NOVEMBER 15, 2017
Episode 2 – RAD Office Tour
Royal Frasier from RAD Office Tour
Office culture is more than just ping pong tables and team building. Creating a RAD office culture begins with design. Today, we talk with Royal Frasier, a founder of RAD Office Tour, about how Austin businesses are leading the charge by developing unique office spaces that support and encourage unique company cultures.
Read the Transcript
Matt McDonnell (00:00):
Welcome to “Change the Rules” podcast. We’re recording at Chez Boom studio in Austin, Texas, and in the studio today, we have Dan Graham, founder of Notley and Royal Frasier with the RAD Office Tour. So Royal, I’d like… Maybe we can start and you could just introduce yourself as well as RAD Office Tour.
Royal Frasier (00:17):
Absolutely. So I’m the co-founder and executive director of the RAD Office Tour. We’re the first of its kind office design tour, showcasing incredible and diverse corporate cultures rooted in workplace design right here in Austin, Texas. Just to tell you a little bit more about our company, we were founded in 2015 with founding partners Entrepreneurial Foundation of Central Texas and the Culturati Summit. Our mission is to educate Austin’s business community around culture building strategies, rooted in workplace design.
Matt McDonnell (00:48):
Great. And so Royal, before we got started this morning, you were telling me a little bit more about your journey to the RAD Office Tour. I’m just wondering if you can give us a little bit more information about why you started this and why you think that this is such an interesting project.
Royal Frasier (01:01):
Yeah, absolutely. So I started thinking a lot about how companies work and how teams operate and collaborate really as a marketer, working with a lot of early stage companieshe first part of my career from 2009 to 2015 and what I saw was a lot of startup entrepreneurs- not to say haggling together= but just kind of putting together solutions in their workplace without putting a lot of thought into how those teams actually operated, how they communicated, what the circulation of actual physical space in the office could do to spark new ideas and bring innovation to those companies. So I left the startup world and entered into the design and architecture world in 2013 and really studied how design affects how we work, how we collaborate, how we communicate. And I saw an opportunity to bring that to everyone here in Austin with the RAD Office Tour. And we founded that in 2015 to really showcase the business community and give them an opportunity to learn from one another and who’s doing culture and workplace design really well.
Dan Graham (02:08):
I do want to jump in just real quick, our, our host, Matt McDonnell, forgot to introduce himself, but he’s the Managing Partner at Notley and he’s leading the discussion with Royal today. And I’m really curious- you said you’ve been doing this since 2015, just to do a quick shout out- what’s the coolest office you’ve seen.
Royal Frasier (02:27):
Oh, that’s a great [question.] I really love Preacher. I don’t know if anyone’s familiar with them out there, but they have a fantastic company and workplace- they actually have a cabin inside their workplace. And they’re a marketing-
Dan Graham (02:38):
Royal Frasier (02:40):
I know! It’s a great question. They really, if it embodies their brand is all I have to say.
Dan Graham (02:49):
What does Preacher do?
Royal Frasier (02:49):
They’re an advertising and marketing firm. They work with companies like CB2 and different big consumer brands, and they just have their, their… Their motto is preach the good word. And so they have this kind of, you know, Southern Baptist feeling and their whole office space. They actually have a, a room that looks- their conference room looks like a Southern Baptist church. And so they’ve just embodied their brand. And they really took it to kind of a fun place that they all appreciate as designers and advertisers and people that are really creative. That’s a great one. The other one I really love that’s actually on our tour is Favor. I took a tour of their new space, which is very close to where we are today. And they have an amazing way- they actually have an in-house creative team that did all of the design. And each of their workspaces- their private rooms are all named after famous personal assistants. So they have one named after Siri. They have one named after Jeeves and Money Penny, and it’s really just clever how they’ve incorporated their brand into their workspace.
Dan Graham (03:54):
Oh, that’s cool. And you said it was an in-house team. And do you see that being more typical or less typical than hiring an outside architect or interior designer?
Royal Frasier (04:03):
I’d say it’s 50/50, and you’ll see that on the tour as well. And some spaces actually- they didn’t have the capital to do a full build out and design and work with a company like an architecture interior design company. And so they did it all themselves and brought in the team and built offices. Favor has a really unique feeling because they have this really dedicated creative team, which is unusual. And you don’t see that very often. So they have, you know, world-class graphic designers doing murals in their office that are also doing all of their creative for the business as well.
Matt McDonnell (04:36):
So when, when we think about office design, I think that thepurpose of it is to create a good office culture, or at least to help foster an environment where a good culture can emerge. And so I’m just curious if you can maybe talk a little bit more about the specifics, right? How did these good designs that you see in places like Preacher and in places like Favor actually encourage a company culture? Like how does that really actually work in practice?
Royal Frasier (05:02):
Yeah, that’s a great question. We see a lot of the values being written on walls. I think that’s something that we all kind of have seen or come across as you walk in into any office, but it’s really a connective thread through all of the spaces and really all of the great company cultures I’ve seen. And I think it’s just that visual reminder of “We’re actually living and breathing this culture, and we’re going to put that message on our wall and it’s going to become a part of ourselves. It’s going to engage our employees around these values. It’s going to share that mission really physically and, and visually in the office space.”
Dan Graham (05:37):
No, I think it’s every good CEO knows… once you get your missions and values up on the wall, then you’re done.
Royal Frasier (05:43):
Yeah, yeah. Right. It’s as easy as that, just put them on the wall and walk away. You know… That’s a good point. It is kind of the first step beyond that though, we’re actually seeing a lot of companies think about things that are maybe a little bit more sophisticated, like circulation in an office. So actually how people are physically moving through the space and how that can create opportunities for different people from different departments or working on different projects to come together and spark completely new ideas. And so, you know, going back to Favor, they’ve done a really interesting thing with their office. They have a fully open office design, but they have it separated out into little department areas throughout the office, but they have this program called the intrepreneuralship program, which is a mouthful, but what that does is it encourages people from different departments to actually apply for this intrepreneuralship program and they join another department for a month and they see what that department’s doing, and they learn that new skill set. And then if they want to join and stay with that department, they can. And so they’re actually moving in physical space, but they’re also gaining new skills, changing their career path; maybe they’re also learning a new pathway and coming across new people in the company by just physically moving in the space.
Matt McDonnell (07:04):
Yeah. And is that a trend that you’re seeing in other workplaces or- what are some of the trends that you’re actually noticing across a number of these different offices?
Royal Frasier (07:13):
Yeah, I’m seeing a lot, and this is kind of a conversation happening in workplace design generally is activity-based workspaces. So we’ve kind of started in the mid 2010 period- 2010, 2011- talking about open office plans. And there was a lot of flack for that in the industry because of noise and distraction. But what we’re seeing now is companies kind of going back towards this- what’s called an activity-based plan. And so you have spaces for focus work, you have spaces dedicated to collaboration. You have spaces just for tinkering and prototyping. There’s a lot of spaces on the tour that actually have whole model shops with 3D printers and projects that the teams are working on that are actually required for physical hands-on, you know, manipulation of things. And so we’re seeing a lot of these different activities pop up within these companies and they’re using their space to provoke new ideas, to engage with each other in different ways instead of just having, “Okay, everyone’s at a desk and they’re just scattered throughout the space.”
Matt McDonnell (08:16):
Yeah. And, you know, we operate a coworking space called Owens Garage on 13th and Comal. And one of the things that we talk about a lot is- you’ll see these times during the day where there’s nobody in the office, right? And they’re, you know, they’re off doing either meetings or working from home. And so I think we’ve noticed this trend as well, where, you know, there’s really much more of a push towards a work life integration. And that that’s a lot more of what offices have to do these days. So I’m also curious- we also talk a lot about some of the challenges… Things like open office concepts or co-working spaces. So are, you know, are these design changes really making employees lives better in your experience? And, and how does that contribute to like retention for example?
Royal Frasier (08:57):
Yeah. so far what we’ve seen in our research and in talking to all the companies on the tour, and even before that, is that the employees themselves are generally much happier. They’re much more engaged. They are likely to stay with you longer. I wish I had that data to prove that point. And I think that’s kind of what a part of the bigger vision for RAD is to really see how this impacts companies over the long haul. I think a lot of people want to answer that question. But what we are seeing is that companies that really do invest in their people they invest in their people, in their employees, families- they create, you know, whether they have a very kid friendly company, or whether they have a culture that has a unique perspective, if they’re going to bring those values into the workplace, then those people will invest in them, stay with them longer. And so we are starting to see that behavior.
Matt McDonnell (09:50):
Got it. And, you know, Dan- Royal’s talked a couple of times about collaboration, and I think that we hear this a lot in workplace design these days. And so we’ve been working on the Center for Social Innovation for some time now. And collaboration is, I would say, if not one of, perhaps THE purpose with that project. And so I was just curious if you could tell us a little bit more about how the approach to designing the CSI is meant to encourage collaboration and also who’s there? What types of collaboration are you interested in seeing?
Dan Graham (10:20):
Yeah… The idea behind the Center for Social Innovation, or even a coworking space, or even an open kind of floor plan within an office, is this idea that the density of people and interactions and density of ideas, leads to innovation, leads to the ability to learn and grow from each other. And the best ideas are rarely coming from within your own department or your own company or your own building. And so… How do you encourage this through design thinking the flow of people and the density and collaboration and collisions of people in a way that produces better ideas, more innovation. And so,you know, depending on what scale you’re talking about, I know at Build-A-Sign, we have a very open floor plan, as well, for that very purpose and have seen huge benefits from that, from productivity, as well as just culture boost, morale boost, things like that. And at the Center for Social Innovation, kind of taking that to another level where instead of one building with an open floor plan, we have 15 buildings with, you know, a hundred organizations that are all various sizes that are being pulled together through events, space, shared programming, the coffee shop, the bar, the restaurants, outdoor seating, outdoor amphitheater, and just doing whatever we can to make sure that those organizations are interacting. But the idea is the same between that large campus feel and the goals of collaboration there and an open office floor plan and the ideas for collaboration within a specific organization or company.
Matt McDonnell (11:53):
Yeah. And I think that brings up a really important point, which is that, you know, so far in this conversation, we’ve really been focused on the physical space when we talk about design. And I think that there’s much more to it than that, right. Oftentimes in the real estate world, people talk about it as programming. And so I’m just curious, Royal, what beyond just the physical space do you think is, is really important to get right in terms of design, so that you have some of these outcomes that you described?
Dan Graham (12:19):
Really well-designed ping pong tables-
Matt McDonnell (12:21):
And then you’re done.
Royal Frasier (12:25):
The future of ping pong tables…
Dan Graham (12:26):
Yeah, what percent of the companies that are on the tour have a ping pong table?
Royal Frasier (12:28):
Actually only one. Yeah. And we kind of did that by design.
Dan Graham (12:32):
They’re more foozeball players?
Royal Frasier (12:32):
To be honest, we wanted to get away from talking purely about the well-known kitschy amenities. Not a lot of spaces have kegs or ping pong tables, or [rather] we didn’t want that just to be, “Oh, I’m, I’m checking my culture box. I put my values on the wall and I got a ping pong table. I’m done.” And sorry, Matt, can you repeat your question. Dan totally distracted me.
Matt McDonnell (13:02):
Well, I was mostly curious just to… understand how the design beyond just the physical space, right- so we’re not just talking about four walls, but you mentioned designing interactions and circulation. So I’m just curious what, you know, when you think about design beyond the physical, what do you really need to get right there for those outcomes to actually happen?
Royal Frasier (13:21):
Yeah, I think it’s hiring. Hiring by design is also, it’s something that really is the root of your culture. If you’re hiring well, and then you have a space that supports the people that you’re hiring, then you have both sides of the equation really figured out, and then you’re just kind of tinkering and getting even greater gains from your team, from your business. And you’re really investing in your people at that point because you know, what kind of culture that they’re responding well to; you’ve developed something that you’ve learned over time through interacting with those team members. And then now the space is all about supporting them. And so I think a lot of the companies I talked to were thinking a lot about diversity across their team- how to get people with different backgrounds working well together. And so that was all, “Okay, how can the workplace support that?” But really it starts with how are you hiring? And so I think you have to think of… You know, I’m not a hiring expert… And every company has their own journey and their own focus, but I think that’s something really across every company we talked to, we heard loud and clear was just how are we hiring and how are the people that we hire really supporting the culture that we’ve developed?
Dan Graham (14:40):
One of my favorite stories around that topic is from Tony Hsieh’s book where he’s giving a tour through Zappos and the, you know, the, the person that he’s touring, he’s like, “Tony, I don’t understand- like everyone is happy. Like they’re all smiling. How does it that you have gotten such a great culture here? And he’s like, “Oh, that’s easy. We only hire people who smile.” And so I think that kind of highlights the importance of that hiring to fit your culture. And a lot of it isn’t taking some random person in your organization and then, you know, in inculcating your culture into them, it’s more, you know, finding people who already fit the culture.
Royal Frasier (15:15):
Absolutely. Yeah. One of the places on the tour that I really respect for their approach is Gas Pedal. And I don’t know if a lot of people are familiar with them. They’re kind of a community building platform. They’re way out in Springdale, but people you have to go out there because it is amazing what they’ve built. And they will, you know, they have just a strict policy on hiring and I don’t mean that in a negative way, they just know themselves so well; they know who’s going to work in their culture. They know who’s going to perform well in their business. And they know who’s also just going to get the most out of it. And typically it’s people that have strong roots with their family. They want to bring their kids to work, or they need to bring their kids to work. They maybe are a little bit more kooby and quirky. They even described themselves that way on their website. So it’s just thinking about your- just really knowing yourself as a business and then knowing how to find your people in the hiring process and then how that workspace is going to support those people.
Matt McDonnell (16:13):
Yeah. And so we’ve talked a lot about culture at this point. And so I want to, I want to just push you guys a little bit. And what do you mean when you say culture?
Royal Frasier (16:23):
Do you wanna answer that, Dan?
Dan Graham (16:24):
Yeah. Well, I think, you know, the culture is… A person has a personality and a business has a culture and it’s sort of the set of behaviors and the ethos of interaction and the… shared goal or mission is of the organization, all coming together into kind of that- into that personality… and culture can kind of derail all the productivity and all the mission-based decision-making, if it’s not aligned across all the organizations, departments, and people and individuals within the company. And I think one of the best practices that I’ve heard is that when you’re making a new hire, actually, you know, that you’re hiring them probably for some sort of technical proficiency in some area… But rather than interviewing them for that technical proficiency first, have a group interview them for culture first. And maybe that group doesn’t even understand what the technical proficiency needs to be, but if they don’t pass that culture interview, then you don’t hire them. A lot of times, if they ACE the technical proficiency, then you’ll make excuses for them or rationalize away maybe a culture fit that’s not ideal. And you end up with someone in your organization that over the long term, becomes kind of a thorn in the culture of the organization.
Royal Frasier (17:31):
Yeah. So I really agree with what Dan said. It’s all about the personality of the business. That’s really how we think of culture too, and it’s unique to every business. So it can come down- it can be top down from the founders of the business and the culture that they developed from day one, or can be- it’s something that’s constantly evolving. No matter what I think, though, even if it’s coming straight from the ground up and it’s really employee led culture, there’s kind of two dynamics that are happening. And I think ultimately it’s just in the personality of the people, the values of the business and how those things evolve over time.
Matt McDonnell (18:11):
Yeah. You know, when I was thinking about this… Just getting ready for this conversation, the thing that I noticed you know, in just sort of the planning phase was that when you read a biography within that first sentence, you almost always find out where that person’s from. And you guys have both used [the word] “personality” and with businesses, we really aren’t in the habit of thinking of them in that way. There are a couple of businesses that we really closely identify with a place, but it’s usually a city or a geography. So I think it’s an interesting point to think about it as a, a personality, right? And that place really is part of the story and part of what creates the business that will ultimately, you know, grow and change people and I think that design piece that you’re talking about Royal is really interesting. And so, from a personality perspective, I find myself just thinking, as you’re talking, I keep going back to the description of the Preacher office. I’m like, “Oh, wait a sec, a cabin in the middle of the building, like a religious kind of theme under an undercurrent in the business. Like, what is the personality of that business? And it’s just so, you know, you almost just need to walk through it, I guess, to get the full impact of what is this company all about. And so much of it’s going to come from seeing the environment.
Royal Frasier (19:21):
Yeah, it’s so true. You can go to these people’s websites and you’ll get a sense for their design perspective maybe, or the values that they hold dear as a company. But until you walk through a company space, it’s hard for it to really come to life. With the Preacher example… they’re hard bunch to really peg down on personality, but they’re all super creative. Maybe lean a little towards the hipster side, I’ll say, but I think that they would appreciate that.
Dan Graham (19:50):
Royal Frasier (19:50):
Hipster Puritans. That is how I would describe it. But they’re [a] very interesting team. And one of the more unique personalities, you know and cultures that I think I’ve seen in Austin… and you find really everyone in every company. You’re walking in just a random door off of, you know, Congress Avenue. You don’t really know what you’re going to find behind that door and.. you know, Preacher’s space is on… near Congress Avenue. And it’s, it’s just insane when you walk in and you’re totally transported into their world and the design inspirations that really get them doing their best work.
Dan Graham (20:33):
Can Lisa and I find their cabin on Airbnb?
Royal Frasier (20:37):
I’ll ask them about that.
Matt McDonnell (20:40):
There’s also a bird house in HomeAway too, if you’re looking for a place, if that’s not available.
Dan Graham (20:44):
That’s the one right next to the window?
Matt McDonnell (20:46):
Dan Graham (20:47):
Yeah. That’s too public.
Matt McDonnell (20:50):
You know… what are the things… we talk about the CSI is really a place-making activity and that’s really what we’re up to. And I think that some of the language that you guys have both used is- has really kind of brought that concept up for me in talking about some of these other offices. And so, you know, when, when I think about… creating a place, right, I often think of… a childhood memory or something like that that you have, or, you know, you could describe to somebody your favorite swing under an oak tree, right, but until you go there- having that that emotional resonance, right- you don’t really see it. And so are you saying that a lot of times with these office spaces, what they’re really sort of doing is, is kind of creating that place to develop an identity, to sort of say, who does and doesn’t belong- in terms of [as] a member of that team?
Royal Frasier (21:39):
Yeah, definitely. We’re seeing that a lot actually. And it’s, it’s unique because you learn so much about who these people are by how they how they outfit their space physically, and also just the art on the walls. And when you meet them, it’s not a surprise after you’ve seen the space. Some of the examples are- Kammok is a local business on East Seventh Street, and they do upcycled camp hammocks for camping. And one of the interesting thing about them is they’re a small business. They couldn’t afford to have bring in an architecture firm or tear and design firm, but they’re very hands-on and they actually make physical products. And so they made all of their desks in their space and they’re beautiful. They don’t look just like, you know, we went and bought some doors and put them on some pegs of wood. And while our desks are made, they’re gorgeous. And so we’re seeing a lot… And I think if you’re, if you’re walking into Kammok and you’re applying for a job, or you want to engage with this company, you learn so much about them. Once you walk in and you realize, Oh, this was all custom-built by these team members of, you know, 14 people. And they’re a small company. And they just, they completely evoke their whole personality again, just to go back to that, but it’s just comes through and through in their space.
Matt McDonnell (22:57):
Yeah. One of the other things that’s neat about their space is that it’s also- it’s retail slash events slash corporate headquarters. And it’s funny, you could walk in there thinking you’re going to go look in a tent and maybe end up deciding that you want to apply for a job. Right. And I think that’s one of those things that offices can also be used for if they’re designed well- is not just to say you, you know, this is the type of person that we don’t want, but also drawing in the folks that, you know, just by interacting with that space might get really excited about the business. Yeah. So Royal, can you tell us a little bit about the office tour- the RAD tour and what the plan is, how to get involved? How do I go?
Royal Frasier (23:34):
How do you go? Yeah, that’s a great question. So go to RadOfficeTour.com and you can get tickets through the website and you can also just learn more about the tour, in general. We have eleven amazing spaces from Bumble, Favor, Kammok, Atlassian, a lot more… Conde Nast Co-lab- that space is very, very unique, as well. So we have 11 really amazing spaces that you can tour on Saturday, November 4th. And you can buy tickets day of, or you can get them this week. We’re just, we’re excited to kind of showcase the cultures and companies that are in Austin that are really thinking meaningfully about culture. And so we hope you guys will join us.
Dan Graham (24:15):
Will he CEO’s or the owners be there? Who’s going to be kind of showing off these spaces?
Royal Frasier (24:20):
Yeah. there will be representatives from each of the companies there, and oftentimes there’s going to be one of the design representatives too, that helped actually design and develop the space itself. So you can learn a lot. If they’re not there, we have an amazing amount of content throughout the spaces… We’re offering a digital guide on our website, radofficetour.com. They’ll be available on November 4th. And then also there’ll be signage throughout each of the spaces that really tells the story. So we’re really focused on educating, exposure, explaining… the story behind the spaces. So you’re not just walking through them and having to determine it for yourself. You’re actually learning something along the way that you can apply to your business, you know, the minute you get back.
Dan Graham (25:02):
Well, I really look forward to having the Center for Social Innovation on the tour after we open and also for you’ll find out about the Airbnb for me. Yes.
Royal Frasier (25:11):
Matt McDonnell (25:13):
And Dan, you mentioned the Center for Social Innovation being on the tour. The last couple of questions that I had- can you just tell folks, what is the Center for Social Innovation? Where is it and how do folks get involved?
Dan Graham (25:23):
Yeah, the Center for Social Innovation is a campus, a 10 acre, 15 building campus. That’s at Springdale and Airport Boulevard on the East side of Austin. And it will have everything from a co-working space to event space, shared office space, full office space, a Cafe Medici, bar, restaurants, outdoor meeting space, programming. And it’s really geared toward organizations that are deeply engaged in kind of this ecosystem for social innovation. So the place where nonprofit meets business- we’ll have lots of innovative non-profits as tenants and co-locating there, as well as for-profit social enterprises and the companies that support them. And we’ll be doing round the clock programming and educational opportunities to support that ecosystem. And so it should be really exciting. It’s currently scheduled to be open… early summer of 2018. And as of now, everything is on track and we are leasing up very, very, very quickly- ahead of schedule. If you are interested, please reach out right away. But it’s an exciting project, lots of excitement around it, lots of enthusiasm. And it should be a lot of fun.
Matt McDonnell (26:34):
Great. so we’d like to think Royal Frasier from Rad Office Tours for coming and talking… with us today. Thanks a lot, Royal.
Royal Frasier (26:41):
Thank you guys for having me!