CEOs Talk Workplace: Interview with Vari’s Jason McCann

Jason McCann, CEO of Vari, shares how his evolving and energetic space also doubles as a living showroom for clients.  

Common areas – Vari Las Colinas. Image by Vari.

Bob Fox – Tell us about Vari and what kind of work you guys are doing.

Jason McCann – We started our journey about seven years ago, creating one of the most popular sit-stand desks in the world – the VariDesk. That original product has well over 2 million fans and in over 130 different countries. As our journey evolved, we started to dream about the office of the future.

In the last few years, we have created about 200 different products that are in the market today – from conference tables to lights to storage to movable walls. We have another 300 or so product ideas that are in the pipeline. As we went through this process, we realized that while everyone recognizes a VariDesk, our name was a touch limiting. People just think “desks.” So we underwent a multi-million dollar rebrand in February to become “Vari.” As Vari, we have the freedom to expand our line of innovative workspace solutions. We haven’t abandoned VariDesk, we kept the VariDesk name for our line of height adjustable desktop risers, the product that started it all.

Privacy panels between desks Pre-COVID-19. Vari plans to expand space between desks. Image by Vari.

Bob – I understand that now you are not only making office products, but you are now in the real estate business as well?

Jason – Yes, it has been an incredible journey. Clients from all over the world come visit us our headquarters right in the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. When they walk into the space, they experience our culture, energy, and people – it’s a living, breathing showroom for our products. Clients started to tell us that they loved the products, and that they wanted the same energy in their own space.

At the same time, flexibility is driving a structural shift in the leasing market. JLL predicts that by 2030 flexible workspaces will comprise 30 percent of the commercial office market. Tenants are seeking flexibility; they want shorter lease terms and space that can adapt to their changing needs. Flight to Quality is showing us how much workspace matters for recruitment and retention. Demand for Class A spaces is increasing steadily.

We saw the trend. We bought our first building at the end of 2018, the former Zales headquarters in Las Colinas, Texas, and we reimagined and redesigned the building as our first VariSpace location. VariSpace brings together first-class amenities and flexible space solutions in a multi-tenant campus ideal for enterprise-level tenants. We now have two 400,000 plus SF buildings, both 15 minutes from our headquarters.

Plants and partitions to help achieve distance. Image by Vari.

Bob – How many employees do you have?

Jason – We’ve gone from two of us to over 350 employees now. Even now, we have more than 20 open positions.

Bob – Well, that’s some exciting growth! How long have you been in business?

Jason – The original product idea was started in 2012. We became an official business in 2013 and we’ve been growing like crazy ever since.

A distance-based design approach has made an impact at Vari. Pictured is VariSpace Las Colinas. Image by Vari.

Bob – One of the things that WDM is particularly interested in is how people are getting value out of their workplace. Since you’re at the heart of creating and furnishing these environments, I’m curious to know where you think you are getting the most value and how your clients are using their environments to their benefit?

Jason – One of our greatest differentiators has always been flexibility. We created a full suite of office furniture solutions that are not only easy to install, but easy to move.

When you consider all the uncertainty we’re facing today, flexibility becomes even more important. The return to the office will happen in phases, and we already know that many office floor plans won’t work as they are. However, within a few days, weeks, or months of returning to the workspace, office design will inevitably need to flex and change… and then change again. And we know there will always be new challenges, even when we’re through this pandemic. The flexibility of the workspace solutions that Vari provides allows our clients to get the most out of these environments.

Kitchen – Image by Vari

Bob – In your position as CEO, how do you use your space to communicate your core values and your mission to drive your objectives forward?

Jason – Your people create your culture. As you hire people who embody the company’s core values, they add to the DNA and fabric of the culture of the business.

We designed our space in a way that aligns with our values. It’s not just about having the words on the walls (though we do that), it’s about demonstrating the principles. For example, one of our values is “Be Authentic.” The importance of transparency is physically evident throughout our building – our C-Suite offices have no doors and are built using clear walls.

We also share our core values in conversations with our customers. These conversations are happening all the time since we started on a journey to help create happier, healthier, more productive workspaces. Over time we have recognized that we’re elevating people and transforming cultures through workspaces, so we changed our vision of the business.

The new layout for Vari Customer Experience Team at their headquarters. Image by Vari.

Bob – So, it sounds like when somebody comes to visit your space, they’re immersed Vari as a company?

Jason – That’s been our goal since day one.

Bob – Where would you say your people get the biggest value in your company or the greatest return?

Jason – I think it’s the investment you make in your people. Very early on we created Vari University, which helps our younger staff who have never led teams develop leadership skills.

As a young company, we focus on education, training, learning, and providing a path for professional growth. We offer opportunities for stretch assignments, and we foster an environment that allows for failure. We also take a top to bottom approach to innovation –from C-Suite to employees, we empower individuals to contribute to the improvement of the products and services we provide.

Through Vari University, employees the opportunity to refine personal and professional skills. We encourage development through online courses, internal training, and more. We have a monthly company-wide book club to keep us all motivated to learn and grow, which we typically hold near our stage presentation space. We have brought in guest speakers to talk about everything from how to nurture creativity to wellness and meditation.

Image by Vari.

Bob – What is changing the most in your environment and what are some of the things that are driving that change?

Jason – If you asked me this a few months ago, I would tell you all about some of the cool things we are able to create in our space as needs arise, like when we were rolling out Salesforce and quickly set up ‘Einstein’ bars so that teams could ask tech questions.

But today, our biggest change been implementing distance-based design. While our employees were working remotely and the office was empty, we completely redesigned our workspace layout to ensure that it would be safe when the time came to start bringing people back. When you walk through our space today, there are floor decals directing the flow of traffic, there are hand sanitizer stations all over, and we created barriers and acrylic panels around employee workstations, which are all 6 ft. apart. Everything looks different, and that’s important.

Not only are we doing this for ourselves, but because our products are so flexible, we’re able to offer our clients a new distance-based design.

Bob – What do your staff value the most? What brings people into the office every day?

Jason – The culture, the communication, and the connection. That’s what we miss most when we work remote. People are looking for an environment where they are making an impact and learning and growing from a professional and personal standpoint.

Privacy booths at Vari HQ. Image by Vari.

Bob – What’s the story that a visitor of your space would tell people after they leave?

Jason – On the outside, our building is not very attractive, but when you open the door, you can feel the energy of the space. We have so many people that come into our space that are perhaps exploring how to do business with us. When they’re on a tour they always ask if we are hiring! That’s when you know you’re doing it right.

And today, we hope that visitors will feel safe and cared for from the time they enter the building to the time they leave. As you enter, first of all, there are no door handles, masks are required, and your temperature is taken. From a design perspective, not only is everything is spaced out, but we’ve added three times the amount of plants and greenery that we had before, which creates a calming effect.

Bob – That’s great. How do you measure your performance?

Jason – We have clients that are starting to measure space utilization through third-party technologies. We are doing it with our clients so we’re in the early phases of measuring.

Image by Vari

Bob – Vari is really disrupting the furniture industry and driving a whole new model. How do you think the market perceives Vari relative to the rest of the industry?

Jason – I focus all of my energy on clients and potential clients and try to understand their pain points, and that’s really how we got here.

We couldn’t find a solution for my co-founder’s back pain. These products were on the market, but it took too long to get and they were too expensive. We believed there was a better way. So, we created the first VariDesk.

As we work with companies today, we’re learning about their pain points when it comes to furniture. We’re able to install quickly and we offer complimentary design and installation services. We believe in creating flexible spaces that meet the needs of today and can easily adapt to the needs of tomorrow.

Bob – Does your space help you to innovate?

Jason – Yes, we have deliberately created a workspace that mirrors our culture of transparency and encourages innovation. Our C-Suite and I have offices that are located right off the main walking corridor, which was intentional, because we wanted to be accessible, visible, and available. So, employees can – and do – walk right up and say hello. Rather than have leaders tucked away, we wanted our offices to be approachable. Employees are an integral part of our innovation, and our team knows that they are always welcome to share new ideas or suggestions.

There are no closed-door meetings because our conference rooms also don’t have doors. Meeting rooms have clear glass walls. It holds us to a high standard of transparency.

Bob – What was your primary goal for the design of your office space?

Jason – We believe a workspace designed for change and flexibility can foster an environment for happier, healthier, and more productive employees. Physical movement sparks creativity and collaboration, and an inclusive, vibrant culture creates positive energy. When you take steps to develop a workspace with positive energy, you elevate your people.

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