Steve Robins
Director of Product Marketing HqO Follow

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Steve from HqO about what companies are getting wrong about their return to office policies.

Some Conversation Highlights:

Soulless, lifeless, people toiling away by themselves. They tend to think about their office that way. And they also think, “You know what? I’m the employer. If I say you should be in the office, you should be in the office” fro their return to office policy. And employees are saying, “You know what? I don’t have to be in the office because there’s a lot of other jobs out there and I’ve already proven to you that I can do my job pretty well if I work at home.”

And so we’ve actually done a lot of research around this, and one of the things that we found is that a lot of companies they’re very focused. And by the way, this is from research, this is from participating in different calls with prospective customers and customers. Again and again, we hear the themes that people are just saying, “Yeah, you should come back to the office.” And then they focus on the mechanics of what’s going to happen once you’re back in the office. If you’re in the office, you must need a place to sit. We’re going to give you desk booking software and that magically will solve all problems. And the problem is it doesn’t, so people are really… They’re trying to figure out how do we bring people back in the office? And a lot of companies are really struggling and they just haven’t cracked the code. But I’ve got some ideas I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 21 minutes

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Intro (00:00):

This is RecruitingDaily’s Recruiting Live podcast where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week we take one over complicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense? Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

 

William Tincup (00:34):

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Steve on from HQO and our topic today is what companies are getting wrong about the return to office. We’re going to have a really fun conversation. It’s a great topic. Steve, would you do us the honor and introduce both yourself and the good work that you’re doing at HQO?

 

Steve Robins (00:57):

Sure. My name is Steve Robins. I’m Director of Product Marketing here at HQO, and my whole job is really to understand how people are using our technology and what are the different challenges out in the marketplace. And so here at HQO, we provide a workplace experience platform that includes an app, analytics and an admin interface that helps companies to manage all of it. The app is used by over 7,500 different companies, including 57% of the Fortune 100. And the people at those companies are getting our app, either from their landlords or increasingly from their companies.

(01:34)
Historically, we sold to landlords, but more and more companies are coming to us and saying that, “Hey, you know what? We need to get people back in the office. You have great experience with this for landlords, could you do the same thing for us?” And so we’ve gotten a lot of interest from different employers, especially some Fortune 20 companies. We’ve been around since 2018, ranked 75 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies.

 

William Tincup (02:00):

Man, that’s a bunch of unpack there. We’ll have to do a use case podcast because I want get into the tech at one point, but for today, let’s go through some of the hierarchy, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. We say they’re getting it wrong, it’s a little bit tongue in cheek. But also there’s some basic things that you found through this experience that okay, the return to 2019… First of all, 2019 wasn’t that great. I pine for going back to 2019 like, “Okay, let’s stop that.” All right. You’re the expert here. Let’s take the audience into what are they getting wrong that they could easily get right?

 

Steve Robins (02:48):

Okay. Well, so the big thing that’s happening is that a lot of companies think about their offices more as people warehouses with think of cube farms that just go on and on and on. Soulless, lifeless, people toiling away by themselves. They tend to think about their office that way. And they also think, “You know what? I’m the employer. If I say you should be in the office, you should be in the office.” And employees are saying, “You know what? I don’t have to be in the office because there’s a lot of other jobs out there and I’ve already proven to you that I can do my job pretty well if I work at home.”

(03:24)
And so we’ve actually done a lot of research around this, and one of the things that we found is that a lot of companies they’re very focused. And by the way, this is from research, this is from participating in different calls with prospective customers and customers. Again and again, we hear the themes that people are just saying, “Yeah, you should come back to the office.” And then they focus on the mechanics of what’s going to happen once you’re back in the office. If you’re in the office, you must need a place to sit. We’re going to give you desk booking software and that magically will solve all problems. And the problem is it doesn’t, so people are really… They’re trying to figure out how do we bring people back in the office? And a lot of companies are really struggling and they just haven’t cracked the code. But I’ve got some ideas I’m looking forward to sharing with you.

 

William Tincup (04:14):

One of the things that’s really interesting that I’ve been talking with people is it’s almost like one of the things we’ve all learned through, and again, we’re dealing with knowledge workers. If you’re a cashier at a bank or a bank teller, like okay, that’s a different bit. But with knowledge workers there’s now a real need and a desire around flexibility. Okay, we’ve proven that I can do the director of demand gen from Utah or whatever. But also it’s just equally as important that there’s a whole host of people that love the office, that want to go to the office, they want to get out of their house. And so they want that flexibility. Now, how do we make that experience because you deal with workplace experience. How do we make their experience at work where they thrive? How do we make that better?

 

Steve Robins (05:08):

There are actually a couple of elements to this. And by the way too, one of the things I have to share this statistic that was really interesting to me. We did a study earlier in the year and we found that people view flexibility, employees look at flexibility on par with salary, benefits, wellness benefits specifically, all of that stuff they look at about the same, so they’re demanding that flexibility. And I think a part of it is we need to think about the person that’s coming to the office in a different way. They are no longer the person that is always in the same place, that knows where everything is. We need to cocoon them a little more. And I don’t mean that in a bad way, but rather in a homey way, in a supportive way. Part of that is by making it easier to be in the office.

(05:59)
How do you do that? Well, one thing that you can do is… What’s happened during the pandemic is the typical approach of a company is to say, “Well, you know what? If you need to book a desk, we’re going to give you a desk booking app, and while you’re here maybe you’ll want to order food, so we’ll give you a food ordering app.” And what ends up happening is employees get overloaded and overwhelmed with a bunch of apps that they don’t end up using. And then the employees can’t figure out how to go and do something because there are all these different places they’ve got to go. They’re confused, they’re unhappy. What was supposed to make things easier actually is creating more friction.

(06:38)
And so part of the solution there is kind of simple. Instead of having people go to lots of different places to find things, centralize everything into a single mobile app and do it in a mobile app primarily because the mobile app goes wherever you are. You log out our phones, whether we’re on the way to lunch or we’re in the office, we’re going to a meeting, we’re sitting at home, we’re about to eat dinner, hopefully not during dinner, but we’ve got our phones with us all the time, so it’s a good way to keep on top of things. Centralize everything into a single app on the phone so that now employees can go and do everything they need to do in one place.

(07:17)
And, as an employer, instead of sending people to different apps, now you can promote a single app, you can put a lot of effort into that. And every time somebody goes into the app, there’s an opportunity for a serendipitous discovery, which is to say if I go to reserve a conference room, I might realize, oh my gosh, there’s a happy hour going on tomorrow and that’s a reason to be in the office so I’m going to sign up for that. Whereas, if everything is disparate, there’s less chance that you’re going to notice it.

(07:49)
Remove the friction, put everything together, make it easy for people to go and do the stuff they need to do effectively so that they can spend less time figuring out how and where to work. And more time just doing the work. And I’m not saying that you have to be a task master as an employer, but don’t waste people’s time with things they don’t need. Let them spend time on things that are important. That’s one element of what employers can do. I’ve got some other ideas too.

 

William Tincup (08:20):

Sure. What’s your take between the experience and culture? Because it used to be kind of easy, or at least we thought it was easy. The box. The box was culture. You went to the box and the culture was there, you had massages, you had food delivered, you went to the baseball games, that you went out to the bars, all that stuff, went to dinner. That was basically what we thought culture, corporate culture was. Well we are now re-evaluating that thought. What are you looking at? What are you seeing from your clients in terms of that kind of experience that an employee needs to have and their culture, what they perceive or what they market as their culture?

 

Steve Robins (09:11):

Right. You know what, when we’re talking to our prospective clients, that’s one of the biggest questions that they’ve got is, “Oh my gosh, people aren’t in the office. It used to be that the culture was partly the people and the experiences they had and now everybody’s all over the place. How do we make sure that the culture is present in what we do because our culture is important to us. It’s part of the reason why people come to work at our company,” and at HQO, for example, we have very clear cultural values and we want to make sure everybody knows them and lives those values.

(09:48)
The way that you can do that is it’s the culture still there, but now you’ve got to be more deliberate about how you convey the message of your culture. An easy example would be if ESG is really important to your company’s culture and giving back to the community is really critical, you want to make sure that you set up opportunities for people to do that, to give back. And part of the reason why I was talking about pulling everything together in an app is that that app, for example, the HQO Workplace Experience app, and I’m not really here to talk about us, but more the problems of people are dealing with, that app can help people to… You could promote an event, you could send alerts to people, they’re going to pop up in their smartphone that say, “Hey, we’ve got a great ESG event coming up where we’re going to be planting trees in a disadvantaged area that’s five miles from our office. Would you like to show up?” And you can get them to sign up.

(10:58)
You can also track how many people actually signed up so you can see how effective these things are. But the great thing is that there are actually ways that you can convey the culture, but it’s not going to be the way that it used to be. It’s not just going to be by people being friendly to each other in the hallway or some of the things that we used to do with culture. Now, you have to be much more deliberate. In many ways all of this is about being deliberate. And so you want to be conveying the culture through what you do and what you say, and so the what you do can be activities that you’re promoting or happy hours or collaboration or hackathons or things like that.

(11:43)
But it can also be conveyed in the ways that you communicate with people. What is your tone of voice? How do you talk about things. Even branding and look and feel can play into how you convey your culture. Is it playful? Is it serious? And there is no right or wrong. It’s really whatever the goal here is whatever your culture is, to convey that out to your employees. And the good news is that there are opportunities to continue to do that. You can be encouraging people to come back into the office and attending events and participating in things. You can help people to collaborate and make [inaudible 00:12:23] new ways. And you can also communicate with people even when they’re not in the office.

(12:28)
Again, using that app as an example, the app can be a way for people to get those same alerts about, for example, maybe this isn’t directly culture, but your reviews are due tomorrow. Make sure that you submit yours through the HR portal. Things like that. You can actually be communicating with people on an ongoing basis, have a relationship with them as a company and convey that culture no matter whether they’re in a coffee shop, at home, in the office, in a meeting room. There are lots of different ways that you can convey that. I mean, I’m just scratching the surface, but-

 

William Tincup (13:07):

What I love about this is it’s also in the communications layer. There’s a little bit of FOMO, you know what I mean? That’s kind of baked in there. It’s just like, here’s what’s going on, we’re having a scotch tasting deal after work or whatever the bid is. And again, you’re not forcing people, you’re just communicating this is happening and if you want to RSVP to it, great. If you don’t, great. But you got me thinking about… It doesn’t seem like outside of… Because we are talking about HQO and we should because it’s actually y’all are doing some really great work. It doesn’t seem to me that there’s a cookie cutter approach in so far as you could just go from one company and it’s going to work at each company, that there’s got to be some slight modifications or personalization. Maybe that’s a customization or configuration, but maybe each employee population needs something a little bit different? I might have that wrong.

 

Steve Robins (14:08):

No, I think, well, you’re right. I mean, actually, the cool thing about technology nowadays is that it can actually help you to serve micro audiences really effectively and also to serve larger audiences at scale. And so what I mean by that is, if we’re talking about culture, for example, I’ll give you… This is really exciting at HQO. Just last week we rolled out the latest version of our product to all of our employees and the way that we set it up is that there’s some common elements that everybody sees, but then there are other aspects that are specific to different locations.

(14:49)
I mean, I’m in Boston, Massachusetts, but we’ve got people in London, all across the United States, Paris, Amsterdam, other European locations as well, and so instead of taking a cookie cutter approach, we were able to tailor the content to each audience so they’re seeing things that are relevant to them that they care about. And the reason that matters is if I care about something, I’m more likely to read it. If I don’t really care what’s happening in Amsterdam, but that’s not true. I do care. But if I didn’t care, I don’t want to read about it. And so you can actually tailor the experience to people-

 

William Tincup (15:29):

That’s cool.

 

Steve Robins (15:30):

But you can do it at scale.

 

William Tincup (15:33):

I love that. Do you now or do you see it in the future a recommendation engine where it serves up based on things that they’ve already selected, that they like, in communications that they’re interested in? Do you see in the now or in the future, kind of the Netflix, if you like this TV show.

 

Steve Robins (15:54):

We know what you’re responding to.

 

William Tincup (15:57):

Right.

 

Steve Robins (15:58):

You know what? I think that’s definitely a possibility. I mean, what we can already do is if you were an administrator, say you’re a workplace experience manager in your office, you can actually be setting up different audiences. Think of them as they’re sort of mailing lists except that people aren’t getting emails, they’re getting information served up to them right within the context of the app. And so for people like that, let’s say that you’ve got a new moms group or an LGBTQ group or a group for folks that are BICOC or identify as BIPOC, you can set up different groups and send specific content to that group. And the difference here is the content isn’t going out through email that you’re going to ignore. It’s either going out through alerts or it’s just showing up in a feed that actually looks more like reading a magazine or a newspaper on a website than it does an app. It’s meant to be very friendly and easy.

(17:01)
And so I think when you take that approach, that’s a great way to really customize at scale. And I could certainly see taking what people are doing and coming up with automated recommendations. I could see how that would be a possibility. But already we would be able to know if you attended an event, we could send you a survey based on your experience there and get feedback about that experience. [inaudible 00:17:26]

 

William Tincup (17:26):

Every day we read in the papers or whatever, we get news about companies that are forcing people, well, you could use different language of course, but basically it’s the office and you either work here in the office or you don’t work here. Outside of maybe that could be a great strategy or that could be a failed bit. Each company’s going to come to that on their own. But what is the single, biggest, maybe not fail, but where people just wildly miss as it relates to return to office? What’s that one thing if you had a magic wand that you could just fix for people?

 

Steve Robins (18:12):

Well, I mean the thing that I think people are missing out on, the number one thing, is the experience in the office. And by experience, what I mean is… I’ve already talked about how you can remove friction, but what I’m talking about is what is it that not only removes friction, but makes people say, “Wow, I want to be in the office.” And I know that sounds crazy. It’s like, “Wow, I want to go to work. I want to be working hard and thinking.” But actually I think most of us do want to do that. And the question then becomes, where do we want to do that? And so the opportunity is for companies to rethink the office.

(18:55)
It’s not a warehouse, it’s not a barn, but rather it should be a destination. What makes a destination? A destination is a place that’s fun. It has interesting things to do. Maybe it’s convenient, it’s got convenient services. You could do maybe dry cleaning pickup or manicures on site. Maybe it’s got great opportunities to socialize. Maybe it’s got programs that are ongoing so that if you’ve got… Say, if you’re trying to cook more in a more healthy manner, we’ve got cooking classes that are taking place on a weekly basis. I mentioned a happy hour, but it could be all sorts of different things that bring people back into the office.

(19:40)
And they could be easy things, they could be more complicated, they could be smaller groups, bigger groups. But what it fundamentally starts to do is to really connect people to each other, through a social infrastructure. Using an app as a way to connect people and connecting people to each other, connecting people to the company, connecting people to their work. It can be done, but it can’t be done by commanding people. It happens by thinking of the workplace as a destination. And it has to be something that’s ongoing. It’s not just a one-off thing and it’s not having [inaudible 00:20:30]

 

William Tincup (20:30):

It’s a relentless pursuit of creating that experience. I love how you said it’s the destination and the experience has to be interesting and compelling. And that’s what will get people to work. But this has been an absolutely fantastic conversation, Steve. Thank you so much for your time and wisdom. This has been wonderful.

 

Steve Robins (20:52):

Well, thank you so much for having me. Really appreciate it.

 

William Tincup (20:54):

Absolutely. Thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.

 

Outro (21:00):

You’ve been listening to The Recruiting Live podcast by RecruitingDaily. Check out the latest industry podcast, webinars, articles, and news at recruitingdaily.com.

The RecruitingDaily Podcast

Authors
William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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