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Office management in 2020: Creating an adaptable workplace experience

office space, employees collaborating
Danielle Aihini
Published on

As a company striving to help others create a successful workplace experience, we try to stay up to date with all the different components that make up the workplace. From office culture best practices to the latest in workplace tech to trends in facilities management and commercial real estate, we cover it here.

For office management (OM) professionals, no two workdays look the same. From fielding employee questions and requests to keeping the kitchen chock full of fan-favorite snacks to understanding what aspects of the employee experience need improvement, an office manager’s responsibilities touch almost every aspect of the workplace.

Larissa Lam Office Management professional

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Larissa Lam, Office Manager in thoughtbot’s Boston office, about the role she plays in her company’s overall workplace experience, and how it’s been impacted in recent weeks, and how she’s using this time to plan for when her team is back in the office. With a background in hospitality, Larissa brings the values she learned from guest experience into the office every day. When she’s not running between three floors, Larissa’s busy chatting with workplace experts for her podcast, wds. (Fun fact: we were her first guests.)

Thinking about the workplace experience when your team moves back to the office? Schedule a demo with Robin today.

1. What does workplace experience mean to you and how do you think office managers play a part in creating a work environment that people can thrive in? How does that change when the team is not physically in the office?

Workplace experience answers the question, “How do you feel at work?” It encompasses all the tangibles and intangibles present that play a role in affecting how an employee flows and feels. From the workstations and technology to the ambience and air quality, every moment or interaction throughout the workday has an impact on the employee. Workplace experience drives engagement, productivity, and culture, and when executed properly, it has the power to change careers and, to some extent, lives.

Many of my day-to-day tasks go into creating a positive environment and making the workplace a place where the employees want to come to. In smaller orgs, office managers are the go-to people and key contacts for vendors, building management, and the team. How many times have you asked your office managers, “Can we get this?” or “Where do I find that?” In larger orgs, there may be several people who work together to carry out the OM duties, including people from real estate, facilities, community, and operations.

In the past, “workplace teams” typically consisted of the executives. It’s been a decades-old tradition that senior management decide the culture and feel of the workplace. They define the vision and direction of the organization, therefore they influence all of workplace experience. But no matter the type or size of the organization, there will always be a constant flow of new generations of employees who have different desires, needs, and expectations. A workplace has to evolve in order to stay relevant, and so does the team who oversees it.

With a large portion of the workforce working remotely as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, it forces us to rethink workplace experience. We will, without a doubt, witness lots of changes in our workday. Strategies and policies will have to adapt. The “traditional workplace” will evolve. Workplace experience will change and so will the role of an OM. Despite that, office management will continue to deliver great workplace experience, wherever it may be.

Regardless of location, office managers are responsible for maintaining a positive workplace experience.
Regardless of location, office managers are responsible for maintaining a positive workplace experience and supporting their peoples' needs.

Photo by WOCinTech on Unsplash

2. How do you think your background in hospitality lends itself to office management and workplace experience? Do you see overlap between the two?

There is definitely a huge overlap in hospitality and office management. Hospitality is a people-centric industry that’s all about understanding, anticipating, and accommodating your guests’ needs to create the best possible guest experience. From the human interactions at check-in to the hotel rooms and fitness centers, every touchpoint along the way has an influence on the guest. The same thing goes for the office.

Both industries measure retention rate. Return guests often account for a substantial amount of the total business. Hospitality professionals aim to first attract and appeal to its target market and then deliver an exceptional experience to ensure the guests come back again in the future.

In the workplace, the narrative is slightly different and more challenging overall. Instead of creating a experience that attracts and retains guests for a few days at a time, companies must create a workplace experience that keeps people around for years. It’s about designing and cultivating a work culture and environment that empowers the employees to perform at their optimal level, encourages personal and professional development, and enables personal wellbeing.

3. At Robin, we believe the three main pillars of workplace experience are culture, space, and technology. How do you see your role fitting into one or all three of those pillars?

I completely agree with those being the three pillars. As office managers, we make sure aspects in all three work properly and effectively to facilitate our team’s work. 

Office managers, sometimes in collaboration with the People team, ensure that the organizational culture remains positive, productive, and supportive. The interactions among everyone, the vibe of the team, and the business decisions are all guided and influenced by the culture and values. The space where work is done is one of the highest priorities for OMs and facilities. The workplace should be designed and organized in a way that allows for highest comfort and efficiency. When it comes to technology, office managers work directly with the IT team. There must be great connectivity throughout the office, enough monitors for those who wish to have another screen, and functioning conferencing tools such as cameras and phones. 

Since our shift to remote work during this unprecedented time, the balance among the three pillars has slightly shifted. We are relying much more on technology to stay connected with our team and clients. Instead of demonstrating our culture physically with in-person interactions, we now do that virtually through Slack messages, Google Hangout sessions, movie watch parties, and more.

During this unprecedented time of remote work, technology and culture play a huge role in the pillars of workplace experience. Office Managers are coming up with unique ways to support everyone and maintain a connected culture.
During this unprecedented time of remote work, technology and culture play a huge role in the pillars of workplace experience. Office Managers like Larissa are coming up with unique ways to support everyone and maintain a connected culture.  

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

4. How do you maintain a connected company culture between floors and especially now with your team working remote?

It can be tough managing multiple floors. We purposely designed each of the three floors to have a different environment and vibe to it. We do well maintaining a positive company culture between floors. In addition to open conversations on our #boston Slack channel, we have an internal stairwell connecting two floors with workstations. This facilitates connectivity between the team and brings liveliness to the office. Snacks and beverages are located in the kitchen while the new seltzer machine sits on the open-plan floor which gets the team moving more often. We also take advantage of our lunch hour to gather as a team around the dining table to connect and enjoy each other's company. 

Maintaining the company culture since we've moved to remote work has been much more challenging. I’m thankful that our team has always led with a friendly and supportive culture. In times like these, we’re practicing that more than ever. We’ve always set up random lunch or coffee dates where team members meet over a video call typically meant for new hires to meet the team or catch up with coworkers in different locations. It made perfect sense to continue doing this in order to stay connected. We’re also trying our best to maintain monthly internal events like game nights, movie nights, and happy hours. 

We’re doing more “office and lunch hours” and using, a tool to bring remote teams together in a virtual office. It supports things like hopping from couch to couch to join conversations with colleagues. We’re also encouraging people to share more in Slack in order to feel connected during this chaotic time.

Is there anything an office manager doesn’t do? As the glue keeping the separate pillars of the workplace together, office management professionals are constantly working to maintain a positive work culture, design for the highest comfort and efficiency, and support the right tech for their team. With the recent shift to remote work, office managers are forced to rethink and maintain a positive workplace experience outside of the office.

Craving more interviews with workplace pros? Check out our recent conversation with Facilities Management leader Zachary Farrar here.

Or listen to the Robin team on Larissa's workplace podcast, wds.

featured report

The Office Space Report 2023