Inside HqO: Anna Leach

Inside HqO: Anna Leach, Senior Product Designer | HqO
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Anna Leach

Lead Product Designer at HqO

Anna has been with HqO for almost three years, leading the company’s Product Design team in collaboration with the Engineering and Product teams. Her experience and collaborative nature help bring an iterative approach to the entire HqO platform; based on both internal and customer feedback, Anna and her colleagues consistently review and revise the end-user product to create the best experience possible.

Inside HqO: Anna Leach, Senior Product Designer | HqO

We’re still a young company, so working with HqO for three years is a long time! You’ve been here from the very start.

Yes! When I started, HqO only had about 30 employees. Now it’s over 200!

What drew you to applying to HqO at such an early stage in the company lifecycle?

I didn’t have any real estate experience, but I was looking for design roles where I could make a bigger impact on the product as a whole. Sometimes, if you go somewhere that’s extremely mature, you have a really small piece of the pie to work on. When I interviewed, I talked to a lot of the product leaders and found that there was an opportunity here – from both a design standpoint and a strategy standpoint – to really shape the course of what the product looks like and how it functions and meets user’s needs. It was new and exciting, and the visionary-level thinking really spoke to me.

How has your day-to-day role changed as HqO continued to grow?

It’s funny. It’s both the same and different! I still collaborate every day with Engineering and Product, and I still have strong relationships with my peers in the customer side of the house. But I think what feels most different is now we have more time to go deeper into every area. When you’re establishing minimal viable products (or MVPs) and a lot of early functionality, it’s just about getting those features out there. The focus is on a lean solution, so you don’t always get as much testing in and you can’t always cover every use-case with every feature. The focus is getting it out there to see, organically, how people respond and what works.

Now, with a couple of years to mature and to grow our team, we’ve been able to really refine our focus and spend more time looking at the data and doing research with customers, prospects, and our end-user base. We can spend time revisiting those older projects that we did forever ago and say, ‘Okay, now with our perspective and maturity around the market, let’s go deeper into some of our existing features and give them new life.’ And now, we also have a clearer idea of our overall business goals. This means that when we’re dreaming big, we’re dreaming towards a specific vision of the best workplace experience for employees and experience managers. I think the takeaway is that software design and development are never done. It’s all about how we can iterate — or how we can keep making our product better for people. 

Your job is so interesting to me. When you come into work and you log on, are you working on one project at a time? Or is it many different things at a time?

When we were smaller, everyone was working on every single part of the product — the product was also a lot smaller then, too. But as the product grew and evolved, the design team structure evolved.

So today, we work in what’s called an integrated or distributed model, which means we each have a couple of focus areas tied to engineering and product units. For example, it can be Food & Beverage, or Services, or Spaces, and so on. Currently, I only have three or four focus areas. These are in the overall structure of the end-user app and its administration side, Feedback, and Communication/Community.

Day-to-day, my tasks vary a lot. In a single day, I might conduct user interviews or usability tests, then collaborate with Engineering on refining a modal’s animation. Then, I might jump to working with product leads on a “blue sky” (or a dream/vision) prototype of what the app might look like in 1, 2, and 5 years. For me, the variety keeps it interesting. 

You’ve mentioned that you collaborate with a lot of people. Who are those people and why?

I definitely collaborate with our Product and Engineering teams the most. At HqO, Engineering, Product, and Design (EPD) is thought of as a tripod. And that’s truly how we operate here — we each have a ‘leg’ of the stool and all three parties have to come together to make the product really successful. With Product, I’m usually discussing where the user needs and business goals intersect. This might mean going over the order things are getting built, the nuances of what should be included in this version versus future versions, or brainstorming future work.  

With the Engineering team, we’re collaborating on the execution of our product. We’re working on making sure what is being designed is becoming a reality for our customers. We look into the other places we might need to refine, where we can increase efficiency, and how we get to the finish line with an experience we’re proud of.  

Once a feature set is executed, what does the revision process look like?

Revision is really a collaboration between Product and Design that’s informed by data and feedback from users and the Customer teams. Together, Product and Design will review the usage data of the feature and any particular qualitative feedback that has come through. 

From there, we’ll look for patterns in the data and categorize the feedback. We might ask questions like: ‘Is it a bug or a quick fix that we can clean up? What will the impact of that bug fix be?’ or ‘Is this actually a new feature request, and who needs to own this?’ or even ‘What additional information do we need to understand this request?’

Depending on the feedback, we’ll then go back to the product design life cycle of research, ideation, testing, development, and so on and so forth to shape the next iteration. It’s always about learning more, including how we think about the problem and how we solve that problem in a more nuanced way now that we have more information.

Inside HqO: Anna Leach, Senior Product Designer | HqO

Do you have a project that has excited you the most here, or maybe one that was the most challenging?

I’ve worked a lot on our platform’s Admin interface, which is our administrative product. It’s been really cool to see how it’s evolved in the past three years from being an internal tool to becoming a self-service tool, where customers can log in on a regular basis and be empowered to create experiences for their end-users. How you evolve an internal product into an external product is a really interesting challenge. One of the first areas we’ve really been trying to take on that journey is content creation.

HqO still does some content creation for our customers, but we are having more and more external users that say, ‘I want the keys to the car. I don’t want to have to ask, hey, can you add this for me or look this up for me?’ 

Because of this, we’ve undergone a multiphase project around content that really started — as many good design projects should — with deep, deep research. We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years interviewing different experience managers about not just content but also about their jobs and their daily lives. For example, we ask questions about what tools they use, what their ideal workflows look like, and how they measure and define success. Once you have a better idea of the personas or the types of users that you have, you’re set up for more success in the design. Understanding the whole person allows us to design an experience that fits that whole person. 

After that initial research, we dove into several phases of design and testing with users to make sure we were validating what we were building. We wanted to make sure that we were creating a really solid, research backed, and data-driven solution. This ensures that as we grow, we’re confident that we’re adding improvements to make something solid — and as we’re building new areas, we have that wealth of knowledge to return to. 

That is a really personalized approach to our product.

Absolutely! It’s not just line items on a requirement list that we make up on our own. The iterations come from many rounds of taking feedback and research results, and transforming that feedback into an actionable plan or roadmap. Being able to create a new process of adding content that actually services the end-user has been very rewarding and eye-opening.

What is the most important thing that you’ve learned from either a project that you’ve worked on or a client?

Everything I’ve learned is really just about how we create strong foundations and listen to our customers and users. We’re in an industry and area of change — there are new discussions being had every day about how we change the workplace experience. But it’s also about balancing what we have already delivered. We want those pieces to continue to be great and stable, too. We want to maintain those feedback loops to make sure that we’re able to understand the impact of what we do, be it negative or positive.  

Oftentimes, we hear from customers that our product will change their daily workflows, or that it will save them hours of time during their day — that’s why I do my job. As a product designer, the goal is to be centered around the user and to be advocates for them, whether that be the Experience Manager or the employee. It’s really all about learning how to set up those cycles for feedback, how we get people to use and enjoy the product, and how to keep delivering real value in a way that’s actually tangible and delightful. We’re always looking to harness that excitement in our process.

Is there a way that our customers are using our product that’s particularly innovative or interesting?

I think that a lot of people are doing it differently, and I think from a design perspective, that’s one of the most exciting things to see. Our goal is to make tools, set them into the wild, and see how people take the idea that we have and really run with it. Some of the most exciting and innovative applications of HqO are not always what you’d think of as ‘groundbreaking,’ or using completely new technology. Sometimes what’s innovative to me is how customers find their own personal value in the tools or meet their needs in ways we wouldn’t expect. 

For example, we have resource booking tools. Originally, the functionality was built on the concept of physical rooms, like amenity areas or roofs. But now, we have people who have started using resource booking for individual desks, bicycles, or even showers because that’s what’s valuable to their people. It goes back to watching feature usage: you can really learn a lot about a customer’s needs, what you’re addressing really well, and what still needs to be addressed by just observing. 

I think these changes in the usage of our product are representative of the larger changes the industry has seen due to the pandemic. COVID-19 accelerated a lot of the trends we were already seeing, and now, people are needed to get creative and think outside of the traditional norms and definitions of the workplace and workplace satisfaction. Now more than ever, there is an interest in centering around employees and the people in a workplace. Watching the mindset of the industry evolve into something that is really person-centric has been really cool.

Let’s dive into that a little more. How do you think workplace experience technology like ours is shaping the future of the industry?

We’re in this really interesting, push-pull time in terms of technology pushing the industry and the industry pushing technology. I think we’ve arrived at this really exciting period too, where the future of work and the workplace are not just conversations limited to our clients, but are also being had in popular culture, in the media, and in interpersonal conversations.

As daunting as it may be from a research and design perspective — because we truly don’t know exactly what the future holds — we’re discovering you don’t always need to have concrete answers for everything. We listen and grow together. For everyone to agree to be in this place where we are experimenting, iterating, and just trying new things together is incredible. As an industry and culture, we’re actually starting to center individuals and create what actually works for them, not just what someone assumed was best. Right now, we’ve all been brought to the table to envision what the future might look like, and that is exciting.

That is a really great way to put it. As we spearhead this evolution, what excites you the most about working at HqO?

I think it really is being able to have a front seat to that conversation. It’s been really exciting to be able to learn how different people across the industry are talking about the workplace and where it might be heading. And in my role, I get the chance to make some tangible things that can drive us towards a new future for the workplace based on that information. Being on that ‘bleeding edge’ with the support and collaboration of the best teammates around is a really unique opportunity.

Inside HqO pulls back the curtain and introduces you to the people who make HqO the undisputed leader in workplace experience technology. For more information on HqO, click here. If you’re interested in joining Anna and the HqO team, check out all of our current openings here.

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