[Webinar] Omar Ramirez at Affordances 🏢

[Webinar] Omar Ramirez at Affordances 🏢

We are back with our July Webinar Series – Experts on Employee Experience! 🎉 It is a monthly webinar series where Jade Choy, Epoch's CEO, has conversations with leaders and innovators in the employee experience and engagement space.

In case you missed it, here are some key learnings and takeaways from our July Webinar featuring Omar Ramirez, who is Founder of Affordances! Scroll on for notes! 👇

Meet Omar! 👋

Omar Ramirez has been a leader in the workplace experience space for over 13 years, devoting his time and energy to making some of the most popular tech companies great places to work. Omar started is journey in workplace experience at Google and brings experience building out internal programs at Netflix, Dropbox, Atlasssian, Miro and many more. Today, Omar is the founder of Affordances, a consulting company focused on empowering workplace and engagement teams to create the workplace of tomorrow!

Omar is passionate about helping teams create their future of work with strategic design thinking. ✨ In this Webinar, you will get insight into trends in workplace experience, strategies for building out programming from scratch, and tips and tricks to navigating what’s next for the workplace environment!

Omar is based in the Los Angeles, CA and uses he/him pronouns.💙

Webinar Topics 🎙

How did you get started in workplace experience?

By the time Omar graduated college, he had no idea what to do with this life. Having helped run dorms for his college, Omar realized he wanted to build community management. Shortly after school Omar found his way to Google New York. As he worked his way up the echelons of management, his fascination with the way people work in buildings and space management grew stronger.

How have you seen workplace evolve in terms of priorities and how people think about it? Could you talk us through how you’ve seen that emerge?

Omar has been witness to the constant evolution of the world of workplaces since his time at Google hanging up paper schedules in meeting rooms. In 2016, people were starting to talk about employee experience teams, however the pandemic really accelerated the trend of remote work and distributed workplaces. In Omar’s own words, the world saw 10 years of change happen in only 2 years. 

Now, the world of work is far more diverse, having companies adopt different models of operating. The industry has also seen a rise of new teams, including vibe teams and workplace environment teams. Omar believes that it will still be a while until those teams are more solidified into specialties.

What does workplace and employee experience mean and what are the priorities you have been seeing?

Omar sees workplace and employee experience as the total sum of experiences employees have from the moment they are recruited to the moment they leave the company. People teams, communications teams and almost all other teams have an impact on the employee experience ecosystem. Now, companies actually have to sit down and think about how to approach their employee experience. In person, there was a natural culture and progression that would happen at every company. Companies would scale to a second city, scale to a third city and continue to grow along a very linear path. 

Omar has observed that many companies still have a desire to return to the past, as if nothing has changed since 2019. Companies are trying to bring employees back into the office, because they simply don’t have the time or resources to develop a concrete employee experience.

Executives are demanding people back in the office. How would you advise teams to navigate this?

Omar suggests that those with a high status within the company should give feedback to executives if possible. If this is out of the question consider asking team managers the “why” behind decisions. 

“Why are we throwing a happy hour? Well we want people in the office. Why do we want people in the office? Well because we want people at the company to get together. Why do we want people to get together? We want them to build culture by forming bonds. Why does this have to happen in the office?” 

Omar believes it is much more important to meet people where they are and create events that feel attractive to them. He says that attracting people to the office without a purpose will not net out in a good outcome; you have to give people a reason to gather.

A lot of companies are redesigning their office spaces to draw more employees into the office. What are some frameworks or examples of people having a strong purpose to gather people in office for an event or program?

Omar believes that office on-sites or off-sites are a great way to achieve this. He has witnessed companies attaching after hour events to QBR presentations, which results in people gathering to complete work but also having the opportunity to socialize with one another. As very few companies nowadays work the full five days in the office, these kinds of events encourage employees to come into the office, not only to work collaboratively but to enjoy social time as well. 

What are the biggest trends you are seeing in workplace experience?

To Omar, the trend of diversification of spaces as well as the creation of new and different spaces has been very exciting. He has seen companies gather people in places that might be seen as throwbacks to their earlier days. He sees companies doing their off-sites in retreat spaces rather than office spaces, in order to centralize people in a non-traditional office imbedded in their culture.

 

Furthermore, he has seen a desire for time flexibility become more pronounced as we move towards a potential recession. This is becoming a higher rather than a lower demand over time, which is contrary to what people believed regarding how we view flexibility, moving into a different stage of the recession.

In terms of flexibility and gathering, how do workplace and experience teams meet employees where they are? How would you approach stakeholder buy-in and understand what people want when starting from scratch?

Omar is a heavy advocate of the design thinking process, which involves five stages:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

During the empathize phase, Omar strongly emphasizes thinking about the end user and co-creating with the user. However, the most important parts of this process are the prototyping and testing phases. Omar suggests doing small scale versions of events, where feedback can be easily translatable to improving the actual events. If companies can slow down in their testing process and really take the time to refine their events, it can help them speed up later. Omar suggests using this feedback and constant iteration on a smaller scale to guide your planning.

Omar also notices that some people might not want to go to events, and that is okay. Some employees might refuse to take part in both virtual and in-office events. Despite these challenges, you can still try to find the right solution for each person; Omar admits that this can be a challenge at times, as you’re likely trying to reach the most people possible.

You mentioned assessing and iterating fast on events. How have you seen this be successful? What should people be looking at? What should people be analyzing? How do we then make decision on how to make our events or programs better?

Omar emphasizes the value of sending surveys and follow-ups after an event. Not every person will attend all of the company’s events, so it’s important to get unique feedback from each individual event. He suggests having trusted stakeholders who attend the events to give in-person vocal feedback, as it is often the case that what people put down in a survey isn’t always how they actually feel. 

Many companies are opening offices across the world and trying to find ways of connecting those employees. At large scale companies, what should teams consider when connecting global employees and new employees?

To Omar, culture is one of the biggest challenges for any company. Oftentimes, there will be an overall company culture and then culture on a more regional scale. Omar emphasizes the importance of understanding the user and demographic, especially understanding local nuances. For example, there are some regions where people don’t drink alcohol or can’t stay in the office past 5pm. 

He suggests taking the first step by getting user feedback locally by talking to the office manager for that country's office, but also going beyond by talking to the people that report to that manager and the multiple employees in those offices. 

It is important to acknowledge that when scaling company culture, culture will change overtime depending on the people that are hired and the countries that are expanded to. Each expansion will shift the company culture a little bit, which can bring diversity of thoughts, events, and culture. 

From your experience, what are some of the challenges you’ve seen companies at different scales tackle right now, or are they all similar?

Companies scale in a very similar fashion and that scaling companies of different sizes all go through similar trials. The common theme that Omar has noticed, is scaling culture is hard and scaling practices and habits is even harder. The biggest thing is thinking about the scalability of everything and not just business practices. 

Do you have any recommendations and advice on how to get employees engaged with having no budget?

Omar states that if you aren’t getting the budget and support you need and you’re being asked to do the impossible, sometimes it's okay to find a new job. Engaging employees with social hours and simple things is easy when you're a small company. But if you’re in a medium sized company and asked to engage employees, that is a very hard task. If you’re a part of an office of 20 people, you can easily do things with no budget. When you get to a medium or large scale company, events require some funding in order to get people together in larger groups, and if you aren’t getting that support, it makes sense to look for a different place that supports you and the work you do. 

When you are advising companies that are hesitant to invest in employee engagement, what are the big arguments and value propositions that you would present to convince people to invest more?

Research has shown over time that employees that are engaged are more productive. There is a ton of data online, if you do your research and Omar always presents information that explains “this is how it actually works”. If you engage your employees and improve employee experience, you’re going to get an ROI on that through retention and attraction of new employees. Omar states that If companies aren’t forward thinking and in a place where they are wanting to move towards that future, he isn’t working with them. 

What are your top ways of measuring employee engagement, besides attendance? How are you judging the ROI of these programs?

Omar believes that there is a difference between engagement and sentiment. Engagement is a long term measurement, like “are you engaged in this event?” is probably not an effective question compared to the sentiment of “how did you feel about this event?” Asking the right questions in order to receive the right measures of events and programs. Measuring the ROI of programs is wildly defined and dependent upon what type of program you’re talking about. 

What are some better questions to ask employees when thinking about planning a program or even after an event?

Omar states that the questions depend on the type of event, but you can research questions to ask that are open-ended and do not lead anyone to a particular conclusion. Typically if you ask somebody too many questions, they shut down. Research shows that between 5-7 questions is when people tend to skip over questions. Understanding the science behind surveys and how to write better surveys is critical. 

Any recommendations for best tools to help with things outside of attendance rates and surveys? 

Automating surveys and making it easier for yourself is definitely critical, but figuring out where and how to engage employees and to find out where they are having these conversations and maybe even giving them a forum is the best thing to do. Focus groups are another great tool to help you understand who your power users are or who your audience is. 

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