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Jeff Pollock

Culture Champion

Episode #95

The work “space,” building, and overall environment has a massive impact on a company’s culture. Jeff Pollock with Pollock Commercial shares with us some of his biggest projects that involved revamping the work space AND possible future trends in improving the employee experience.

Jeff Pollock

Jeff Pollock

Founder and CEO Pollock Commercial

Creative and multifaceted commercial real estate professional that assists small businesses and corporations to achieve their real estate goals. Specialties: Commercial real estate brokerage forlandlords, tenants, investors, buyers and sellers.

His Company

His Company

Pollock Commercial is an Atlanta-based boutique team of industry professionals with a uniquely personal approach to commercial real estate. Clients benefit from our knowledge of the needs of both property owners and users, and our unrivaled commitment to service.

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Full Transcript

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney, will give you, the business leaders, HR professionals, and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Josh Sweeney: Hello, my name’s Josh Sweeney, and welcome to the Epic Company Culture Podcast. Before we get started, I’d like to thank Prototype Prime for this amazing podcasting space. We are joined here today by Jeff Pollock of Pollock Commercial. Thanks for coming in, Jeff.

Jeff Pollock: Absolutely, thanks for having me. Honored to be here.

Josh Sweeney: Awesome. Well, tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.

Who is Jeff Pollock

Jeff Pollock: Sure. I’m Jeff Pollock with Pollock Commercial. We are an Atlanta-based commercial real estate firm. We have two primary business lines that we operate in. The first one is we represent business owners and entrepreneurs to help them identify and then move into new office spaces, and then we also work for landlords and help them to market their office spaces to tenants.

Josh Sweeney: Awesome. And you’re working with a lot of technology companies, I think I was told?

Jeff Pollock: Yeah, we work with a lot of different technology companies, other professional services firms, creative services firms, and just general business folks, as well. We’re highly referral-based, and we’re very fortunate to have our name passed around, and we love helping folks out.

Company Culture and “Space”

Josh Sweeney: Very cool. So we are all about company culture here, and we had a really good conversation before about company culture, and we’ve talked about it on the podcast, how space plays into company culture. So you’re the expert as far as space and what that vibe is for everybody, so I’d love to hear an experience maybe on what you’re seeing from a culture perspective on how space is playing into it for maybe technology companies. Those people really seem to be leading the charge on how their space is built out and how that’s coming along with other organizations that are outside of that.

Jeff Pollock: Sure. Well, it’s a big topic, so we’ll try to fit it all in. I would say, historically, landlords would deliver office space and they would focus on things like highway access and parking ratio and maybe glass and sort of a simplistic approach to marketing their buildings.

The Culture Change

But in the last 10 to 15 years, it’s completely changed, and now they’re much more focused on the employee experience and what amenities the property has in addition to the traditional aspects, like location, so trying to amenitize their buildings with common area spaces with fun things like bocce or corn hole areas or other things, parks so people can get outside, and then just activating their lobbies so that they’re more interesting, with coffee or more common-area spaces, as opposed to just museum quality finishes that you just kind of walk through.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. So a lot of our listeners are competing on talent, right? I think a lot of people are competing on talent nowadays. So maybe we should share with them the most extreme thing you’ve seen, like what they’re up against if they have a very antiquated office or office environment. What’s the bleeding edge of this? What’s the most extreme thing you’ve seen to date?

The Most Extreme

Jeff Pollock: Probably the most extreme project we’ve been a part of, we met an interactive marketing agency who told us on Day One of the project that they wanted to work in a spaceship.

Josh Sweeney: Okay.

Jeff Pollock: And so they-

Josh Sweeney: I mean, that’s easy enough, work in a spaceship. Common request.

Jeff Pollock: We weren’t sure how dedicated they were to this vision, but at the end of the day, they delivered a combination of Return of the Jedi meets 2001: A Space Odyssey, complete with cockpit areas, spaceship-shaped doors, starry sky, and pretty intergalactic type of setup, and video games sort of throughout, cereal bar, kegerator. Pretty epic environment, for sure. So that’s probably the most extreme.

Josh Sweeney: So that’s kind of as far as we need to go, is building a spaceship in our office.

Jeff Pollock: I think so.

Most Memorable

Josh Sweeney: Okay. Well, we’re not going to set the bar too high. Awesome. So as far as company culture is concerned, you’ve worked for a lot of other real estate agents, other organizations. What’s the most memorable culture … outside of your company, of course, what’s the most memorable culture you were at and why?

Jeff Pollock: Tough question. I might spin it and say I’ve found the companies that have created the best culture are employee-focused and they’re unique, and so they spend a lot of time surveying employees. The old model of, “Let’s locate the office by the CEO’s home or golf course or whatever,” kind of the antiquated approach, has changed to more, “Let’s map our employees’ addresses and locate more central to them,” or “Let’s map other amenities that are important to them,” and completely flipping the focus on leadership first to more culture of the employees first. I don’t know if I’m avoiding your question.

Josh Sweeney: No, that’s okay. That’s okay.

Jeff Pollock: I don’t want to single out one particular firm, but-

Josh Sweeney: Well, you don’t have to name them. We just want to know why it was memorable.

Jeff Pollock: Yeah, I mean, they-

Location Location LOCATION

Josh Sweeney: On your answer, though, around the location, I’m very familiar with the hot spots in Atlanta. You got Buckhead, you got Midtown, Spring, down near Georgia Tech. What are some of the other trends you’re seeing maybe outside of the major areas. Why are they locating in other areas? What types of areas are they locating in? How does that factor in?

Jeff Pollock: I think what’s changing in Atlanta … Atlanta is so spread out geographically, and it’s such a large metro area, and over the last 10 or 15 years, you have this resurgence of Inman Park and East Atlanta and Grant Park and sort of the Eastside. And then, of course, now Westside is exploding in West Midtown, which started really in the early 2000s and paused with the economy slowdown and is now catching back up rapidly. But I think the bigger trend is, because the city is so big and traffic is a real concern and moving around is not as easy as it always has been, you’re starting to see these more densely populated commercial nodes in areas that historically have been perceived as suburban.

Booming Outside the ATL

So downtown Alpharetta is booming right now, Duluth has a little restaurant corridor now, Dunwoody is even trying to modernize, there’s a big project that’s been announced in addition to some of the corporate headquarters in that area. And you’re seeing that really across the city, Southside, kind of around. So now you no longer have to go to the perceived hotspot. Each municipality is competing to create their own magic, if you will.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I know we’re seeing it in … we live in Suwanee, and the town center and everything that they’re doing … I know Lawrenceville is adding on. Even as far out as Grayson, I mean, they’re adding a little area. Tech Alpharetta and all the other spaces are just … they’re popping up and growing. I think people are just tired of driving.

Jeff Pollock: Yeah. And all these areas have something unique to offer, and so it’s great, and it’s great for the city. The metro area, I should say. Great for each city, individually.

The Staple

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, fantastic. So as far as space is concerned, what is one thing that is pretty much table stakes now, something you pretty much have to have or you’re seeing across the board that you probably didn’t see five or 10 years ago?

Jeff Pollock: Well, I’d say the model, historically, had been reception area, formal reception desk, maybe there’s a conference room, linear hallway, turn left or right, and then offices on glass, and then any kind of cubicle area or bullpen sort of interior. That’s pretty much been completely shifted, and so reception areas are much more like living rooms,there’s less formal … I mean, depending on the company, but generally speaking, there is a sense of arrival for the deliveries and so forth, but it’s much more living-room style, softer furniture, artwork, corporate branding, things like that.

The Conference Room

Typically, a large conference room big enough for the entire team, but instead of the private offices being on glass, most of the companies that require private offices are putting them on the interior, and hopefully there’s glass on the inside so that they get some natural light, but the bullpen spaces are now on the perimeter. So the bigger group of workers that are sitting in that sort of flexible area is benefiting more from the light in that sort of space. So it’s kind of a reverse of-

Josh Sweeney: Right, so instead of one person traditionally having this big corner office with lots of light in it helping one person, now you could fit 12 people in that same space because of high density and things like that, and they’re all getting value from it.

The Move-able Leader

Jeff Pollock: Right. And we’re also seeing culture-focused leaders coming out of their private offices, we’re seeing movable desks, sit-stand desks, project-based pods, there’s all different types of products on wheels or whatever the case may be. So the office may change based on their workload, and so you’ll see different styles of groupings. Or there might be larger conference rooms that the teams are going into, but the idea is that there’s common space that’s very flexible based on project-based work, and then they’ll have some sort of phone rooms or other private rooms so people that do need to take calls can do that.

But it’s just kind of a shift of the historical everyone’s in their office and there’s the bullpen with eight-foot cubes. You don’t see the historical cubicle styles from Office Space, the movie. Those are going away.

Josh Sweeney: Right, right, where you have to drill it and knock it over to get some light.

Out-of-the-CUBE

Jeff Pollock: I mean, they certainly still exist in certain applications, but since we’re talking about culture, and good culture, we’re seeing a lot less of the traditional cubes and more of almost residential-style finishes, woods, and metals,and … like this kind of white-type finishes where it feels a little more comfortable, as opposed to formal, generally speaking.

Josh Sweeney: So we went from a lot of these closed-off office spaces. Everybody had doors, not a lot of lighting. There’s been a huge trend in the open office plans and different work modes and workspaces. Is there something indicating where we’re going in the future with these spaces? Is there something happening now or in the last year or two where it’s like, okay, what’s … it gives you an indication of what’s next after open floor plans?

The Shift BACK

Jeff Pollock: I think we’re moving … we went from heavily private partitioned setups to maybe too open, and so we’re starting to see sort of a shift a little bit back towards some more private spaces. But as opposed to private in the sense that they’re dedicated for one particular executive, it’s just more of a space where you can go and have a private experience.

Finding the Balance

And I think that’s probably where we’re going to stay, some combination of bullpen … because, depending on the type of work that you do, there is a time to get on the phone, and if you have people next to the person on the phone, that’s distracting. So if you walk into a lot of these creative-type companies, you’ll see a lot of people with headphones, and they’re coding or they’re working on the website or whatever they’re doing, and they’re on headphones, which is sort of not the point of the collaboration space, because they’re just sort of dialed in. And so you’re trying to balance allowing people to be productive, but also creating this collaborative environment. It’s a back and forth.

Josh Sweeney: So you’re kind of seeing that the trend would be we have the closed-off office space … I would say closed and dedicated, right? So not only is it closed off, but it’s dedicated to a person or whatever it is … to we went to a little bit overly open. I’ve experienced that in some places where it’s like, is anybody selling around here?

Nobody’s ever on the phone. I don’t know how you get work done without being on the phone with clients. I know some companies that do, but most of them have to get on the phone. So this overly open space, and then now it’s more private space than we’ve had in the last few years, but instead of the dedicated aspect, now they’re flex.

Jeff Pollock: That’s exactly right.

Reinvention of the Doors

Josh Sweeney: So it’s a collaborative room, bigger, smaller, phone booth rooms. I’m seeing a lot of those. I’m seeing roll-up doors where they can just quickly expand a room or open it up to be very open, or they can close the door. What else are you seeing that helps partition things off? You mentioned rolling items. Is there any other unique ways people have partitioned rooms where it doesn’t feel like the old-school folding-door system, like in a ballroom?

Jeff Pollock: There’s sort of some reinvention of sliding doors that aren’t like the old convention hall sliding doors. They have a little character to them, or glass. And the other piece we’re seeing, there’s a lot of new loft office space that’s been delivered in the last, call it, 10 years in Atlanta. Used to be a very small segment of the market. Now it’s much larger. And a lot of these spaces are old industrial buildings that have been converted. So we have-

The Outdoor Space

Josh Sweeney: Right, so like a Studioplex or something like that?

Jeff Pollock: Yeah, like a Studioplex or Stove Works or something like that, and then there’s projects in every submarket now. But industrial buildings historically have truck doors that would roll up, so companies now are putting glass roll-up doors and then they’re building deck space.

And so we’re seeing a lot of outdoor amenitized space where an office worker could open that door and sit outside, and so kind of bringing the outside in and allowing them to just enjoy a nice day here in Atlanta, which is a lot of the year. So more companies are craving that ability to have some workspace attached to their office that’s private for them, where they can enjoy being outside.

Josh Sweeney: Awesome, awesome. So when it comes to company culture, what do you find to be your biggest challenge?

Jeff Pollock: For our particular company?

Josh Sweeney: For your company, right.

Culture Challenge to a Client Facing Team

Jeff Pollock: I think our challenge is the nature of our business is that we’re client-facing, and so our entire team is not always together at the same time, so we have to manufacture opportunities to spend time together. Just the nature of our business. So we have some regular meetings and things like that to make sure that we have a chance to connect. And we’re also a small team, so we may not have some of the same challenges that a much larger organization would have with siloed divisions and things like that.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah, so with the remote team or … “remote” may be the … distributed team and being out in the field all the time, what do you find is the best way to get together and make sure that you guys are spending time together, your team is spending time together?

Making Time

Jeff Pollock: We have a weekly meeting that we’ve adopted. It’s a lunch meeting, so everybody’s got a good reason to be there. We rotate who picks the lunch that’s delivered. And that’s just our chance to go through the projects that we’re working on.

I’m very much a player-coach, so in addition to managing the firm, I’m also handling client activity. We just need that dedicated time to all get together, collaborate. There’s times where we can help each other with information or other ideas. And then there’s some projects that we’re working on together, so we do have other meetings that we get together to collaborate on those projects.

But we use technology. I think most firms have moved to the cloud. We’re no different. We’re Google-based. We have a CRM that’s online. Our phone system is online. So everybody can function wherever they are, remote. Everybody’s got a smartphone in this day and age, so we try to leverage the technology as much as we can.

Impacts of NON-Culture

Josh Sweeney: Okay. We’ve talked a little bit about the upper end, all the cool things that are happening. What do you think the impact is to an organization that kind of doesn’t get on board with that, that doesn’t upgrade their space, that really doesn’t think it matters? What are you seeing out there and do you think the impact is to them?

Jeff Pollock: I think it’s, as much of anything, a morale situation. People that are working in these thoughtful, creative office environments … And even if they’re not a spaceship, but there’s a color scheme, or there’s artwork, or there’s other … There’s lots of ways you can enhance your space without going to the ultimate extreme.

But I think leaders that demonstrate an interest in creating a positive and upbeat environment … maybe they have their core values on the wall, to use an EO term … it gives, I think, a sense of community to the organization and tends to boost morale.

The “Dark” Space

And the alternative, to look at it more negatively, if you have a dark space, if you have old cubicles, it creates more of an isolation for the individual employees, and we tend to see just lower energy around the office, and we don’t see those companies really thriving in this environment.

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. Anything else I’ve missed about company culture and how space impacts it?

Implementing Culture

Jeff Pollock: I think it may be helpful for your audience to talk a little bit about the process and when you can start thinking about company culture. And because I think it’s a newer thought process for decision makers, a lot of times it becomes an afterthought, but it doesn’t have to be. You can approach these ideas on the front end when you’re going to look for space, and it will help inform the tour for different locations that you want to go to.

And that’s something that your broker can help on the front end to identify. We have a survey that we provide. What are the priorities that you’re looking for? And sometimes budget may dictate, or location may dictate, or size or availability. But I think just focusing on this earlier in the process, as opposed to moving into a space, maybe settling on certain things, and then trying to renovate retroactively when you’re already in the space.

Key Decisions on Office Space

Josh Sweeney: Yeah. So what are some of those key decisions? The things that come to mind for me are … traditionally, I would have gone and looked at a Class-A space, a nice building, nice entryway. And now there’s a lot of options, right? There’s the Stove Works kind of places, there’s these industrial places. Is that part of your brand or part of who you are and your people? Is it Class A? What are some of the questions that kind of lead them down this path of saying, if you want to pick a space that matches your culture and your brand and that you’re going to be able to upgrade later, what decisions do I need to make today?

Jeff Pollock: Well, I think the old definitions of Class A, B, and C are more difficult to quantify because … Class A used to be nice lobby with maybe a little gift shop or something like that, a shoeshine stand, some of these things we just don’t see anymore. The other thing that’s happening is a lot of older buildings are trying to keep up and they’re renovating, so maybe they don’t fit that historical Class A definition, but you walk into the space, and they’re beautiful. You’re surprised.

Be Clear

So it’s not so much that definition, but I think it’s more about … I mean, obviously, you want to find the location, generally speaking, and maybe you’re comparing one or two different submarkets. Some people are very clear that they don’t want to be on a parking deck, they don’t want to deal with an elevator, they want outdoor space. So these types of things will narrow your search very quickly when you’re looking at a particular submarket. And then we talk about headcount, desired layout, and then anticipated growth, which is-

Josh Sweeney: Whether you want to pay for parking in Atlanta.

Jeff Pollock: Yeah, or whether you want to pay for parking or not.

Josh Sweeney: That was a big one for us.

Jeff Pollock: Yeah, although it’s getting harder in town to find buildings with free parking. But then we like to spend a lot of time … Generally, these arrangements are three-plus years, and could be five, could be seven or longer. The longer you’re there, generally the landlord offers more in tenant improvement dollars, which goes a long way towards building this culture. So we like to work with business owners to try to forecast where do you think you’re going to be in three years, five years, seven years, and it’s difficult because they don’t have that crystal ball.

Be Thoughtful

But the more thoughtful you can be, it allows the broker and the landlord to work together to create a transaction. Maybe there’s adjacent space that you can expand into, or maybe this is going to be a temporary space while they build out a bigger space down the road. So it’s sort of trying to anticipate, in the most thoughtful way that you can, your future needs, is also very helpful.

Josh Sweeney: Got it, okay. Any other items that the listeners need to think about?

Jeff Pollock: I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered it, but of course we’re available to answer any questions, moving forward, should anybody want to dive into these topics further.

Josh Sweeney: Reach out to Jeff Pollock on LinkedIn to find out more about building your space based on your company culture when you’re looking to move, build out, grow, whatever it might be. Thank you for joining us on the Epic Company Culture Podcast.

Jeff Pollock: Thanks so much.

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Speaker 1: Thank you for tuning into today’s episode of the Epic Company Culture Podcast with Josh Sweeney. If you enjoy this content, please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts, visit epicculture.co.

If you have questions or topics you would like us to address or expand on, tweet us @epicculture1 or email at podcast@epicculture.co.

Podcast Highlights and Resources

Quotables:

  • In the last 10 to 15 years, it’s completely changed, and now they’re much more focused on the employee experience and what amenities the property has in addition to the traditional aspects.
  • I’ve found the companies that have created the best culture are employee-focused and they’re unique, and so they spend a lot of time surveying employees.
  • You’re starting to see these more densely populated commercial nodes in areas that historically have been perceived as suburban.
  • We’re also culture-focused leaders coming out of their private offices, we’re seeing movable desks, sit-stand desks, and project-based pods.
  • More companies are craving that ability to have some workspace attached to their office that’s private for them, where they can enjoy being outside.
  • Leaders that demonstrate an interest in creating a positive and upbeat environment … maybe they have their core values on the wall, to use an EO term … it gives, I think, a sense of community to the organization and tends to boost morale.

Entrepreneur Organization

Company Culture Entrepreneurs Organization

The Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) is a Global business network of 13,000+ leading entrepreneurs in 185 chapters and 58 countries. Founded in 1987 by a group of young entrepreneurs, EO enables business owners to learn from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.

We educate, we transform, we inspire and we offer invaluable resources in the form of global events, leadership-development programs, an online entrepreneur forum and executive education opportunities, among other offerings designed for personal and professional growth.

At its core, EO is a collection of like-minded entrepreneurs focused on business growth, personal development and community engagement. In addition to our mission, vision and core values, our global makeup is comprised of nearly 13,000+ individual member stories.

Prototype Prime

Prototype Prime is a 501(c)3 non-profit incubator focused on early stage software and hardware technology startups. Our mission is to provide startup companies with the support they need to launch & scale.

Funded by the City of Peachtree Corners Prototype Prime is a regional affiliate of the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech, and is located just 30 minutes north of Atlanta.

Our suburban location within a 500-acre commercial office park, adjacent to a custom- built intelligent mobility test and demonstration track, is the ideal place to envision what smart cities of the future will look like.