Want to Create a Great Employee Environment? Focus on These 3 Things
Here's what you should do to deliver an environment your employees will love.
The world is getting back to work, but what will be the key differentiator of the new workplace post-pandemic?
After this past year of new tools, dynamics and definitions for work, organizations can't simply just open up their offices again and expect things to go back to the way they were pre-pandemic. Organizations need to think about how they're going to make the new office attractive, engaging and a place where their employees want to return. The key to that will be experience.
Just like how a great in-store experience is key for drawing in, engaging and keeping customers, a positive in-office employee experience is going to be key to welcoming back workers to the office post-pandemic — and getting them excited to return as well.
When it's time to welcome your teams back to the office, what is it going to look like? Now is the chance to reimagine the workplace.
Where we've come from and where we're going
Office layouts and setups have evolved not only with new technology, but with business needs as well. The early 20th century saw the evolution of the open office plan to increase collaboration, yet the layout — rows and rows of desks — still seemed similar to the factory system. In the mid-1900s, desks were clustered in order to foster individual team engagement, and the "Action Office" developed in the 1960s created manager offices and meeting room spaces around a central "pit" of desks.
The 1970s and 1980s brought about the usage of cubicles, adding privacy to desk clusters. But once mobile technology developed, workers no longer needed to be tethered to a desk area, and the rise of movement in the office, choosing which environment to work in, and even remote work began to take off. Office work safety and health became a part of office initiatives, too, with the awareness around ergonomic design and environmentally-friendly buildings. Offices also started to include other amenities like cafes, gyms, meditation spaces and more, offering employees a more holistic work experience.
But what happens now? The pandemic shutdown forced offices to alter their business operations overnight, and to see what a fully-remote world looks like. Most organizations will — and should — return to some level of in-office work, as 87% of employees see the office as valuable for creating relationships with other team members, and collaborating with them. What we’ll see is most likely a hybrid of in-office and remote work, or flexible work arrangements. Ultimately, organizations are going to miss a massive opportunity if they don't learn from the past year and look at ways to create meaningful in-office employee experiences going forward.
What do I mean when I say "employee experiences"? It means creating an in-office environment where employees feel excited to do their work, feel enabled to do their work and feel safe to do their work.
For employees who have been working from home for a year — and enjoyed it — how do you get them excited to return to their workplace? The answer: Focus on engagement, where employees find value in returning to the office by feeling part of the mission, able to work on new and interesting projects and are able to see their coworkers again. Qualtrics reports that having a sense of belonging is the biggest factor in engagement, ahead of things like trustworthy leadership and career growth. Being excited to return to the office also means that they feel like their needs are being heard, and that their organization cares for them. For example, allow workers to have a flexible work schedule, if that's valuable to them. Having a little fun and adding some gamification into your productivity goals doesn't hurt either.
With many workplaces likely to move to a hybrid office, some staff will be in the office and some working remotely, or there will be a rotation of who will be in and out of the office. Because of this, staying connected and keeping productivity high will be one of the biggest problems to solve. Additionally, 85% of employees expect that their workplace will provide them the right tools to stay connected. This can be done through investing in technology to ensure communication and collaboration continues, like using video conferencing services, group chat platforms, or even implementing an internal digital hub where teams can collaborate, share files, chat and stay updated on their projects.
Employees need to know that they're returning to a safe work environment as well, one that puts their health and wellbeing first. This could include hands-free pre-wellness checks upon entering the building, touchless check-in, touchless buttons, digital signage to keep everyone up-to-date on safety initiatives and other environmental updates like new air filtration or social distance monitors. CB Insights reports that implementing these modifications “can thus serve as outward displays that an employer is taking safety seriously. By implementing and enforcing these systems, employers can create a more positive experience and reduce anxiety.”
Additionally, even if your workplace has focused on wellness programming in the past, now's the time to increase that focus. Not only do employees want to know their organization cares about their wellness, but many are trying to process a difficult year filled with loss and uncertainty as well.
Preparing for the future
The key differentiator will be ensuring that your employees are excited, enabled and safe to get back to work. Now is the time to reimagine your office, and it starts with focusing on how to create a great in-office employee experience.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor