Matterport: Interview with Troy Lowry

In less than a decade, Matterport has become a global force that helps make it easy and fast to create immersive 3D digital twins ideal for back-to-work planning, listing or appraising properties, documenting makeover projects, and more. Planning workplace design has become more important now than ever in the age of COVID! So, how has one of the industry leaders in 3D immersion in the workplace fared in the age of a global pandemic? Here, Senior Manager of People Experience, Troy, gives us a look inside their heads as it relates to staying connected this year.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Matterport?


Matterport is a platform that creates fully immersive 3D models so that people can experience spaces. You can tag, you can add media, links to anything, photos – you can put anything into the space possible.

We have seven offices globally, and I have been tasked with figuring out how we are going to return to work – what that's going to look like, what the capacity is going to be, who needs to be in the office, how are businesses running without being in the office or without having collaborations. . . So, it has been interesting.

Especially with everything changing daily, which I am sure you guys are aware of, as far as guidelines go and what's expected of a business if you are bringing people back to the office. We currently have only one office out of our seven globally that is operational, and that's in Sunnyvale. We've reduced it down to a very small scale to improve some manufacturing hardware and, from time to time, some finance people – and, then, myself.

We’re operating at 10 to 15 percent of what we normally operate in our space, and it's taking up a lot more space just to organize that space to allow the 10 percent of the people to move throughout the building, and function without breaking any guidelines.

Q: Prior to Covid, did you have anyone working from home? Working remotely out of office?


We had a few remote people and those were based on location of where they live. They weren't in the areas where he have offices. So, we did have a few remote employees in different states. But prior to this, we didn't really have a whole lot of remote working if there is an office available.

Q: And then what happened in March?


Well, we sent home everybody on March 16th. I want to say it was probably three to four weeks later when we finally let someone back into building.

And we just tried to take measures to put things in place before we allowed people to come back into the building. And at that point, we had very few people. Our Fulfilment Team, which is a team of two, were really the only people in the building. Then, we started to bring back a light manufacturing team until we figured out what was happening...

Q: So, you said now you have about 20 people in the building?


Yeah. We have two different shifts of manufacturing. So, throughout the day we may have a total of 30 if everyone that is issued access to the building actually comes in. More likely, probably between 25 and 30.

Q: And I am assuming that those people have to be in the building to do their job of manufacturing.



Q: It sounds like, from that data, mostly remote staff right now.



Q: Have you noticed an increase or decrease in production, profitability? What about the same question for culture?


We are seeing an increase in production and profitability. Culture is hard to gauge. It's tough because we had two months in the middle of the summer where the concerns of people at home cooled off. Now, with kids going back to school and parents being worried, concerns are flaring up again.

We're celebrating successes that we do have, and we're continuing to move forward as a company as far as culture goes. Our efforts to connect people during this time has somewhat been working, but I don't know how this is going to look long-term.

Q: Have you noticed the work from home experience has been segregated by division or seniority level at Matterport? For example, the marketing team might hate working from home because they can't just pop-in on people when they have an idea, but the accounting team loves it because they can work uninterrupted for the most part.


It works better for certain divisions over others. It's tough to say because certain divisions, like finance, need to come in to use equipment to get things done

The biggest impact has been on managers - mid-level managers – because you go from managing a group of people that you can see every day to remote. It's a different management style and you only have Zoom, emails, Slack, or a phone call to get ahold of people.

It's a different level of management, and a different level of comfortability in what you do as far as management goes, in my opinion. Everyone seems to be somewhat comfortable where they’re at now whereas it was pretty uncomfortable at first.

People had to get used to their home situation. You have to get used to everybody being at home. But as far as working within the company, I think we have adapted fairly well. I am one of the people that fields the complaints of people working at home, and over the last three months, we have had minimal complaints and minimal concerns from employees working from home.

I’ve worked closely with our HR Department as this has gone on. We have tried to give people the comfortability of the office – we have allowed them to pick up their monitors, pickup equipment from the office; if they wanted to take their desk and chair to home, they could.

Some people said they need a desk at home workspace. We have allowed them to take that as well. So, we have been trying to accommodate people at home as much as possible. As far as communication goes, I think we're still doing a good job of staying contact all the way from a C-level down through the different levels of management. We have weekly company meetings through Zoom that help, and, at this point, it hasn't been that big a hurdle.

Q: Any kind of anecdotes or things you want to share? For instance, “We tried this and it completely failed” or “The Zoom happy hours were fun for the first month, then it has got dumb." Is there anything that you have done that you feel is kind of exceptional which you’ve had a really, really good luck with?


Yeah. We've tried some different things, but it always comes back to just regular business. The people that want to stay in touch or want to have a conversation usually set up their own Zoom meetings with their own little groups for their water cooler talks.

We used to have weekly team meetings when we were in the office, almost every team. But it seems like most everyone has gone bi-weekly meetings just to give people a break from Zoom. If you are on Zoom all day, at some point you want a break. You don't want to stare at your computer screen and be worried about whether I have my hat on or if my hair is combed – or whatever.

We tried it all at the beginning and I think it was good to keep people communicative. Now, everyone has worked out their own way to do it. Like I said, we decreased the amount of team meetings – large team meetings – to bi-weekly, which seemed to work pretty well.

However, we’ve recently set up company-wide meetings which used to be once a month to now once a week. We have that for about 30 to 45 minutes in the morning once a week and you can tune-in or not tune-in. It's up to you.

We used to make it mandatory for the monthly. Now, it's kind of at-your-own discretion. Surprisingly, I would say 90 to 95 percent of people tune-in for those company-wide meetings once a week.

Q: Has the content in those meetings shifted at all since Covid?


We have probably gone more in-depth. We will give a topic for a meeting and will let a C-level manager run each meeting. That way, they can give a perspective from their department, but all have the opportunity to chime in.

It helps us get more in-depth and maybe gives the employees the opportunity to ask questions we know they don't get to ask.

Q: Do you have a date or plan to bring everyone back or is it kind of when things are fine?


We, as a company, have decided that through 2020, we are going to work from home. From our standpoint, with kids going back to school, we just want to figure out how we can best protect our employees.

As a whole, everyone has to wait to see exactly how Covid is going to continue to spread. If it continues to spread at the rate it is, we need to figure out how that is going to affect not just our company but society at large – hospitals, etc. – and our main goal is to keep our employees safe.

I don't see us ever coming back to full capacity – especially not until there is a vaccine or there is something that could guarantee that people can be cured of a sickness.

The challenge we have is that we have spaces. Right? We have these spaces and we have long-term leases for them. If you have a long-term lease, then, you have a head count, and you to see the space being used. We base it off of 'X' amount of square feet per person.

Now, with Covid, that strategy has changed drastically. You need more square feet per person. How you operate common spaces changes. So, if we wanted every one to be back in the office, we would need twice the space that we have now.

Do you go out and get another space to accommodate that? Or, do you have people work in shifts – or in days where 'X' amount of people in the office come in one day, 'X' amount in the other days. . . etc.

It's a process we are working through with a bunch of different ideas to figure out what's going to work best for our business to bring people back into the office and kind of determine, long-term, whether the success we have had working remotely will continue or if people will burn out working from home.

New advancements in technologies are going to make everything a lot easier to work remotely and a lot easier to access. This calls for a different style or different layout of what an office looks like moving forward. We are just trying to be smart about that and figure out how we can best position our office to work for our employees.

Q: You mentioned families with kids. Obviously, working from home impacts not only the employee but the employee’s entire family. Has that changed the way you guys conduct things at all?


It definitely has. You see a lot more people working later in the evening because that's when they get the free time to do it.

I have three small children and my oldest is about to start kindergarten. This will be our first crack at starting next week, having a child at home while we work. Having them on their computer doing distance learning and figuring out how much time that's going to take from us to manage the distance learning.

I’ve seen a bit of a trend in shifting work schedules. I'll wake up and I'll see that I have received emails between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. from these people, and same thing with me sometimes.

I know my mornings are going to be crazy with three kids and trying to get organized for that morning, so I try harder to organize myself at night. I definitely see a shift in the way people are working and the time of day that people are working. We have done a good job adapting to that, that there is no hard set time that you will need to be working or doing anything as long as things get done.

Q: Was that a cultural change that everyone is okay with or was there a discussion in policy about it?


At the beginning, we spent a lot of time in our weekly meetings talking about what's expected of them fully and well explained. Leadership communicated that they have to figure out what works best for them.

We don’t understand the situation that every single person is in. We understand that everybody has complications that may not be known – as long as work is getting done and you are doing your job, it doesn't really matter when you work.

We didn't have a whole lot of push back – we didn’t even have to address it. If you get an email at 11 o'clock and you are awake, don't feel like you have to answer, you can wait until the next day to answer. If you are on your own personal time at 11 o'clock at night and you're watching a TV show or you are doing something, don't feel that you need to respond right away.

We all know there's different types of employees and different types of workers. There are some people that just can't let that go. That type will get an email in their inbox and feel compelled to answer within 5 minutes.

There are other people who will say, I can push that off until the next day. It’s all up to preference. I am one of those people that, if I pick up my phone and there's an email, more than likely I am going to answer it just because if I don't I'll have a hundred emails stacked on top of it. I have no idea when I am going to see that email again. So, I think we just did a good job at the beginning of letting employees know that they need to figure out how to adapt and work in their own environment and make sure that it is still conducive to productivity with Matterport.

Q: You mentioned some real estate changes. Do you feel that the role that physical workplace plays in the business or company has changed?


I do... I just don't know to what level yet.

Q: And how permanent is that?


I think there is still a lot of need for in-person collaboration. I think when you have a creative team or teams that are working on things, it does help. Those days you’ve been sitting in front of Zoom for so long when we could have a five-hour in-person meeting in an office and it would be much more comfortable than a five-hour meeting on Zoom – those are the days we need collaboration.

Ideas flow freer. You're still at home and you still have distractions, you still have family, you still have kids and it's a different mindset than when you are in your office and in a space with the rest of your team. You can collaborate and think freely and not have to worry about x, y, and z that's happening in the background.

So, for that, I still think there is a definite need for the workplace, but again, there might be more focus on team collaboration. Some are turning the workspace into a Covid-friendly team space where each team can come in one day a week and they can still have that collaboration time together in the space where we make it socially distant; we put up the proper furniture to keep people safe.

Whether or not people feel safe when they walk in – that's one of the biggest hurdles. You want people to feel comfortable in your space. For us, that's what spaces may morph into. It’ll be sort of like a meeting space for teams to come in and book the space to have collaboration time together.

And, of course, probably some individual desking – that's socially distanced and Covid friendly – for people to get out of their house and go somewhere to work for a day or two. Physical space is very valuable and very much still needed. I just have to wait and see exactly how and to what capacity.

Q: Are you screening for temperatures when people walk through the door?



Q: Are you screening for masks?



Q: Do you mind if I ask if you are using an automated system or if you are using a security person?


We have five different teams which all have their own door to come through when they come into the office.

They only have access to come through one door. You walk through the door and there is a temperature station set up with a log and a digital thermometer that you physically have to pick up yourself right now to use to take your temperature.

Then, you document that on to the log. There is also sanitizer wipes, masks, gloves - all available at the station for use. When you come into the building, you have the correct PPE, and if you don't you are able to pick it up. You're also able to use sanitizer, wipes, etc. to wipe down anything that you may be touching during the process of coming in to get your temperature taken before you go into the rest of the building.

Q: Are you requiring any Covid testing if someone's possibly been exposed?


Yes. If you’re at home and feel sick or if you have been exposed to someone who has a high temperature, we do have a protocol where we will send everyone from that team or anyone who has worked that day to get tested.

Q: Are you looking at changing the policy regarding the aggregate number of people allowed on site at one time?


I'm sure the answer of that is yes, but I don't know what until we figure out how the office is going to operate.

Q: Are you looking at any reconfiguration of furniture?



Q: Are you retrofitting your HVAC system with any UV disinfecting or anything like that?


There isn't a whole lot of benefit to that from what I have been told. So at this point, we are not doing anything to our HVAC system.

Q: Okay. Converting restrooms and doors to touchless?


No, we have not done that yet. That may be something we go to, but for the moment we have now hired a porter. There’s a cleaning person here from 06:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night. They wipe down our bathrooms hourly, wipe down the doors any time they walk by, and wipe down any type of space that any employee would touch outside the work area on a regular basis.

To be honest, I haven't even considered a touchless door system. It sounds like a great idea, but it hasn't been something I have looked at yet.

Q: Is Matterport installing hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the workspace?



Q: Portable sinks?



Q: Have you installed signage and/or floot mats regarding social distancing?



Q: Based on the numbers, it seems like you are using around 175 square feet per person. Have you considered investing in more real estate to increase that area?


Right now, we have plenty of space to separate teams, but as we bring people back we will have to consider what the safest way to go is. We are looking at our furniture options and will probably increase the square footage per person.

The way I see it is our common spaces will have to be bigger to accommodate social distancing if that's something that continues to be present in the workplace as we move forward and as we come out of Covid. Our common areas square footage would have to be increased and our square footage just per person per desk would have to increase too.

Q: Have you considered the elimination of desk ownership?


We have and that was the model we talked about earlier where we may set up a couple of large conference rooms that can accommodate teams and hotel desking, if you would.

We discussed having a monitor at the desk with a power cord and that's it. So, the employee would have to bring their laptop, their own keyboard, and anything they would want to use for that space. We considered or discussed having somewhat of a locker system where you could store that stuff for when you are in the building and bring it to the desk.

Then, our concern would be how does that get wiped down and cleaned and how do we notify people that it has been cleaned and you can safely sit at any given desk.

It’s still a work in progress, but we are figuring it out.

Want to keep learning how other companies are adjusting their strategy and workplace methodologies? Don’t miss our previous conversations with:

· Tom Suro MCRw, a global real estate expert specializing in workplace strategy, facilities management, design and construction.

· Assal Yavari, LEED AP Senior Director of Global Workplace Management at Okta, Inc.

· Introduction to the #TheWorkplaceMix Series.