It’s no secret that getting employees back to the office has been wrought with difficulties. People have spent years acclimating to remote work and the benefits of working from home. With benefits like flexible hours, choice over location and postures, privacy and no commute, why would anyone want to return to the status quo of pre-pandemic life? Leaders, however, see things differently and have begun to mandate employees to return to the office either in part or full-time with very little leniency. The response has been, at best, employees dragging their feet, and at worst, the loss of some of their best talent. With so much pushback from employees, leaders must rethink their strategy. Many ask themselves: how do we make the office a magnet rather than a mandate?
Invite Employees to the “New” Workplace
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the first two quarters of 2022 saw U.S. productivity fall at the fastest pace on record. This fall’s leading causes are a work-life imbalance and a disconnect from the company’s culture. In many companies, these issues increase the likelihood of employees leaving their job. While the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, companies have a lot of work to do to attract and retain employees by establishing work boundaries and rebuilding their culture through their space.
One way leaders are addressing this problem is by inviting employees back to the “new” workplace. They are creating offices that support multiple work modes: focus work, collaboration and social interactions. Some companies even give employees tours and demos of their new spaces to get them excited.
Reserving Space for Focus Work
Space (a.k.a. furniture) and technology must work together to support the “new” workplace. Since hybrid work cannot function without technology, let’s consider some solutions companies are implementing to support their hybrid workforce. Employees are used to assigned seats, but what do they do if they don’t have an assigned workplace? Using a combination of workplace analytic software and room-reservation technology, employees can access the floorplan of their office while on-site or before leaving home. On their mobile device or computer, they can see which desks and collaboration rooms are available to reserve for as long as they need.
By implementing this technology, leaders give employees a feeling of control over their environment while keeping a smaller office footprint. However, leaders must also keep in mind that the only way some employees will return to the office is with a large, assigned workstation that provides individual privacy like what they had at home. If companies want employees in the office, they have to offer something better than what the employee has at home.
Braiding the Physical and the Virtual Experience
Another tactic leaders are employing is supporting collaborative meetings by creating more spaces for teams with integrated technology. By braiding the physical and virtual experience, everyone feels part of the conversation, which is vital for keeping employees in the office. The first step toward creating this experience is offering different size rooms that serve different purposes, then adding technology that supports that space.
A 20-person conference room will have completely different technology than a three-person huddle room. Fortunately, top video conferencing companies are producing excellent solutions like all-in-one camera bars that can pick up or block sound at different distances and stitch (zoom in) on multiple individuals simultaneously, creating meeting equity for virtual and in-person collaborators. These systems can also seamlessly integrate with standard software or work with BYOM (bring your own meeting), where employees plug into the camera bar and run the meeting from their laptop using the software of their choice. With space and technology supporting teams, the office feels like a “destination.”
Reinforcing Company Culture
The final piece of creating an office that draws employees in is reinforcing culture. People like to feel like they are a part of something, so creating spaces that support community is vital. One way companies are making these spaces is by bringing the breakroom onto the main floor and calling it a “Work Café.” In the Work Café, employees eat, socialize and discuss projects. Social areas like these are great places to reinforce company culture through digital signage. If the Work Café’s purpose is supporting employee interactions, why not share photos of what employees have been up to in their personal or professional lives? Other solutions allow employees to wirelessly cast to screens around them which work perfectly for sharing a presentation or a photo of a recent trip.
Technology has played a pivotal role in creating a “new” workplace where employees want to be. By building up an audio-visual team, you can bridge the gap between furniture and technology to create spaces that support in-person and hybrid employees. The combined expertise of the furniture and audio-visual teams provides a unique advantage in understanding what organizations need to function well and deliver solutions. When creating a “new” workplace, we have seen first-hand that furniture and technology must work together for organizations to be successful.
Between our experience and extensive research, the best way to help employees return to the office is not to create a mandate, but instead to be a magnet. When creating a “new” workspace that draws people in, you must support three fundamental work modes: focus work, collaboration and social interactions.
Implementing workplace analytics and room-reservation systems helps employees find where to work and be most productive. Creating collaboration spaces that make everyone feel like they are part of the conversation helps teams form their best ideas. Finally, designing spaces that support social interactions and build company culture through discussion and visuals will help employees feel connected and make them want to come to work every day.
Be a magnet, not a mandate.
Josh Messner is vice president of technology, OEC.
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