Having a good relationship with your team is one of the driving factors towards business success. Creating a trusting environment where employees feel safe to share ideas, take risks + make mistakes leads to better performance as well. Founder & CEO of Workplace21, Cesar Keller, discusses the benefits of AI and how it can be used to mold your workplace into a high performance powerhouse with a happier and fully engaged workforce.

  • 4:50 – How the 21st century changed work
  • 6:10 – How natural language processing can increase team performance
  • 11:04 – Using meta data to optimize company performance 
  • 14:29 – The secret sauce for analyzing behavior
  • 16:38 – Why people development is SUPER important
  • 21:20 – Bringing data science into management
  • 26:01 – Defining what a “healthy team” looks like


Full Episode Transcription:

Derek: (00:00)

So Cesar it’s so awesome to have you on the show. Talking with Todd and myself, obviously we’ve had some great conversations in the past and some shared interests around the future of work and the evolution of how companies and employees work together and getting people’s best selves at work and outside of work. And just really appreciate the time here and excited to talk about what you’re working on and help everyone out there understand that. So thank you for joining us.

Cesar: (00:25)
It’s a pleasure to be here. It’s a pleasure to be here. Do you want me to talk about workplace21?

Derek: (00:29)
I was going to just ask that first question. Why don’t you tell us what about Workplace21 and the inspiration for that? You know, you’ve come from good corporate and now you’re building something on your own. Tell us about that journey.

Cesar: (00:39)
Absolutely. So the first thing I like to say is I’ve worked like for more than 20 years in corporate America, right? Like different companies. And I found great place to work and I also found some places where I was miserable every day. Right and I say like why, what is different? Like what’s going on? And all comes about like company culture and leadership and all those differences. And to me what call my attention being a people leader for so long is how subjective those conversations are, right? Like how difficult it is to get to the point and be objective about like what we call soft skills. And some people are saying soft skills are the hard skills to get. So how do you actually get in, be more objective about that? And in few companies I, I, I, I could see actually people going like miserable on, like to work every day and like not enjoying and being some bad examples about like leadership, some toxic environments like this became so like clear in corporate America, right?

Cesar: (01:51)
Like when you talk to people that’s like two people that are happy about it, but there’s so many that today like are unhappy and that reflects on the engagement employee engagement rates that everyone talks about. Like only only 30% of employees are engaged to work in US for so long. So in that journey I said like, I want to do something different, but to do something different and real, we need to start from within, right? Like we need to actually be part of those processes. So I started visioning what this new workplace of the 21st century could be, especially with the new technologies that are coming into play now, right? Like so we’re talking about artificial intelligence and that it can break up into machine learning. We can actually talk about natural language processes and all those technologies and just to close all this scenario, there’s also like the new generations and all this, the social changes that is happening in the workplace with the new generations, like requiring way more like, like from the environment’s right in front of the leadership to say like, I want to work in a fun environment. 

Cesar: (03:03)
I want to be part of something that I can add value, but I don’t feel like I’ve been, squeezed to last like juice I have to give, right? Like in at the same time do something that is actually socially meaningful, right? Like to understand like the purpose of all we’re doing all this. So I got all of these together and it’s not thinking like what the workplace in the, 21st century should look like. And then we create Workplace21. And that’s, that’s the idea of creating a new workplace that gets all those social trends, all the generation needs and base it on these new technologies, reinvent their workplace. And we chose as our first product. So what we are actually putting out today, excuse me, it’s just the first product is called Workplace21 teams. Yes. And it is a to that we, we want to increase team performance.

Cesar: (04:03)
That’s, that’s our main goal. And we are gonna do that by using natural language processing. If, if you, if you go to the market today, you’re going to see that like most of those, those are out there to increase team performance. They use service, but it’s always a nightmare for HR professionals and for executives because you need to in many cases like stop the company, run surveys, make analysis and all that. So we don’t want to do any of that. So we use natural language processing, basically text analytics to understand like how, how the team is communicating and like however everyone in that team is at your at their softer skills rather to say how we engage at the team is how collaboration is ongoing, how adaptability, right? Like how positive people are when they’re working in. And then we understand like what makes people tick at work and perform.

Cesar: (05:00)
So that’s, that’s what we were doing using natural language processing and then we offer for the team two things. One is a dashboard that the team can actually be very objective coming back to the beginning of the conversation, be very objective about like how those soft skills are going or in the team and like what the areas to focus on. Of course, this is a very simple frame that I’m painting here. And the second, the second key feature on that application is a photo coach. So we have a bot that is totally connected with that dashboard and help first of all help team to understand what are the areas to focus on at an all level and at a team level and at the leader level. So to say. We can actually draw some examples here. It’s just saying, Hey, we, we think that the collaboration can be improved.

Cesar: (05:59)
And as we map that kind of need, we have like a full library of coaching tools that we coach, like every team member, the team leader to actually, you know, like go through some reflection questions too to do some exercises, some activities and start working that in, in order to improve those those soft skills, right? Like each one of those. And just to close all that, it’s been proven over and over in any many methodology of team performance. That performance is actually connected with soft skills. It’s not the hard skills, hard skills are easy, kind of easy to acquire, a soft, excuse me, super difficult to actually make, make teams move the needle. So we are going straight to the problem and trying to solve like by giving like a very objective view, good content and exercises for teams to start evolving and then change the company one team at a time from within. And that will help us to start the journey on creating this new workplace. Sorry for the long explanation.

Derek: (07:09)
Yeah. So many questions on that explanation. I’m going to, we’ll kind of roll it back through a few different paths, I mean the first is I just wanna acknowledge your, your efforts and your, and your work that you’re doing here. I think it’s very exciting and also something that’s very much in line with what you said what is needing. Right? I think that you’re absolutely right that people are seeking greater levels of purpose, that there is a new level of value and values exchange happening in the world. And that that’s not just generationally, that’s I think across the board. Just the fact that we have more information, more of it than ever before is kind of facilitating that, that expectation across these companies. So I think that’s really cool. And I think that, I can’t wait to talk more about the specifics on your, on your platform and how you’re seeing that operate.

Derek: (07:53)
But I know Todd, you’re, you’re chomping. 

Todd: (07:57)
Yeah. I’m chomping at the bit. So I’m just imagining how you do this. Do you tap into existing conversations? Are you tapping into Slack and email and seeing what type of questions are being asked and then the response and then does the bot come in and say, you know, you’ve had someone on your team express something that is relatively personal. Maybe it can tell that and you’ve given no feedback or no recognition of them sharing something like that. I’m really curious how you take a, you know, an artificial intelligence which is very non-human and have that assist with a soft human, you know, human skill, a soft skill. 

Derek: (08:35)
You’re, you’re acknowledging knowingly. So I’m excited for this answer.

Cesar: (08:39)
That’s a great question. And let, let me start by the direct answer to our question. Yes. We tap into like every communication to those teams use, right? You say the use like Slack, it is slack if you use Microsoft is Microsoft teams. If you use email, it’s pretty much you email

Derek: (09:00)
They’re doing multiple systems at once, is that, is it tapping into multiple? Okay, cool.

Cesar: (09:06)
Right? So if you use all of them, we are going to actually tap into all of them. Right. Okay. When you say tech, this is very important because this is a privacy. The first privacy question I get like every time, right? When we do that we don’t have any human reading of any of the content, right? And we have a pledge to say we don’t keep any of that information either, right? To say it’s all electronically traffic trafficking the system right through to the, to encrypted and we don’t keep it. So all we actually read and keep is what we call meta data, right? Like it’s what’s around the message but not the messages itself. So example is, for example, we read tons of messages so we can say if someone writing this message, was happy, was sad was angry, right?

Cesar: (10:01)
Like we can actually tap into each one of those, those stones. We also get some other, metadata that is embedded in the message in terms of like time and like very physical properties of the message itself. And we have like our own algorithm to like interpret those and, this is pretty much how we teach machine learning, learning what those data points are. And then like they all read them or you, well, again, assume as soon as we decode all that, so this, this is, this is how the, the, the, the system works, right? Like on the backend. It’s that’s, that’s one point and this is super important for us. Is this, that this is a known human process. What is kind of cool, right? Because you have that in for companies especially, right? Like if you have a small business, if you have like a large business, it doesn’t matter because we can help like all the teams in a company to optimize performance at once. That’s the biggest value. So if you hire a consultant to help you to optimize one team today, that will cost you probably tens of thousands of dollars. Right. And you can not only optimize one team at once,

Derek: (11:22)
It’s hard to scale that. Yeah.

Cesar: (11:24)
Right, exactly. We can always scale that. And worse, like if someone in the team, what is pretty normal today actually rotates or leads the team, you need to start the work again. So we want to actually also bring a solution that you say you don’t need to, you have all this information. Yeah. That scale I like to say at a fraction of the cost of optimizing one team to that. Okay.

Derek: (11:47)
That’s exciting. So back to, so coming back around on the metrics that on the dashboard and the details that are being served up to the stakeholders or the teams themselves, what are you showing to them exactly? Like what is the information that they’re receiving and how are they analyzing and applying that information into?

Cesar: (12:04)
Right. So we have a few areas where we, we cater them like with that information. So we are starting, when we talk about team members right? Like everyone in the team, we start with four indicators, right? Like the first one is engagement, then we have collaboration, then we have communication and adaptability. Those four, we optimize the system to actually read those four. And we believe it. Starting with those four

Derek: (12:36)
To be clear again, just you’re looking at certain, certain words that are being used, the frequency of those words that are being used, like expressions of emotion, expressions of disengagement, expressions of all these things actively. And then essentially just analyzing it all in real time. And

Cesar: (12:51)
That’s right. You would just describe it as a little like a few more data points there. But I would say that it’s our secret sauce of course. Right? Well how to do that. But you would just describe it. That’s exactly how we do. And we see in just to be absolutely clear about that. It’s not one data point or like what happens today that actually matters. It’s mash of those things. We are humans, right? So you might be mad at me today and tomorrow we are best friends again, right? So that doesn’t matter. But what do look is actually overtime trends on how those things are going, right?

Derek: (13:35)
We’re getting very excited by this. 

Todd: (13:38)
Can I throw in another little question for clarity measure. So let’s say, let’s say someone is non-communicative, there’s not much to measure, right? There’s nothing to measure and that is the measurement. But can you measure like, Oh, someone read your message and they did nothing and then they came back and read it again and did nothing and they came back and then they said something sort of quickly little, little feisty. Like does it take into account emojis and time, time delays, number of times an email was opened, anything like that outside of just the text?

Cesar: (14:12)
Yeah. It’s a cloud of indicators that we use there. Right? so the big question in your example would be is this person engaged it or not engaged it, right? Like is that just an introvert person or, or, right. So that’s, that’s also something that we are reading here to say, is this person an introvert? And then we do expect like a lower level of message, but if it’s like an absolute no messaging on that environment where teams talk a lot, that might be, that might be an engagement each year. So we use our own algorithm and soft course to actually map that out. And more than actually point, it’s what we believe it’s super important for any human interaction is to offer a chance to talk about it. Right? So, so we will talk about it. And if that actually manifests as it is low engagement then is something for the team to discuss with the team leader.

Derek: (15:17)
Yeah. So that goes back to the initial question because I got so excited, I asked more questions. What is the dashboard actually saying? Like what are, what is being communicated back to the, to the teams or to the team leaders?

Cesar: (15:28)
Right. So one principle that are used that is super important is all the data that we collect and we analyze, we only use for people development, right? There’s no shaming, there’s no finger pointing. Like this will be counterproductive. Okay. So it is our pleasure and our main goal to say every information that we read and collect we use to help people develop in teams develop and leaders develop. So that’s, that’s the, the main stage intention. So if we notice that this is an engagement problem, then the coach who bring that topic to say, Hey, what’s going on? What, right? Like what I’m like things you can do to increase engagement, right? Like to say. And on the other hand, like we are going to talk to the leader as well to say it seems like engagement is going down in our team. Like what are the possible things like to say are you, have you been able to create a trust environment? Like this is super important for people to engage, right? Like is that clarity of goals and roles. Like this is super important as well for people to understand like what is expected and how to perform. And, and even like if, if we go deeper into that, you say, Hey, it’ll be great if you engage with X person, right? Like to say and revisit goals and roles. So we can give hints as well on how those things go. But once again it’s really like with always been our intension to actually promote people development. Yeah.

Todd: (17:08)
Very cool. And do you, does it offer specific prompts of what to say based on who you’re communicating with? So if I’m communicating with an introvert, I might use different language or different approach than if I’m communicating with someone on my team who’s, you know, always boisterous and feeding off the group energy.

Cesar: (17:31)
Yeah. So in, in the sake of full transparency, we are a startup, right? Who is starting this journey. So what you just describe it is email where roadmap is not offered today, but we will be, it will be. So the bot itself has a right like that we project over a few years in order to how to actually make more humanlike that conversation like, but that, that takes like few years. So we are like still to lounge the company commercial in the next few months. But that’s absolutely now our roadmap to, to make that like more personalized. But according to your communication style.

Derek: (18:16)
Got it. So that was kind of my, one of my next questions are kind of those same lines. So you’re launching teams, you’re in the process of launching that now. I understand the concept of roadmap very well. What, what other products in your do you imagine launching besides just iterating on this offer? What else do you imagine building as part of this workplace21 concept. Cause that that was a, I mean we’re definitely a very big opportunity, right? In terms of what’s happening in the market on the, on the macro level and then we’re speaking very specifically on the micro, here’s our products that are addressing this. So where’s that, where’s that come together?

Cesar: (18:50)
Absolutely. Lovely question. So let’s move now from the specific to the broader picture here. So as, as part of this new workplace, right? A bit 21st century. Once we understand like who you are and like how do you connect with other people and what makes you excited about working at all that the next logical step. And actually we have started already working on that is how to, how, how to help you to develop skills and not, not only like developing skills but the right skills. So looking, looking at the future trends of ad either sorry, every profession. We, we come back and say like, you’re like some skills that we believe it’s going to be important for it, for you one moving into the future. So that is the next logical step. We are working on that as we speak now and of course as part of a workplace there will be solutions on the jobs and connecting to jobs and projects and areas and that will be some career counseling as well to say like, how do I manage my career?

Cesar: (19:59)
And one thing that I want to say that we believe has to be different from the way these things are managed today is bringing data science into, into all of those paths. Right? All those journeys. Cause today we are moving from like a market that was professionally very static. Like when I, when I say that, like when I was like finishing school, I knew I would actually follow a marketing career and I knew I would retire on a marketing career. Right? Like so that was super static and nowadays you don’t know what you’re going to be in the next four years sometimes. Like if you are like on, on, on that the technology.

Derek: (20:43)
Nowhere near as linear as that once was. Right?

Cesar: (20:45)
Yeah. Right. Exactly. So, so moving from a very static reality to a very dynamic reality, we need to bring way more data science to help people navigate to like all those changes and all those trends and that’s what you would intend to do with like all the information we are collecting.

Derek: (21:05)
Hmm. So on the same note then, so you’re going to be thinking here. So as I’m thinking through teams, I mean you’ve worked with some large organizations in your career, obviously I think back to your journey and you can feel free to share about that. And you talked about you being a startup now and working with small businesses. I mean, how do you kind of see this evolving from a, from a market adoption standpoint, do you see this tool being best fit into a big corporate structure? Do you see it within the digital teams or is it that you can influence an entire company of 30 or 50 people, right? Where’s the optimal return going to be in the short run for, for workplace21 in your opinion to collect the data that you think will help prove out these, these thesis or, 

Cesar: (21:46)
So, so commercially this, this is super interesting cause it’s, I like to say that actually reality help you to shape commercial strategy, right? It’s a start up, right? You want to buy like, okay, but here is enough right. We got like a lot of a good answer rapport, right? Like in terms of building a pipeline, pipeline of potential customers on all the segments. So today I’d been talking with two large corporations, so that’s amazing for us. Like I didn’t imagine that I would start there, but actually there’s a lot of interest from large corporations to actually implement, implement that solution. On on the other hand, I have like small companies, agencies and, and especially companies that work with customers on a daily basis that need to be like high-performing all the time. Super interested in the platform too. And last but not least there’s a huge problem of engagement in talent retaining o\n dev shops, right? Like all the companies that work with that, that’s like so much required nowadays. It’s a very specific one, but there’s so much problem with engagement that we’ve seen a lot of interest from that shop saying, please the day you were ready to let me use it. Cause like we, we want to actually improve that process.

Derek: (23:15)
Yeah. That’s really interesting actually. Where, where is the breakdown, at least in the conversations that you’ve had today or what you’ve seen so far in the data, where is that, where is that disconnect happening for dev shop? Specifically? Or dev teams specifically where those four categories. Is there a certain area where you’re seeing a particular gap? Is it, is there not data that shows any of the specific things or what is it?

Cesar: (23:36)
So there’s, there’s differences. This is very, very very interesting question cause there there’s differences in all X is when you analyze customers here. Yeah. So when you talk about like that shops, the problem is really talent retaining cause it’s so expensive to, to, to hire a new talent and then what they are seeing is like are you a turnover, right? Like so less, sometimes less than a year, right? Like we hired the talent and then people just move out. Then it found the next level job. Like it’s being super hot. So that talent retaining is important. And understanding like how people are engaging, like how collaboration, those are all very good signals if fit teams are healthy. And you know, like a healthy team has a chance to rethink talent way, way more. So. So, so this is one in the second aspect of that is leadership because like we can have a very clear reading on how healthy leaders are, right?

Cesar: (24:37)
Like to say if, if there’s a trust environment if, if this is a caring leader, if people understand goals and roles and Oh, those indicators that tell us if the leader is creating a healthy team. So, so that, that super-interesting for that shot. If you go to, for example, I’ve been talking to lots of sales leaders in organizations and of course like collaboration, like teamwork, right? Like to actually achieve goals as like so important, right? For any sales team. So they are looking at that like to say, Hey, I need that tomorrow, right? Like to to be sure that like everyone is really engaged and committed to what we need to deliver. And then he goes, it varies like one by one.

Derek: (25:28)
So that, that raised the question to me as well. And I think through, you know, back to what a healthy team looks like or what does it, what is the optimal level of, of these four pillars look like. Have you, are there benchmarks that exist now on what is the standard by what trust is or, or a high collaboration environment or, and how do you, how do you use, how do you define that?

Cesar: (25:48)
Right. And on this, on this dashboard, we have, we have an overall number that we want to use that to help teams understand what, where they rank in terms of exactly that, that, that the issue, right. And help also companies and teams to gamify that if they want to, right. To say, Hey yesterday you were like 75, today was 76, and this is, it has been growing, right. And all that. So we don’t have like numerically that is standard yet, but we intend to create that exactly with that indicator. But I can tell you like probably, probably the best answer at this point is to say the best teams, the ones who actually perform better is the teams that are able to create a trusting environment. So, and I mean by that, when people really can come to work and check in rationally and emotionally, right, like they, they feel safe and they feel safe to share ideas to risk, to make mistakes. And the team can actually deal with that in a good way, in a positive way. So every time you have, like, you have a team that actually have that key characteristic. Be sure that if it’s not a high performing team, it will be. 

Derek: (27:12)
Very cool. That’s really interesting. Do you have a question?

Todd: (27:17)
Yeah, I do. Have you explored, yeah, I can go deep here. Have you heard any audio, any transcriptions of conversations or meetings? I know there’s another company that I will probably have on the show soon that does anonymously record and look for, I forget what they call them. They’re, they, they have flagged words, triggers, trigger words that are either good for people to say or bad for people to say, so that it gives them a score. And some of that, there’s a lot of compliance involved with some of these phone calls. So they can be detrimental like certain calls, you cannot say the word guarantee, right? Healthcare, any, any industry with that. So do you have any intent on doing audio transcription and analysis?

Cesar: (28:06)
100% 100%. So it’s, it’s so simple. The, the, the difficult there is, it’s really to be sure that teams use the online environment to communicate, right? Like, like we are doing here today. We could be listening to that conversation and translating sentiment out of, out of this conversation. So one thing that we are building now that is clear is 2021 year from now, it’s expected to one every three Americans to be working remotely. Right? Right. So this is a huge number. Yeah. It’s, it’s a huge number. 

Derek: (28:47)
Mobile learning man. 

Cesar: (28:48)
Yeah, exactly. And this is, this has been only growing, right? Like so, so what we are building today feeds well to that future, right? Like, or in the present cause like the more people communicate online like we are doing here today the more effective we can be. So yes, it is on the roadmap and very soon to use that.

Cesar: (29:13)
And just to comment on one thing that you said, I, we are humans and sometimes we can have a very particular limited moment when we get angry at something, at a joke, maybe two minutes later we are no angry anymore. So the quality of that analysis, right? The algorithm like what we are doing is so important to take life conclusions or wrong conclusions over all that. So, so, so one of the concepts that we use here that it’s super important that we covered already, but just to repeat it, it’s not like one sentiment or one word or something that we can actually, but it is the high density of the same things that actually guide us like to through our analysis. So if I’m consistently angry for two weeks in a row, that tells me something. Yeah.

Derek: (30:18)
So, so Cesar what in your mind as you’re, because again, you’ve built this cool concept, you’re building this amazing company, think out two, three, five years. What would it, what would the ideal look like for you if you’re, if you’re bringing forth your vision of this, of this startup, what does that look like for you in terms of the, the adoption, the, the impact of companies using it? How is, how is the world changing as a result of, of this work?

Cesar: (30:43)
Right? So what do you, what do you want to you know, like start up like the hockey stick projection. How fast can we grow a SAS solution, right? Like, it’s super, it can be super fast. It can be faster, it can be slower. Like, okay, it’s super hard to tell like how we are going to grow. But what we do want to accomplish is it’s really create this new workplace where everyone, wants to getting out of the bed, be productive, want to go to work and have fun working and producing and more than anything else working in a way that can create social change at scale, right? Like, so this is, this is what we wanna accomplish and hopefully in three years we’re going to see, you know, like more people engaging to that journey. 

Derek: (31:36)
Yeah. Well we definitely have a shared view on that in the world standpoint. I think, you know, you look at Scrimmage, we’re all about the concept of play, where you work and learn when you play and make sure that you’re adding purpose and fun and meaning and community to all of that. Right? So I think that I definitely can appreciate your vision there and what you’re building and just thank you for, for sharing the specifics on what you’re building here today has been really fun to, to learn more to talk with you about it.

Cesar: (32:00)
It’s a pleasure to be here, was super fun conversation. And I have to say I’m a big fan of, of Scrimmage. And I can only see as we drive into that excuse in the skills development that we create a partnership here where we can absolutely help companies to use screen much like, you know, even in a more effective way than it is today.

Derek: (32:21)
Cool. I love that. Well, more conversations to happen for sure. And have an amazing labor day weekend. 

Cesar: (32:28)
Thank you. 

Todd: (32:29)
Great. Thank you Cesar.

Cesar: (32:29)
You guys too.

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