Returning to the Office: 4 Ways to Build a Better Experience
August 29, 2022 7 Minute Read
Employers face the difficult task of giving the workplace a new sense of purpose. When thinking through the right environment to draw employees back, leaders must ensure they create and communicate an effective experience that enables employees to access crucial resources. If people go to the office, they should have access to a level of productivity, connectivity, and employee experience that surpasses any other option. This includes seamless convenience when accessing buildings and technology, deciding where to work for the day, and locating colleagues for in-person collaboration opportunities in a way that can’t be replicated outside the workplace. Compared to the pre-pandemic office, this represents a complete reframe and transformation.
Offices aren’t going away and will remain a vital part of an organization’s success going forward. But to ensure that success, employers must give their teams the right tools to be at their best, with the workplace acting as the nucleus of meaningful connection and collaboration.
Below are four steps business leaders can take to ensure a successful and impactful experience as workers return to the office.
1. Be Intentional
The pandemic has impacted in-person work attendance and how people do their jobs, and we are experiencing a fundamental shift in how the office is being used by employees. As part of their return-to-office plans, leaders must be intentional about creating a seamless environment that offers tangible benefits for employees, simplifies their working lives, and provides the best interaction of their day.
People miss out on the unplanned conversations and moments of spontaneity they took for granted as part of the pre-pandemic workday. Connection at work isn’t just important for employee health and contentment, it also impacts companies financially—each year, lonely and disconnected workers potentially cost the U.S. economy up to $406 billion1. Beyond bottom-line impacts, emphasizing connection and collaboration helps enhance the daily employee experience, promoting a culture that emphasizes worker needs and attracts new talent.
The Harvard Business Review found the ideal hybrid work schedule to be just one or two days in the office per week2, which means as employees face the prospect of returning to their workplaces, they make continuous determinations about whether the experience justifies the effort, time, and cost to commute. Improving employee experience is a good start, but leaders must also build an environment that gives people compelling reasons to choose the office over a home office.
Organizations must be innovative and willing to try different approaches to understand how their employees prefer to work, when they’re most productive, and which tools and amenities play a key role day-to-day. This is the time to be creative, innovate, make big investments, and take risks to understand what drives community and make their employees feel they belong. It’s not just about what’s offered, it’s also creating a holistic, purposeful experience that draws people to the office because it’s the ideal environment to do their best work.
Imagine a well-executed event where connections are created with thoughtful networking opportunities. The environment is warm and welcoming, people have easy access to food and beverages, and immersive and engaging activities help them meet new people and develop their careers. Convenience is at the forefront and individual needs are anticipated. The workplace should offer comparable levels of consideration and intention. The stakes are high—if workers are underwhelmed by a lackluster experience, they will have little reason to use the office.
2. Emphasize Hospitality and Experience
For those returning to the workplace, a hospitality-driven delivery of workplace services and amenities can anticipate needs and provide a relatively uniform experience. Remote workers will be supported and have the necessary tools to do their jobs, but the office should be the preeminent space for collaboration, access to first-rate tools, and workplace services that make people’s lives easier. Because culture impacts wellbeing and drives engagement, it also influences employee productivity and retention, on-the-job creativity, and how businesses perform3. As part of a global company with thousands of onsite, frontline workers supporting over 40 million square feet of client space, our leaders have seen the positive cultural and financial impacts a hospitality-driven workplace experience can provide. More than ever, clients should view investment in experience as a crucial component of their return-to-work strategy.
Employers can take inspiration from the hospitality industry in terms of how their front-of-house teams are trained to anticipate and support the needs of their colleagues. By providing impactful training and development opportunities, with an emphasis on topics like empathy, cross-functional collaboration, teambuilding, and leadership, onsite teams are better equipped to personify a positive workplace experience while also providing an integrated delivery of both service and experience.
To rebuild workplace culture with intentionality, employers also need detailed information and a thorough understanding of the habits and preferences of their workforce. Comprehensive workplace data plays a significant role in achieving these goals.
3. Collect the Right Data to Drive Progress
Collecting and understanding extensive data is a vital aspect of cultivating an exceptional workplace experience, as it allows leaders to anticipate and account for employee needs. An effective data-driven space offers quality tools and technology make coming to the office an obvious choice for workers. Building sensors, workplace experience mobile apps, and badge swipes are a few ways organizations can collect data to better understand how their employees use the workplace. By understanding when and why people plan to use the office, what amenities they prefer, and which tools they utilize, employers can provide curated work environments that deliver integrated experience services informed directly by employee preferences. In addition to digital data collection, front-of-house teams also provide firsthand, on-the-ground information to improve service delivery and stay ahead of any potential problems.
Data collection also plays a role in the efficacy of workplace platforms, allowing users to book workspaces and conference rooms in real time, explore workplace events, find colleagues in the space, and more. Digitally enabling employees empowers them to navigate their day on their terms and connect directly with the workplace and its offerings. Given the upheaval caused by the pandemic coupled with the convenience of home-based work, employee expectations are high, which requires agility and responsiveness on the part of employers to keep up with the rate of change.
Although the technology and tools available at the workplace should be superior to an at-home office, employers shouldn’t neglect the needs of their remote workers to get them back in the workplace. As part of their programming, leaders must make workplace experience equitable across their workforce. Technology also plays an important role here, as both onsite and remote employees should have the right tools to participate capably and not feel like an afterthought.
Some employees are likely to remain remote most of the time. Even so, employers who are sensitive to worker needs while also communicating why the office is important will see more success in persuading people to return. The specific circumstances of a given workforce plays a major part in deciding which tools and services work best, and leaders must understand organizational behavior, build workplace strategy around it, and remain adaptable. Not every approach for drawing employees to the office will work, but through the right data, tools, and partnerships, employers can discover what is most effective for meeting the demands of their people and for boosting community engagement.
4. Meet Shifting Expectations
Organizations can use this as an opportunity to make their space central to employee wellbeing and development. It’s not just about technology or perks—the modern office should also deliver an atmosphere that nurtures team building. Working from home for an extended period can shrink the networks of workers and silo them into situations where they only work with and meet people in their immediate sphere of influence. Being in the office even some of the time affords connections with individuals from all over the organization, providing valuable information, advice, context, and ideas that may otherwise be unavailable. As part of their programming, employers must cultivate consequential events and other office gatherings that provide broad access to both leaders and individuals working in other areas of the business.
In the past, an emphasis on wellbeing and experience was a nice-to-have feature. Now, it’s essential. Employers must invest in experience and development teams to be nimbler and deliver best practices across sectors. Many workers have spent the bulk of the past two years working from home, which means more than ever, organizations need intentional efforts to connect people, foster empathy among colleagues, and promote a tangible sense of belonging. If people spend less time in the office, then the limited interactions they have should be more impactful to resonate as intended. Humans are social creatures, and in-person workplace interactions build stronger connections and drive more collaborative success.
Facing Big Changes
For most organizations, the office remains essential to maintaining a vital and vibrant workforce. Although hybrid work and workplace flexibility are likely to become fixtures going forward, employees will find little value working for someone they have no meaningful contact with over the long term. Building a modern workplace now involves creating opportunities to foster relationships among colleagues and leaders in alignment with a host of tools, technologies, and services, designed to revolutionize how we think about our relationship to the office.
- Article | Adaptive Spaces
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