Inside HqO: Katie Muto

Inside HqO: Katie Muto
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Katie Muto

Senior Director of Product at HqO

As HqO’s Senior Director of Product, Katie works with Product Managers, Engineers, and others at the company to build and maintain key product functionalities. Before coming to HqO, Katie started her own consumer product startup, which was a finalist at MassChallenge in 2016 (the platform connected users with real-time information on local events). She’s been with HqO for roughly five years. 

future of work: Inside HqO (Katie Muto)

Thanks for joining us, Katie! Could you start by talking a little bit about your role and background? What were you doing before you joined the company?

Of course! I’m the Senior Director of Product, which means that I oversee a group of product managers here at HqO. The product managers are each responsible for different product functionalities, which we call “modules.” These modules include food and beverage, service and space booking, mobile access, help requests, and other areas that are important to the modern workplace.

I’ve been at HqO for five years, and actually, before coming to the company, I had every intention of going into healthcare consulting. I initially went to school for public health, and while getting my masters degree, I accidentally ended up founding a tech startup. I didn’t have a background in technology, but loved everything about the fast-paced, iterative nature of software development. In a lot of ways, software development reflected scientific processes (we had to test, measure, analyze, iterate, and so on) which was appealing to me. We participated in Mass Challenge, and during that time I met HqO’s CEO, Chase Garbarino, who provided helpful advice on navigating the early stage startup challenges. 

That’s so interesting. At what point did you decide to stick with technology, rather than public health?

After moving on from that initial startup, I knew that I wanted to stay in the startup/tech world  rather than healthcare consulting. So, I did a networking tour with advisors I’d met over the past few years in order to seek advice and guidance on what roles best fit my interests and skills within technology organizations. Chase was one of those people, and during our discussion he mentioned that he was hiring. He thought I’d be a good fit for a growth-focused product role. One month later, I started at HqO! 

I didn’t have real estate experience when I joined the company, but I had plenty of experience bringing a mobile product to market, which meant that I knew how to approach mobile engagement. It also meant that I knew how to make something from nothing — especially from a product perspective. Because we were at such an early stage, and everyone had multiple roles, I also acted as implementation and account manager for our earliest accounts. This meant I had the opportunity to work hands-on with all of our early customers. That was an incredible experience, because I was learning constantly about corporate real estate and our customer pain points and goals. I was also able to use my previous experience to help guide and consult with our earliest customers about how to think about user acquisition and ongoing engagement, which was completely new to them. Spending so much time with customers and app users in the early days made me a much more effective product manager, as it helped me better understand the root problems we were trying to solve, and how we can provide value holistically through a combination of people, process, and product. 

It sounds like you really interact with a number of teams within the company. Is there a team that you collaborate with the most?

Product works closely with many of the other departments across the organization. Fundamentally, our job is to discover and deliver high value software solutions that drive customer and business value. In order to do so, we need to work very closely with our partners across the organization to make sure that we’re solving the right problems for our customers, and solving those problems in a way that is both technically feasible and ultimately usable. We spend time every day with our partners in design and engineering as we are always in various stages of ideation and feature development. 

At the same time, we also work closely with Customer Success, Implementation, Product Marketing, and more to roll out and evaluate new products in the market. This is to also make sure we’re staying connected on customer feedback. We interact frequently with Sales, because as we release new functionality, we need to educate and empower them to effectively sell the product that we’re delivering. We pretty much cover the board.

Is there a project you’ve worked on recently that you’re really excited about?

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen major shifts in the flexible space market. COVID-19 accelerated a lot of that shift, but the shift towards co-working, short-term leases, and managed space was already in motion. In correspondence with that shift, we saw that our customers were looking for creative ways to offer more flexible options for employees. We saw that they were also looking for ways to connect a network across locations. Taking all of this into account, we realized that we had a great opportunity to deliver a solution that would enable our customers to support a cross-location network that employees and tenants would be able to use. 

This was a good example of a typical product process: we started with discovery, focusing on both customer feedback and needs, and on larger market trends. Once we validated the need, we had to determine the best high-level product approach (for example: should we build this ourselves? should we find key partners to augment our offering?). From there, the team moved quickly to the next level of detail. At that point, we had to start asking questions like: what product capabilities do we need for the first version? What will this look like in our existing product? How will it work technically? How are we going to package this for the market? How are we going to implement it with customers? 

The product process is non-linear and involves a lot of stakeholders, but ultimately, thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication from a large team across Engineering, Product, and Design; Implementation; Marketing; and Support, we were able to successfully bring the product to market. It’s now in beta, and will be rolling out more broadly in the coming months.

What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned about workplace experience during your time at HqO?

My experience here has shown me that you truly can’t underestimate the importance of a positive workplace experience. Companies know that they need to retain talent and optimize their spending, and a good workplace experience makes all of that so much easier. My role and the time I’ve spent working with our product have made that crystal clear to me. 

In addition to that sort of general point, I think that one particular aspect of the workplace experience that sometimes gets overlooked is the ability to collect and solicit feedback from employees. It’s so important for employers to understand how people are feeling, both about their individual workplaces and about the workplace in general. That knowledge really empowers employers and experience managers to make iterative and consistent improvements to the workplace, which yields real, measurable financial results for employers. 

I work a lot with developers, so I spend a lot of time thinking about software development, and I think that workplace experience is actually a lot like building software in that it’s a highly iterative process. Things in the office are constantly changing, and you have to make sure that you’re always improving, optimizing, listening, and really paying attention to what people want so that you can address those needs. And that’s where the feedback loops come in: you have to know what your employees want in order to keep them happy. Our app does a great job of connecting employers with that kind of information. 

future of work: Inside HqO

You were at the company before the onset of COVID-19, and you’ve obviously been with us through the pandemic. How has workplace experience changed during that time?

I think that COVID has basically accelerated the movement toward more thoughtful investments in the workplace. Even before the pandemic hit, we were seeing corporate employers start to recognize the need to improve the in-office experience. But now, with the slow return to office and a future that is, I think, going to be dominated by hybrid work, employers understand the need to act aggressively; they understand that it’s now really an imperative to improve the workplace experience if they’re going to be able to attract and retain top talent. 

COVID also threw everybody for a loop because suddenly, with the pandemic, all the things that you thought you were doing to effectively engage with employees kind of went out the window. The lockdowns and then the slow return to office truly left employers scrambling to come up with more effective ways to drive community and engagement. That’s what our research has told us, and that’s one of the core customer needs that our app addresses.

What kinds of technologies most excite you in the real estate world? 

There are lots of exciting technologies out there, but I also think it’s important to talk about how we interact with that technology. At HqO, we know that our customers rely on our app, so we know that we have to be mindful of how our user-facing product can connect the dots between different point solutions and technologies. We want to create what we call “connected experiences” for users, and we do that by seamlessly blending our product into the existing social infrastructure. In order to achieve that goal, we know that we need to provide a great user experience, and we have a great Product Design team here at HqO that has been really successful in that area. 

Our work is about streamlining and improving daily life for our customers and users. We recognize the essential importance of that interaction, and we’re always looking to improve it.

In your words, how is workplace experience technology shaping the future of the industry? 

The workplace today is so much more flexible than it was ten years ago. The entire concept of “workplace” is evolving rapidly. Every company is doing something different that best suits their business needs. In fact, workplace expectations might vary from individual to individual and department to department. Offering increased flexibility for employees is important to attract and retain top talent, but with increased flexibility comes new and different challenges. This is where I think workplace technology has an opportunity to shape the future of this fast-evolving space. 

Great workplace experience (WX) products should provide tools that empower WX Managers to provide an awesome workplace experience for their employees — whatever that might be. This can mean anything from sourcing and hosting weekly happy hours or coordinating volunteer events, to providing employees more effective ways to collaborate with others or even an easier way to submit an ask. Importantly, WX managers need a way to listen and adapt to employee needs. They need to be able to collect and take action on employee feedback so they can consistently iterate and improve. People want to feel heard and appreciated, and they want to feel connected to company culture. Technology can’t create a great culture or employee experience, but it can be a key tool to facilitate. I think that technology opens up all kinds of opportunities in that area. 

What excites you most about working at HqO?

A big part of workplace experience is the people, and we have an amazing group here at HqO. I love coming to work every day — or signing in to work every day when I work remotely — because I know that I’m going to be working with a group of talented, committed professionals. I love tackling fun and exciting challenges with my team every day. 

Another reason I love working here is that the opportunity in this space is huge. We’re forging a new path in a new and fast-evolving market. There is no playbook, which is both challenging and incredibly invigorating. At a high level, HqO’s mission is to build technology that strengthens social infrastructure in our communities. It’s exciting to come to work every day and think about how we can best deliver on that mission.

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 Courtney and the HqO team, check out all of our current openings here.


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