Engineering a Great Workplace Experience

Engineering a Great Workplace Experience | HqO
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As a software engineer, my job is to work on the small details. When I saw an opportunity to contribute to HqO’s blog, I jumped on it, because I thought it’d be a fun change of pace to step back and discuss the bigger picture of our company and the products we spend our days building. Here’s what I’ve learned about workplace experience from my own work, how we do it, and what makes it all so important. 

What is Workplace Experience, and Why Does it Matter?

HqO is a workplace experience company, which means that the products we build are designed — from top to bottom — to enhance a tenant’s or employee’s experience in the workplace, whether by giving them tools to streamline routine tasks (like badging into the office or booking a desk for the day), giving them timely access to company events and announcements, or connecting them to useful services from the communities in which they work. 

Combining all of these features into a single app provides tremendous utility and convenience for end-users, and the resulting user data gives building owners and employers actionable insights about how people are interacting with their workplaces. Because much has already been said on the topic of how valuable this data is, I wanted to take this opportunity to instead talk from an employee perspective about what workplace experience means to me and why it matters so much. 

To me, the importance of having a good workplace experience is fairly obvious. 

It’s no secret that we spend a lot of time at work. If we sleep eight hours per night, we’re spending at least half of our waking hours — excluding weekends and holidays — on work. That’s a lot of time to invest in an employer if you’re unhappy. After going through this extremely difficult pandemic, it’s become evident that life is just too short to spend any significant part of it being unhappy. 

I believe that over time, workers will become less and less willing to compromise about this, putting the burden on employers to ensure that they’re delivering a world-class workplace experience to their employees. Not doing so will surely mean losing out to other employers in the battle for talent, and result in costly employee churn as more people refuse to tolerate widespread work-related inefficiencies and cultures that don’t help them feel good

After all, when people feel good, they’re more inspired to do their best work day in and day out. 

Learning from Past Workplace Experiences

Prior to becoming a software engineer, I had a mini-career in the life sciences industry as a clinical trial project manager. When people think of life sciences, they think of labs. What they may not realize is that a huge chunk of employees in these companies are office workers responsible for managing the sometimes-decade-long clinical trial process — which starts after the discovery phase in the labs.

The life sciences industry does really important scientific work that depends on highly skilled workforces. As such, companies spend a lot on things like high-end offices and competitive benefits and compensation packages to attract the best talent. In my experience, one thing that I always felt was missing was a full embrace of the role of modern software technology in just about every aspect of work. 

The role of software in performing job-related tasks in that industry is a topic for another day. As it relates to workplace experience, I’ll just say that there were definitely opportunities to streamline routine office tasks like signing up for parking, badging in, finding and booking desks, filling maintenance requests, and so on. 

To be fair, my experience in that industry is pre-pandemic, and the concept of workplace experience is still in its infancy. Given how much they value their employees and how competitive the market for talent is — especially here in Boston — I have no doubt that this industry will be among the biggest adopters of workplace experience technologies in the years to come. 

So, What Makes a Good Workplace Experience?

The biggest factor affecting workplace experience is an organization’s people. Throughout my career, I’ve seen employers prize things like years of experience, technical ability, or executive command. If you meet these criteria, you might even be given a pass for having a negative workplace personality. The reality is that no matter how competent they are, negative personalities spread like plagues throughout an organization. They reduce morale and productivity in ways that may not be easily measured — but the consequences of which are very real to the business. 

Prioritizing the hire of kind, decent, respectful people who can put their egos aside breeds a culture of trust and team cohesion. This leads to tremendous productivity gains organization-wide.  

Closely related to this, I believe that hiring people from diverse backgrounds and ensuring that people from minority groups of any kind feel safe to be and to express themselves is absolutely critical. This isn’t just about good PR. People from different backgrounds see things in a different way because of the uniqueness of their experiences. They may have insights that others may not see, insights which can lead to meaningful improvements to our products, services, and our ways of operating. 

The only way companies can harness these gains is if they make diversity a hiring priority and ensure that their workplace is culturally sensitive. As someone who comes from a minority background (I’m from Bangladesh) and really enjoys meeting people from different cultures (and usually learning that we have a ton in common, no matter where they’re from), I believe that diversity brings a richness to the workplace that nothing else quite compares to.

Once you’ve got the right people in place, the task then becomes helping them to be as happy and productive as possible. 

This starts with encouraging employees to be personally balanced and prioritize their overall well-being. For example, it’s more obvious now than ever before that employees benefit from flexibility in terms of when and where they work. Giving people the opportunity to work from different locations, daily opportunities to take regular breaks, the flexibility to take a partial or full-day off for important personal events, and ample time for vacations helps them recharge and enjoy the fruits of their labor. This type of choice and flexibility creates a happy and healthy employee, one who is going to be loyal to your company and infinitely more productive than one who is constantly stressed and unhappy because they feel like the demands of their job are impacting their health and making them miss out on other important parts of their lives. 

Once you have a happy and healthy employee, then you can start focusing on team cohesion. 

Game nights, company outings, or group lunches all help employees get to know each other on a personal level. This breeds trust and camaraderie, which leads to team cohesion. Team cohesion means people will ultimately work better together, support one another, and be more productive. 

Finally, with all this in place, it’s important to make sure that employees are as unburdened as possible as they go about their day in the workplace. Performing routine office tasks like reserving parking, booking a workspace for the day, ordering food to your desk, or filing a maintenance request shouldn’t require you to shuffle between a million different apps. Giving employees a single app to manage all of their workplace interactions and activities can make their lives significantly easier and allow them more time to focus on the thing they were hired for in the first place.

My Workplace Experience at HqO

HqO is clearly a company that prioritizes hiring good people. “Goodness” is one of our six core values, and it’s truly practiced here. The people I’ve had the pleasure of working with, despite being incredibly smart and talented at what they do, have no problems putting their egos aside. They readily admit mistakes and take ownership. They eagerly step up to help out teammates.

As a result of being in this environment, my personal well-being and professional happiness are higher than they’ve ever been. The work is challenging and interesting, and I’m learning new things every day. The roles and responsibilities are clear, and flexibility in how we work is found in abundance. Teams are very supportive about utilizing our unlimited vacation policy, and we all cover for each other when needed. There’s no shortage of company events — like sponsored lunches or after-work events — which give me opportunities to build relationships with my colleagues. Because my happiness and energy at work are so high, I have a lot more energy for things outside of work. I get better sleep at night, and come to work ready to go. It’s one giant positive feedback loop. 

Workplaces of the Future

Gone are the days where people will stay at a company just for money and perks. If they don’t have a positive workplace experience, they can easily go somewhere else. I would encourage employers out there to think hard about workplace experience and what it means for them. Although it ultimately starts with hiring the right people and setting the right tone, technology solutions like ours really do enable positive workplace experiences. They help us discover events at which we can get to know our colleagues better, they vastly simplify routine office-related tasks, and they help us get to know the communities that we work in.

Making an investment in workplace experience isn’t just about keeping teams productive. Fundamentally, I believe it’s the right thing to do. If you’re going to hire people and expect them to do their best work at your company, it’s your responsibility to ensure that, for the areas that you can control, the experience you create for them is truly world-class. If you don’t, someone else will.

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