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Metrikus Meets... Lewis Barker from ServiceNow

Metrikus Meets is a series where we talk with some of the brightest minds about the future of work, IoT, the built environment... and most importantly, themselves! We want to get to know the person behind the ideas. 

Lewis Barker is Director, Real Estate & Workplace Services, EMEA, at ServiceNow. Our most prepared guest ever, Lewis is a walking testament to the power of mentorship, collaboration and grasping opportunities with both hands. Now in a leadership role himself, everything Lewis does comes back to people, whether that’s helping ServiceNow’s clients, employees or giving the mentorship and guidance he benefited from himself to others. 

How did you first get into the industry? And were you interested in the kind of role that you're doing now before you started?

The answer I think you'll probably get from all real estate workplace people is that they fell into it, they didn't actively choose it. So that was the case for me, for sure – I didn't actively choose to get into it. 

Before university I did a gap year working for a catering and hospitality company called BaxterStorey, and that was actually in a company where my dad was the real estate director. That gave me a kind of exposure into facilities even though I didn't know it at that point in time. And I definitely knew that I didn't want to serve up full Englishes all my life, that was very clear! 

After that I went to university in Birmingham and did geography, and so, like many geography graduates, I had no clue what I wanted to do past uni. I went away and did a ski season, and I was actually a handyman maintenance and driver, so without actively choosing anything, I kind of fell into facilities because we were looking after the chalets, the hotel, things like that. 

So, through all that I was chatting to my dad who, as I said, worked in real estate and suggested I look into becoming an office manager, or a similar role. I ended up landing a job for a non-profit environmental company called CDP in London. My first task was to relocate an office of about 250 people from a place they'd been for 10 years to a brand new fit out – it was a true baptism of fire! But I tend to like those ‘learn as you go’ situations – and not just make it up, but leverage partners and learn from other people.

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After a while I moved to another company called ISG, a big fit out and construction company in London, and managed their London offices for a spell. But by the end of that, I was really getting my passions for employee experience and real estate. At the time – and I suppose it continues now – technology companies tend to have a lot more free cash, and they tend to push the boundaries, so I knew my next step had to be with a technology company. Someone got in touch and that's how ServiceNow came into my life. 

I landed in ServiceNow and I’ve been there for four and a bit years now. They’re an enterprise software company, and though I started there as UK&I supervisor, I'm now the director of EMEA portfolio now. So again it's been a baptism of fire but with ServiceNow in particular, I was given the opportunity to grow. If you take those opportunities then you can really reap the benefits from that growth standpoint. 

I haven't been in this field for years, but when I look back on it, I can see that everything always comes back to people. And that’s truly the underlying thing: I deal with people, I like to solve the problems that they have and improve their experience, and I think that's what a lot of workplace people like to do. 

So far, what has been the biggest highlight of your career?

I'd say outside of delivering some really good workspaces, I think my personal highlight would definitely be my growth story at ServiceNow. I've managed to grow my career probably quicker than a lot of people, and I'd say that's mainly down to fantastic mentors and supporters at ServiceNow. 

I’ve had really great bosses, Daaf Serne and Tonya Thornburgh in particular, and they've really allowed me to grow and have supported me – whether it's education, exposure, you name it. And I think it's definitely a company where if you have the opportunities and you take it, you're trusted to go and do that. 

I think if I look back on this interview in a couple of years time, it would definitely be a highlight for me if my team have grown in themselves and are truly passionate about what they do. So definitely a highlight for me will be seeing that. And we always talk about taking opportunities, doing something different, because you never know! Your role now won't be the same role three years from now. So let's really educate them and give them opportunities to grow. 

Take networking for example – it’s actually super difficult and for some people it can be quite uncomfortable. But one of the best things I've done is go out and meet other people – it can be hard but it can give you a lot more opportunities. 

Mentors and sponsorship were huge for me and I think there are some companies that don't invest in these things, and these companies will end up losing out on talent in the long run.

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What would you say has been the biggest setback or failure of your career and what did you learn from that?

I couldn't pinpoint a moment, but if I'm going to be honest, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned would be flexibility. 

I am quite structured and rigid, but in a hyper-growth company like ServiceNow, an idea that is 60% baked is pretty good. I’ve learned that maybe planning from end to end, belts and braces, and then not having the flexibility within that is actually not ideal. So I think that's my biggest failure at ServiceNow: trying to be rigid with a project or initiative, and then not allowing it to be nimble enough to change with the times.

Has anyone ever given you a piece of advice that you have that's really stuck with you or that you would want to share with people?

I have three: firstly, work hard. Returning to my issue of rigidity and learning to be flexible, the second is to fail fast. And the last is to have fun. 

So working hard for me is about working smarter. That comes with experience but you can also leverage mentors, so you’re not going it alone. I definitely say to my team that it's like a non-negotiable: you need to work hard but that doesn't mean working 12 hour shifts. 

With failing fast, coming back to the idea of a hyper-growth company, when you have the opportunity to roll out a new initiative, if it’s not working you need to fail on it quickly, adapt and iterate on it. It's that mentality that it might not work the first time but we tweak it and then we go again. And I think that's what we need to do in workplaces and real estate right now as well.

And then there’s have fun! Everyone says ‘have fun’, right? But I think the pandemic massively drained a lot of that in workplaces and real estate. For me, I'm a big people person, so not seeing anyone aside from my wife was a huge drain. It was the same for my team, for most of us things revolved around coming in and seeing people, and that got completely taken away. So bringing that fun back into offices or third spaces, however you want to do it, it’s so important.

What's one idea or invention that you wish you'd had?

Ok, so I don't want to give away all my secrets and my billion dollar plans, but I haven't necessarily seen this happen before. If someone reads this and wants to come and reach out to me then great! 

This is probably for young professionals, people moving to London, Manchester, wherever it may be, into their high rise flat and a flex operator or co-working space is built into a residential flat. The idea is that your fee that you pay to that landlord is included within your rent, so it's kind of like an amenity stack within that building that you basically pay into. 

Unfortunately I don't think this will ever happen because it's not an ideal world, but if it did, similar people could come together and live in that community to share similar ideas. It’s similar to what happens in co-working spaces, where you have startups coming together – but in a bit of a different setting.

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Where do you see your industry heading?

I truly think investment has always been hard to get – whether you're end users selling into the business or you guys are trying to sell it to me because I don't have the money. I think that from an investment perspective in PropTech, in building IoT, in embedded technologies that benefit the employee experience – that will come, it is coming and it is happening. 

In the big picture, employee experience will be the reason why employees join a company going forward: is it easy? Are they cool? Do they share my values, are they easy to work with, do they let me work flexibly? All that type of stuff. 

Secondly, relating to the industry trends of investment in workplace and real estate, is data. I need data: I really won't be able to make decisions going forward on whatever the future of work looks without good data. So that's building data, things like how is it operating? Is it healthy? How occupied is it? If I go to a landlord, I'd expect some sort of data from them that benefits me, for example. All of those things are where the industry is heading, and they will be expected.

And then there’s environmental and sustainability which is happening right now. There are huge responsibilities in the workplace and real estate for the company's ESG story. At ServiceNow we've just made some big commitments around that, and real estate has to play a part in it. Although some companies give a lot of lip service to it, I think the vast majority of people within their portfolios will have to actually do something and be held accountable.

The other interesting trend that I think we've seen a lot more recently is partnerships. A lot of the big players – the JLLs,  the CBREs –  are starting to partner with other people. We saw recently that JLL linked up with WeWork, so they're trying to diversify their portfolio in partnerships. I think that partnerships are better as opposed to these big companies trying to buy people out. I think it's better to have a bespoke partner, and I think from an end user perspective, it's more transparent as well. These big companies doing it also creates a domino effect, so I see lots more partnerships in our industry coming along.

Here’s a throw forward question from Caleb Parker: what positive impact are you trying to make on the world?

My answer for this will always come back to people. I think for me it’s making people be the best they can. Whoever I come into contact with, I want to help them to do whatever they want to do in the best way that works for them. I think making at least one person laugh or smile is a good way to live your life. 

Lightning round. Do you block out your time or do you wing it? 

I'd say on a Friday I have a little bit of winging it, maybe five minutes of winging it!

Morning or an evening person?

Oh this is a tough one. I'm actually not a morning person: I block the morning out for a bit of fitness around half six and half seven, but I’d say I probably get there about 20% of the time! I think I'm probably more of an evening person because I spend most of my time on American calls.

Who would be your three dream dinner party guests?

I've always been big into sports. So I'd say Kelly Slater, surfing. Then I'd probably say Travis Rice for snowboarding and Steven Gerrard for football.

Throw forward question

What podcast would you recommend people listen to right now and why?

A huge thank you to Lewis for spending time with us for our Metrikus Meets series: we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

You can find Lewis on LinkedIn here, and find out more about ServiceNow here

If you have someone you think we should speak to for Metrikus Meets – maybe it’s you! – then drop an email to caitlin@metrikus.io with their (your!) name and what you think we could chat about!