Stone & Chalk’s CEO shares his thoughts on high-performing teams and future challenges

Claudia Peixoto
December 7, 2021

With one of the wildest and weirdest years coming to a close, businesses now need to focus on pushing through the silly season and into the new year. With everything appearing to return to some state of normal, leaders have the difficult task of navigating the new world of work.

Our Head of Marketing, Claudia Peixoto interviewed the new CEO of Stone & Chalk. Together, they discussed hybrid workspaces, mental health, high-performing teams, and how to prepare for the future challenges we may face.

Top 10 take-aways:

  • We’re not centred around physical places, spaces, ecosystems or community. We're centred around experiences. 
  • If you have a growth mentality versus a fixed mentality, it's going to be a lot easier to adapt.
  • Hire well and pay people what they're worth. Then you'll have culture.
  • Giving the right context is the key to high-performance.
  • Fail fast, learn, and iterate. Create that acceptance that it's OK to fail. If you're not failing, you're not pushing the boundaries.
  • Hierarchy is an inefficient way to lead or run an organisation.
  • We've learned, during the pandemic, to focus and be alert and aware of mental health issues.
  • The easiest thing on the planet is to just listen to people and what they're saying.
  • The biggest challenge is expecting “back to normal” to be a thing, because it's not.
  • Hire the whole human, use the whole human.

MICHAEL BROMLEY

CEO at Stone & Chalk

 CLAUDIA PEIXOTO

Head of Marketing at Teamgage

Claudia: Hi Michael, it’s a pleasure to have you here! Let’s start with a bit of background. So, tell me, who’s Michael Bromley?   

Michael: I'm not originally from Australia or Sydney. I was born in New York. I've been in Australia for 19 years now going on 20 and it's home. I'm an Australian citizen and married an Aussie. Have two lovely Aussie kids and one US based American daughter from my first marriage but my background is a bit varied. 

Claudia: How did you start your career? 

Michael: I started life at least in post university as an investment banker. I spent ten years in the US with the likes of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. Decided I want to get on the other side of that building wall and join some start-ups and got involved in some young and growing organisations and really fell in love with the concept of technology and emerging tech... Really more about the application of it. 

I joined some pretty innovative organisations along the way. AOL back in the US when that was really sort of the 800-pound gorilla in the online world, and I was responsible for all of the things that you could access AOL services on that weren’t a computer. So, that was a lot of fun and it really was all about emerging use cases for technology, and I think that's an interesting distinction that I'll make as I go through this discussion, but also in my role at Stone & Chalk.

That led me to another start-up and another failure, and a start-up, and another growing organisation, which you probably know is BlackBerry. Well, back then it was called Research in Motion.

Claudia: So how did you end up in the start-up world in Australia? 

Michael: Well, I spent a couple of years there [Research in Motion] and they sent me out here and that's how I came to Australia back in 2002. I opened up the Asia Pacific region and did relationships with Telstra, Singtel, Optus and Maxim and China Unicom and a few others along the way. 

From there I decided to stay in Australia and join Telstra, and from Telstra I went to the NBN and then joined another start-up and essentially, I've gone back and forth in my career between large companies and start-ups or small companies. What I found is I was looking for two things. One was a diverse background, everything from finance to operations to marketing to sales to business development and product and technology.

But I was also looking for that sort of perfect mix of what I liked about founders and start-ups, but also what I liked about corporates, and I found myself kind of in the new space of intrapreneurship and working with larger organisations to build out new capabilities and new technologies and new business models and use cases. 

Claudia: So that’s why you are perfect for Stone & Chalk!

Michael: Yeah, I think it's that background that makes me perfect frankly, for Stone & Chalk. I've been a founder. I've been in scaleups. I've been in large corporates, and I've been in between, so I think that's really kind of what attracted me when the opportunity posed itself, and I'm thrilled to be here. 

Claudia: What were your biggest personal and professional challenges during Covid19? 

Michael: I think the biggest challenge working from home during lockdowns was “how do I maintain the momentum of a business?” This is mostly pre-Stone & Chalk because I've only been at Stone & Chalk for about a month now. 

But maintaining the momentum of a business, maintaining a family life, maintaining, you know, everybody’s sanity in the house, everybody working together. 

For me, the challenge was not getting too bogged down in working all the time.  

It became quite draining because the blur between home and work was gone, the line was completely gone. It wasn't just blurred anymore. 

I found myself locked in a room. Well not locked, but I was closed off in a room in my house, working a lot. And it wore on me. I was physically and mentally exhausted. Then, at the same time, I had to lead a team and I had to make sure that they weren't going through what I was going through. 

Claudia: Tough times... a lot of people went through the same thing. What did you do? 

Michael: We had to connect a lot. We scheduled connections like everyone else, but sometimes we scheduled connections that were not were related to work at all. Just, you know, have a conversation, or have a glass of wine on a Friday and have a chat and talk about other stuff.  

So, the challenge was there but also the opportunity to connect deeper than you could have even just in passing in the hallways and an office was there. 

I also was able to find a way to make a business work and grow completely remotely. I worked at a consulting organisation, so we learned how to win business, deliver business, and maintain business without ever having met our clients. You also learn what's important at work and what's important at home so that the challenges and the opportunities are always linked.  

I found that at the beginning, the challenges overwhelmed me a bit. I'm happy to admit that. I had to find my way through, but the way to find the through was to find the opportunity and what was challenging me. If I was being challenged by something, I brought that to the team, and the team and I all worked on it together. We got closer. So, I found that the challenge brought benefits once we were able to work through them together. 

Claudia:  So now that residents are able to go back to the office, what do you see as the biggest challenge for Stone & Chalk? 

Michael: I think the nature of work has changed and I think the nature of workplaces has changed. I think that's good. It actually maps directly into where I would have taken Stone & Chalk anyway.

I don't think we’re centred around physical places or spaces or even ecosystems or community. I think we're centred around experiences. 

What I'm trying to do at Stone & Chalk is move us from this idea that we're somehow involved in selling space and desks and offices and things like that, and realise what really keeps our community coming back, and keeps our community loyal and engaged with us, isn't the physical space. It's not even the community itself. It's the experience that we create for people, and you can do that virtually just as well as you can do that in a physical space. That’s what I’ve learned from my previous role. 

Claudia: So, what’s your focus coming into this role? 

Michael: My focus coming into this role, whether there's a pandemic or not, was going to be re-focusing how we communicate our value proposition to the communities that we serve. And, the bottom line is, it's the experience of working with us that matters. It's the things that we provide access to. Yes, sometimes it's space, but its infrastructure, expertise, capability, knowledge, experience, the mentors. It's access to things that make start-ups and scaleups more successful and that can be delivered in multiple channels in multiple ways.  

The key is that delivery of those access points must be an amazing experience, because if it is, then it doesn't matter if you're in an office or if you're at home, or if you're in office a few days a week and at home a few days a week, or traveling. It's the experience that we create that matters, and so that's what we're going to be focusing on.  

I don't think we ever didn't think about that, but I think it needs to be a bigger focus now, and we're going to spend a lot of time and resources focusing on creating an amazing experience for the members of our community, whatever that might be. And over time that will change, and that's OK. But we will always focus on that experience, and I think that's going to be relevant in a post pandemic world. 

Claudia: Great. Let’s talk about the post pandemic world. What type of leaders do you think will adapt the quickest and why? 

Michael:

I think there's lots of different kinds of leadership, but it's a mentality. If you have a growth mentality versus a fixed mentality, it's going to be a lot easier for you to adapt.

Growth mentality looks for things to fail at because they're looking to grow. Then when you realise you failed at something, that's a data point. That's a boundary you've re-established now, you've moved it further and you're OK with that. You’ve learned something, you've communicated what you learned, and you move forward. 

The leaders who are afraid of failure, afraid of growth, afraid of change, or just not comfortable with it... I think they're going to struggle because it's going to be constant change.  

We don't really know yet what this all looks like. We don't even know if we're at the end of this thing yet, or if there's another variant or another curveball that's going to be thrown at us. 

I think there are a lot of growth mindset leaders out there who are just looking for new ways to find relevance to their customer base or find ways to create better experiences. And for those of us who feel that way, it's sort of an open book and in in a horrible way, it's exciting.  

It's horrible that we're finding this exciting after a pandemic, but the truth is there are few leaders out there who did this anyway and, those of us who think that way, it's not really any different for us. It's just the rest of the world is catching up to the fact that the world is constantly changing at a faster pace. It's just changing very specifically all at once right now. 

Claudia: How do you see the way leader and team interaction will change in 2022? 

Michael: I think we've already seen it over the last two years. I think people now realise you don't always have to get on a plane and go meet somebody. I think we can do what we're doing right now and have a have a video call and sometimes that's fine. 

What will come out of that really interestingly is that when you do make the effort to get on a plane or go to visit somebody, even if it's in the same city or even same town or office, it'll mean more because it's no longer just the thing you do, it's something you have to kind of make an effort to do, and there may be some regulations and requirements and hurdles and hoops you have to jump through so it does become even more important. 

I think the way people collaborate is changing because of technology and that was going to happen anyway, but it's happened faster. I think the kinds of things people will accept as ways of communication have changed and then I think that's for the better.  

Claudia: How about face to face interaction and hybrid teams? 

Michael: I hope we don't lose face to face and the personal touch completely because I think that's really critical and important. But I think in a way it's now easier because it's not that awkward to have three or four people in a room and five or six people on a video call at the same time.  

The opportunity to be more inclusive and more collaborative and more co-creative is there, through these technologies we have, and whether it's virtual whiteboards or virtual meeting space, or both. Hybridizing that with physical space, that should be a good thing. That should be a more inclusive way of collaborating and communicating. 

Claudia: True! What do you think teams will struggle with as they try to collaborate in the new year? 

Michael: It depends where you are. 

First of all, right in places like Adelaide where they really didn't go through any lockdowns and it didn't have any real change in life, it's business as usual. Places like Sydney, it's a bit of a hybrid. Places like Melbourne where people have been locked down more than anywhere else in the planet, I think there's going to be an adjustment period. 

There will be people who are less comfortable meeting face to face for a while, and I think there will be people who are, you know, really excited about meeting face to face for a while because they haven't been able to. So, it'll depend on the person and the circumstance and all of that depends on the experience you had during the lockdowns in the pandemic, and whether those are over.  

And there will be challenges, but they'll be localized challenges, and I think it's important that people recognize that. As a Sydneysider, I have to recognize that if I'm planning on being in Melbourne, there may be trepidation about meeting face to face, or there may be excitement about it.  

Claudia: What advice on team co-operation can you give to leaders?

Michael: There's a difference between collaboration, cooperation, and co-creation, and I think it's important to understand those differences. We're collaborating right now, right? Where we are working together back and forth on a set of thoughts and questions and communicating. But we're not co-creating and that's OK, that's not what this is about. 

But co-creation is more than one person getting together to formulate something new or innovative. It is an important component of building and delivering products and services and cooperation is another form of all of that. So first of all, it's understanding what the differences are and when to use them. And there are times when co-creation is not recommended, and there are times when collaboration wouldn't be recommended. I don't think that's different today than ever before. 

Claudia: So, what do you think is different? 

Michael: I think the tools that we use are different, I've had to adapt. There's always a white board somewhere within 5 feet of me, because that's how I like to communicate. I've had to learn to adapt to online whiteboards in collaboration and co-creation tools, and it took me a little while. But I did, and now I use those as reflexively as I use a whiteboard. So it's just about adapting and being open to that. 

Claudia: And how did you adapt your communication style in hybrid teams? 

Michael: As a leader, you have to recognize different people have different styles. I'm quite outgoing and gregarious. Not everybody is. It’s up to me then, if I'm facilitating something, to recognize that. 

Just because somebody is more introverted or introspective doesn't mean they're not able to communicate. 

That was brought to my attention on my previous team when I had somebody give me that feedback. I move very quickly, and I had a person on my team give me feedback to say “I don't move that quickly. I need time to digest, think and come back with an answer”. So I had to adapt my style.  

The good news is, I had a team that felt comfortable enough saying that and I was easily able to adapt. Like anything else, it's just about good communication.  

Claudia: Do you see more risks or opportunities regarding teamwork and innovation in hybrid workspaces? 

Michael: I see way more opportunities. The idea of adaptive workplaces and the idea of having the workplace work for you instead of the other way around is really important. 

I think there'll be people using the hub at home approach when they do individual work. Why would they travel if they’re just working on a pack or a paper or response? But when they want to communicate, collaborate, co-create, whatever it is, then they might come into a hub area and join their colleagues and bounce things off of each other. 

But there are also times when I happen to be in the office and I need some alone time. So the space needs to work for me for that. Or I may want to bring other people in, so having adaptable workspaces are really important to hybrid teams.

Whether you're at home or you're in a in a hub or an office type of environment, I think all workspaces will become more hybridized and more adaptable as a result.  We're looking at that for our spaces to see how it will best evolve. But I think that's always been the truth, but I think now more people will accept it and recognize it, which is an opportunity.  

Claudia: Great, Michael. Let’s move on to business culture. Who do you believe is responsible for business culture and why? 

Michael: Culture isn't anyone's responsibility. Culture is the output of humans communicating. It is what happens when people interact.  So, you cannot create culture.

You should never look at culture as a task, a program, or a project. Culture evolves organically from the environment.  

So, the environment however, does have an owner or responsibility and that comes down to two things.  

If it's a physical environment, are you creating that hybrid adaptable workspace that allows the culture you want to organically achieve to flourish? Or are you somehow stifling it?  

Secondly, if it's not a physical workspace, it's about the people you bring in.  So I spent a lot of time thinking, consulting and building on this because I'm absolutely of the view that you have to hire the culture you want. 

Claudia: It all starts with recruitment, right? 

Michael: Yeah. You have to understand the people, their levels of curiosity, communication, high performance levels, innovation, adaptability, honesty, integrity. You have to look through the core values of what's important to you as an organisation. But set expectations so people understand what the expectations and boundaries are.  

If you hire well, and you pay people what they're worth, then you'll have a culture that comes out of that. 

And the key to culture is if you hire really impressive high-performance people, then that's going to attract more impressive high-performance people. Guess what happens when you have a bunch of high-performance people learning from each other, teaching each other, being curious and creating great productivity? Well, a great culture is formed.  

Claudia: So it all comes down to the organisation's behaviours and values. 

Michael: Sure thing. It's everybody's responsibility to make sure that we are all acting and behaving in ways that are consistent with our core values. Whatever they are, tell people. But once you do it, then everybody is responsible for maintaining the integrity of that culture. 

So, if you hire well and you adapt, and you are setting the context of what the core values are, and people are, therefore, making sure that nobody is acting in a way that's inconsistent with those values, the culture will come naturally. Honestly, there's no more important part of my job in Stone & Chalk, in anywhere else I've ever been than that. And once I get that right, everything else will flow from it.  

Claudia: So how is the Stone & Chalk culture evolving to ensure that residents are empowered in the hybrid and virtual environment? 

Michael: We're going to evolve our culture by evolving who we hire and what types of people we bring in. We're going to evolve by creating that absolute laser focus on creating amazing experiences, and that's up to me to make sure that we've got a strategy in place that everyone can get behind. 

We have got customer experience strategies specifically designed for the three different types of customers. We have the members of our communities, the corporates that we work with, and the governments that we work with. So, we're going to create experience strategies for each one of those audiences.  

And then lastly, what is the employee experience that we want to design to enable those customer experiences to happen?  

All of that will then require specific talent and special focus on certain skills and capabilities. From that will come our culture.   

So our culture will evolve organically as we bring in the talent and the specific resources to augment the amazing people we already have in this place. 

But we won't be focused on changing the culture. We will be focused on creating amazing experiences for our employees, so they can create amazing experiences for our customers - and the culture will just become what it is. 

Claudia: So, let’s talk about high-performing teams now. As a leader, what do you think are the key aspects to high performance? 

Michael: It's the core values. There are nine. I've kind of described 2 but, in addition to that, if you find people who map to those core values that map to high performers, and you give them context, and don't get in their way, you have a far better chance of delivering great results.  

Giving the right context is the key to high-performance. 

I like to tell people that report to me or work with me this: the next time a smart person that you've hired does something dumb, ask yourself what context you failed to set for them. If you give a smart person the right information, they're going to generally make the right decisions. So, if they made a bad one, it's probably not their fault. It's probably yours because it's your job to set the context. 

Context is critical. I've got a concept called radical transparency that I use with all my teams. Anything I know, they'll know and, as a result, they'll make better decisions. 

Claudia: I agree, so if someone does fail, how do you deal with that? 

Michael: Interestingly enough, if I'm transparent with them and they're transparent with their teams and we make better decisions, suddenly we've got this great culture. People feel trusted, people feel engaged. They can grow and they can push the boundaries. And when they make mistakes, we treat them like data points that we didn't have. We say “OK what did we learn from that mistake?”. Communicate it because I think people forget that fail fast is still bad.

Fail fast, learn, and iterate is good. Then we create that acceptance that the culture is OK to fail in. In fact, it's kind of required because if you're not failing, you're not pushing the boundaries.

Michael: High performers always push the boundaries. High performers love to teach, they love to learn. So, you can see a high performer. In fact, you can hear a high performing team long before you see it because they're co-creating and collaborating. They're active. They're looking for other concepts and perspectives that they might not have, but they have some really good ones as well. They're imparting that on other people. So, building high performing teams it isn't just a thing, it's an ongoing evolutionary process and you have to focus on it. 

Claudia: So, do you suggest companies have a program to build high-performing teams? 

Michael: Yes. If you do not have a specific program and approach to building high performing teams, you're not building high performing teams. You can't be. In fact, we’re introducing that to our organisation in early December; an entire program for creating, identifying, rewarding, recognizing high performers.  

That has been built on those foundations: core value principles, context, not control, and the concept that everybody is a leader at some point.  

Hierarchy is an inefficient way to lead or run an organisation, so adaptable leadership or depth of leadership is a big part of that.  

Claudia:  Communication can already be hard, but how do you think it will be challenged in hybrid workspaces? Will it evolve? 

Michael: Communication is the most important thing that humans do. Full stop. Yes, it's vital to deliver transformation. It's just vital to live. 

The biggest challenges in communication in a hybrid workspace is just accepting that there are new and more digitally acceptable ways to communicate. Overall it's the same thing; empathy, understanding that some people communicate in certain ways, and some people prefer to communicate in other ways. 

Claudia: So, should communication be tailored for others? 

Michael: You know, I've read a lot of research on this, and it used to be that people thought there were people who learned better one way or another; I'm a visual learner or I’m an audible learner. The truth is, I think science currently says that you learn the same way, but you have preferences. 

So, whether or not I can learn better through listening to a lecture or learn better through watching somebody draw something on a white board, probably doesn't matter. I prefer the latter, and therefore I'm going to be more engaged and more active in my learning and more curious. So, I think it's understanding that there are different people, there are different channels of communication.

There are ways people prefer to be communicated with and there are ways people prefer to communicate to others. That's nothing new, that's empathy.

That's understanding human psychology and understanding that people matter.  It's vital to everything we do. The challenges are no different than they've ever been, in my opinion. Frankly, it's a little easier. 

People are now more willing to do a video call or a call conference call, rather than getting everybody in one room. I mean how many times this year have you been in different rooms in the same place and been on video calls with people? That's fine. Now it would have been unheard of years ago. But it's just about being more open, flexible, adaptable, growth mindset. It all keeps coming back to the same core principles.  

Claudia: How have you brought connection and wellness to a team? 

Michael: For me, the first thing was recognizing that I was struggling, and I couldn't help others until I helped myself and so I just did. 

That took a lot of forms. I got out and exercised a lot more. I lost a bunch of weight that I had gained during the lockdowns. That made me happier. That made me feel human. Made me feel better and more comfortable in my own skin, and I started interacting differently with people. I was less irritable. I was less tired. I was less, you know, angry. So, I started to recognize and look for that in other people. And again, it comes down to communication, empathy, looking at the signs. 

Claudia: So, being in contact with so many businesses, do you see others focusing on wellness? 

Michael: I think one thing that happened during the lockdowns, at least in Sydney and my teammates who are in other states, was that people started really recognizing the value and importance of mental health and that it could be an unbelievable drain on a person to be alone and without help. So a lot of organisations added employee assistance programs when they didn't have them before. 

They added some, you know, support for counselling and support for hotlines and support for other programs and activities. It's important to recognize other people could be suffering. And second of all, at businesses, mental health probably has as much impact on the productivity of your business as any other physical health issues do, if not more. They can be devastating and long term and have ripple effects on families and communities etc.  

So, I think we've learned during the pandemic to really focus and be alert and aware of mental health issues. And that's a great thing. 

Claudia: What’s your take on mental health? 

Michael: It's probably been a little bit taboo for some people to talk about it or a little bit embarrassing, but when I was struggling and needed somewhere to go, I found a counsellor. I had somebody to talk to who wasn't, you know, judging or wasn't my family or friends or office or community, and they helped me a lot and really it didn't take much. Once I was open to that help, and I think we now recognize that it's, just like how you go to a doctor when you hurt your leg or arm, you go to the doctor when you have a problem with your mental health and that's fine. 

A lot of mental health issues can be sorted and fixed and you can live with it, or they could be completely cured. I think that's a great outcome from a bad situation.  

Claudia: How can leaders empower their teams to create the future of work today? 

Michael: That's easy, watch and listen. 

Talk to people, find out what they need, what they want, what they're doing, what works for them, what makes them productive and react.  

The easiest thing on the planet is to just listen to people, what they're saying. 

Listening to how they're doing things differently and what will make their job easier. 

As a leader, hiring the right people and creating the environment where a good culture can grow is your first job. Your second job is to clear all the hurdles out of the way for those people so they can get their job done. 

If people are telling you we need more meeting rooms, listen to that. Why do they need more rooms? Get to the bottom of what's going on. Or, people are saying, “I only want to come in two or three days a week”, why? What's working for you elsewhere? Or what could be working for you better? And maybe it's fine that you come in two or three days a week, but maybe we could create something else in the office environment that emulated what was working for you elsewhere and give you that option, so you have choice. 

But again, it comes back to communication: listening and reacting and responding. Being open to growth and change and not being afraid of it. I don't know how many times we said that in this conversation, but it always comes back to the same things, and that's how you empower your teams. Just to be listened to and heard is really empowering to people.  

Claudia: How do you stop that feedback from falling into that black hole? 

Michael: That's where context and transparency come in. So, if somebody has an idea and they come to me with that idea, we all talk about it. We decide we are not going to act on that. That's fine, as long as that person understands the context of why. 

If you want people to be engaged and they come to you with a question, suggestion, or an idea and it goes into the black hole, well, you've just shut off that feedback loop and they're not going to be engaged anymore. Now that's going to impact their productivity, their sense of self being, self-worth, and you're actually making a bad business decision let alone a bad leadership decision. 

If everyone has the context, they know what we're trying to get to, why we're trying to get there, why we're going in one direction and not the other. Then they come up with an idea that they think can take you in that direction. Maybe your answer is “it's a great idea, but we have three other ideas that are actually slightly better, and here's why.” 

“Well, OK, well. Thank you for taking me on board. Thank you for being honest and transparent with me. I'll come up with another idea and see how that goes next time.” That level of engagement through context and transparency, which is part of that high performing teams of environment you're creating, that just happens. 

Claudia: Amazing. In the new year, what’s the biggest challenge to the employee experience? 

Michael: The biggest challenge is expecting things to be the way they were.  

The biggest challenge is expecting “back to normal” to be a thing, because it's not.  

I think it comes back to, once again, listening and hearing and acting on what you hear. I think that's a real risk because there are some people who do crave going back to the way things were and you have to hear that, you have to respect that. 

There might be a little bit of comfort in that for some people, but I think you also have to listen to other people who found a little bit of freedom in their voice to be able to say, “well, you know what? That really never was working for me. I did it because I had to. But now I feel like I have an option so my experience needs to change, or I will.” 

I think you're seeing in the US, with the great resignation, is that people are realizing “you know what? I'm not defined by my nine to five job which is really 8 to 9. I'm not defined by the industry I'm in or the work I do. I'm actually a whole human and I'm going to go seek a place where I can be that whole human.” 

I think that's really important and if people don't recognize that there is a change, even if it doesn't look dramatically different today or tomorrow, they're going to find out soon enough that it is different because it's different in people's heads. 

Claudia: What is a personal rule you thrive with? 

Michael: I tell my team all the time is I hire the whole human and what that means is if you're a programmer and I hire you to write software, that doesn't mean I'm going to only lock you into that skill set and you're not allowed to contribute in any other way. That's stupid of me. That's wasting the resource. 

Hire the whole human, use the whole human. 

First of all you get more productivity. You'll find often that people surprise you with skills and abilities you didn't know they had, and they might actually transition into bigger, different, or other types of roles. So my advice is listen, watch, hire the whole human, and let the whole human work. I think everyone will be in a better position as a result. 

Claudia: What do you predict for workplaces in 2022? 

Michael: We're going through an interesting shift in the market. The way we saw a shift in commerce markets with the Internet and technology. 

Go back 20-30 years. Big, large corporations like IBM, they were spending all the research and development money, building giant things and then sending them down the chain to corporates. The corporates would start to adopt and adapt and then eventually, over time, it would trickle down to consumers in the form of some version of that technology or capability. 

The Internet flat and the environment made the barriers to entry low, the enablement and access to technology high. Suddenly, what happened is the markets reversed and people were building new technology in their garage and that was starting to filter up to the big companies.  

So we've seen a flipping of that market. I think we're going to see the same thing in the in the workforce, where it used to be that employers dictated the environment, the workplace, and the nature of the social contract between workers and employers. I think that's been flipping for years with the gig economy and some of the hybrid work environments like we have. 

Claudia: Do you see employees having a bigger voice in 2022? 

Michael: Overall, I think you're going to see a very big shift flipping that environment where the control is no longer in the corporate space, the control is with the employee. 

The control is with the individual because they'll vote with their feet. 

You're seeing it in the US, and the great resignation, we're probably seeing a version of it here. People are going to vote for where they want to work and how they want to work, by choosing where and how they work. 

They won't accept a plain, vanilla standard approach to a work environment. They want it to adapt to them. They want it to be flexible. They want it to be on their terms. The truth is, there's nothing wrong with that. If you create an environment that allows that, you'll get great productivity, great loyalty, and great results. 

Claudia: So will all businesses need to shift into flexible work? 

Michael: I think that's what's coming. I think those employers and workplaces that are unwilling to adapt and have that fixed mindset are going to suffer. I think there'll be enough organisations like ours, like yours, and like others where the employee is the important part, the workplace is less important. So, let's just create the workplace that the employees actually want and make it flexible so that when that shifts, it can shift with them. 

This is what I think is coming: adaptable, flexible work environments where you can move things around. You'll see tables and desks and things on wheels, or partitions that can move. I think you'll see spaces that can act as a collaboration space one day or a quiet zone the next, if necessary. Or even a big open event space on a day or sections for different competing components the next day. 

I think that's coming in a big way and I think if we're not ready for it as employers, somebody else will be employing our current employees because they want to work in that style. They're more productive that way and happier. Why wouldn't you want to create that environment? My big prediction for the workplace starting in 2022 is that shift from control to the worker from the employer. 

ABOUT STONE & CHALK

Founded in Sydney in 2015, Stone & Chalk began as the centre of gravity for Fintech. Emerging as a serious contributor to start-up success and ecosystem building, they expanded to Melbourne to support Agtech, Medtech and deepen our footprint in Cybersecurity.  

In 2019, they expanded their community to Adelaide and have now established an Impact Network with both national and international reach across all emerging tech sectors. They are committed to catalysing commercial success for start-ups and helping scaleups export through our curated communities and flagship programs.