When you step outside of your front door, you’re probably experiencing a very different world today than you did just a few years ago. People are more health-conscious than ever, and if you work in a corporate setting, you may not even need to leave the house to make a living.
In fact, a recent Google study revealed that over 75% of respondents expect hybrid work to become a standard practice within their organization in the next three years – and a significant 70% of those respondents had never worked remotely before the COVID-19 pandemic.
This drastic shift is no surprise to anyone who works in commercial real estate (CRE). Hybrid work is here to stay, and it has brought about new challenges to those owning, operating, and engaging with the workplace. Not only do landlords and property teams need to find ways to blend their physical work environments with modern tools and services that add value to their buildings, but employers need to find ways to instill connection, creativity, and culture in employees to engage and retain talent – even when people are working from home.
As HqO’s Senior Vice President of Engineering, Product, and Design, I’ve watched these trends evolve through a fine lens. Our company prides itself in its ability to create state-of-the-art experiences through a process of constant learning and re-learning. And, the more we partner with our customers to address their needs, the more we understand that what we’ve formerly referred to as “tenant experience” is actually much broader than that.
In today’s world, tenant experience is just a fraction of everyone’s workplace experience: from the staff running and maintaining the building, to the employees in the ground-level cafes and restaurants, to the individual workers who come into the office a few times a week. Thus, to properly support every single person who engages with a given property, we need to put people first.
Focusing on the overall workplace experience is becoming mainstream, meaning that more hospitable, personalized strategies are the future. To help our customers achieve this, we make sure that HqO’s product is the most versatile, engaging, and scalable one in the market. Here’s how.
Learning with Customers
I like to say that at HqO, we drink our own champagne. We seek to live and set the bar for what we sell to others, giving us the unique opportunity to create a product that we can experience alongside our customers. As we continue to create seamless, technology-enabled experiences that connect people to each other and the workplace, this personal approach has impacted how we view and iterate upon our product.
Before the pandemic, many of the hybrid workplace setups that we see today were only thought of as a tool for distributed sales forces or other really progressive purposes. These included environments like hot-desking areas reserved in a headquarters, or a series of small satellite spaces in co-working units. In previous jobs, I even had a work-near-home day. Individuals could spare themselves from a tricky commute and work out of a convenient co-working space that the company provided once a week. However, this was hardly ever used because it was under-socialized and generally frowned upon.
In our current landscape, these offerings have become table stakes. Landlords in multi-tenant buildings are looking to handle the desire for more variable lease arrangements while balancing the fierce competition for amenities and quality. Workplace Experience Managers – or other roles that fulfill the same needs – are in fierce competition for talent. Leaders like myself need to ensure we can achieve or exceed our company goals in a world where we’ve proven that we can be effective remotely.
At this moment in time, if I were a People Officer for a growing company, I’d want to be assured that the building I work in would be able to fit my technology needs to drive a seamless, connected experience for all workers. I’d also want to maximize my return-on-investment (ROI) on the cost of the space, as well as optimize my morale budgets that I was spending to retain talent. These are the things we’ve learned from being a growing company ourselves, and certainly insights that have shaped our internal structure and creation process.
Our teams in EPD (Engineering, Product, and Design) are set up to truly own specific areas of the HqO platform. This includes everything from designing features, all the way to handling how the software is performing for end-users. This full-lifecycle mentality drives creativity, autonomy, and speed of value creation for our customers, especially when it comes to their changing needs and feedback. Because of this, we spend a lot of time testing small changes that can make a big difference.
For example, our Booking team has been iterating on improvements over the last few months to simplify the room and desk booking processes through our app. Like all features, we use this in our own Boston headquarters. One day, I was booking a multi-day breakout session in a large shared conference room and realized that we had several painful aspects in our flow to view and alter a booking reservation. The team took that, turned it around in a short period of time, and now we have both a vastly improved experience as well as a few roadmapped items to bring more “upcoming events” to the forefront of the app.
Another example stems from our return to office journey. We used our Capacity Manager feature to sign off on health attestation forms and see if we were below state-mandated limits of individuals in each space. Over that period of time, a customer on our Customer Advisory Board (CAB) noted that we should change the name to “Collaboration Manager,” because that’s how his teams use the feature. That one statement has provoked so many interesting conversations on where we’re going to take that feature next!
HqO’s recent merger with workplace experience platform Office App has also brought about some great changes to our product. Together, we have the intelligence, tools, and resources to turn all of our learnings – no matter how big or small – into a reality for properties across the globe.
It proves to be a union of pure user value as we continue to set the stage for what it means to be the leading workplace experience platform in the world. We have always shined in digital engagement, content, programming, and ensuring that we’re able to drive community through bringing people together. We have excelled in connecting shared building amenities to the workers there, unlocking the full potential of the space.
However, our team in Amsterdam has a very complimentary skill set that goes beyond the tenant suite door. They have best-in-class features for desk reservations, sensor-driven occupancy monitoring, and user-friendly floor plans. Bringing these two worlds together only accelerates our mission, and adds some very valuable perspective on going above and beyond for a more global work environment.
My Take on Leadership
As a leader, I put a lot of value in the journey over the destination. While we always have a keen eye on ensuring that our users are happy and productive, it’s my job to ensure that our engineering culture emphasizes many of HqO’s cultural values: Learning for career growth, Goodness in mentorship and team camaraderie, and Excellence in the application of craft.
Our team’s focus is on working together in a hybrid fashion, centered around “hubs” that allow individuals who live nearby to come together to innovate, or plan with the freedom to get heads-down where they can do their best work. Those that live further out are encouraged to come in for key meetings (at least once a quarter), though more often is fine. Regardless of how people choose to work, I love seeing that many of our remote squads freely assemble for weekly hangouts or inclusive team-building activities with little or no provocation.
In a growing technology company, there is also a lot of opportunity because of how rapidly we’re growing and how much we’re trying to accomplish. Thus, I try to ensure that we have safe places for team members to stretch and grow into responsibilities that may be unavailable in a more static or slow-paced environment. We never knock anyone for taking a chance on leadership.
Additionally, we encourage innovation. We try to run a Hackathon at least once a year. We get as many people together as feasible – though we ran one completely remotely during the height of the pandemic – and we focus on having fun experimenting and fostering creativity for our users and team members. It’s always so much fun to try something new with no risk of failure or additional stress.
The teams freely assemble and strip down some of our usual rigor in pursuit of pure speed, so we usually have some polishing to do if we want to make a winning feature available. However, we see so many compelling ideas from these events that they frequently influence HqO’s product roadmap. The Capacity Manager feature I mentioned earlier was actually our 2020 Hackathon winner!
Last year, we added an in-person “Science Fair” element to the last day of our Hackathon, which allowed team members to congregate safely and discuss the merits of the projects while enjoying a beverage or catered appetizers. We ensured all of the presentations, demos, and the team-wide voting happened over Zoom – that way everyone from all of our locations could attend and enjoy it. It’s times like these where collaboration and innovation foster true culture, which we will continue to support throughout our product roadmap moving forward.
Interested in joining HqO’s EPD teams and enhancing the workplace experience? Check out our open positions today.