Get Reworked Episode 38 with LEGO's head of workplace, Timothy Ahrensbach

Get Reworked Podcast: ​What Makes an Office Worth Coming To?

June 21, 2022 Digital Workplace
Mike Prokopeak
By Mike Prokopeak, Siobhan Fagan

The LEGO Group's head of workplace experience Timothy Ahrensbach
Mention LEGO and most people will immediately picture building and playing with the company's famous multicolored bricks. But there's another level of play that goes into building an office where employees can't wait to come to work.

In this episode of Get Reworked, we talk to Tim Ahrensbach, head of workplace experience at The LEGO Group, about how the Danish company completely redesigned the corporate office to be a place that is more than just a place to get work done. It's about encouraging play and building the connections that bring people together.

Listen: Get Reworked Full Episode List

"We've done that in a really exciting way that makes our colleagues, when they come into LEGO campus, realize there's a reason why I've gone into the office today," Tim said. "I'm not just doing it out of habit or because there's this policy."

Highlights of the conversation include:

  • Lessons learned from the April opening of Lego's new 600,000 square-foot campus.
  • What workplace experience looks like at LEGO.
  • LEGO's outlook on the hybrid workplace.
  • What employers can learn from the hotel and hospitality industry.
  • What makes an office worth coming to.
  • Plus, co-hosts Siobhan Fagan and Mike Prokopeak talk with Tim about go-to karaoke songs, what makes co-working spaces good, and Tim's all-time favorite LEGO set. Listen in for more.

    Have a suggestion, comment or topic for a future episode? Drop us a line at [email protected].

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    Show Notes

    Episode Transcript

    Note: This transcript has been edited for space and clarity.

    Tim Ahrensbach: We are not just a bunch of individuals, working companies, we are actually part of a collective. You might feel that you're being really productive when you're working from home, but are you really making sure that that colleague that might be struggling with a task or personally, that they're really also being the best version of themselves? And are you providing them with the kind of day-to-day support and check-ins, that really means that the people around you are also being the best versions of themselves?

    Mike Prokopeak: You just heard from Tim Ahrensbach, who is the head of workplace experience at the LEGO Group, which is a company that I think just about all of us are familiar with. Siobhan, can you tell us a little bit about Tim?

    Siobhan Fagan: Tim has over 12 years of experience designing workplaces around the world. He has worked in workplace strategy, and he is just trying to create work environments that help people be their best selves and their best colleagues. He previously founded his own co-working site, and he also has a background in urban design. So Tim brings a lot to this conversation, and I can't wait to talk to him about workplace design, and to talk to him about play. How about you, Mike?

    Mike: Yep, me, too. All right. Let's get Reworked.

    What Workplace Experience Looks Like at LEGO

    Siobhan: Welcome to the podcast, Tim.

    Tim: Thank you so much, thanks for having me.

    Siobhan: We're really excited to have you here today. You are the head of workplace experience at LEGO. And we're talking to you at a time when a lot of companies are questioning the purpose and the use of the physical office.

    So I'm super excited to hear about what it is that you're doing at LEGO. And I was hoping we could start by having you describe the scope of your role as head of workplace experience.

    Tim: Yeah, absolutely, so I get the awesome job of creating our global concepts for workplaces around the world. We are in over 30 different countries and have an incredibly diverse portfolio of workplaces. That includes offices, retail, factories, customer service centers, and R&D labs. And so we have a lot of different ways of working and many different people working in these sites.

    And so me and my team, our job is really to ensure that we design workplace experiences that support those people to be their best selves and colleagues.

    Siobhan: And, Tim, you started with the LEGO Group in 2019, if I'm right, and you were a global workplace strategist, and then you took this role in June 2021. Some things happened in between in the world. So I'm wondering, how did the last few years change how you approach your role and how you think about your role?

    Tim: I'm gonna use the example of the purpose really, of my team before the pandemic. So we always used to say that the workplace team was there to create workplaces that would enable our colleagues to be their best work itself. And one of the big a-ha moments that we had early on when we were thinking about the future of work and the future of the workplace, was one of my colleagues said, but isn't this also really about not just being your best working self, but also your best working colleague?

    And I thought that was such an interesting notion, because I think one of the things that a lot of people have come to me and said, after having worked remotely for a while is, it's worked really well for me to work remotely. I've been very productive. Why do I even have to come back to the office? And I think that's, you know, really the kind of the crux of the question that a lot of us are asking ourselves in the kind of workplace sector.

    And I think the answer to that, really is, that we are not just a bunch of individuals, working companies, we are actually part of a collective, and we have an obligation to that collective to our peers, to our colleagues, to really be available to support each other in that workplace.

    You might feel that you're being really productive when you're working from home. But are you really making sure that that colleague that might be struggling with a task, or personally that they're really also being the best version of themselves? And are you providing them with a kind of day-to-day support and check-ins that really means that the people around you are also being the best versions of themselves?

    LEGO's Outlook on the Hybrid Workplace 

    Mike: To kind of level set it before we go too much further into the conversation. Where has LEGO landed on the in-person hybrid remote spectrum? What is the work model that you're exploring to start to address some of the questions that you're raising around how do we work with one another?

    Tim: Yeah, so we did a lot of research early on, asked our colleagues, you know, how would you like to work in the future? We did a lot of benchmarking, looking at what other organizations were doing. And we ended up on a hybrid model, which by now, I think is actually kind of quite common in the industry.

    So it's a 3/2 model, our point of departure is that the LEGO site is the primary workplace, and then you have the option of working from home two days per week, if you so wish, and if your role and your tasks allow you to work remotely.

    So that's really a global direction, we don't dictate which days and we don't monitor it on a global level, we trust that the teams and the people managers will have a dialogue around what works best for them. But the kind of global rule of thumb is three days in the office and two days at home, if you so wish.

    Mike: When you look at that hybrid working model that three-two, three days in two days out, has that addressed the question that you raised about the need in the workplace to be available to support each other? Or has it required you to change the ways that you do things and the ways that you engage with one another?

    Tim: We looked at lots of different models. And I think, you know, it's not necessarily important, whether it's a 3/2 or 2/3 or 50/50, I think what we really wanted to say with this was the LEGO site is the primary workplace. And it's where we come together to really support one another to build and be part of the culture of this organization.

    And so I think that is working really well, for now. We are rolling out the model across the world as and when the pandemic allows us to do that. That means that in Denmark, where we have our headquarters, we have been back for a while. And we are starting to see people pick up this 3/2 model. And we're excited to kind of really see what we can learn from that, say, a year into being back in this hybrid working setup.

    LEGO's New 600,000 Square Foot Campus

    Siobhan: So you just mentioned that you are in Denmark, and you recently opened the new LEGO campus in early April, so that is really huge coming out of this. And as you're rolling out this hybrid work model, what is the company hoping to accomplish with this campus? 

    Tim: Yeah, so, I think it's really interesting with the campus, we were in the process of building it and had actually already moved 500 colleagues into the space when the pandemic hit. And so we were looking to move in another 1,500 and finalize the fit out in the coming years. And so we actually got an opportunity to take some of our insights and our learnings and the direction we wanted to set because of the pandemic and actually use LEGO campus as our first site of rolling that out.

    And so there's a couple of really interesting learnings and things that we've done there that I think will set really exciting direction and precedents for some of our sites around the world.

    There's kind of, I think, five kind of core elements that we learned that the site really needs to do, right. It's about supporting collaboration. It's about supporting learning together. It's about feeling that you're part of a company and sharing its values. It's about those informal connections.

    And so that's really something that we wanted to design the whole workplace experience around. And I think we've done that in a really exciting way that makes our colleagues when they come into LEGO campus, realize, oh, yeah, there's a reason why I've gone into the office today, I'm not just doing it out of habit, or because there's this policy, it's actually because you've created a workplace that really supports the reason that we've chosen to come into the office and the things that we couldn't do remotely.

    Siobhan: When we hear LEGO campus, I don't think we really get a picture of what it is that you've actually just opened. So can you describe the people house a little bit?

    Tim: The people house is a specific part within LEGO campus. The LEGO campus is a 55,000 square meters, I think that's just under 600,000 square feet building, it has space for about 2,000 people. And within it, there are a number of what we call neighborhoods, which is the kind of workspaces where a different departments do their day-to-day work.

    But we also have a lot of incredible shared amenities that are all around that kind of collaboration and culture and community building piece, and really feeling inspired and feeling like you're connected, not just to any company, but specifically to the LEGO Group.

    So just to give you an example of what some of those facilities are, we have a 59 room hotel, an employee hotel. Some people ask, why do we have that? And the answer is we didn't want people to be kind of spread around town sitting in different hotel rooms when they came to visit. We wanted to have one place where everyone would come and in the evenings when they were staying, they could come out and they could socialize and connect with colleagues.

    We also have a conference center, we have a restaurant, we have the people house that you mentioned, which is an employee play space, that's all around the kind of social and playful and cultural infrastructures that make our colleagues come together around some of our values, and really build community and connections.

    So within that we have a creative studio, where they can really unleash their creativity, whether it's a ceramics class they want to take, whether they want to do quilt making, or sew, or paint or do woodwork. We have a fireplace lounge, we have a cinema, we have a sports arena, we have one of my personal favorites, a karaoke room, a health and well-being center. So all of these different types of spaces where they can come together, and actually also even invite their families.

    Escaping the Sea of Desks

    Siobhan: Tim, what you just described does not sound like a typical workplace to me. And I'm, I'm curious if this is how you traditionally thought of the workplace, or is this something, a new, new way of thinking about the workplace for you?

    Tim: So this is a really new and exciting way of doing workplace, at least at the LEGO Group. When I was mentioning this people house, which is this employee play space, it originally actually came from a request from especially our colleagues living locally, LEGO Campus is in a little town called Billund, which is where the company was originally founded 90 years ago. At that point, it was a little village of 200 people. Now, it's a slightly larger town of about 7,000 people. But it is still a slightly more remote location.

    And there hasn't historically been a place where colleagues could kind of come together after work, and especially all of our colleagues living in the local area. So they were looking for a place where they could meet up, you know, play some board games, have a cup of coffee, maybe have their different kinds of social clubs.

    And the idea was really to have this people house in LEGO Campus, and so we were already really working with that idea when the pandemic hit. And one of the first realizations I had was, this needs to be part of the everyday workplace experience. This isn't just about you coming down after work, and engaging in playful activities. This is about bringing play into the workplace experience, and making sure that our colleagues come together in different types of environments that are fun, and playful and creative, and really feel, again, the LEGO values, but also feel the value of coming into the workplace.

    Mike: Tim, I'm thinking about this place that you're describing. And it's exciting. It's, it feels like a fresh approach to how people think of offices, which is, unfortunately, in many cases have been a warehouse for people during the day.

    I want to know a little bit about how this develops. You know, so you talked about some of this was already kind of in the works before the pandemic hit. How did you work with leadership to sort of shaped this experience to shape what you're trying to do to design here? And then how did you listen to what employees were saying during the time when they were apart? And how did that change specifically plans that you may have had before you started this?

    Tim: So very early on, we did a global listening exercise, really trying to understand from all of our different office sites, what it was that people were missing from the office, what they would envision would be the kind of future work for them.

    And we took all of that data and brought it to leadership. And you know, the data was generally showing the fact that people were enjoying the flexibility, they were enjoying working from home, but they were also missing that kind of social connection and the collaboration and the experience of being in the workplace. So they wanted a combination.

    And we shared that with leadership. And they were very happy to see that because it was also very important for them to have a space where we have our unique, LEGO culture where people come together. So I think you know what the business wanted, and what our colleagues wanted, were very closely aligned.

    I think the really interesting part is then when you're then looking at the workplace, and you're saying, OK, this now, rather than just being a sea of desks for your kind of general work tasks, a lot of the emailing and the calls and the coordination, all of that stuff can now happen at home. So what are those unique things that have to happen in the office? Where is it really that the Office adds value? And how do we then actually design or redesign the workplace experience to support that?

    And I think, I am really happy to have had the kind of leadership support to come in and say, you know, yes, we do need to change the workplace experience, and we're not going to necessarily have a sea of desks, because we're going to focus on the culture aspects, the community aspects, the inspiring environment, and really make it very clear to people why they've chosen to go into the office.

    A Day in Life at LEGO Campus

    Mike: Can you give me an example at a team level, how that would work? So you know, as you said, there's many tasks, perhaps most tasks you can do on your own at home, you don't need to be in the office to do emailing, setting up phone calls, those sort of things.

    At a team level, how does it work to bring people together? So you said, you know, let's spend the time that we're bringing people together in a way that is productive for us to be there, collaborative supports our values. Can you give me an example of what that looks like?

    Tim: Yeah, absolutely. So I'll actually use my own team as an example, we've obviously kind of tried to be guinea pigs of our own kind of ways of working. And a model that we found works really well, and which a lot of our other colleagues have adopted, is a model where one day a week we as a team sit together, and we will sit in different places around LEGO Campus very often in the people house because it is really fun and playful. It's very dynamic. And we can kind of go out we have an energizer halfway through the day, sometimes we play some mini golf on the rooftop. Sometimes we go and do some creative crafts in the creative studio, sometimes we go and just sing a bit of karaoke. Different things that we do, just kind of, to create that kind of sense of team building and excitement and joy as a team. So we do that one day a week.

    Then we have another day a week where we're all in our department. So that sitting with kind of our wider group of peers and colleagues, we might then not be together as a team, kind of close to each other, but we'll be in the general kind of same space, and also check in with other colleagues.

    And then the third day, that's kind of what we call a global day, you can kind of decide to sit where you want. Sometimes, you know, you also have to remember that you might work with other project teams, not just your organizational functional team. So you might want to go and sit with a project team that you're working with.

    Mike: OK, I have a really important follow up question here. What is your go-to karaoke song?

    Siobhan: That was my question, Mike.

    Tim: So it is a Celine Dion song, and it's not, "My Heart Would Go On," it is, "It's All Coming Back to Me Now." It's about 8 minutes long, so I really get my money's worth on that one.

    Mike: Yeah, that and "Piano Man," by Billy Joel, are I think songs that many people regret choosing as their karaoke song about halfway through.

    Tim: Mike, I am excited to invite you over to LEGO campus and we will karaoke together.

    Mike: Yes. All right. I'll look forward to that.

    Building a Holistic Workplace Experience

    Siobhan: So Tim, I'm curious about you, you have a background or a degree in urban studies, and I'm curious about what your individual influence or impact was on the shape of the LEGO Campus? Did you have any kind of initiative that you lead that you're proud to hold up as an example?

    Tim: People often ask me how on earth, you know, I ended up in that role and what my background is, and especially, you know, as you mentioned, coming from an urban development background. I'm a human geographer, so a social scientist by training. And really what I did in the start of my career was look at how do we create great cities, or great urban environments for people to live in. And that requires you to kind of zoom out, and not be a specialist in roadworks or healthcare or water or education. But really take that step back and kind of be the aggregator that looks at all the different elements that makes a great city or a great place to live.

    And so over time, I really zoomed in on workspace, you know, it's an incredible place where we spend often the majority of our time in a working day. And so how do you really create that workplace experience that energizes people and makes people feel like they got the most out of that day, not just oh, I had to go there and spend 8+ hours.

    So for me, what I really do is, as I mentioned, take that step back, look at all the different elements that are delivered by different parts of the organizations and specialists who really know what they're talking about. And then I tried to make that work as a holistic whole, and create a concept.

    So I think, for me, really with LEGO Campus, it was trying to bring all those different parts together. So how does a hotel, and well-being center, and a restaurant, an employees store, and workspaces, and all of these different elements, come together to create an amazing workplace experience for colleagues and visitors?

    Siobhan: I'm curious if this is going to roll out to the broader LEGO, because LEGO has locations throughout the world. Do you see this kind of holistic experience rolling out to other areas, or what's the plan there?

    Tim: Yes, so what we actually do whenever we create a new site, or we develop an existing one is that we now create what we call experience briefs. So what we will do, my team will come in we'll collect the insights from our colleagues locally, we'll look at what the business needs from that site and talk to business representatives will look at the local context and culture and of course, will then be informed by the direction that we as a company generally want to go in.

    And so we put all of that together into what we call a workplace experience brief. And then that's really setting the direction and the concept for that space. And then we support our local colleagues that worked with the implementation side of things to really deliver to that brief and create that vision for what we want the workplace experience to be like for our colleagues, once we kind of opened doors for that site.

    So I think in terms of getting inspiration from LEGO Campus, we're definitely going to take a lot of that thinking and a lot of those values and instill that into our new sites. It might not be an exact one-to-one replication, obviously, LEGO Campus is a very big site, but a lot of the thinking and the values we'll definitely bring into our workplaces in the future.

    What Makes an Office Worth Coming To? 

    Mike: So Tim, I've got one more question before we pause and move into a different area of our conversation. And I think it has to do with what makes an office worth coming to.

    I think we've heard from you what that looks like at LEGO. But I'm wondering if you can put yourself in the shoes of perhaps a consultant who's working with another company and saying, you know, what are the key questions that companies should be asking themselves as they think about the future of their office workspace? Their physical workspace? What questions should they ask as they're embarking on this journey to figure out what that next phase will look like?

    Tim: I think the first question to ask is actually not yourself, but actually, your employees or your colleagues, what it is that they're missing about the office, what is it that they feel is the unique value of going into the workplace?

    Because to be honest, for a lot of us, you know, the commute and everything around it, the things that are required to kind of go into the office, you need to have a really good reason. And I think asking people what it is that they feel is the added value is the kind of the first step.

    And then on top of that you then add the layer of, okay, as an organization as a business, what are our company values? And what is it that we want out of the workplace?

    One of the things that I really enjoy is that for a lot of companies, two years down the line, you really learned that you can trust people to work from home. I think that was a really big barrier before, some organizations might have been more explicit about it than others, but there wasn't necessarily trust, that people could work remotely and not just nap all day. And I think we just alert that that works perfectly fine. We can work in this way. But there are things that we're losing when we are working remotely.

    And so I think there is generally, from management in a lot of companies, there is a trust in yes, people will do their jobs working from home. But again, what is that added value? What is it that we want out of the workplace?

    And then, the second part is, are we then willing to invest into that, right? I think there's a really interesting meme that I saw on Instagram, I'm mostly just saying that so I feel really young and hip, but the meme was showing kind of a photo of a really boring booth kind of work stall, and it said, you know, companies, we want you to come back for the culture, and then the culture call out, and then this really dreadful office space.

    And I think it's a really important to kind of thing to keep in mind is, if you're saying that, for instance, people have to come back for the culture, then you really have to invest in making that a space that supports that, and kind of is that inspiring environment that brings people around your culture, and not just the workplace that they left two years ago, because that just doesn't cut it any longer.

    Underrated/Overrated With Tim Ahrensbach

    Siobhan: Tim, I'm just going to say that since Mike and I have both made Star Trek references on this program, you will be very young and hip in comparison.

    Time: Yes! Star Trek.

    Siobhan: So we want to talk to you about where play fits in the workplace. But before we get into that, we were hoping you would play a game with us. We call it underrated, overrated. And what we'll do is we'll throw out some ideas, and you'll tell us if the idea is underrated or overrated or neither or skip. And you can give us a little explanation of why you answered that way, if you like. Are you willing to play?

    Tim: Yeah, absolutely. That sounds great.

    Siobhan: Fabulous! So our first one for underrated/overrated, and excuse me if I mispronounce, but it is the concept of Hygge. Is that underrated or overrated? And can you explain what it is for our audience?

    Tim: Yeah, absolutely. So Hygge is a Danish term, I'm Danish, so I'm very kind of familiar with this concept. Hygge is the idea that you create an atmosphere that is very cozy, warm and inviting, very often it's associated with kind of the idea of putting on like some nice music, maybe a candle, putting on some warm socks and lighting the fireplace if you're lucky to have that kind of facility. But really, it is just a sense of coziness and a lovely atmosphere.

    Siobhan: And would you say it's underrated or overrated.

    Tim: As a concept, I think it is absolutely incredible. And it is very important to me, however, I do feel that it's maybe been a little bit overrated in terms of people thinking that it's very unique and Danish, and I don't necessarily think that's the case, I think there are other Danish concepts that are much more unique and much more interesting than just the idea of putting on a nice vanilla scented candles and some warm socks. So...

    Siobhan: I love it, we're hitting on the controversy right in the first first question. Over to you, Mike.

    Mike: All right, so Tim, this is a bit of a loaded question, because you've spent a little bit of time over the last couple of years working on this, and you know, you can certainly explain that. But the concept that I'd like you to hit on a few believe it's underrated or overrated, is the hospitality industry as an inspiration for other industries and business. Do you feel like that's underrated or overrated?

    Tim: Underrated? I feel strongly about that. I think one of the things that we at least in the workplace industry can really learn from the hospitality industry is, to look at it from the end user perspective, right? Look at the workplace experience, from the point of view of our colleagues, and what it is that they need.

    Very often, we end up going into different silos, and just kind of geeking out around our specialist areas. And that's great, that makes us specialists in whatever we're doing. But we sometimes forget what it looks like from, in our case, the employees perspective or in hospitality, that guest.

    And so I think their ability to look from the consumer perspective, but also really be agnostic around who is delivering the service, the most important part is how is it experienced by the end user?

    Mike: And I mentioned it was a loaded question, because you actually took some time over the, during this last couple years to, really do some degree work or some certification work around hospitality, so that would inform your work around the new campus. Is that right? 

    Tim: Yeah, absolutely. As we were building this 59 room employee hotel called LEGO Homestay, I wanted to really upskill myself in that specific facility. But I feel like what I learned was really much more widely around, how you think, from the guest or end user perspective.

    I often like to use the example of how we in our industry tend to think about is the service delivered by IT? Or is it facilities? Or is it HR? Now, for the employee, that doesn't matter. They just want things to work, right. And so we tend to sometimes forget how we make a great experience for them. And that's something that hospitality industry is really great at.

    Siobhan: Excellent. So I'm gonna dig even deeper into your past with this next question, Tim. And it is co-working spaces. Are they underrated or overrated?

    Tim: Ah, great question. So it depends on the co-working space.

    As you mentioned, I come from a co working background, I set up my first co working space back in 2011, In London, workspace for about 500 members. One of the things that we were really focused on was the community building aspect. Basically, we were saying a lot of our clients, their alternative is a free kitchen table at home, why do they need to come into central London and be in this space where they have to pay money to be at a desk. And we're saying the desk doesn't matter? The communities that they're part of is what matters.

    So we had to work extra hard at building that community, and really actively facilitate that. And so I really think that that's a lot of the same thinking that we now have around workplace, right. It's that idea of our colleagues might as well just be at home. What is it that we do in the workplace that is unique and makes him want to come there, rather than be at home?

    So I think if it's well curated and focused around community building, then I definitely big fan of co-working.

    Mike: I've got one for you, Tim, this has to do with a story that I think came out five or six years ago talking about how LEGO minifigures were being, were actually being used as business cards in a way, that executives had their own personal minifigure with their name on it that actually kind of looked like them, or at least similar to them, that they wouldn't be able to give out as as a business card when they met folks.

    As a business card or as a tool. I mean, I guess number one, does that happen? And is that underrated or overrated?

    Tim: So it does happen, and people have them and simply because I am one of the people who does not have one, I think they are overrated. Obviously.

    Mike: If you had one, you'd be underrated, right?

    Tim: Yeah, absolutely. I think they're really brilliant. And I think they're a really great example of the brand engagement and I think, you know, our colleagues are so proud of the brand that they work for, myself included. It's really difficult to not love our product when people around you love the product. And so just the ability to have something like that, that you can share, I think is incredible.

    Siobhan: So Tim, this isn't really an underrated or overrated. But I think I would be remiss if I did not ask you this question. Do you have a favorite LEGO set? It's hard one, I know.

    Tim: It's a really hard one, I have to say, I actually have two answers to that. I have two favorite LEGO sets.

    One is the LEGO Campus set that we got as employees at LEGO Campus when it opened, there was a special set made for a LEGO colleagues. And obviously, I mean, the fact that I got to create a workplace that then became a LEGO set is maybe the most incredible part, like highlight of my life. So I think that's really important to me, who gets to say that.

    But I think the "Everyone Is Awesome" set that came out last year is incredible. For those of you who don't know, it's a set that really celebrates diversity, it came out on International Pride Day, and I think it just really celebrates diversity in a way that makes me really proud of the company, and to be a LEGO colleague.

    Siobhan: I can tell you, Tim, that I have that set in the front of my apartment right now. So that is a favorite of mine as well. But having your own one designed is amazing.

    Tim: I know, right?

    Siobhan: So thank you for playing along with us.

    Tm: Oh, always.

    Where Play Fits in the Workplace

    Siobhan: We now want to talk a little bit more about play. But it's specifically about where play fits in the workplace. And you mentioned it earlier, when you were talking about the new campus, and the different areas that you set up for people to interact and to create and to do all these amazing things.

    I heard an interview with you, that you did a while back, where you said the most important thing that happens in the office is play. And I was wondering if you still believe in this statement? And in that case, what does play mean, in the context of work?

    Tim: Absolutely. So I can confirm I definitely still say that is the case. And I would like to use the example of an event that we held last week, called the LEGO Workplace Symposium.

    We had decided to bring together 14 like-minded companies from around the world, from different sectors, to really talk about the future of work. This has been on our minds. My experience over the last couple of years is that there's such an openness in the workplace sector for people to share ideas, because when it comes to the future of work, and the post pandemic, workplace, we're all in the same storm just in different boats.

    And so we really wanted to bring these different organizations together to talk about the future of work. And these weren't heads of real estate or heads of workplaces. And these were people who hadn't necessarily met each other, again, from very different organizations, we brought them together for two days at LEGO Campus.

    And the most important thing is that we made sure that we did was really build relationships, and early on. And we did that through play, right, we did lots of different fun, playful activities. And that really helped create the relationships and the connections that enabled people to really open up in what became a trusted safe space.

    And we had two days together, and out of it came not just I think incredible insights, learnings, people were so raw and honest. And I think it's a testimony to the power of plate. Now that sounds a bit cultish, but I think the fact that it facilitated in the right way, the physical space has such a important part to play, and I think play within that space really creates some really beautiful things.

    Siobhan: So Tim, I want to clarify here because I think that I know that my nieces and nephews would definitely think, if I'm talking to somebody from LEGO that all you're doing is playing with LEGO sets in the office all day, so is that what you mean when you're talking about play in the workplace?

    Tim: So I mean, we definitely play with LEGO bricks, when we're in the office, that's a big benefit, part of the job that I love the most.

    But really, for us, play exists on a spectrum. And I can get very geeky about this, our colleagues in the LEGO Foundation, they do a lot of research around this. And when they talk about play, they talk about the spectrum where in one end, you kind of have the unstructured play. So it's really what a lot of us associate with like kids play where you might, you know, get dressed up, you might imagine dragons, you might be prince on a princess on a white horse, that kind of play.

    And then the other end of the spectrum, we have hard fun. And that's really when you are kind of overcoming a challenge. You're kind of really putting all of your energy and your excitement into it. But you also feel that you are learning, that you're developing that you're iterating, and at the end of the day, you might not have had like a haha fun experience, but it is kind of a playful approach to work. work.

    And so I think work really exists on that spectrum, kind of team building being on the one end. And then in the other end of the spectrum, we have that kind of working on next year's budget together and kind of overcoming that challenge as a team, and really appreciating the iterative collaborative process.

    So I think when play exist in that spectrum, definitely, I think it's important.

    Mike: So you've obviously built a place that encourages play as part of the daily work experience. But it does require a management approach that actually encourages it and actually makes room for it. And that isn't typically something that is taught in executive education or MBA programs.

    So what are the things that managers can do to encourage a little bit more play within their day to day work experience, you know, outside of, you know, taking karaoke breaks, or, you know, having these opportunities to do mini golf during the day?

    Tim: Yeah, so I think you're absolutely right, we have a lot of infrastructures and a lot of tools to have these kinds of play breaks where again, you feel like you're removing yourself from work to do what is not work, ie play.

    But I think really trying to bring play into the way that you work is really important. And play is all about curiosity, right? Curiosity, imagination, trying to, wanting to try something new, play is basically just kind of trying out new things and discovering new things together. But while having fun. And if you kind of look at any work task, who wouldn't want to approach a work task with that kind of mindset.

    So for us, we have things like what we call the leadership playground, it's a format, where we really approach different types of work tasks, or work challenges as a team, but in a more playful way. So really approaching it with curiosity, bravery, trying out things in a new and more innovative way. And I think that's definitely something that other business leaders can bring into the work as well.

    Siobhan: I think there's an idea that there are certain areas of businesses that are creative, say marketing, or content writing or something like that. And then there are other departments that aren't as creative, like, I don't know, finance, etc. Do all departments benefit from play?

    Tim: I mean, absolutely, right. So people say the same about us, whenever I kind of talk about play in the workplace. They say, yeah, but you know, you're the LEGO Group, you work with LEGO bricks, you've got designers, and creatives, this is kind of the core of what you do.

    But to be honest, it's a small minority of the whole LEGO Group that works specifically with designing new products, or are creatives, the rest of us are just your average office workers, you know, pushing out spreadsheets and emails.

    But you know, even for us, I think this kind of playful approach, thinking about things in a new way, working together, being iterative, having a shared challenge, and building on each other's work is important for all of us.

    Siobhan: So Tim, I love that you brought up iterative there, you've raised that phrase a couple of times throughout our conversation and how that seems to be like it's an organic growth for both the approach to how you work but also the physical space that you're working in.

    So I was hoping just to close out if you could tell us a little bit about how you see the physical workplace evolving for LEGO in the future?

    Tim: That's a great question. I think one of the things that we want to do is really try to learn from what we call the first year back in the office, and that stems from It's About a year ago that we started rolling out our hybrid work model, again, as I mentioned before, different from country-to-country, depending on where we are with the pandemic, but we've kind of had the first sense of people coming back.

    And so at the end of this year, we'll look at what, what have we learned a year in, what works and what doesn't work? And then we'll kind of create kind of an insights piece around that and really start to look at right, okay, then what do we need to do moving forward, implementing in our new sites? I can't tell you what that's going to be. But once we have that, I'm really excited to share that with you.

    Mike: All right. Speaking of sharing, Tim, if folks want to learn more about you and your work, where should they follow you?

    Tim: I definitely post a lot of my content on LinkedIn. So please feel free to follow me there.

    Mike: Would you mind spelling your name?

    Tim: It's a long and difficult one. So it's Timothy Ahrensbach, Timothy, as you know it and then Ahrensbach, A-H-R-E-N-S-B-A-C-H.

    Mike: Thank you, Tim. I appreciate you being here with us today.

    Tim: Thanks so much for having me.

    Mike: We encourage you to drop us a line at [email protected]. If you have a suggestion or a topic for a future conversation, we are all ears. Additionally, if you like what you hear, please post a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you may be listening. And be sure to share Get Reworked with anyone that you think might benefit from these types of conversations. And then finally, be sure to follow us at Get Reworked on Twitter as well.

    Thank you again for exploring the revolution of work with us and we'll see you next time.


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