Quartz with Shaun Stewart

May 11, 2021 Clinton Robinson and Kofi Gyekye Season 1 Episode 2
Quartz with Shaun Stewart
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Quartz with Shaun Stewart
May 11, 2021 Season 1 Episode 2
Clinton Robinson and Kofi Gyekye

How do organizations remember, think, decide, and act? How can we design and plot time to rearrange organizational rhythms and enable new ways of coordinating across scales, cycles, and tempos? Shaun Stewart joins Sydney Allen-Ash and Lane founders, Clinton Robinson and Kofi Gyekye as we listen in on a new employee’s first day using Quartz – an all-sensing company clock that time-tunes tasks according to employees’ wellbeing.

Shaun Stewart is the CEO of New Lab, a community of over eight hundred experts and innovators applying transformative technology to solve the world’s biggest challenges. Their membership and studios bring together entrepreneurs, engineers, inventors, and industry leaders to create sustainable solutions and enterprises. They employ technologies, including robotics, A.I., and material science, to transform what matters most—health, environment, media, cities, and infrastructure. Previously, he was the Chief Business Officer at Waymo, Alphabet's autonomous vehicle company based out of Google X in Mountain View. He joined Waymo after 14 years in the travel industry including work at Airbnb, Jetsetter and Expedia.

Work/Place is brought to you by Lane and Toronto-based Foresight studio, From Later

Host: Sydney Allen-Ash
Producer: Robert Bolton and Macy Siu with Udit Vira and Valdis Silins
Audio Production: Jeremy Glenn
Sound Design: Dani Ramez 
Voice Actors: Paul Aihoshi, Leigh Fitzjames, Rena Hundert, and Daniel Gravelle

Show Notes Transcript

How do organizations remember, think, decide, and act? How can we design and plot time to rearrange organizational rhythms and enable new ways of coordinating across scales, cycles, and tempos? Shaun Stewart joins Sydney Allen-Ash and Lane founders, Clinton Robinson and Kofi Gyekye as we listen in on a new employee’s first day using Quartz – an all-sensing company clock that time-tunes tasks according to employees’ wellbeing.

Shaun Stewart is the CEO of New Lab, a community of over eight hundred experts and innovators applying transformative technology to solve the world’s biggest challenges. Their membership and studios bring together entrepreneurs, engineers, inventors, and industry leaders to create sustainable solutions and enterprises. They employ technologies, including robotics, A.I., and material science, to transform what matters most—health, environment, media, cities, and infrastructure. Previously, he was the Chief Business Officer at Waymo, Alphabet's autonomous vehicle company based out of Google X in Mountain View. He joined Waymo after 14 years in the travel industry including work at Airbnb, Jetsetter and Expedia.

Work/Place is brought to you by Lane and Toronto-based Foresight studio, From Later

Host: Sydney Allen-Ash
Producer: Robert Bolton and Macy Siu with Udit Vira and Valdis Silins
Audio Production: Jeremy Glenn
Sound Design: Dani Ramez 
Voice Actors: Paul Aihoshi, Leigh Fitzjames, Rena Hundert, and Daniel Gravelle

Episode 002

Quartz w/ Sean Stewart

Syd: Welcome to Work/Place, a podcast about the futures of where and how we work. I'm your host, Sydney Allen -sh, currently recording in Brooklyn and I'm joined today by the founders of Lane, Clint Robinson in Toronto and Kofi Gyekye in Accra, Ghana. We are also joined by our special guest, Sean Stewart, who is also recording in Brooklyn. Sean, hello!

Shawn: Thanks so much for having me.

Syd: So, let's introduce the theme for this episode. So, we're going to be talking about the relationship between time and work. So that's a very big space. We’ll speculate more specifically on how to design better organizational tempos, institutional memory, and the macro and micro impact of optimizing for time and organizational rhythms.

What do all those words even mean? We will find out in a second, but first ,we are going to play a snippet from a future workplace. 


[Voice note #1]

Mo: … Hope this thing is working… I guess I’m supposed to be recording on this everyday, so here goes…

My name is Mo Shokari. Today’s my first day at Faraday. I’ll be a junior sales rep, selling green barbecue equipment to restaurants.

Just walking into the office now…

Jessica: Mo? Are you Mo? I’m Jessica. Welcome to Faraday. I see you’ve got your Quartz recorder.

Mo: Getting the hang of it, I think.

Jessica: You’ll come to love it, it’s like therapy. 

Faraday isn’t like most companies where you come in, you know what you have to do, you do it, and you leave. 

Mo: Right… you use the ... time-tuning philosophy?

Jessica: That’s right! We don’t do rigid schedules and to-do lists. Your day is readjusted on the fly, every second, based on your mood, your energy levels – and everybody else’s mood and energy levels. 

It doesn’t make sense to work on things when your heart isn’t there. We try to figure out where exactly your heart is, and plan your day around that. Make sense?

Mo: Right… it’s about finding the right timing.

Jessica: Exactly. That’s where your recorder comes in. The more you speak to it the better it understands you. 

Anyway, you can turn that off for now.

Jessica: So here’s a few things they don’t tell you in the privacy terms that you might want to know about...

[Voice note #2]

Mo: Done with orientation. That was… interesting, don’t know how I feel about all this. Quartz is telling me that I have a chat scheduled with Robin in the meeting room. Robin’s another sales person. Walking there now…. 

[Sound of door opening]

Mo: Robin? 

Robin: Hey Mo! Great to meet you. So Quartz thought to align our schedules this morning?

Mo: Looks like it. Hey, let me ask you something–do you have zero control over your day?

[Robin laughs]

Robin: Yeah it’s a trip. You gotta learn to trust Quartz.

[Sound of Mo settling back in his chair]

You see how you moved your chair there to lean back? Quartz is paying attention to everything. Maybe it thinks, oh he’s tired, let’s shorten this meeting. Maybe it’ll schedule a break after this. Point is, it starts to know you better than you know yourself.

Audio montage of Quartz sensemaking:

“Employee 718 fatigued - nap scheduled”

“4pm - creative peak” - scheduling ideation session

“Power hour locked-in”

“Engineering flow state”

[Voice note #3]

Mo: Quartz scheduled a little nap for me there in the break room. Not bad. Going to meet with Cam now who manages our biggest customer account….

Hey, you’re Cam? I hear you’re the growth genius around here.

Cam: Yeah that’s me. But I still do some prospecting too. You know what’s surprising — it usually schedules me for customer calls at this time. I’m the most charismatic at 11 am.

Mo: What if there are no calls to make?

Cam: I call my wife. 

[Both laughing]

Cam: But seriously, it probably wants me to charm the new employee.

Mo: Yeah, I guess I’ve been a little unsure about Quartz.

Cam: Look. Working with Quartz is like working with any other colleague. It’ll sense that you distrust it. Might not trust you enough to do your job. It’s happened before. This new kid tried to push back – started lying to Quartz to hack his calendar. It scheduled him for all the wrong things – energy didn’t line up with the people he was working with. Kid got fired. Bad chronological fit, you know. 


Syd: Okay. That was a little voyeuristic. We got to get a little inside look at a new employee on their first day at a company that runs on Quartz’s time-tuning, all-sensing company clock that creates a real-time picture of every employee's wellbeing, to determine the ideal task for optimal engagement. So, I'd love to just actually get a read on your first impressions.

How did you react to what you were hearing? What were your thoughts? Is this somewhere you want to work? Maybe we'll start with Sean. 

Shawn: Yeah, it's interesting, right? Like I said, the first time I listened to it, I think you, with most new things, you automatically start listing the reasons why this wouldn't work.

You're like, no, no, this wouldn't work for me for that reason, and this reason. And that that's kind of natural, at least for me, that I always have to fight back against that instinct, um, is like, actually start thinking about why this could work because in the community we have here, like almost everything they're building, I can come up with a lot of reasons why they're, they're not going to succeed.

And most of our entrepreneurs have a suspended disbelief in regards to like what they're building and the likelihood of it succeeding. And so, then I flipped to thinking of examples where this already exists. Cause there are definitely areas that allow for this type of customization of like when you work and how you work based on who you are and how you operate at kind of optimum output.

Like we had an engineer who only worked at night, showed up at 9:00 PM, went home at 6 or 7 in the morning. And that was because that was what he required to be at his optimum performance. He didn't like working during the day. He actually didn't love socializing with others. And so, an empty office space for the wee hours of the night was like his path to the greatest productivity.

And so, I think there are a lot of examples where we're already aligning that. And so, I think these are great examples to like, don't think of the extreme, but think of the steps between where you are and the extreme that was just provided, right? So that was the extreme where like you have no idea what you're doing every day and suddenly you're having a one-on-one because your, your energy levels line up.

But take it a step back and think, okay, when we do have ideation sessions, how do you time those so they're the most productive. And so everybody in the room is the most kind of ready for that type of environment. And so that doesn't mean my entire day is scheduled that way, but it may mean ideation sessions always happen at 9:00 AM after my second cup of coffee.

And I think at the same time, that was incredibly personalized to a singular level. Like it's about me and how I feel. And probably, to evolve to that end state, you start with generalizations about all of us, whether we're better at 5:00 PM than 8:00 AM or 7:00 PM. And like starting to understand at a general level, how we all operate and execute.

Those are the original reactions I had. 

Syd: Yeah, the organizational level. I think when you look at it so micro, uh, it can feel a bit dystopian, but on a team level, organizationally, or even industry-wise, that's a really interesting direction to kind of take this idea. Um, but we'll get there later in this conversation. Kofi, what was your first impression? 

Kofi: It was extreme, but surprisingly, I was into it. You know, it'd be nice to add the emotional layer to your communication stack. And let people know what I'm going through, who I am a little bit, it's hard to do that at the moment with the tools we have in place. We use a tool in our company called Donut through Slack.

And that does that a little bit where it like sets up these meetings. I mean, I get to accept the meeting or deny it, but it's close. You know, it's like I have a random coffee, this random individual in the company that I probably never speak to. And I guess it gauges the Slack convos we've had. 

Syd: Yeah. If you could add an emotional filter to your calendar, it gets pretty close to what we're talking about now. Clint. What were your thoughts? First impressions? Is this something you want? 

Clint: I think it might be something that I want. I kind of get, you know, we kind of do already organize ourselves this way. And is it inherently bad just because you're letting like an AI assistant do it for you versus an executive assistant or somebody else booking your calendar. And the guy, the guy at the end, who is gaming the system, that's something we don't talk about and something we don't like to admit. Like the AIs, well, they are very, very powerful, but they're also really brittle. Like the example of, you know, people have generated images that look like a cow, but every artificial intelligence, like every neural net that's trained on images, picks it up as a penguin, just cause they, they knew how to game those couple of pixels. You know, with the advent of even like autonomous vehicles, that people who figure out the thing that can trick the autonomous vehicle. Now we've got to like, worry about that stuff. 

And also, it felt like that the women's voices were Ais for some reason. They sounded like robotic. I don't know if that was intentionally put there to make it seem like people who are using Quartz are now like Ais, and because their lives are controlled so much by Ais, they've like become robotic? Or it was just like an artifact of, of how it came across or something. But yeah, I think taken to the extreme, it's going to be a bad thing. I think the steps to get there are going to be pretty interesting. 

We often try to add an emotional layer to how people interact with each other at work. And then we ask people when they check-in or check-in for the day, give us your emotional state, because it's going to help us interact with you. And like, it goes really well for a couple of weeks. And then after that, everybody's like, yeah, well, how are you doing? Like check-in today? It's like, I'm feeling okay. So, I think there is an advantage in somehow getting people to collaborate at the optimal time. I think that's really interesting. I like the idea of things being planned for me cause I've been looking for an automated calendar assistant forever and there's not really any good ones. I'm back to just me looking at my calendar and like trying to find in slots again. Uh, so I think I do like this one, strangely, even though it seems like pushed to the extreme, it's going to be a pretty like potentially dystopian, like tool to layer on top of the company. 

Syd: So, we're all trepidatiously optimistic. I think that's a good, a good position to start this conversation. And I want to take the conversation to the direction that Sean had mentioned first about kind of seeing this at a macro level. Beyond the examples that you just gave Sean, maybe how do you guys currently think about designing time at work? What comes up for you in response to that phrase of designing time or optimizing for time? 

Clint: I don't know if there is that much, like at any company-wide, uh, where they really try to optimize for team dynamic versus individual. 

Shawn: Yeah, that's interesting. I think, you have examples where they do personality testing and try to match the right type of people together for the greatest amount of output, but definitely not at the level of detail there. I don't know if you guys heard of Oura Rings, any of you have an Oura Ring? 

Kofi: I don't have an Oura Ring, but I have heard of them. Yeah. 

Shawn:  My wife bought me one like uh, three or four months ago. And essentially every morning it gives me a complete summary of my sleep from the night before, how much REM sleep I had, how long it took me to get to sleep, my resting heart rate, where it started, how low it got, how many times I woke up throughout the night.

And then based on that, it gives you a range of recommendations of like, how ready for the day you are, how reactionary you're going to be, um, how stable your mood and your emotions will be. So, I don't know how much it's driven by the employer, but the amount of tools that are coming out to like better diagnose how you're feeling and the state of your body. Like health and the home is just incredibly early in its development, but these types of insights, I think, are what it's going to come from it. Like, just imagine without getting too crude, like you urinate every morning when you get out of bed, what information is in that, that would dictate like your health, how you're feeling, what you need to be eating, whether you need to exercise more, whether you need more time indoors or outdoors, whether you should go straight back to bed.

Think about all the insights that are going to be generated by just living around these improved sensors and technology. And so, I don't know if it will be the employer that drives it or will it be you that drives it? Like, will you get up and realize I shouldn't do a ton of financial work today, I should do all my expense reports because this is how I'm feeling and I'm not going to be good at anything other than like insular tasks if that makes sense.  

Kofi: I think actually it should be me that, and us, that dictate this. And I think the employers is going to try and they're going to epically fail. Because it's the fact that you started that statement with, like, this is crude. They're not even going to bring that into the equation, because it’s something that's faux pas for the workplace.

It might not even get to that point, because yeah, it's not the traditional work piece and they just won't bring that forward. But I personally know that that moment, maybe that's where all the Intel is. 

Shawn: Yeah, but I guess the flip side is like the employer bathrooms. They can use computer vision to connect to who walks in, who uses which urinal, and study that urine, and then they can actually have insights into every employer.

So like there is another side – I've been watching The Boys lately, um, so like, I've tried to lean away from big corporate having, uh, insights into my emotional state. 

Clint: People may self-select and companies may look for those people who are highly optimizing themselves. Because if there is a true benefit to it, right? Like if, if doing that kind of analysis has a huge impact on your productivity. Like as a company, you're going to go look for the people are the most highly productive and there's a bit of a forcing function that kind of makes people do that. You know, kind of like the arms race where, well, if you don't like analyze your urine every morning, like you're kind of getting behind because you don't know. Like those are the kinds of people we need here at, uh, what was the name, sorry what was the name of the company again? I think it was called, uh…

Syd:  Oh, Faraday.

Clint: It was called Faraday, which is an actual company. So, we should disclaim that we are not talking about Faraday. We’re talking about Faraday, the barbecue company that is fictional. Very important.

Shawn: You’re talking about creating groups that have the right people in them to be the most productive and the right mix of different people. Like I explained to someone the other night Myers-Briggs and if you look at those as an example of where we are and understanding who we are and what we like to do on a daily basis, and what we're the most productive at, we are so early in that evolution, like we know nothing, like those things are not helpful.

I assume all of you have probably done a Myers-Briggs equivalent. And how much does it change about the jobs you go after, or the way you execute it? It's done nothing. 

Kofi: And then I was going to ask you discussion Clint. You mentioned that companies are going to attempt to find people that are really optimizing their lives in the best way and so forth.

The question is, are they doing that now? And what is it going to take them to change it? Because I'm vegan. I work out. I'm going to wake up in the morning, I'm like doing the thing so that my mind and my body are great. Companies, they don’t optimize to that today. Why would we assume that because this that they're going to do that moving forward? Just a question. 

Clint: No, I, I think companies do optimize for people who work out, take care of themselves. Uh, or at least they should be like the, the pure thought-based companies. Uh, hopefully like they should be optimizing for that. Cause that apparently makes you better at your job.

Syd: Event if you don't know exactly who is exercising or what they're doing for exercise, or if they're just telling you they are, and they're not, there's a social, uh, bias that's attributed to that type of thing. Like someone's seen as like a triple threat if they like work out and they're, you know, they're good at their job and they have a good family, whatever.

So maybe, the pee tracking or the chronological fitness. What, what are your thoughts on our bias towards people, people's chronological wellbeing? 

Shawn: Like one of the things that's great is as you get further through your career, you start dealing with more people at the early stages of their career, looking for advice, and it's so amazing how much people don't, and I still don't today they don't really know want to do, what they're good at, how they're going to achieve it, like what they're capable of and what they want to do, whether it's on a daily basis or a larger period of time. It feels like we figure out by 50 who we are and what we like to do. And that seems a bit late in the game. Like isn't there a way to figure this out a little bit sooner in your evolution? 

Kofi: The creative industry has done that well though, maybe it's because they have that creative title. I mean, they get to do that. They get to use recreational drugs and come out with something that we all love. And we're like, oh, amazing! This is hit. But we're not willing to bring that into the quote unquote corporate environment, which is, you know, also our space in terms of tech and like new ways of looking at the world. 

Clint: And there's seems to be like an inherent distrust of, of anything in the workplace that maybe we all need to work through – it’s work should be something that should be celebrated. That should be, you know, kind of triumphant, where we are creative, and we do our best work and we get rewarded for it. Uh, but it seems like every time we listen to one of these audio cues, we immediately go to the dystopian outcome. And we're like, I don't like that. Like, I don't like the idea of that. And that shouldn't be the case. 

Shawn: You’re kind of pointing out the true nature of technology, which is like, it can be used for both good or bad. It's who holds it that is actually the decider of the impact of technology. 

Like quantum computing is going to have capabilities that destroy every piece of cryptography on the planet, from a security and firewall perspective. But also, it can calculate medical data at a speed never seen before. And so that's where it's like, well, the technology is interesting if you're saying. I – we're going to keep with urine, I'm going to keep hammering it – you can pee every morning and see whether you're doing okay and what you need to eat, but you put that in my urinals at work and it's terrifying.

Like it's, and it's, it's not the technology that's actually scaring you, it's who gets access to it and how it's controlled and, and used… 

Kofi: Like every time somebody logs into our platform and we ask them for their company, they panic. And they skip it. And they're like, yeah, yeah I’ll use my personal email. For some reason, they're seeing we're going to read into all this Intel, but like, they always skip it. But I'm really happy to use my Instagram randomly for whatever I'm just logging into. Some app my friend told me on Tuesday, it's like, “oh, look at this thing!” I'm like, “yeah, great!” 

Well, it's my baby and you're right, I think we do have a fundamental problem with the work environment and how we perceive it in terms of our own privacy and safety. 

Shawn: Oh yeah. I mean, look at sleep pods. Like I've worked in three companies with sleep pods. I've a, in three companies and like maybe a decade, I've seen two people in those pods sleeping. And in both cases, the reaction to everyone who saw them was like, “what the hell are those people doing, like it's 2:00 PM and they're sleeping.” Like there was never anything positive that came from. So, there's so much optics there of like, oh no, we're totally happy for you to sleep in the middle of the day if you need a break. But, the reality is nobody's okay with that. 

And that, it's interesting what work from home has probably done to that freedom to design your own schedule. It has become 24-hour days, which is incredibly negative in many respects. But in the positive, it's probably that employee who isn't good until 10:00 AM, probably hasn't been working until 10:00 AM, but the employer, whether they're actually privy to that and actually have noticed that uptick in productivity would be interesting. 

Clint: As long as it gets done, it doesn't matter what time it's getting done at.

I do like, we'd be definitely happy for that. And it’s interesting too, because part of that, the Quartz app, the AI agent for that uh employee actually gave them a nap. And that's great actually, because I agree, like nobody's using the sleep pods, but maybe like cause Quartz told this person to do it, he, you know, he went and took a 15-minute nap.

So, I think if you could actually create an AI that's going to help me optimize my day, get the most out of me. Uh, so I can be super productive and maybe even end the day early because I got everything I needed to do and it's done, and I get to go home and like have more fun or live my life more. That sounds awesome.

Shawn: Yeah, work from home as a concept, you could definitely… there are people who are made for it who find greater productivity in it. Um, and actually do a lot better. And then there's people like me, like I refuse to work from home because I know I don't have the strength and the personal will to like, keep myself focused once you put me in my home that has all the things I love. 

So, I've come to work every day through the entire pandemic, part of it, because I had to, because of the things we were doing here, but the other part was just because I knew I'd be 50% as productive at home. Now of all the people who've worked at home this past you know, all of 2020, it'd be interesting if how many of them know if it's good or bad for their productivity, and like whether the return to work concept should be personalized. Like you shouldn't work from home, you should come to the office every day while someone else is actually perfectly designed for that type of operation.

Kofi: Do you think as a company, you've allowed yourselves to let your employees feel like they're able to, to work – they have the right tools to work from home?

Shawn: So, with Newlab, you have 900 people here in 170 companies, but then you have my team, which is like 35 direct employees. And for my team, yeah, we had out of 35, there was probably 6 who were here through the entire pandemic.

And that was because we had to be, and then there was me who personally didn't want to be at home cause I wasn't productive. But also, as a leadership member, like needed to be seen kind of doing the hard work every day. Like we have companies growing leather from collagen, uh, building electric motorcycles, um, 3d printing rocket engines to launch cube satellites.

You can't do that in your apartment. So, we have a breed of people who literally have a restriction from work from home. They just can't do it because they're, they're developing hardware. And if you're working on hardware, you need labs and equipment. So, it's been interesting to see that division of like people who work on software may have celebrated and enjoyed the freedom of work from home because their tools exist in a, in a one-bedroom apartment.

But there're so many of us that, that doesn't apply for, um, from frontline workers all the way through to obviously people working on hardware and, and anything with heavy machinery. 

Clint: Embrace all the strengths of what remote, uh, allows you to do. Uh, versus what the strengths of being in an office and like synchronous work is not good with remote.

It, it needs to be asynchronous, like, or else we're going to be Zoomed to death. 

Syd: Kofi, you brought up the example of creatives being allowed to manipulate their schedule and optimize it for the best of their, you know, best of their ability, but athletes also – training regimes, you know, you have a marathon training program that's 42 weeks long. You peak, you valley, you trough, you take a break, you do all these different types of things. Um, the more that we have this conversation, the more that I feel like that type of perspective, like the Oura ring, or like Whoop, or any of those metrics that track in fitness apps could be applicable to a workplace.

Clint: Like I think people can work less if we remove this optics that you can't use the sleep pod. Or you have to show up to work every day, or you have to be in the office every day and you can't do those two remote days. Cause those are, those used to be shunned, and maybe they won't be anymore. 

Cause we all know that that's true. Everybody knows, like I can't just tell my team to work 20% more and we're going to get 20% more done. Things don't work like that. Like I could actually get them to work 20% less hours, and they'll get 50% more done, because everybody's less miserable, and they're refreshed, and they're working when they're focused and they're, and they're on.

That tool I think would be super helpful. I would love to have that. Like, if that's what Quartz could turn into, like, I want to use that. I want my team to use that because I think it's going to save them time. It's going to make them like happier and more productive and healthier in the long run, and like have more time not at work. 

Kofi: For sure. And most of us don't know what's good first, right? You sort of have to be told to some degree. I do appreciate that portion of the Quartz audio piece, where he's like you needed that nap, you practice that.

Most times, I don't know, I'm tired. Cause I'm working on this whole idea that the more ideas, the more I'm present, the more you can see us, and so forth, that means I'm doing work that's of value. It's really not. Like if you go sit down and just shut your eyes.

Shawn: That athlete comparison is such an interesting one. Like I, the last time I went to the gym was in the nineties, but I also know like, when you do a workout, you have to rest for this amount of time after, and you don't do legs the same two days in a row.

And like, I'm not even an athlete. And I know that basic level of understanding about how to get the most out of your body, but I don't know any of that about my brain. I don't know that I should have 15 minutes in between every 45-minute meeting, and what I should do or whether I shouldn't, I should just sprint through it and have an hour break.

Like, and maybe if you get to like an Elon Musk level of funding capability or access to money, that people train you like an athlete, but as a professional. They're like, you shouldn't work in colors that have yellow on the walls or what, maybe they get to that level of insight. But I've never seen that.

Like, I don't know anyone who has the professional level of insight that an athlete has into how their body reacts to training and different environments. And when they perform the best and whether they can play on match day, I don't know where that exists in the professional world. 

Clint: I would love that.

Cause you know those days where you go in and you're in quote-unquote flow and you crush it. You feel so good. I bet it is exactly like running a marathon or like winning the fight, winning the game. And then there's other days where I'm like, I'm just barely getting through it. I can't wait to crawl home and like crawl into bed.

Like could, could Quartz tell me to like, you know, just stay in bed today. Or don't work on that pitch day. It's just not going to work. Like let it go, do something else. It's going to be ultimately more productive for you, even if you're slightly optimizing for feeling better day after day, uh, that would feel great.

Shawn: I had one flight where it was New York to San Francisco where my wife was coming with us, but I was going for work on like a Thursday and she was going for a different reason, but we were both headed to San Francisco and then we're going to spend the weekend together there. And uh, she said, why don't we fly together?

And I said, great. And I said, just so you know, like when I'm on planes for work, like I usually go heads down and kind of, and get a bunch of work done. Like I find where, uh, planes like a very productive environment. And for that entire period, I worked six hours straight. They, I think they may have dropped off a drink, like a beverage that I drank.

People got up over me to go to the bathrooms, all of that. I had headphones on, I was working. I didn't notice any of it. And we landed and my wife was like, that's one of the scarier things I've ever seen from, from your end. And I was like, what do you mean? She's like, you had six hours oblivious to every other human on this plane and, and you didn't stop once.

Yet, I have no understanding of what the factors are in that environment. All I know is it happens when I get on a plane, that's like probably the tip of the iceberg in regards to the insights that are available to all of us around what makes us more productive and how to alter your workdays to get more out of it.

Kofi: So, it feels like Quartz would be a 50-50 split then. Like your employers have a certain port, like access to it to some degree, but the rest is all about you, lmost like you're ordering –  very personal. Right. And they get snippets that if you're willing to share, probably, but it does feel like it has to be this 50-50 split.

Clint: You're totally right. It's not about being stuck. There's something in there. There's some headspace and like, it's not as easy as setting up a plane coworking uh, company, if, or maybe it is actually, maybe we should pitch that.

Shawn: What we go through for our son to get him to sleep, like the environment you create to have the perfect sleep experience.

Like we have blackout blinds, it's a pitch dark room. We have a noise machine. We have a humidifier. We have the, like a sleep sack he gets into, that's like a full body sleeping bag and you have all of this, all to make sure they sleep these perfect nights. And then as soon as they become an adult, you just chuck them in a bed and like deal with it, whatever you can.

Yeah. That seems slightly bizarre, right? Like should we all be in like noise room pods that are completely pitch dark, that we go to bed at the same time, every day, wake up at the same, the air. Like but we seem to give up on that once we're like, oh, you have survived. You're not going to die by four. So now you're on your own. Like go figure out how to get a good night's sleep. We just don't spend as much time understanding what makes us more productive at a personal level. 

Kofi: What's really interesting is all the physical things that you mentioned in that. Right? So forget the software that like, or the tech, like yeah, you had a machine, you probably had an app to control, maybe like 20% what's going on in that room.

But the physical things that we always negate when it comes to the software conversation, you know, like there's all these things that you have to do that are physical, but we don't do that with a software, within the workplace ever. We don't add much of the physical reality that needs to be in an office or in your home, or it’s the new world, which is flex. We don't really take that into consideration.

Shawn: Yeah I mean that norm’s been created, right? It's like, you go to work and you sit at a desk or a cube, or if you're lucky enough, you have an office with a door and that's like, and then you eventually get to the corner office. And that's your entire potential like work environment.

Maybe, maybe the pandemic changes it where we all get a little bit more interested in what is actually productive for us. And people are more flexible, but you see all these things about Google and the pics they provide or Facebook or whoever it is and Twitter, and you get free massages and there's a sushi bar and the ridiculousness of that.

When you're talking about it now, it's making me realize, or at least appreciate that sometimes they're breaking that mold by going to those ridiculous things. Like the work from home and the crazy maternity leaves that at the time were like, you get six months off. Now those are becoming standards that are like pushed into other kind of less innovative or forward-thinking work environments if that makes sense. You can be grateful to those companies that have in a range of other ways up-leveled what work-life balance looks like. And the flexibility an employers should provide and the benefits that are appropriate to different people. Now, maybe it's just accelerated that flexibility across every industry.

Syd: On that point. I'm curious, um, how this type of Quartz time tracking, more qualitative understanding of time, how you would see it show up in a physical space. How would maybe tacit learnings be gleaned from the physical space as opposed to manual input from staff? 

Kofi: I think sometimes having passive communication to the physical environment that you're in is actually quite phenomenal.

If there's a meeting in the room, just kind of started glowing a little bit yellow, a little bit, but like in a nice calm way. Like the actual physical spaces itself communicated with us and let us know what's going on. That'd be really helpful because I think most of the time, people are scared, not scared, but um uncomfortable with the idea of paying attention to their time. It'd be great if the room kind of had that moment to just gleam, and like, get me out. 

Shawn: It's a smart office, right? You're essentially describing like an intelligent office. We have a team here that, um, makes an air quality measurement system that you put in conference rooms. And so, all the conference rooms that Newlab have this system on the wall that it, it changes three different colors depending on the quality of the air in the room.

And then it turns on the HVAC because essentially says the quality of the oxygen in the room is not good enough that you're going to be productive. You're going to start feeling lethargic because there's 10 people in a room and there air’s not being circulated. And so that's just the start of it, right?

Like daylight savings. It gets dark at 4:00 PM. Everybody loses productivity from 4 to 7. When typically, they may have actually in the summer been quite productive during those hours. But then it starts to feel like uh Brazil, if you've seen that film, where we are starting to talk about like, it's going to be daylight in the office, even though it's nighttime, or like you’re starting to pick up tips from the casino industry of like, again, it comes back to feeling skeptical of an employer having these tools.

Clint: You think they'll make like a confusing layout in the lunchroom? So that – I think if we could do it like in a good way, and we actually get you out of the office using the physicality too. I like what Kofi is talking about there, like where the room reminds you, that your meeting’s up, that would be really exciting.

Like the things you can do with just light, you know, if anybody who's looked at like a James Turrell, um, do, you can do a lot with light, but like, let's be good about it and not trick people into being there. All day, like remind them that they should go home because maybe, maybe that was the wrong move for Google and Facebook. And if they had a dug into it, deeper people would have been more productive and better if they did go home.

Shawn: AI driven like meeting quality where it's like this meeting is no longer productive. You should all leave. But in a, uh, an impartial third party, like an omnipresent AI in the conference room, that's like, this is a waste of your time.

It comes over the speakers. He tells you all go home. I've seen a lot of environments that would be helpful. 

Kofi: Yeah, especially as leadership, it’s so – you don't want to, we don't want to be the leaders of the past, you know, in that meeting, trying to like drive productivity in the way people may feel it's just about dollars and cents.

So, it gets really awkward. Because you're sitting there, you're like, I have to go, but also, I'm trying to build company culture. So, I'm like stuck in this middle thing and it's like, this is great, but there's another time for this. 

Syd: These are all setting circumstances, as opposed to like, what was proposed in this scenario, changing your day to match your mind.

You're trying to change your mind to match your day.  

Shawn: The line, uh, “Quartz knows you better than you know yourself.” I think after we discussed a lot, how little we know about ourselves, and how little we know about what drives our productivity, I think that is probably a pretty fair statement. And there's a lot in there.

Like it goes to an extreme where like, I don't think any employer would be comfortable with, with some of the statements made there. Like it's a therapist and it knows more about you than you do. And then an example where someone gets terminated because they lie to it. Like that's starting to get into some pretty extreme territory.

But I think the path that took us on as a discussion, at least for me, has got me, I'm going to go home, trying to Google, like who is building products that improve productivity of people and alter their timelines and their calendars and help give insights into the ways you work the best. 

Syd: Well I feel like that's probably a good place to leave this.

Thank you so much. Thank you, Sean. Thanks Clint and Kofi.

Work/Place is brought to you by Lane and Toronto-based foresight studio, From Later. My name is Sydney Allen-Ash, and I was joined today by Lane’s co-founders Clinton Robinson and Kofi Gyekye. Audio production by Jeremy Glenn. Sound design by Dani Ramez, and voice acting by Paul Aihoshi, Leigh Fitzjames, Rena Hundert, and Daniel Gravelle.