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Hospitality (In The Workplace)

noun: The friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors and strangers (Source: Oxford Languages)

By John Jarvis

In 2024, company leaders want their employees back in the office. But it turns out that isn’t exactly easy to achieve. As a result of our pandemic-inspired experiment in working from home, everyone learned that remote work, in fact, can work, and it can work quite well for many employees. Skip the brutal commute. Enjoy home cooking, three meals a day. What’s not to love?

Except it isn’t the same. Being together builds a bond, and a strong company culture is an invaluable advantage in a competitive marketplace. So companies have been refreshing their office spaces and trying to improve the in-office experience for their teams. A few companies are going further and tapping into an intriguing and novel approach to reimagining the office experience. I learned about this in a fascinating conversation with Suzanne Heidelberger, who explained to me the role of hospitality in the delivery of workplace experiences. Apparently, this has been a growing awareness over the last several years, but I missed it. So here is what I learned in case you missed it too.

Fidelity Investments hired Suzanne in 2019 as Head of Real Estate, based on the work she had done previously for American Express. Notice, this was all pre-pandemic, which tells me that the people at AmEx and Fidelity are apparently brilliant and looking three chess moves ahead. Because in both cases they hired Suzanne with the charge of transforming the in-office experience for their employees, customers and visitors through an approach squarely focused on hospitality. Suzanne has a very strong real estate background to be sure, and also, importantly, a degree in hospitality. So how does this all manifest itself in delivering a heightened office experience?

In Suzanne’s words, the goal is simple: A warm welcome, a fond farewell and in between an experience filled with surprise and delight. Wow, you bet, sign me up for that! And it does remind me of the impeccable service and attention to detail I have experienced at some very nice hotels. I am reminded of the Ritz Carlton motto, “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Love that. Suzanne went on to explain that there is a very clear process that a company can implement, and it includes not just the built environment, but also the people and their practices. I was surprised (then not surprised) to learn how crucial cleanliness is in the in-office experience. That seems obvious now that I think about it, I just hadn’t thought about it before. And I think that is the point. To proactively think about and improve the factors that will influence a person’s experience while in a space, whether they be an invited guest or a surprise visitor.

Suzanne explains that this isn’t something she could simply mandate for all employees. Instead, she invited a few key teams to participate in her Hospitality Workshops. She started with her own real estate team, then the security team, then the cafeteria team. These were the initial small groups of influencers, and then it would begin to spread, as other managers would notice something distinctly different about these teams—that it felt good to be around them. Then, these managers would inevitably ask about doing her workshops with their own teams.

The workshops themselves were simple and brilliant, delivered with purposeful intent, essentially using the golden rule to ‘treat others the way you want to be treated.’ But to do so in a manner that allows each individual to interpret and personalize what this means for them. It isn’t a script, as everyone takes ownership in their own way. Also important, according to Suzanne, it isn’t a ‘one and done’ experience, instead it is a journey that evolves over time and spreads beyond the workplace. When fully embraced, this expression of hospitality comes to define how you show up in every personal interaction you experience throughout your day—at work, at home, in your neighborhood. In every interaction, I will seek to give you the kind of experience that would bring me surprise and delight. Wow! What a way to supercharge my day, and yours!

Suzanne explains that there is something magical in the experience of being with people who shine their light in this way. Importantly, it is an experience that you feel, and it is something that would like to do again. And again.

Now that is cool. Sign me up. Hospitality in the workplace sounds like a formula for massive transformation for a company culture. And a great way to get your teams back into the office in 2024.



John Jarvis is an executive vice president of Hughes Marino, a global corporate real estate advisory firm that specializes in representing tenants and buyers. Contact John at 1-844-662-6635 or john@hughesmarino.com to learn more.

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