Introducing “Coworkers”: Find Teammates Fast in the Agile Workplace

Philip Chan
December 11, 2019

This January, Comfy is launching a new feature in our employee workplace app called Coworkers: an opt-in, interactive seating chart designed to help employees find their teammates faster in an increasingly dynamic workplace.

With Coworkers, Comfy users can search and view the desk or chosen “address” of colleagues who have opted in—alleviating frustration for employees used to doing laps around the office.

Comfy’s mission has always been to connect employees with the people, places, and things they need to do their best work. But some features that corporate real estate and workplace teams may be exploring, like tracking employee location as they move around the office, trigger employee concerns.

We sat down with Gray Graziani, Director of Product Management, and Beau Trincia, VP of User Experience, to find out how they built a feature that balances the needs of corporate real estate leaders with employees’ desire for privacy.

Coworkers is just one of the new features coming to the Comfy app in 2020. How do you decide which features to build?

Gray: Our #1 priority is solving our customers’ pain points, so we listen to our customers around the world to understand how we can support them. We also talk directly to end users about how we can improve their lives at work.

We found that for companies actively transitioning to agile workplaces (or unassigned seating) across large corporate campuses, a universal pain point was that employees can’t find the people they need to do their jobs well. To manage real estate costs, corporate real estate leaders want agile workplace initiatives like hot desking to be successful—but if people can’t find each other, those initiatives will fail.

Beau: In most cases, it’s not the change from assigned to unassigned desks, it’s the feelings of uncertainty caused by the change that cause employee concern and reduced productivity.

How can a workplace technology like Comfy help corporate real estate leaders in this transition?

Beau: Existing features within the Comfy app, like desk booking or maps and amenities, help smooth the transition to the agile workplace by answering common questions like, “Will I need to spend a lot of time looking around for a desk?” or “If I am on a different floor everyday, how will I know where the vending machines are?” The new Coworkers feature addresses the question, “How will I find my colleagues when people move around everyday?”

Gray: We like to say the Comfy app makes it easier to find the people, places, and things you need to do your best work. The new Coworkers feature amplifies the “people” part by making it easier for employees to get the face-to-face interaction they crave.

Tell us about the research you did to inform the Coworkers feature.

Beau: We ran qualitative and quantitative surveys and interviews with hundreds of current Comfy users across all kinds of different workplaces.

First, we dug in to understand the employee’s current experience. “Tell us about a typical day in the office,” we’d ask. “What are some of your frustrations?” Our job was just to listen, without introducing any potential solutions.

Our surveys confirmed that the majority of users have trouble finding their coworkers in the office. A few common complaints were “I came into the office specifically to have some one-to-one in-person meetings and spent too much time trying to find where colleagues were sitting”, or “I do laps around the office looking for the people I need.” Managers are running around all day between meetings and employees can rarely find them. Teams are using tools like Slack or email to help find each other, but the process is wildly inefficient.

“The majority of users have trouble finding their coworkers in the office.” — Beau Trincia, VP of User Experience

Next, we put prototypes of the app in people’s hands. That’s when we started to see the disconnect between what corporate real estate leaders want and what employees are actually ready for.  We quickly found that privacy is at the top of employees’ minds. When we tested location tracking via GPS or Bluetooth, a feature of interest to many corporate real estate leaders we spoke with, employees were immediately uncomfortable. Remember the  “Marauder’s Map” from the Harry Potter series, the magic map that shows others’ locations in real-time? That’s what employees were imagining—and they didn’t like it.

Gray: In our research, 62% of users said they’d like to see in the app where their coworkers’ desks are, but 37% said they didn’t want to share their real-time location information with coworkers. “I don’t want my boss to know every time I go to the bathroom,” they’d say.

With those concerns in mind, we asked employees if they’d be comfortable simply sharing whether they’re in the building or not — a yes or no without a specific location. We were surprised to learn that many users were still uncomfortable with that.

“62% of users said they’d like to see in the app where their coworkers’ desks are. But 37% said they didn’t want to share their real-time location information with coworkers.” — Gray Graziani, Director of Product Management

This showed us that even though employees want consumer-app-style technology in the workplace, there’s an important balance to strike. As we built the Coworkers feature, we shared our plans with the EU Workers Council in Switzerland to ensure we meet the highest possible privacy standards. But ultimately, for people to willingly give up a piece of their privacy, they need to get real value from the experience.

That’s why in the new Coworkers feature, employees can easily opt in and out of sharing their workspace address. No surprises. We’re taking a phased approach, keeping employees in control of their data while still solving their main problem: finding their coworkers in agile workspaces.

What are you most excited about for the launch of Coworkers?

Beau: We’re launching this version based on months of research with real employees. But the best part? It’s just the beginning. We’re starting with the basics to get employee buy-in and will build from there, enhancing the app over time based on what we hear and see from people on the ground. That way, we can continue to balance employee privacy concerns with the convenience of collaborating more easily.

Gray: Out of the box, Coworkers is an interactive alternative to traditional static seating charts, which can be hard to find and are often out of date the day after they’re published. You can share your workspace address—whether it’s your permanent desk or just your desk for the day—and allow coworkers to find you on a map. You can also search by name for other coworkers who have opted in and see a pin on the map showing their workspace. And if an employee doesn’t want to share where they’re working that day (or ever), they don’t have to.

“We’re starting with the basics to get employee buy-in and will build from there, enhancing the app over time based on what we hear and see from employees.” — Beau Trincia, VP of User Experience

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