Community//

Leon Papkoff of The CXApp: “Employee to employee communications”

Prior to COVID-19, communication in business was ok. There were emerging tools that streamlined collaboration and new channels for keeping in touch. But they were geared more towards intranet and productivity use cases. But now, as we emerge into a new world of work, it’s not just business as usual. There is a distinct shift in […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

Prior to COVID-19, communication in business was ok. There were emerging tools that streamlined collaboration and new channels for keeping in touch. But they were geared more towards intranet and productivity use cases.

But now, as we emerge into a new world of work, it’s not just business as usual. There is a distinct shift in the types of information we should be sharing internally and externally. Especially with a distributed workforce, there is a higher reliance on new and more current ways of sharing company information and keeping employees informed beyond just content and collaboration itself.

Typical use cases now, require employees to be connected to the workplace whether they are at home, at a coffee shop, sitting at a desk in the office, or even working from a remote location. At The CXApp, we like to think of ‘communication’ from the 50,000 ft level, where communication means mobile-centric, employee-first, contextual interactions as part of a smart campus approach to business.


The telephone totally revolutionized the way we could communicate with people all over the world. But then came email and took it to the next level. And then came text messaging. And then came video calls. And so on…What’s next? What’s just around the corner?

In this interview series, called ‘The Future Of Communication Technology’ we are interviewing leaders of tech or telecom companies who are helping to develop emerging communication technologies and the next generation of how we communicate and connect with each other.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leon Papkoff. As Founder and Chief Strategist for The CXApp, Leon is a highly-skilled, results-oriented visionary with 20+ years of executive leadership paving the way for emerging technologies shaping the future of work. Leon oversees product, people, and process for The CXApp in addition to ongoing executive consultation with innovative Fortune 500 companies managing their own digital transformation.

The CXApp SaaS platform offers digital workplace tools in one mobile command center, serving as a digital front door for operations across events, meetings, digital communities, desk management and the smart campus.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Wow, it’s a long story, but I’ll try to shorten it. I started off working right out of college at an advertising company in Los Gatos, California. It was right at the beginning of the Internet boom. My title was webmaster and I got to work on some really exciting websites. Some of the first websites I worked on were for Silicon Valley Bank, Match.com, and a few other dot com companies that aren’t around today.

From there I decided to start my own business and jumped head first into creating websites for a number of Fortune 500 companies. I had the opportunity to work in the entertainment space doing projects for Disney and similar production companies in Hollywood. At that time, Hollywood was trying to do more technically savvy activations that were prime work for Silicon Valley engineers.

Coincidentally, those projects opened the doors to opportunities with some of the larger Fortune 500 companies in Silicon Valley creating interactive multimedia demos for retail centers at Fry’s Electronics, Best Buy etc.

Word spread to other tech companies in the area and we were gaining a lot of attention for our user interface and experience design. That transitioned into strategy and design for Executive Briefing Centers (starting with Cisco Systems), where we consulted on content, interactions, and vision for the overall user flow and experience that customers would go through when on-site. This was the very beginning of what we call a customer journey map.

From that point on — it was a snowball effect extending our purpose and our reach into the smart campus at major tech campuses across the country — building and shaping what connected ‘experiences’ look like in the business world.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Sure, I’ve had a lot of interesting encounters and projects I’ve been fortunate to work on, and just as many interesting people I’ve worked with. But, I think the most interesting thing that I’ve experienced, in that it challenged me as an entrepreneur and leader, dates to a few years back when we transitioned our company from a strategic consulting firm to a SaaS company.

Now, you’d think those have nothing to do with the other. And you’d be mostly right. But, a lot of the lessons learned from running and operating from an agency model actually propelled our SaaS company, The CXApp, to success.

From a business and operations standpoint you’re doing two completely different things. As an agency, you’re creating bespoke products and tailoring isolated strategic campaigns to large customers. They are high-touch, low-volume, one-off projects. As such, your approach to each potential project changes as you focus on impressing the customer by spinning a customer golden story to ultimately win the bid. We were hugely successful at this running from projects creating product demos for Apple to working at the Oscars, and launching private tools for top Silicon Valley tech companies.

About 8 years ago, through work with tech companies, we began to see an emerging demand for solutions that keep customers, partners, employees, and stakeholders connected and engaged across different business segments. That is when our evolution began and we looked at building native software to solve these business and workplace challenges.

As we laid the foundation for our SaaS platform and built a brand around The CXApp, we were able to apply principles from our agency DNA, such as good user interface, earning customer’s business on a quarterly basis and crafting a story around how our technology meets industry demand.

Though the product we deliver is different, the things that made us successful in our past has differentiated us amongst competitors in the software world. The experience is everything.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” — Wayne Gretzky

I realize this quote is often used by many and has been challenged with inherent flaws in theory, but it sticks and it works. I’m an innovation chaser and a serial entrepreneur. Throughout my career, I try to anticipate the next swing or pivot in the industry. Yes, other strategic thought leaders are doing the same and we may end up there in a pack, but I believe that with the talent and team I surround myself with, we’re able to get to the puck faster, iterate quicker, and build some really cool technology that can outpace the competition. It’s an internal drive to succeed, be the best, build the best solutions, and attract the best customers.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been a lot of influences in my life, too many to name, so I’ll share a couple examples.

My first mentor took a chance and brought me under his wing. I was young, eager to make waves, and had an appetite for finding the next big thing. He groomed me and helped lay foundational elements for how I wanted to shape my career trajectory.

Also, there are several clients that I’ve worked with that I’ve learned greatly from. While typically I’m providing the goods, the service, and the strategy, it’s the way I’ve been able to partner with clients — from projects with Apple, Disney, and major tech companies — to learn about their industry and their needs that have really changed my perspective.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe in people. I want to surround myself with the best in the business, no matter what stage they are at in their career. People that are always learning, always growing, always challenging themselves, and share in a common goal. In business, I strive to invest in and nurture talent by instilling a sense of ownership and providing the space to think, speak, and be creative. I like seeing team members and employees flourish and find their own voice in different work environments. So, to think that I can be a part of someone’s business success journey in that way, makes me very proud.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about the cutting edge communication tech that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

In the workplace, communication is everything. It starts, stops, influences, and enhances all experiences for employees, customers, partners, vendors and so on. But communication is multi-way. It’s about how we communicate with our peers, our managers, our teams, and even how we communicate with devices and how devices communicate with us and each other.

Prior to COVID-19, communication in business was ok. There were emerging tools that streamlined collaboration and new channels for keeping in touch. But they were geared more towards intranet and productivity use cases.

But now, as we emerge into a new world of work, it’s not just business as usual. There is a distinct shift in the types of information we should be sharing internally and externally. Especially with a distributed workforce, there is a higher reliance on new and more current ways of sharing company information and keeping employees informed beyond just content and collaboration itself.

Typical use cases now, require employees to be connected to the workplace whether they are at home, at a coffee shop, sitting at a desk in the office, or even working from a remote location. At The CXApp, we like to think of ‘communication’ from the 50,000 ft level, where communication means mobile-centric, employee-first, contextual interactions as part of a smart campus approach to business.

A few main areas for a robust communication in a smart campus platform are:

  • Real-time news and bulletin messages (this is your traditional wiki/intranet use cases, but better)
  • Instant notifications to keep employees informed no matter where they are located, and often times specifically dependent on where they are located
  • Location aware digital touchpoints that offer up helpful information such as special offers, indoor navigation, and wayfinding
  • The ability to book a desk or conference room (this an employee communicating with physical spaces in the workplace)
  • Employee to employee communications
  • And other automated interactions that aid a seamless workplace experience for employees

The future of communications in the workplace is providing employees with a centralized platform where to manage day-to-day office scenarios from one mobile command center.

Mobile apps are the only technology that can clearly communicate with employees across a distributed workforce cohesively when they are on-site, in-transit, or working remotely

How do you think this might change the world?

The new workplace is all about connecting people on-site, on-the-go, and in-between moments.

I believe, along with many industry analysts, that the post-COVID workplace will be dramatically different. We’re experiencing a cultural transformation around our expectations of where and when work gets done.

Employees will move toward an in-the-office model that matches their daily work needs.

Prior to COVID-19, we had begun working on use cases to support the need for a native desk booking application, as the puck and industry would go, to create ‘safer spaces’ in the workplace.

Workplace reentry is a highly complex challenge companies are facing, and it encompasses people, technology, and the environments we work in — all part of a comprehensive communication and worker engagement strategy.

Desk scheduling and room reservation software for example will help shape the way workers organize, occupy, and manage spaces within the workplace through transparency and accessibility around on-site capacities, availabilities, and occupancies.

Offices will continue to be hubs for collaboration, creativity, and networking. — but they must also accommodate remote experiences, seamlessly connecting the workforce through real-time communications and contextually-aware experiences whether workers are on-site, at-home, or somewhere in between.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

No, it’s quite the opposite actually. I believe, if anything, smart technology for the workplace gives employees greater flexibility (less restrictions) in regards to when they work, how they work, where they work, and how they get work done.

Many workers actually enjoy working from home, but do still miss that connection point with colleagues, collaborative spaces, and spontaneous innovation or cooler talk. Which is why the ‘office is not dead’. It just looks a little bit different and serves a new purpose.

So, as we move forward with a distributed workforce model, employee communication tools and technologies are going to converge into the smart campus or smart office model where we’ll see a convergence of systems to create a more holistic workplace ecosystem.

This is what today’s employees want and this is where the future of work is headed.

With any good technology however, there are a few things to be mindful of, such as:

  • Taking responsibility for the product itself and ensuring that all policies and procedures a carefully documented, communicated, and adhered to
  • Using moderation to keep the channels of communication safe and respectful
  • Following all security guidelines to protect users and members
  • Having a champion that can turn a piece of technology or a mobile app into a beneficial and valuable tool

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

A few months before COVID-19 hit, we saw a few companies working on desk booking solutions, but we didn’t feel like any of them met all of the industry demands. In fact, we looked at integrating with some early stage vendors to build on our smart campus infrastructure, but found that there were other more important use cases that needed to be solved for than just the ability to ‘book a desk’.

So, like any good innovative team, we scoped out native desk management technology as a means of organizing and communicating with employees and operations as part of a robust workplace reentry strategy and ended up building our own solution.

The need for large organizations, with densely populated offices and buildings, to have a way of opening their offices safely — is there. But I do not believe we’ve hit the tipping point yet.

What we’re looking for is the point when 20% of employees go back to the workplace in-person at major companies and enterprise organizations. That is yet to come. However, as a workplace experience platform rooted in employee communications — we are prepared for the tipping point — when employees and teams scramble to have the right tools and processes in place to support a flexible workplace.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

Factoring in the 80/20 Principle, I believe that once 20% of all employees within one company use this type of technology to engage with a smart campus, then with its own inertia and momentum it will quickly expand to 80% of workers per organization.

As organizations adopt a mobile communications hub for employees and use it as the standard for daily operations, it will become a benefit for acquiring and retaining top talent. Smart, automated, connected, and personalized experiences in the workplace are no longer a ‘nice to have’.

The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. How do you think your innovation might be able to address the new needs that have arisen as a result of the pandemic?

Times of crisis or uncertainty lead to an increased need for information. Transparency and communications are important stepping stones to keeping people informed and educated in and around the workplace.

This comes in the shape of increased communications, up-to-the-minute updates, on-demand access to content, on-the-go access to spaces, and fun and engaging activities for employees to take part in.

The distributed workforce will remain with us for a long time, creating the demand for a connected workplace solution that can manage people, places, and things in real-time.

The office is and can be anywhere. Remote work capabilities make it possible for employees to set up shop at home, in transit, and at work. So, with a distributed workforce you have to bring the connection points to them and give employees and teams the ability to manage different types of ‘office scenarios’ from their personal device will be the dominating path forward for a lot of companies.

Fantastic. Here is the main in question of our interview. What are your “5Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  • Invest in people. When I started out, I didn’t take the time to really learn from and invest in people. It’s a tough lesson to learn, but now I strive to hire the best people, empower them with a sense of ownership, and encourage them to bring their ideas to the table. I want to cultivate talent and give back to the people that give so much to this business.
  • Be more nurturing. In addition to investing in people over product, the ability to slow down and lead with mindfulness has greatly paid off in the latter years of my career. When you’re young and leading a high-growth team, some of these traits can unfortunately be sidelined.
  • Treat customers as equals. At the end of the day, we’re all human. It’s important to not be intimidated, but also equally important to not intimidate others, be disrespectful, or make presumptions.
  • Build for scalability. That’s of course a great goal to have in mind, but it applies to so many different aspects of running a successful business. From the software itself, to teams, operations, and processes — the ability to start each segment or project from a clear state of mind and put in place a proper foundation to scale is paramount.
  • Deliver good user interface (UI) and customer experience touchpoints. In a mobile app, UI that is easy to learn, easy to use, and looks good is 50% of everything required to reach success. If you have good design and user experience built into your product, adoption and growth will follow.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m going to address that on a much smaller scale, maybe in the likeness of ‘pay it forward’. I want everyone to treat each other as equals and fairly as individuals in this world.

It’s the way I aspire to manage and lead teams. I value all of my employees, team members, colleagues and even competitors. It doesn’t come easy. As a leader you have to continually check in with yourself and re-align with your goals as a person and as the head of an organization. People-first.

The way that our management team leads is a trickle down effect, that I hold myself responsible for, and that is to give everyone a sense of ownership and a voice in what we do. Innovation does not come from one voice or one mind alone, it is a beautiful collision of different perspectives and experiences that speak both at once and in-turns.

I believe that respect should be present in all organizations of all types and sizes so that we can break down the walls of intimidation in the workplace.

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    Jeff Corbin of Staffbase: “Digital transformation fosters a culture of community”

    by Jason Hartman
    Hani Zeini
    Community//

    The impact that Coronavirus has had on the Faster Digitalization of Workplaces as envisaged by Hani Zeini

    by Sujain Thomas
    Community//

    How to Improve Employee Communication While Working Remotely

    by Gary Valkenburg
    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.