Chase Garbarino of HqO: “The freelance economy”

The freelance economy: There will be a large pool of workers that will end up auctioning their services to different employers. People who don’t want to be part of an office will be a freelance worker in the knowledge industry. This is not a good or bad thing, just a different choice that allows people […]

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The freelance economy: There will be a large pool of workers that will end up auctioning their services to different employers. People who don’t want to be part of an office will be a freelance worker in the knowledge industry. This is not a good or bad thing, just a different choice that allows people to take on portfolios of work as opposed to working for one employer.

There have been major disruptions in recent years that promise to change the very nature of work. From the ongoing shifts caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the impacts caused by automation, and other possible disruptions to the status quo, many wonder what the future holds in terms of employment. For example, a report by the McKinsey Global Institute that estimated automation will eliminate 73 million jobs by 2030.

To address this open question, we reached out to successful leaders in business, government, and labor, as well as thought leaders about the future of work to glean their insights and predictions on the future of work and the workplace.

As a part of this interview series called “Preparing For The Future Of Work”, we had the pleasure to interview Chase Garbarino, CEO and Co-founder of HqO.

Under Chase’s leadership, HqO was an early proptech entrant — and has become a breakaway leader. As the partner of choice for more than 60 CRE clients worldwide, HqO manages more than 160M square feet in 300+ buildings in Boston, NY, Miami, Toronto and other leading domestic and international cities. Financial backers include MetaProp, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield — and more than 106M has been raised by the company to date. Previously, Chase co-founded AmericanInno, a digital media and events business targeted at helping bolster the innovation economies of American cities.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

When I was in fifth grade, there was a game called Pogs where kids would hit these little cardboard stacks with a “slammer.” It was all the rage in elementary school. Though I wasn’t particularly interested in playing them, I was interested in selling them. My mother used to take me to buy Pogs in bulk and then I’d sell them to kids at school. I’ve always enjoyed selling things and building businesses. I had a few businesses in high school and college as well, and I enjoyed that more than classroom work. Both my father and grandfather were entrepreneurs, so I guess it’s something that just runs in my family.

I went to Hamilton College, where I became a Co-founder and President of the Entrepreneurship club. There, my Co-founder Kevin McCarthy and I started a few online publications — one of which focused on tech in the Boston area and was called BostInno. It eventually became Streetwise Media, a digital media company focused on local innovation economies. We then sold AmericanInno — the parent company to BostInno — to the American City Business Journal (ACBJ) in 2012.

After leaving the company in 2016 — and taking a bit of a winding road to figure out what was next — we landed on HqO. A few things helped us piece together the birth of HqO. The first was that BostInno was created with the purpose of highlighting how technology drives the local community. The second was that after it was sold to the ACBJ, Kevin, Greg and I were able to learn about commercial real estate (CRE); we saw how big of a market it was because it happened to be the publication’s largest ad segment.

We already knew that our interests involved how technology connects people back to the real world around them. After assessing the CRE industry, the built environment became a much more interesting platform for us. So, we embarked on developing technology that connects people back to their local community and the people around them in a more impactful way. After all, the workplace is just one setting. There’s so much more around an office building, beyond the physical workplace, in terms of how it impacts the local community. We’d been heading in this direction for a while — and the more we continue on, the more we realize how passionate we are about what we do.

What do you expect to be the major disruptions for employers in the next 10–15 years? How should employers pivot to adapt to these disruptions?

Right now, there’s an abundance of opportunity in distributed work and multiple talent pools. The major disruptions revolve around how much work goes into these scenarios. We’ve all seen the more obvious headline theories: “Big talent pools equal bigger opportunities.” However, it’s really easy to overlook the costs of managing people based out of multiple locations. Companies that aren’t global or distributed already will need to address important questions around modern flexibility needs, higher overhead costs on programming, and additional management variables.

What do companies need to do in terms of programming in the office, versus at home? How do you handle the scheduling of management in different timezones? These things all create a multi-variant challenge, and make engagement a significant part of that challenge. In order to successfully pivot and adapt, employers need to solve the problem of distance. Distance can make people feel removed, so how do you continue to engage with your employees in a valuable and meaningful way?

The choice as to whether or not a young person should pursue a college degree was once a “no-brainer”. But with the existence of many high profile millionaires (and billionaires) who did not earn degrees, as well as the fact that many graduates are saddled with crushing student loan debt and unable to find jobs it has become a much more complex question. What advice would you give to young adults considering whether or not to go to college?

Before they commit to college, 17- and 18-year-olds really need to do their homework on the ROI of what degree they want. College costs are only going up, and if you’re in a position where you need to take on student debt, you need to be mindful of the impact that a certain degree can have on your lifelong earnings. Too often we conflate school with education, but there are a lot of great ways to get an education that are not solely tied to school.

So, unless you want to be a doctor or something similar, the average person needs to be smart about their interests and the purpose of the debt they might take on. A lot of technical vocations can help people achieve their goals when student debt doesn’t make sense. Additionally, there are thousands of colleges who will sell the thought of a network to students and young adults. Students should remain mindful of how established a university is, and how many people they can identify as successful benefactors of that college and its resources.

Despite the doom and gloom predictions, there are, and likely still will be, jobs available. How do you see job seekers having to change their approaches to finding not only employment but employment that fits their talents and interests?

It’s hard for people to self-assess their talents initially. That’s why programs like Northeastern’s Co-op, and others that put people through real-world experiences, are invaluable. Job seekers need to get out there and try different things before they figure out what they’re good at and what they like to do. That means co-ops, apprenticeships, and internships are going to become more and more important for finding proper employment.

It’s popular advice to tell people to “do what you love,” but that’s a bit of a fairytale. Falling in love with a job takes work. It’s never easy, even when you do enjoy what you’re doing. There will be times you get tired of it, question it, or think how the grass is always greener on the other side. So job seekers need to find their interests, and work to keep their interests. They need to remain open to let their interests evolve as well, because the job you start out in can often look very different over a short period of time.

The statistics of artificial intelligence and automation eliminating millions of jobs appear frightening to some. For example, Walmart aims to eliminate cashiers altogether and Dominos is instituting pizza delivery via driverless vehicles. How should people plan their careers such that they can hedge their bets against being replaced by automation or robots?

One of the greatest lies of business press is the “fact” that automation kills jobs. They’ve been talking about this for hundreds of years. Take the ATM machine. Everyone thought it was going to kill the bank teller job. Instead, it did the exact opposite. When the ATM came out, it was able to give banks access to new demographics through smaller business locations and mobile opportunities. Because of this, it ended up creating more banking jobs to match the additional opportunities. We’ve seen this same concept play out with Amazon and e-commerce giants. They’re all delivering more goods and services than ever before, so they need more people to run operations, manage shipping and handling, and so on.

The truth is, new technology enables more consumption of better goods and services. People are required to invent and run those innovations, so it evolves jobs rather than eliminates them. It’s unrealistic to be educated once while you’re in school, and then to be set for your lifelong career. People need to become lifelong learners and evolve along with technology to stay relevant in the workforce. If you can do that, then you’ll see there is actual significant demand for work.

Technological advances and pandemic restrictions hastened the move to working from home. Do you see this trend continuing? Why or why not?

This is something that my company is particularly involved in, since we create technology for commercial real estate landlords. We work with offices across the globe. What we’re seeing isn’t a 100% move to working from home, but a high adoption of hybrid work models. The typical 9-to-5 office scenario is a thing of the past. And how we measure productivity in the office is no longer going to be based on hours spent in the office. Instead, the pandemic gave us all a right to flexibility, to choose how and where we want to do our best work. Office spaces are still very necessary, because they foster important business functions like collaboration, innovation, and even socialization. Those things can’t be replicated via your average Zoom call. Instead, the workforce will strike a balance between remote and in-office work, and property teams will create spaces to enable those functions. Many clients that we work with are already doing it, and doing it well.

What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support the fundamental changes to work?

The biggest is education. It’s all about creating cost-effective education that applies to applicability and employment. There’s a lot of layering up on debt for majors and degrees that won’t help the workforce create a healthier lifestyle for themselves.

Continuing education is also key. Even 10 years later, what you learned in college is not relevant to what you might need to know as your job evolves. Just compare social media in the early 2000s to what it is now. People went from saying advertising on social media wouldn’t work, to now it’s the only way to go. Platforms like TikTok are different from Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. They all come with wildly different skill sets. We need to figure out ongoing forms of education to increase people’s earnings and skill sets throughout their lives, rather than for just one moment in their lives.

What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employers to accept? What changes do you think will be the most difficult for employees to accept?

For employers, it will be the ongoing challenge of truly measuring productivity. So much of Corporate America uses busyness to measure productivity, but motion does not equal progress. A lot of the things that we measure don’t necessarily lead to better outcomes.

For employees, the reality is that there will be more conversations about talent. As things become more global and distributed, employers are going to be able to draw from a larger labor pool and recruit from anywhere. This will make core markets of employees more competitive. And, if you’re in a business where they’re not investing in global or hybrid talent, that’s probably a signal of the value of the role.

The COVID-19 pandemic helped highlight the inadequate social safety net that many workers at all pay levels have. Is this something that you think should be addressed? In your opinion how should this be addressed?

The pandemic highlighted the inadequate safety net for people in certain roles, but it also highlighted how well office workers have it. You’d think that the world shutting down would have a lot of negative consequences on companies and their businesses. But it didn’t. A lot of what we need to be thinking about right now is from a policy perspective, for people in the fields of work where they don’t have the luxuries of working from whenever they want. We need to make sure we create the right incentives in the market for people who do those necessary jobs because they still need to get done, and people still need to feel comfortable going into work.

Despite all that we have said earlier, what is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

People! I am a fundamental believer in people. There are significantly more people that are innovating and creating better products that are helpful to others. There are great entrepreneurs from all walks of life and backgrounds that use their unique perspectives to do something good. That is one of the best parts of the U.S., because so many businesses are built by first-generation immigrants. Continuing to see more venture capitalists identify that as a trend for success is amazing. We have a lot of people here that want to fund people from anywhere and from any background to build something on their own.

Historically, major disruptions to the status quo in employment, particularly disruptions that result in fewer jobs, are temporary with new jobs replacing the jobs lost. Unfortunately, there has often been a gap between job losses and the growth of new jobs. What do you think we can do to reduce the length of this gap?

This is what I meant when I discussed the need for more ongoing education in one of my previous answers. We need to take a long view on education to make people lifelong learners, rather than accepting education for just one period in time. If we only accepted the education we had through college, that just covers the first 20 to 25% of your life. That’s it. We need more than that.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Watch In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

Hybrid is key: There will be “office-first” that help normalize office consumption again. At the same time, the typical 9-to-5 workday will go away as hybrid models rise.

Connecting work technologies: Having seamless digital tools for how you get your work done will be more important than ever. More and more of these systems are starting to become integrated with one another in the workplace (especially those that used to be siloed tools from an IT perspective).

Knowledge work will be important: In order to measure certain aspects of work and productivity, we need to measure where impactful work is being done and what is actually creating value.

The freelance economy: There will be a large pool of workers that will end up auctioning their services to different employers. People who don’t want to be part of an office will be a freelance worker in the knowledge industry. This is not a good or bad thing, just a different choice that allows people to take on portfolios of work as opposed to working for one employer.

Hospitality: Employers are acting more like a hospitality group via the expansion of benefits and amenities in the workplace. We are seeing this with notable and innovative companies already, such as Hubspot

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how this quote has shaped your perspective?

I don’t have just one! However, there’s a great quote from George Bernard Shaw:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

It’s one thing to be practical, but we need to rely on those that think differently, think bigger, and aren’t afraid of failure. Those people are true innovators.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to meet Stephen Schwarzman or Jonathan Gray from Blackstone Group. They collectively built the most impactful organization from the ground up, and it changed real estate more than any other organization in the world.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

They can follow me on Twitter @cgarb, LinkedIn, or my company at

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

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