Navigating Workplace Challenges: Colin Beattie’s People Spot Vision

In our interview with Colin Beattie, founder of The People Spot, he shares his transformation from a legal professional to a tech entrepreneur, and the pivotal moments during Melbourne’s lockdown that led to the creation of his innovative app. 

Colin discusses the genesis of The People Spot, designed to tackle everyday workplace challenges, and how it adeptly caters to both remote and in-person work environments with its unique ‘playbook’ approach. 

He also talks about the journey of developing the app amidst the challenges of the pandemic and his vision for its role in reshaping workplace interactions globally, emphasising the app’s focus on immediate, practical support for fostering productive and harmonious work environments.

Colin, reflecting on those long days during the Melbourne lockdown, what was the turning point that led you to imagine the People Spot app? Was there a particular ‘aha’ moment you can share?

I sat on a balcony in May of 2020 in Fitzroy in Melbourne. I knew that all of my face to face coaching work had dried up. More importantly, I realised that organisations were in crisis and had little time to brief a consultant / coach. Training, coaching and strategic change was not on their mind.

I had a piece of A3 sized white card. It was cold on the balcony, but I said I’m not going back inside until I could work out how I could help people at work from my home.

The words I scribbled down were “Choose your own people’s adventure.”

Two and half hours later, when the Melbourne cold was too much, I ventured back indoors and said,

“It has to be an app. It has to help people the day they need the help. It can’t be training. It must be intuitive and easy. It must be for everyone, not just managers. It should be about mini stories of what it’s like to overcome something at work. And it must solve avoidance.”

The last one was the most ambitious.

Essentially I believed that a lot of what I had worked on for 15 years was feeding into how much workplaces cater for avoiding the hard things.

Training was just one example. “The reason I can’t have a tough conversation at work is because I haven’t been trained.” “I’ll change if I see other leaders changing.” 

Especially during a pandemic, avoidance seemed to be the worst thing we could do.

In Melbourne, in one of the world’s most extended lockdowns, we were forced to avoid people and I was struck by the irony that the ban was not in place, we often avoided other people at work anyway. 

Workplaces are rife with everyday challenges. Could you tell us about a personal experience or a story that illustrates the kind of problem the People Spot is equipped to tackle?

We call them tricky people moments.

It’s tricky because it matters to you and you are not sure of the best choice.

It’s a moment because it has just happened, e.g. someone said something dodgy or confusing in a meeting or because you know it could be actioned that day.

There is a window of opportunity to act.

Our newest member of our Global Advisory Board. Dr Nora Koslowski says PeopleSpot is first aid for messy, human moments at work.

So when we think of messy human moments we think those moments that invoke most emotion. Emotions like frustration, jealousy, anger, fear.

  • Hearing confusing or unfair feedback
  • Watching someone else take credit for work your team did
  • Having your manager text you on a Sunday at 5pm when you are already exhausted

And because organisations must keep people both physically and mentally safe.

  • Being excluded because of your gender, culture or preference.
  • Witnessing a colleague experiencing a toxic or dangerous situation.
  • A seemingly innocent joke that is both not funny, It’s offensive. 

As we navigate this new era of work with its blend of in-person and remote interactions, how does the People Spot tailor its advice for these differing settings? What’s the app’s approach to ensuring relevance in both contexts?

Building as a mobile solution first was critical. People want answers in the flow of their work, wherever and whenever they work. The app is available 24/7 in 175 countries. We are building out wearable versions, ipad and vision pro for augmented reality.

In 2023 and beyond, support comes to you, not you go to it. Organisations that expect people to turn up to a physical location for training or support are exposing their people to unacceptable risk.

People’s interactions happen at all times and at all locations. We know people use the app when they can’t sleep. We know some use it in the car park just before they enter their place of work.

We want to be in the most convenient places at the most convenient times.

The concept of a ‘playbook’ for handling people’s issues is intriguing. How does this feature get personal with the advice it offers, and could you share how it might work in a real-life scenario?

The simplest playbook works in factors of three. In Australia, one of our most successful PSA’s was SLIP. SLOP. SLAP for sun protection. Three words. Easy and memorable.

PeopleSpot adopts a 1.2.3 playbook. Every human interaction at work should be as easy as 1.2.3.

1. Start. 2 Take action. 3. End

Everything else we provide is bite sized snackable content within this simple framework.

Just snack on one element in start, take action and end and you are making progress.

We aim for doing more, not knowing more.

This works so well for tough conversations.

1. Start “I am going to state my goal and ask an open question in the first minute”

2. Take action “I am going to listen to understand and not defend my position.

3. End “I am going to sum up what progress this conversation has made, without apology and with confidence.”

In a market filled with tools aiming to streamline workplace dynamics, what’s the unique edge that the People Spot brings to the table? How does it distinguish itself?

We have a simple aim. To be the first support a person reaches for. To achieve that we must be trustworthy, easy, reliable, consistent. But we can’t be everything.

There are many times PeopleSpot will recommend that a person seeks out an expert. Some situations require an expert like a psychologist or a lawyer or sometimes even police.

For that reason, we want to be the 48 hour solution. We believe our window of support is in the tricky first 48 hours. Beyond that, either the issue is complex enough to justify expertise or the app has not done its job.

So the unique edge is knowing what we are great at and knowing that we can’t be great at everything.

We are humanists at heart and technology allows for scale but it should never be a substitute to a human to human conversation.

Launching an app is quite the journey, more so during uncertain times like a lockdown. Can you share some insights into the hurdles you and your team overcame to bring the People Spot to life?

An app is like a puppy, it’s for life. An app takes a village.

We built the MVP version from idea to money making without most of the team meeting each in person. We had engineers working from outback Queensland, where lockdown didn’t exist, to our artist, Nora Toth who is based in Budapest, Hungary

We had to support Nora during the outbreak of the war in Ukraine because she was travelling to the border in her car to deliver blankets and supplies, It was a strange time and also really special to work on something together.

One hurdle was wanting to get the content to people before the whole experience was ready. We were getting so frustrated that people were struggling with the everyday problems the app was built for. Like living with uncertainty, like feeling isolated and lonely, like feeling emotional and unregulated. 

Looking at the broader picture, how do you see the People Spot influencing the future of work in Australia and beyond? How do you hope it will reshape workplace interactions?

We have a simple and realistic goal that is not limited to Australia. No matter what the world faces, organisations large and small work when they solve real problems.

Working together humans can solve global challenges in health, in climate, in wealth distribution, in social connection.

But it is the human moments that can get in the way.

Problems don’t get solved because of sometimes the smallest of things.

Two teams don’t get along because their team leaders have big egos.

A brilliant thinker doesn’t speak up because she doesn’t feel safe to.

A dissenting view is held because only people who are ‘positive’ are rewarded.

Our big broad picture is helping people to solve the biggest problems of our time.

That is the future of work. 

About Author

Hey there! I'm Hao, the Editor-in-Chief at Balance the Grind. We’re on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.