If you're like any of the executive leaders at Fortune 500 companies that we talk to, staying ahead of the so-called "digital transformation" can feel like a full-time job in and of itself. What do real estate leaders need to know when making hard decisions about all the emerging IoT-enabled technologies out there?
We sat down with Comfy's VP of Product Management, Stefan Dietrich, to get his perspectives on how to navigate today’s workplace transformation. Stefan spent nearly two decades of his professional career advising and leading major technology initiatives for large corporations, including AXA, Reuters and Deutsche Bank, and has helped forward-thinking executives plan ahead and anticipate the next-gen workplace. Notably, he led the development of AXA's workplace technology transformation program as mobile technology and remote working were just starting to emerge with the release of the first iPhone. Read on for his take on how executives can step up to the plate to face today's workplace challenges, and why seamless system integrations are key to navigating the next great workplace transformation.
What is one of the biggest learnings you gained from leading digital transformation initiatives for large corporations?
Executive-level leaders are often the first to quickly recognize when an industry trend is emerging and that an organizational transformation needs to happen, but when it comes time to actually implement change, many companies struggle. Change is difficult. People are accustomed to doing things the same way they’ve done them before. But, during a time of transformation, the old processes and systems in place are no longer adequate.
My advice to enterprises who are in the process of developing a digital workplace transformation strategy: get an external perspective. If you look at the role of workplace design and strategy, for example, the old way of thinking would pit corporate real estate and workplace design as an exercise for economizing. The main strategy was pack more people into less space in order to save more money. At Comfy, we look at workplace strategy and see it as an opportunity for companies to get more out of their existing workplace investments, improve the workplace experience, and increase employee productivity.
As employee expectations, workplace technology, and the role of the workplace are changing, executives know they need to adapt. Trusted external advisors can be a great help in managing the change.
Speaking of executives... what are some of the consequences if executives fail to act or develop a strategy to address these workplace changes?
It’s actually pretty straightforward — they will lose good employees. Everyone wants to know the ROI and providing the business case for the workplace experience is notoriously difficult. Often, the gains you can measure the easiest, like electricity usage, are the easiest to implement and deliver the smallest reward. If you go one level up and look at occupancy and space utilization, it becomes harder to measure, harder to implement, and delivers a greater reward. If you go even higher up and look at employee engagement and productivity, it's even harder to measure, harder to implement, and an incredibly great reward.
Ultimately, it is difficult to prove that a good workplace experience will always equal a more productive employee, but we know for sure that a bad workplace experience results in unhappy, disengaged employees. Employees who have trouble collaborating with teammates because they lack readily available workplace technology tools are definitely unproductive. When companies lose productive, engaged knowledge workers, they risk losing the competitive edge they need to be successful in today's market. And, that will eat into company profits.
Tell me more about why you joined Comfy and the role you see us playing in the digital workplace transformation.
The way I see it, companies are at a major inflection point. I experienced something similar firsthand around 2005 when companies started to open up their networks for direct internet access, which made it possible for workers to access cloud services remotely. It is fairly common practice now, but at the time it was revolutionary, going against long standing rules of trusted internal networks and managed devices. Enterprises that embraced it early and properly, and incorporated it into their IT strategy were rewarded by experiencing a tremendous ROI.
Much like how automatically configurable networks redefined the world of enterprise IT and transformed the nature of remote working a decade ago, systems integration and IoT in buildings is revolutionizing the world of corporate real estate and the way knowledge workers connect with their offices today — and Comfy is leading this revolution.
There are a lot of solution providers that give employees the ability to find and book workspaces, like conference rooms. There are also many that provide dashboards that report out occupancy data. What makes Comfy different is that we've figured out how to integrate people’s preferences with every physical and digital system in an office—from calendaring and occupancy sensing to heating and lighting—and have simultaneously mastered how to turn those connections into a more interactive and responsive employee experience. This type of integration is incredibly difficult to achieve, and it unlocks endless opportunities for both the workplace managers seeking insights from the data, and for the employees who expect more from the tech they get at work.
"Part of what makes Comfy game-changing is that we have the ability to link people's wants and needs with their location."
The acquisition of Comfy by Siemens last summer also opens up a very unique opportunity. As a software-as-a-service solution, Comfy is already capable of scaling quickly across our clients' large real estate portfolios. Now, by coupling our vendor-agnostic approach to building and system integration with Siemens resources and global reach, we’re well-poised to accelerate the deployment of Comfy around the world.
We have all the key pieces in place. My goal is to work with our highly talented product and engineering team to make the Comfy product even better than it is today. It’s an exciting road ahead.
In terms of making the Comfy product even better, what are some future capabilities you are most excited about?
Part of what makes Comfy game-changing is that we have the ability to link people's wants and needs with their location. I imagine a future scenario where Comfy would recognize that an executive is scheduled to have a meeting at one end of a corporate campus and another one at the other end of the campus immediately after, and Comfy would automatically alert the meeting organizers and suggest a different location. That's further down in the future, but certainly one example of something that only Comfy can make possible because of our strengths in systems integration, data analytics, and user engagement.
In the immediate term, I am looking forward to the new, enhanced welcome experience that we’re releasing in the Comfy app later this month. It's significant because the new home screen experience provides office workers with a single-entry point to connect with all aspects of their workplace. This new design is part of Comfy's efforts to address top workplace concerns from companies: improving utilization rates of the workplace amenities by making them more visible and accessible to employees; creating a consistent experience for workforces distributed across multiple office locations; and accommodating for future, unknown technologies.
I'm especially excited about this last part because given the rapid proliferation of workplace technology, it's hard to predict future "must-have" workplace solutions. With the new welcome experience in Comfy's app, it’ll be easier for our clients to customize the app experience and add future capabilities down the road.
With all these fantastic new directions, I see why you're recruiting product managers! How would you describe your approach to product management and how you want to grow your team?
When it comes to developing innovative technology solutions, I do think there is some truth in Apple's assumption that customers don't know what they don’t know. They don't really know what they need — until it exists. Comfy is a perfect example. When Comfy started years ago, there was no market need for an application that gives building occupants control over their indoor surroundings. The demand for an occupant-facing application didn't exist. Comfy created this new product category and market segment, and we own it now. Then, a lot of occupant-facing apps came on the market and Comfy invented a new product category again—a solution that combines data from people and data from IT, IoT, and OT systems and delivers valuable real estate insight. I think the best product managers anticipate a customer need—before the customer recognizes it themselves—and puts it out into the world to create a market need.
Fun fact time! From jugglers to professional kiteboarders to BollyX instructors, we're a diverse and quirky bunch at Comfy. What's your hidden talent?
I don't know if it's exactly a hidden talent, but because I was an aerospace engineer by training I have been pursuing a life-long goal to fly every type of aircraft. I have flown over 50 different types of planes, at least 20 types of helicopters, and had been on several hot air balloon rides. I've built weather satellites hands-on and worked on spacecrafts. I've come close to flying in a blimp, and my biggest dream is to ride in a spaceship.
Ready to join Comfy's journey in revolutionizing the workplace (or want to ask Stefan what it takes to be a rocket scientist)? Well, we're hiring! Check out all open positions at Comfy and apply here.