Inside HqO: Nora Hughes 

Nora Hughes 

Lead Product Researcher at HqO 

Nora is a Lead Product Researcher at HqO, reporting to the Engineering, Product, and Design (EPD) teams. Her role consists of conducting external research to help improve the HqO product as well as having internal conversations around customer concerns. She then provides strategic, evidence-based recommendations to Product leadership on how we achieve our mission of making companies and people successful. 

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You conduct so much research for HqO! During this process, do you have any specific sources you typically use?

It definitely depends on the topic, but every good research project starts with a literature review. Looking at commercial real estate (CRE) sources is one of my starting points, and one of my favorite things to do is learn from parallel industries. For example, some of our customers are not looking at opening certain amenities and spaces to all tenants and tenant employees in their portfolio. As a user, I might need to move between assets — maybe I have a meeting downtown so I need a space to work from before my meeting. The next day, I might be back in my home office. The following day, I may decide to work from home but use the fitness center or join colleagues for a social event near another one of our office locations. This type of flexibility reminded us of airline alliances, so I decided to look at case studies from that industry for that project. 

There are also a lot of different tools to source research participants, which is often what I do when I don’t know enough about the topic and want to talk it through with a subject matter expert. 

That makes a lot of sense. Do you collaborate with anyone internally as well?

Within the Product team, I collaborate with Product Directors and above, because I mostly try to answer questions around our strategy rather than the specifics of a certain feature. I also work with leads on the Customer team — they are the first place I go with questions on our current customers. Then, I work with the Sales team to understand what they are hearing in the pipeline. Finally, I work with Engineering to get their insights on considerations as we think about the ROI of different investments we can make.

When I’m talking to team members within HqO, it’s about what problems they’re trying to solve and what questions they have. Ideally, I go to an outside source and avoid internal bias in that way. I’m trying to help us figure out how to grow the business, part of which means that we have to talk to our current customers but also look at other market segments, geographies, and problems because the unknown may be where the opportunity is.

Of all these projects you’ve worked on, is there one in particular that has excited you the most?

One of my favorite projects has been on IWMS systems, which are Integrated Workplace Management Systems. It’s a suite of tools that a facilities manager might use, and we were wondering whether our technology should integrate with it. 

Going through IWMS systems became twofold: I had to understand the facilities manager persona, as well as this adjacent market to us that is not proptech but has some overlap. For example, we talk about desk and room booking for tenant employees, and IWMS includes space management. IWMS systems can let staff know which rooms and desks exist, what can be booked, by whom, and so on. These additional insights can help us improve our own product.

It’s been very exciting, because we are approaching the functionality from the user’s point of view with a tenant experience app. The employee needs to have a seamless experience when booking his or her desk, and it should be in a tool they already use or can easily discover. Finding and booking a desk should be easy, and it should actually add value to their day by making them more engaged, productive, and happy with their workplace and employer. A facilities manager needs the right space planning and management tools to make that happen. 

Agreed. We are definitely trying to reach everyone who works in the building, beyond the tenant point-of-contacts landlords typically have access to. 

Exactly. We want to help our customers be more customer-centric for their customers, so in order to help them reach all of their tenants we have to deeply understand every member of a building community. One role that’s particularly important is facilities management, which blurs into human resources and employee experience.

What other learnings have you had from your time at HqO?

Overall, I’ve learned how real estate is a physical space while also being a financial instrument. It’s an asset, a physical building, and now also an experience. 

I’ve gotten a real understanding of all the behind-the-scenes things that happen in an office building, and I get jazzed just thinking, ‘somehow this room is making money.’ I found it really cool talking to asset managers and learning about how tenant experience can tie in to net operating income (NOI) for a building.

 Is there a particular way our customers are using HqO that you find innovative or unique?

I’m really excited by how our customers are building community across digital and physical spaces. For example, some are offering both in-person and virtual fitness classes to tenants; I use these myself and find it really helpful to have options. Another great example is volunteering that can be done asynchronously, like building back to school kits through organizations like Building Impact.

When people hear the word ‘innovation,’ many will assume it has to be technology-related. In reality, it often involves people and process. A few of our customers are innovating in this way with a simple change that leads to a pretty big impact.

What kind of technologies are you using in your daily life that you think have a place in real estate? 

It’s not any one technology, but rather the impact that is going to come from the connections between them. We often think about the real estate world as if it’s separate from the employee experience, but it’s not.

Landlords are now starting to focus on their own branding, but for the most part as a tenant employee I identify more strongly with my employer than the building or the landlord. I think the future is really going to be shaped when the tools I use as an employee and real estate technology meet.

So, being able to access workplace technology all in one place?

On average, an employee uses at least 10 apps to get their job done. So, it’s unrealistic to have all capabilities met by a one-size-fits-all tool. The important part is that it feels united to you as the end user, and gives you enough value.

How do you see tenant experience shaping the future of the workplace?

I see it really starting to make a difference when tenant experience technology allows the landlord to go beyond the suite door. When a landlord can be a partner and advisor for tenant companies, and they can collaborate on attracting and retaining employees, handling hybrid work, or maximizing ROI of investments in physical space.  

You’re saying that this new technology, combined with the people and processes that come with it, is creating more opportunities for landlords to engage with their customers?

Yes! Our hypothesis is that landlords need to do this in order to retain and have the best customers, and technology will enable this process. This gets me excited because it’s something that I can relate to as an employee. For example, a landlord at my office can show that they care about us as employees by making decisions to optimize a great employee experience for me and my coworkers.

In your time here, what has excited you the most about working at HqO?

I’m really excited by the intersection of digital and physical space. As someone who’s worked in technology a lot, websites and apps are cool, but at some point an app is an app is an app. A lot of what I’ve done in the past is B2B, and doesn’t involve as much of the physical space. With HqO, the fact that there’s always some involvement in how people move and interact with physical space is really cool. I can’t just do digital software anymore!

Any other personal reflections you’d like to share? 

I also have experience in education and government work, and there I was always involved with data and analytics. When I left these roles, I expected my time at HqO to be less mission-oriented than before. What’s been cool is that I’ve found ways, particularly in my research, where I can still make a change. When I’m doing interviews, for example, I make sure I’m getting representative sample sizes or calling out when my dataset may be skewed. When we are creating app features, I ask questions like: are we validating these features with other sources? Are we checking in and testing them with people that look differently from us or work differently than we do?

There’s more than I would have initially expected and it motivates me to raise important reminders to the team. When talking about the importance of having mothers rooms, or gender neutral restrooms, for instance, I can pull data out from my research and make sure it represents that. I’ve loved learning this new way to try and make an intentional, positive impact. 

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