who’s in the office and be able to predict how many desks, rooms, parking spaces, or how much food is needed. Based on this information, those in charge can make adjustments for expected (and unexpected) changes in demand.

Likewise, employees want to know who’s coming in, before they make the commute. They want to find where their colleagues are seated or book a meeting room without the usual hassle.

If your data is not accurate, accessible, timely or unified, you’ll have a hard time understanding your workplace and improving operations for a better experience.

As for a technology stack, choose something flexible that can adjust and scale to your needs over time. With an open platform that has the right technical flexibility, you can seamlessly adopt future solutions on top of your existing stack, swapping out components when they no longer serve your needs.

Finally, future-proofing isn’t just a question of technology. I find it extremely helpful to keep up with trends to see where things are heading. I also look to peers or competitors to see how they’re using or thinking about their workplaces.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

The most controversial workplace topic right now is how many days a week. I don’t even have to complete the thought here because everyone knows this is about being in the office.

It’s important for employers to be clear on the why. The reason it’s important that people are in the office is not because we want to arbitrarily check off a number of days a week. It’s because collaborative, innovative, idea-generating work that solves tough problems doesn’t often happen in isolation. Yes, you can be productive individually at home. But we’ve learned over the past three years that group productivity and group learning are essential to driving business forward. The in-person relationships people build along the way with coworkers are critical to getting work done right. Employers are trying to communicate this to their people, but are failing miserably. It’s becoming a classic collective action problem.

To reconcile this gap, leaders need to be clear about their policies and expectations. How many days are people expected to work from the office? Which days? Which functions need to be in X days a week and how do those overlap with other departments? A workplace manager will likely be onsite five days a week. Whereas, a product team might work best with a mix of options: in-office a few days a week, remote heads-down time, and travel time to meet up with customers. Those earlier in their careers or new to a company are better served coming in everyday to shadow and learn by example.

This is the next iteration of the return to the office — individual departments will implement their own policies based on what will be most impactful for the business. We’re already seeing this happen at Salesforce and Meta.

Despite some differences in expectations, employees and leaders are more aligned on the benefits of working in-person than you would think. Both groups agree that there’s power in gathering at the office a few times a week to collaborate and share. In one of our recent surveys, 76% of office workers said being in the office is good for their mental well-being. Meanwhile most leaders (94%) and employees (84%) felt that office work life provided a sense of community.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together a few years ago called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

It’s been a wild social experiment! The pandemic forced us to reassess how and where we do work, and what the outcomes of that work should be.

One thing that we can’t forget is that 60% of the workforce never left the workplace. There were employees who continued to go into work everyday to keep factories, supermarkets, restaurants, and hospitals open. Our view of the past few years is often filtered through the lens of the office worker, many of whom were ordered to shelter in place and work remotely for a time.

The data shows that for this segment, working in-office is normalizing. According to Envoy’s latest At Work report that looks at workplace trends from 2022, 82% of employees are “hybrid-first.” This means they went into the workplace at least one to three days a week. This is up from 70% in 2021. Although flexible work isn’t new, it’s certainly increased in popularity over the last few years to become the favored work model for many industries.

For a while many assumed the physical workplace was becoming obsolete — but workplaces aren’t going anywhere. More than half of workplace leaders (54%) invested more money in their offices in 2022 than in the previous year, a signal that a physical footprint remains important for team building and collaboration.

Of those that made more investments in their workplace last year, 63% of leaders said they invested in conferencing technology to improve communication between those remote and those onsite. 50% wisely invested in onsite events and programs for more engaging work environments. Even with a commercial real estate slowdown, nearly a quarter (24%) invested in real estate expansion last year.

I’m constantly thinking about how to build for today as well as future needs. Those who built worktech before the pandemic could make a fundamental assumption that the majority of people would work five days a week in the office. Now any new technology has to support variability, which changes the choices you make and the design and functionality you build. It’s a compelling challenge to develop solutions for this new focus on flexibility, office efficiency, and even employee productivity. Intentionality and coordination are the watchwords for the solutions that will power the future work.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

I’m excited to see the pace of technology steadily accelerate — even with the uncertainty of the past few years. We’re applying technology to the work itself and to the experience of those doing the work — and great innovations are coming out of this.

One last thought: The pandemic made it clear that we could work in a decentralized way. That’s because as humans, we’re pretty adaptable. But, there’s a flip side. We’ve also realized that being together is an essential component of doing good work. We’re built for face-to-face interactions and connections. Pre-pandemic, it was easier to engage and connect on a personal level when we all worked in the office. It was organic. We built touchpoints to help us develop rapport, which builds stronger relationships that help us do good cross-functional work.

Our CEO and founder Larry Gadea said it best: “We learned to adapt quickly and embrace the unknown, and, while separated in our own homes — ironically — we learned the importance of being together.”

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

It’s worth mentioning again that 76% of office workers say being in the office is good for their mental well-being. Consequently, employers should start by gathering teams in the office with the intention to do good work together. It also includes exploring what it means to be in the office and what the workplace experience should look like.

There are a lot of things we used to ask people to remember or have somewhere in the back of their mind when it came to work. We’re moving more toward technology that frees you up from worrying about the small, mundane things but at the same time, can overwhelm you with notifications and signals. We’re working on resolving those unnecessary signals to give you what you need, when you need it.

What’s important to me is designing with the intention of allowing people to disconnect. What would it look like to carve out the difference between being on the clock and off the clock?

Another strategy that’s essential is good communications. I’m a big proponent of transparency between leadership and employees. Without it, you’re up against hurdles you didn’t know existed. For instance, more than half of workers we surveyed late last year felt they didn’t have the flexibility to leave work early or run an errand during the workday. What’s surprising is that we also surveyed leaders and most were fine with their employees taking certain liberties — an errand here and an early day there. The problem is that no one talks about it.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

What these headlines suggest to me is that we’re in a period of great change and upheaval. The situation has been exacerbated by the macroeconomic climate — inflation, an impending recession, bank failures, and geopolitical instability. My advice is to brace yourselves and your people for more of the same — at least for the next few years. Big changes are going to be the constant.

We’re resettling after a major event and the way we traditionally worked is evolving. Consequently, company cultures are also shifting or being re-evaluated.

Culture is a company’s identity. The sum of its behaviors, values and practices. For tech companies and startups the idea of constant change is part of their cultural DNA. For larger corporations, usually not so much. I believe the companies that will weather this period are those that become comfortable with constant evolution — more so than they might have in the past.

At Envoy, a big part of our culture revolves around challenging the status quo. Inherent in this value is the idea that we have to be okay with rapid iteration and change. I think this makes us less vulnerable and more nimble when it comes to unforeseen challenges. Who would have guessed that a workplace platform company could pivot and see success in a pandemic?

The future of work is flexible and rapidly changing and probably will be for a while. So, how do you nurture community and culture-building through change and disruption? It starts with the belief that gathering teams together in-person is not only good for us individually, but it is good for business. At Envoy, our office-first mindset has helped us deal with change, and iterate and turn around products in record time — a pretty nice feat in this continually evolving industry.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”

1 . We’re seeing the use of workplace data increase exponentially. Faced with economic pressures, workplace leaders are feeling pressure to be good financial stewards. Most companies are maintaining some sort of office space but they’re relying on workplace data to help them use that space efficiently — size up or down — and predict changes in demand. They’re eager to get the most ROI out of their space layouts — and accurate and timely data can help measure the effectiveness of a RTO strategy or help save on capital expenditures like leases.

For example, a company out of California recently wrestled with the decision to downsize space. For six months, leaders tracked the number of employees going into the office to get a sense of the trend. Based on that data, they decided to sublet part of the office and consolidate the remaining space, which is saving them tens of thousands of dollars each month.

There’s also a defense company located in Europe that uses its data to understand the visitor process which helps it staff reception areas more effectively.

2. Employers are remembering the value of groups of people coming together in an office. They’re looking at team productivity and how work gets done as opposed to individual performance — a shift from a few years ago. In the past, managers didn’t care how work was accomplished. Now we all suspect that the relationships people build along the way with coworkers are critical to getting work done right.

3. We’re seeing a lot more technology that’s improving and personalizing the workplace experience for everyone. For example, workplace mapping is on the rise and will be ubiquitous in a few years. It’ll make it easier for us to discover things about our workplaces and to personalize our experiences while in the office.

4. The way we plan for workspace will change. It won’t be about square footage, but how many rooms, desks, or parking spots organizations will need on-demand.

5. Last of all, there’s the concept of variability. Every organization is going to be different in how they approach new models of working onsite. This variability will lead to the development of more technology that’s contextually aware of employees, their work, and where they work. It will help tailor the best experience for that employee and the people they work with.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

One life lesson that comes to mind: Listen to the people who tell you what you don’t want to hear.

It’s a good mindset to have whether you’re building products, leading a team, or just navigating your own life. On the product side in particular, it’s always difficult to work hard on something and find out later that it missed the mark. Yet listening to your users is the only way you can build a better product.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

I’m a lifelong Warriors fan. Andre Iguodala is someone that I’ve admired because he sits at the intersection of sports, entertainment, VC funding, and business.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?



Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!