Encourage productivity through movement. Simply standing more throughout the day improves learning ability and boosts memory. When you give people the ability to stand and move, they’re happier, healthier, and more productive. It can even create a more positive culture for your company. For example, walking meetings is one way to generate movement and get that positive, creative energy flowing.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jason McCann, co-founder and the CEO of Dallas-based VARIDESK, a company known for making sit-stand desks mainstream. Jason’s mission is to help companies reimagine the office and create adaptable, active workspaces — ones with happier, healthier and more productive people. A lifelong entrepreneur, Jason has more than 20 years of experience building and running successful companies. Jason relies on innovation and intuition to disrupt the marketplace and believes the active workspace will soon become the status quo in corporate America. In 2017, he was honored as EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year alongside his co-founder and longtime business partner. Under Jason’s leadership, VARIDESK has grown rapidly from a company with one innovative product to a global leader in workspace solutions. Named 2016’s fastest growing company in the Dallas area, VARIDESK has products in more than 130 countries and 98 percent of Fortune 500 companies. Much of that growth is a testament to Jason’s focus on exceptional customer service and quality products that are easy to set up and simple to use. This philosophy continues to shape the company’s growing suite of furniture and accessories.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
We like to say, “it all started with a cardboard box,” — and that’s the truth! My business partner was experiencing severe back pain and the only thing that gave him some relief was standing. His doctor suggested he try a standing desk, so he scoured the internet for options, but all the products he tried were either too expensive, too difficult to assemble, or limiting in that they didn’t move up and down easily, or at all. We knew there had to be a better way.
We pulled in our industrial designer and started sketching and built the first prototype soon thereafter. We’re all product people at heart, and we wanted to build something that was better than anything else on the market.
It’s been a wild ride. Listening to our customers and watching the industry brought us from that original desktop product to the full suite of active workspace solutions and office furniture we offer today.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
A few months after we settled on our first prototype, we came across a news article that described sitting as “the new smoking.” It reported on Mayo Clinic research that linked sitting for long periods with health concerns including obesity, high blood pressure, and abnormal cholesterol levels. It was like a sign from God — our ‘Aha!’ moment. We knew we were on to something.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We started off with a sit-stand desktop solution, but in the past few years we’ve expanded quickly. Now as we grow, it’s about helping companies build entire active workspaces — scalable offices designed to encourage movement and flexibility. Today, we offer a full line of office furniture, including free-standing electric desks, chairs, storage on wheels, lighting and even moveable walls — anything a client could need to build the office of the future. And, we recently acquired an education company. Kids need to the ability to be active and flexible in their workspaces, too.
Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
It’s all about energy. At VARIDESK, we create environments that foster movement and collaboration. When you give people the ability to stand and move, they’re happier, healthier, and more productive. It can even create a more positive culture for your company. With 98 percent of the Fortune 500 as clients, we are transforming work cultures to embrace an active and collaborative environment, bringing about benefits to both employers and employees.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
According to Gallup, only 33 percent of US employees are engaged at work and the disengaged employees cost the country up to $550 billion each year. On the reverse of that, companies that have highly engaged employees experience an increase of 20 percent in productivity and 21percent in profitability.
We’ve found that people work better when they are more active throughout the day. They have better recall, they learn faster, and they’re more collaborative. And it’s healthier for you. Simply standing and moving through the day dramatically decreases the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
1. Deliberately design an environment that fosters movement and collaboration. The workspace of the future has areas that are open, areas for focus work, and areas for teamwork and collaboration. People work better when they are more active throughout the day. They have better recall, they learn faster, and they’re more collaborative.
At Frontera Strategies, a leading provider of in-office diagnostic testing services, employees were asking for a more active, less sedentary office environment. Their office was designed in the traditional way with separate offices and workstations where employees were stuck sitting at a desk all day and largely cut off from their coworkers and team members. We provided them a solution that would open things up, get people moving, and make it easier for them to interact and engage with each other.
2. Encourage productivity through movement. Simply standing more throughout the day improves learning ability and boosts memory. When you give people the ability to stand and move, they’re happier, healthier, and more productive. It can even create a more positive culture for your company. For example, walking meetings is one way to generate movement and get that positive, creative energy flowing.
A recent study by the University of California at Los Angeles, shows that the more time you spend in a chair the worse it is for your brain health, impairing learning and memory. Simply standing more throughout the day can counteract that risk — increasing productivity, improving learning ability, and boosting memory.
3. Engage employees with a flexible work environment that increases employee engagement and morale — and ultimately increases profitability. For example, create an ecosystem of spaces that purposefully support different work modes and the diverse needs of people like soft seating break-out areas, high tops, low tops, privacy pods, phone booths and zen rooms. The result is a space where people want to come to work.
4. Bring on the energy. It’s key to a collaborative and balanced office and leads to happier and more productive employees, increases retention, stimulation, and ultimately success. Think of how music can be incorporated into entry ways, common areas and restrooms. Scent machines can be deployed throughout the space. Nature can be brought indoors by integrating a variety of biophilic features such as green walls, plants, natural woods or stone.
At VARIDESK, we refer to our headquarters as our “living, breathing showroom,” but we aren’t just talking about the upbeat employees (over 75 percent of which are millennials); the office itself feels alive and full of energy as it expands and transforms. Our activeoffice solutions offer the flexibility to adapt to changing trends to keep employees happy and engaged in an easy, affordable way.
5. Promote wellness. Leading a healthy life ultimately makes me a more productive and energized leader. I’m passionate about equipping my own employees with the tools they need to stay healthy, whether that be our on-site meal options or our gym with group and individualized fitness classes. I also want my team to have access to nature, water and light. That means not crowding the walls with offices. Instead we have floor to ceiling windows that let the outdoors in.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
The traditional office cubicle is more than 50 years old at this point, and it’s time to move forward.
The active workspace will become the status quo. In fact, millennials, who now represent the largest portion of the workforce, are demanding it. We’ll be here to help companies of all sizes adopt this model to help recruit and retain talent, boost productivity, encourage collaboration and build positive work cultures. We’re disrupting the full-office furniture market, and we can’t wait to see what’s next!
President Teddy Roosevelt is quoted as saying, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” I want to create a culture where employees want to come to work every day and leave without being exhausted. Showing them you care is priority one.
Energy is transferrable — you feel it when it’s positive, and you feel it when it’s negative. So, creating a culture where fun, inclusivity, and collaboration are palatable will create positive energy.
I know it’s a high bar, but we strive to create workspaces that elevate people — places where prospective employees have a strong desire to work. Creating a culture that is attractive to employees isn’t an exercise to define your desired culture; that only limits what you will achieve. We need to hire people that live out our core values and add to the diversity of our cultural DNA, encouraging each person to bring their true self to work will help enhance that corporate culture.
Consider ways to make your employees’ lives easier and more fulfilling. You’re only limited by your imagination. Perks that often make the headlines include conveniences like on-site fitness, dry cleaning pickup, or high-end coffee service. However, sponsoring community service programs and granting time off to volunteer are more than perks — they give employees a purpose, it allows them to make friends outside of the office, work with other members of the organization and helps the organization show its heart.
More important than perks and meaningful benefits, however, is the respect and support you show your people every single day. Ultimately, the culture will convince your best workers to stay. Nurture it and you’ll experience tremendous benefits.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
It is very entrepreneurial, but I also like to surround myself with very capable, successful leaders and get out of their way. The best example is our President and Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Lamb. Jeff joined us as COO last year after a very successful career at Southwest Airlines, and immediately made a tremendous impact. He quickly elevated our fast-growing company’s operations and culture and was just named President. His promotion acknowledges the growth in our business since he came on board. He’s been instrumental not only in streamlining our operations and shaping our strategic plan, but in our foray into commercial real estate with our VARISPACE endeavor.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The first C-Suite executive I knew was the women who gave birth to me.She valued hard work and expected her children to contribute at an early age. My brother and I were the go-to apprentices as soon as we hit our “double-digit” birthdays.From customer service to recruitment to money management, she tackled her role with integrity and wisdom.
I watched my mom give quick, honest feedback to employees, suppliers, other business owners, and clients. She was in such a fast-moving, creative business and led an incredibly creative workforce. She always pushed to bring out the best in everyone, and she always did this with such grace and integrity. People knew they were getting timely, honest feedback on how they were doing or how they could improve.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the things I’m proudest of is that we are blessed to be able to give back. Along the way, we’ve been able to help out some nonprofits who could use our standing desks. Last year, I traveled to Puerto Rico with Dallas Mavericks point guard J.J. Barea, through his non-profit foundation, to help renovate four schools and bring much needed desks and schools supplies to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. It was an amazing experience. The reward my team and I received was actually much bigger than simply donating desks. We felt the heart, the pure love, and the pride of the people — it’s about those things and the positive impact we can have.
Just this year, we formalized VARIGIVING, our program to elevate our communities by giving back where we can have the most impact. We have an employee giving program, where each team member has $1,000 to give that they are combining with other team members to make a bigger impact. Plus, we do a lot of large corporate initiatives. In total, we will give over $4 million worth of products and services to the world this year, creating a positive impact on thousands of people.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This quote is from Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos and someone I really respect.
“It’s really important to come up with core values that you can commit to. And by commit, we mean that you’re willing to hire and fire based on them. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re well on your way to building a company culture that is in line with the brand you want to build.”
In Tony’s business model, customer interactions are key, and I’ve tried to emulate that here at VARIDESK. He also talks a lot about company culture, and building that culture based on core values
In the last year, I met with every single one of my employees to discuss our VARIDESK core values — it’s extremely important and I couldn’t agree more with Tony in that respect.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to change the way people think about the office by creating spaces where people want to come to work. By providing a more active, healthy and productive work space, we can bring new life to the millions of people who work in an unproductive, sedentary and unhealthy office space. We think there’s a better way to office and we’re passionate about helping people get more done and feel better doing it. We want to help you design a space that works for you and your people. That can grow with you, or seamlessly shrink from office space to a conference room as your business ebbs and flows and your team’s needs change.
Thank you for all of these great insights!