Workplace Experience in the COVID-19 Era with Francis Aquino

Haley Walden
October 15, 2020

Workplace Experience in the COVID-19 Era with Francis Aquino

Workplaces have undergone dramatic changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. We recently sat down with workplace experience expert Francis Aquino to discuss how to craft the optimal workplace experience for your employees during the era of COVID.

There’s more to managing an office than simply maintaining facilities and providing supplies. Beyond the daily basics, office leaders are responsible for creating a great workplace experience. This is the holistic daily experience employees have when working for a company. 

Social distancing regulations and statewide lockdowns have pushed many companies into adopting drastically different daily operations. Some companies are currently 100% work-from-home, while others have adopted a hybrid model. The good news is that, in the long term, the traditional office isn’t going anywhere.  

“As the physical office is redefined, I don’t think the office will go away,” Francis says. “It’s the forefront of collaboration and the cultivation of culture.  The office might have a different model in the future, but I think it’s still important that we provide a space for employees to go into, create relationships, build culture and nurture that much-needed collaboration in order to be successful.”

Francis’ Professional Background

An industry veteran of 12 years, Francis made his first foray into office management with the fashion company Nasty Gal in Los Angeles where he has worn multiple hats and titles, including executive assistant, personal assistant, front desk coordinator, office manager, and Director of Office Operations.

“Nasty Gal was one of my favorite experiences because it’s where I made the most mistakes and learned from them” he says. “It’s also where I fell in love with office management.”

Francis says he loves being the first point of contact to solve issues in an office environment—anything from fixing the copier to refilling the water cooler.

Nasty Gal experienced exponential growth, from two employees at the start to a company housed in a 50,000 sq ft office space. Next, Francis worked at Headspace, another startup on a trajectory similar to Nasty Gal’s growth. Afterwards, he jumped into a role at Uber as the Regional Facilities Manager for the West Coast.

Francis’ most memorable experience is leading the Workplace Experience Team at Honey, where he came on board when the company was at its peak. Again, this company grew explosively, and Francis was tasked with designing  Honey’s 130,000 sq ft HQ in the Arts District that would house more than 600 employees.

Honey moved into its new headquarters in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns began. The move was deemed successful and seamless as the employees who moved into the new HQ that day felt like it was business as usual at the end of the day. 

Keys to High Employee Engagement in the Era of COVID

Because of the changes offices have undergone, it’s more important than ever for employers to focus on creating a positive workplace experience for their employees. According to Francis, communication and visibility are two important factors that leaders should be emphasizing right now.

“Communication and visibility go hand-in-hand—being able to address the employees on a regular basis, and being visible to employees regularly,” he says.

In addition to maintaining regular, effective communication and high visibility, Francis says companies should encourage their employee resource groups to create events and activities for employees to engage in. 

“It’s not just HR—not just the culture team or workplace experience team that carries the responsibility of employee engagement,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for employee resource groups to create specific events and activities geared toward their own causes and missions.”

According to Francis, offering many options for engagement allows employees to choose which activities resonate most with them and their values. And, the events don’t have to be costly. 

Redefining the Workplace Experience Post-COVID

COVID has opened new opportunities for companies to redefine the office, the workplace, and how employees interact with leadership and one another. Francis is optimistic and sees a bright future ahead for the physical workplace

“I’m really excited about how we can redefine the office and reimagine workplace experience for all employees no matter where they are,” he says. “A lot of companies are realizing that yes, we can provide a work-from-home opportunity for employees and still maintain a great culture.

Here are some quick tips to think about as you plan out your return to the office: 

  • Create tiers and prioritize who needs to be in the office
  • Create a rotating schedule so every team gets a chance to work in the office
  • De-densify the office space - alternate desk availability, implement hot-desking, limit occupancy of conference rooms, create social distancing protocol in collaborative spaces and employee spaces
  • Review office perks/amenities and determine what can still be offered
  • Plan safe and socially distanced onsite events as permitted 

In addition, COVID has brought issues like safety, security, and office sanitation to the forefront. Francis says leaders should review the resources and policies they have in place, and consider bringing a professional office management organization like Eden to help in the day to day management of back end operations

In Workplace Experience, the Little Things Add Up

Francis’ interest in workplace experience evolved from his early work as an office manager. He found that he loved creating relationships with the teams he worked with.

“Relationships are the best way to build a great workplace which is customized to who the employees and team members are,” he says.  

According to Francis, there has always been a need for a Workplace Experience Team as part of office and facilities management. There needs to be a team who is wholly focused on maintaining the office spaces and creating relationships with employees.

“We want to make sure someone is taking care of the little things that fall within office management so the employees can focus on their work and be successful,” he says. 

Francis says his idea of workplace experience evolved from just setting up offices to making sure the overall experience is excellent for employees. Creating a mindset of happiness and productivity is just as important as providing excellent amenities.

Must-Haves for a Positive Workplace Experience

Francis says creating a positive workspace includes:

  • A well-designed office that is customized to who you are as a company
  • Good lighting 
  • How welcoming your space is - activate the senses - music, scent, smile, etc.
  • Plants & more plants
  • A great Workplace Experience Team 

Workplace experience, in other words, is a holistic effort that involves many touchpoints.

“That’s why I hold Eden in such high regard,” Francis says. “I call people and organizations like us unsung heroes. We’re in the background of every successful office, and sometimes employees will only find out what we’re doing if something goes wrong.”  

Workplace Experience Pitfalls to Avoid

Francis says one of the biggest pitfalls to creating a great workplace experience is duplicating other companies’ practices…without evaluating those against their own DNA first.

“As a company, we need to be authentic in who we are—in the design of the workplace, in the perks and benefits we provide, and in the culture we want to emulate to our employees,” Francis says. “It could work, but it could also be a failure if it’s not for you as a company.”

Francis’ solution? Find out who you are as a company, then create a personalized experience that’s authentic to your company and your values.

According to Francis, here are the questions you should be asking before you offer a perk to your employees:

  • Is this what our employees need?
  • Will this make them happy?
  • Is this true to our values as a company?
  • Is it scalable?

Sincerity is the Key to an Optimal Workplace Experience

Throughout Francis’s career, he says there are many important lessons he’s learned about cultivating a great workplace experience. However, one lesson stands out.

“Sincerity is the most important lesson I have learned,” he says. “Being sincere and genuine in what you’re doing are the key secrets to success. 

“We are at the forefront of customer service, and we’re the first line of defense for anything that could go wrong in the office, anything that’s fun, or anything that could make employees feel secure. If we’re not sincere and genuine in our objective of creating the optimal workplace experience, employees can see right through us.”

To learn more about Francis, check out his website or follow him on Instagram. If you want to know how Eden can help you manage your office and enhance your workplace experience, click here.

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