Sent into a “tailspin” after the pandemic hit—as so many were—Leon Kallikkadan and his IT team quickly focused on what tech could do to help. They built an internal hoteling app to help their organization create the safest in-office work environment possible.
Kallikkadan, vice president of technology at Atrium, a talent and contingent workforce solutions firm headquartered in New York City, shares how they did it, how to increase productivity today and the importance of good communication.
The past two years have taught many of us to better use our resources. What’s an example of initiatives you put into place that have helped your company operate better during the pandemic?
The pandemic certainly sent many of us into a tailspin. We, like many others, had to quickly make changes to the ways we conducted business as we evaluated the needs of our company, employees and clients.
Our firm has always been committed to the health and well-being of our employees. During the pandemic, this priority was raised to the highest level to safely accommodate those employees who came into the office. Our AtriumSpace app was born out of the need to adhere to changing CDC guidelines, provide properly cleaned desks and workspaces for all of our employees and track where employees were working in all of our offices. It has evolved into a system that is currently being used in each of our offices across the U.S. for daily seat choices and allocations, contact tracing, real estate planning and parity in all of our workspaces, with benefits extending to those working remotely.
We began the project by establishing a basic hoteling system. We gathered RFPs from several vendors and realized that with the changing CDC guidelines, our unique needs and employee-centric focus, we couldn’t rely on a system that was not specific to our company. So we rolled up our sleeves, tapped into our own talent and put them to the test. AtriumSpace—whose versions are a play on “office space” and “outer space”—takes hoteling to a whole new dimension.
How exactly did you do it?
To make sure we had the best system in place, we created an in-house development team and identified the problems we needed to solve and build efficiencies. That was our main goal. Did we learn anything along the way? Yes, we did. Our intention at first was right, but we realized part of our approach was wrong. We quickly pivoted and created a well-thought-out and thorough process that involved partnering with our enterprise project management team.
The team met with each business unit, learned their requirements and created a singular document that we were able to work off of. The project management team, which included business analysts, created “must haves,” “nice to haves” and “really nice to haves,” prioritizing the importance based on each unit’s needs. My team took those requirements, evaluated them and focused their efforts on meeting every need.
AtriumSpace allows employees to reserve their workspace within their business units, select whom to sit next to, and check in when they arrive. There are no “walls” separating business units, in fact, the configuration is fluid and changes each day. It provides our leadership with insights into which spaces are used most often and are the most sought-after spaces, who is coming to the office and contact tracing if necessary.
To help ensure the success of these new arrangements, we built our network backbone so that our staff can move anywhere in the office without losing connectivity—we are now completely on WiFi in each office, without any cables. Everyone’s tech stack includes a laptop, portable keyboard and flat mouse, with flexibility to set up in any workspace, anywhere in the office. They take their tech stack home with them, and bring it back into the office when they come in.
There is parity throughout our organization—every employee has the same tools to work with, wherever they are. Using the power of technology, AtriumSpace has created a positive employee experience, something which we consistently strive to achieve.
This was quite a task. What advice can you give other CIOs who may be in need of creating a similar system?
It certainly was, and I would add that we accomplished this in two months. I don’t believe there is an off-the-shelf solution, as every company has different needs. My advice is that you must consult your internal clients to find out their needs. You can’t just dive into a project like this without their direction or you could wind up spending a lot of time on something that isn’t useful. You need to be prepared with a well-thought out set of questions and you have to make sure that your lines of communication with your business partners are open at all times.
We are living in a fast-changing environment, and it’s important to make sure you are satisfying the specific needs of your employees, while preparing for the future. After all, your employees are key to your business’ success and knowing what they value and providing them with those solutions will go a long way toward creating the best employee experience possible.
The past two years have taught many of us that we need to better use our resources—people and technology. Can you talk about some of the processes that you have put into place at your company that have added to productivity?
We are a “people” organization, and the pandemic influenced us to rapidly implement new technologies to automate several of our processes and create greater efficiencies. Throughout this process we kept employees in the loop and communicated with them to make sure they understood the benefits. We made sure they knew that robots would not be replacing their jobs—they would simply make everyone more efficient. Everyone wants to do more exciting projects, but repetitive tasks can hold you back from working on them.
We began by licensing robotic technology to help us achieve our objective of automating the repetitive work that our staff was spending too valuable time on. For instance, a checklist that could take upwards of seven hours to complete was a prime candidate for automation. That’s now been reduced to 15 minutes. Not only does it reduce the amount of time spent on a repetitive project, it increases the value of the work employees can achieve, helping them feel positive about the work they are accomplishing.
While not every task is a candidate for automation, understanding exactly which could be, and then automating that process, in my opinion, is the way to go. As an example, one of the areas we targeted for automation was the hiring and onboarding process. Just think about it. You have to notify all appropriate departments of every new hire, and each department requires information that can all be consolidated and targeted to their specific needs.
For instance, tasks include something “simple” like shipping tech stacks to those working from home. So, the system creates shipping labels for the admin and IT departments. In addition to this “simpler” task, other departments need more technical information for government reporting and compliance agencies. This is all now automated in the reports we create, with admin and IT literally on the same page, with little chance for error or failed communications. Any potential issues are flagged.
With employees now freed up from their repetitive tasks, they have the ability to use their talents and skills to help us service our clients, build our business and share in the growth of our organization.
What do you think other CIOs can learn from this?
The pandemic has had a major impact on people’s use of time, their efficiency and overall stress. It really pays to evaluate how you can best employ your talent and not waste precious time on repetitive tasks that can be streamlined. It frees up time for more productive projects that can add value not only to your company but also to employees’ self-worth and employee engagement. It’s important to communicate and have good relationships with your executives, peers and internal clients. I seize the opportunity to use these relationships to identify how I can solve their problems with the technology we have, can build or acquire. It’s a moment of education to understand the power and potential that can be unlocked with communication. Working together, building relationships and having the right business partners and peers are all essential to solve any business problem and create new opportunities.