Humanizing Business62

Humanizing Workplace Change

Humanizing Workplace Change

June 15, 2023


The whole world is trying to figure out how we will work post-COVID. This will address how to determine the right solution for your unique company needs while managing continuous change.


Humanizing Workplace Change(PDF)



About the Speaker(s)

Sara Escobar
Global Head of Workplace and Real Estate,
Riot Games

The whole world is trying to figure out how we will work post-COVID. This will address how to determine the right solution for your unique company needs while managing continuous change.


Video Transcript


Hi, everyone. Thanks for having me.

Oh, look, my hype people are here. That was my table yesterday. I'm paying them.

Thanks for welcoming me here. I'm going to be like I was lovely introduced talking about workplace today.

So what is workplace, right?

It's the office.

Just a little topic that some of us want to talk about.

I was going to say, how many of you worked in an office primarily prior to the pandemic?

I mean, it's going to be most, right? We do have some consultants in the room, but it's going to be most.

How many of you found at least some success in working from home during the pandemic?

Yeah, I mean, pretty much everyone, right?

How many of you have been asked to come back in some form or another?

Okay, and of those, how many are resisting it?

Yeah, yeah, there's our kindred spirits, right? Tell the man. Okay.

I'm Sara Escobar. I am a workplace leader and a change facilitator. And the global head of workplace at Riot Games. I formerly held the same position at Hulu, Honey, and Netflix. Luckily, I have done a lot of work into how to manage change in something that is generally very static, the workplace. The pandemic obviously flipped workplace on its head. I also have a personality that is a self proclaimed risk taker, breaker of stuff, and really never happy with the status quo.

So my goal for the last three years has been breaker of traditional thoughts and approach to office spaces. Let's talk first about why office needs to be broken. Right?

People found a more effective way to address their needs in the pandemic, whether that be commute or avoiding biases they experience in office or preventing getting sick or providing caregiving even a dog with separation anxiety. Yes, that's my dog Rita on there. Had to have a little picture of her that was created by AI, by the way. We've all seen the mandates to return. And if that was what was best for us as humans, we may have actually followed those mandates. But we are seeing an undeniable push to realize that a full time return to office is not what's best for individuals, and it really may not be what's best for companies either. It is yet to be seen.

What I've seen from companies is fear. The office has driven success in the past. The connection to the company, the work, and the people happens in the office. They think this is what causes it, right? It's easier to "insert thing here." Even many leaders and companies saying without the office, I'll lose control, right? You know, you never had it anyway, is what I generally say to that. What I wanted to share is a little bit about how we solve this at Riot. I really am going to focus on Riot, but I ran my own consultancy before coming to Riot and have done this with just over a dozen companies. But we're really seeing some progress in the change at Riot. So I'm going to share a little bit about our story.

I'm going to start with 1-3-1, which many of you will probably say, "That's not very forward-thinking," right? 1-3-1 is a mandate. We started with the mandate. You'll notice at the top of the far side of the slide says our first try. It was not our successful try, but we launched 1-3-1 in April of 2022. Our CEO mandated it because he truly believed he was doing the right thing to approach prioritizing relationships, collaboration, connection and give ease of scheduling. Right? It was rooted in a belief that the office created those things. I think we all know the office doesn't necessarily create those things. So we rolled it out and we quickly heard this doesn't align with the work I'm doing and I'm sitting in a room and I'm talking to people on video from the office, which is obviously not the intent. We were quick to respond to the challenges. We paused it and through a range of meetings with our CEO, some great, some not so great, he was humble enough to realize we may not have gotten it right on our first try.

We realized we had two options, adjust people's habits and rituals, and I think we all know how easy that is to do or align around those rituals and other important factors. We chose the latter.

We... Click... Oh, wrong button. We chose to pursue a different path. Our new approach was called Hybrid @ Riot.

The model is centered around creating intentional moments with a mix of office and virtual work. We really took a familiar concept of framing decisions around outcomes and applied it to an unfamiliar space. Office spaces, generally very static, something that we all thought was the norm until it wasn't. The whole goal is no longer time but purpose. Our occupancy and workplace experience wanted to support Rioters doing their best work, so we had to define what do we want to see from them and really put those outcomes in place for them. We kept it simple but put them in place.

Enable us to deliver our work. Kind of a duh, but still wanted to say it. Supporting our ability to attract and retain the right talent. Also kind of a duh but a little bit of a tougher one, right? Because talent has some fear as well. They don't want to be pulled back to the office when they don't think they need to be. And then help us cultivate a culture that is uniquely Riot. This one is the one where the devil is in the details, right? So we got into the details, which I think a lot of companies haven't been brave enough to do quite yet.

Those details started to... Were all framed around being outcome-based and culture-driven. Outcome-based, what outcomes do we want? Intentional moments, flexibility within a framework, right? What is the culture? Players first, rituals that serve that culture. And then we got even more detailed. I know this slide has a lot of words on it, and some of those words that you're looking at relationships and trust, alignment, creativity, collaboration, fun and building each other up, you're probably like, "Wait, those are pretty general." We got pretty specific on them into exactly what the Riot culture is.

We are relationship-based, so much so that it's kind of tough to integrate into the Riot culture. But we value being relational over transactional and wanted to state that very, very clearly. We all know transactional relationships, easy to manage on Zoom. Truly relational relationships, almost impossible to develop completely online. And so we really got clear with our business unit leaders that they need to deepen their relationships to improve team dynamics. I trained every single one of our BU leaders individually on this framework. We called this framework the HOT Framework, hybrid operations targets. And yes, it's not lost on me that it stands for hot and Ahmed Sidky, he was part of the team. So I used to walk around being like, "We're the HOT team." He didn't love it.

But we developed these and really we're able to start to work our business unit leaders through what it really meant to be a Rioter. Alignment, seems pretty simple, right? But at Riot, alignment means debate, like sometimes literally sitting there and yelling at each other. You know, it's not really yelling. It's talking in a way that you want people to be able to hear you. That's hard to do on video without being horribly offended. Creativity and collaboration. Organically building on each other's ideas and harnessing collective strengths. Fun. This one is the one that surprised me the most when I met with all the business unit leaders. I'd say about half of them said that they forgot about fun during the pandemic. And we work for a game company. So we really realized like, that does have to be programed in this world, right? I mean, you don't want it to be programed like doing a dance party online, which yes, I have been invited to. They're weird. But making sure that fun is part of what you're programming within for your team. Then lastly, building each other up. We have gratitude for players and each other. It's hard to make friends at work when you're only online.

I started at Riot during the pandemic and it took me eight months to make a friend. It's a long time for a place where you spend most of your time, right? We then even went one level deeper, right? I know it all feels like it might be a little bit overboard, but this is what it's taking to make people understand why we're asking them to be there. Not all the time, but sometimes. So when I dive in just a little bit deeper to some of these elements, I'm only going to dive into one, building each other up. So we said how this may show up. We highlighted some principles and dimensions to consider. Rioters should come to a Riot office to experience and connect to the Riot vibe.

What is the vibe?

It's Riotness. It's energizing. It's the place, the offering, being here in person. I'm going to show you some pictures next so that you can kind of get. Its Disneyland like Riot is gamer Disneyland and we want people to be able to experience that.

Another principle, Rioters should be present in-person to support other Rioters. You know, having free time instead of doing your schedule all the way through when you're on site. I know even I have the habit of going on site and being like, I'm going have a coffee and then another coffee and then another coffee, and then I'm amped and then I'm having lunch and then... And that's not giving you the time to say, "Hey, what's up person that I haven't seen in forever. Let's connect." So it's also about confidence building, resilience, and something that I think all of us have experienced over the pandemic, mental health. Riot vibe.

This is our front lobby. This is one of our champions, Annie and her bear, Tibbers. There are statues like this and representations of champions from League of Legends, Valorant, and other games throughout the space. We really do care about being together. This is Noms, our main kitchen. It is packed every day. We have tons of indoor and outdoor meeting spaces that make you feel immersed in Runeterra, which is the land within League of Legends. This is actually our coffee shop called Bilgewater, so everyone's pretty much there every day and we really do believe in play. You could sit down in our PC bong pretty much any time of day and play and no one's going to ask you a dang question about it.

This doesn't mean that we do hybrid without guardrails, expectations, and Riot-wide rituals. Oh, I said it without stomping on my word. Guardrails. Proactively defined boundaries to ensure a consistent approach. This is things like where you can live. We are asking everyone to live in the same state as their local office while we pilot this approach and make sure that people can understand this. How we anticipate the office is going to be used. We're transitioning it from trying to be the everything to everyone to being optimized for collaboration, cohesion, and connection. Expectations are the standards we set so that we understand what great outcomes look like. We have trainings, on-site activities, all sorts of stuff. Then rituals are the practices focused on building Riot community and connectivity.

For instance, today we're doing a pause to play the entire afternoon. Everyone is supposed to be playing League of Legends. That is it. It's the job. I know, it sounds pretty cool, huh? We then bring it all together, and with those Riot-level guardrails, expectations, and rituals, we talk to our pillar leaders. Most of them put two or three events on that they want people to be on-site for. We stack our BU and studio rituals on top of that. So business unit and studio rituals on top of that, and then team rituals on top of that. We asked each different area to focus on... Each different team rather, to focus on different areas. So at the lower level, focus more on cohesion, middle on connection, top on collaboration, so that we didn't have any one team trying to do it all, right? Then making it too heavy for people to want to actually adhere to.

They all built calendars and every single member of a team within Riot received a calendar. The yellow are events that people are attending that are hybrid. They can be there in person. They can be there online. The green are events that people attend, are rituals that people attend in their home office so they don't have to fly anywhere. It's just in the office that they're at, that they're generally assigned to. Then red, we're flying everyone in. You can see and plan in advance when you're going to be there and how to make your life work with what your company is expecting of you. And those expectations are clear. We were then able to take all of that information and understand what office space we needed. What a theory, right?

My team did some amazing work with all of that data and was able to realize that we can reduce our office space at this point by at least 33%, which is in the high tens of millions of dollars a year, that we're now able to save the company on office space. We are now shifting how we use our space. Like I said, going from mainly trying to support focused work in meetings to collaboration, connection, and cohesion on site. A significant number of people have asked and are concerned about where they'll put their bag when they come in if they don't have an assigned desk. Really don't want it to be an assigned desk in the future. That's a heck of an expensive place to set your bag. We're thinking about what other types of spaces and furniture solutions can better enable connection and collaboration. Do all meetings need to take place in a conference room? Should conference rooms be used as a place to make noise or a quiet place? Right? Like people aren't necessarily thinking about this yet and enabling the right things that people need in this new future. We're in the midst of these conversations, but I'll say it's the first time in my 15 years of experience in workplace that I've seen people opting to give up their desks because they're excited about the range of possibilities.

Takeaways for you. I hope you see that there is a possibility of another way to think about offices. It's not simple. We don't just understand it. I think about workspace all day, every day and think constantly about where I want to do my work, but others don't. I ran a consultancy like I said, with a range of companies from tech, to public utilities to financial services. We did this same work where we thought about it from a people perspective and found that those that had the most success were leaning into trust, not unabashedly. Our leaders at Riot are even still struggling with suspending preconceived notions sometimes, I'm not going to lie. But recognizing we've all learned something from this pandemic and we don't need to go back to what was. If we're very clear about our outcomes, not the output, which is time, then we can trust in our team. Thank you.

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