The pandemic has certainly shaken the way we perceive many things. Among them is the way we work, and how we have begun to view the meaning of a workplace. As companies slowly start to rethink their workplace experience post-pandemic, at least one thing is clear: in spite of much resistance, the workplace we once knew can never go back to the way it was before.
Ever since the COVID-19 vaccines began their rollout earlier this year, companies started considering their re-entry plans back into the office and struggled to figure out what changes to make to their workplace in a hybrid work environment. Today, even as many organizations have welcomed back a fraction of their employees into the corporate offices, the struggle to determine these changes continues. Should we add more conference rooms? Should we create more interactive spaces and get rid of individual workstations? Is it prudent to shift into a more activity-based workplace?
These questions are all certainly valid. The problem, however, is that they’re still based on the thinking of the past.
“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.” – Peter Drucker
Remote working is not a new concept. It’s been around for decades. In fact, in 2019, the International Workplace Group released a survey reporting that 70% of the global workforce worked remotely at least one day a week, and 53% worked remotely at least half the week. The difference between then and now, however, is the way remote workers are perceived.
Prior to the pandemic, companies viewed their remote workers as completely separate from those who worked in the office. They poured all of their resources into ensuring employees were productive and engaged while in their corporate offices. They offered beautiful interiors, productive workstations, and fully stocked breakrooms. Those who worked from home, on the other hand, were pretty much left to their own devices.
When the pandemic struck, everyone from all levels in office-based industries was forced to work remotely, and for many, it was the first time they experienced the struggles of working from home. Many of us realized we didn’t have the appropriate Wi-Fi equipment, internet speed, or personal computer hardware and software, especially for web conferencing and cyber security. Most challenging of all was having access to a dedicated, ergonomic home office. And yet, during this entire time, organizations expected that their employees be equally productive and fully engaged with their work responsibilities.
Additionally, something unexpected happened. Being forced to work from home for months on end gave us time, for many the first time, to pause. We were present for family milestones, big and small, and pulled together during some of the most challenging times. We understood what it really meant to care for our children, our parents, our grandparents. Our priorities shifted, and our values were reinforced. This extraordinary time for introspection became a major reason why, when companies began talking about returning to the office earlier this year, 4 million of us quit our jobs.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
The truth is, we can’t unknow what we learned during the pandemic. Nor can we un-prioritize what we’ve realized is valuable to us. For those of us in office-based industries, the benefits of working from home have changed our perspective of working-and living. The proof is in the numbers. The statistics are both staggering and consistent-since March this year, workers are quitting their jobs or considering quitting their jobs, in favor of companies offering flexible work schedules.
It’s clear that working from home is no longer a trend, it’s now the expectation. And this is why companies are now racing to revamp their remote work policies and focusing on how to evolve their corporate offices to entice employees to come back into the workplace.
What they are forgetting, however, is the other lesson we learned during the pandemic: that workers also cannot unknow the struggles they face working from home. If employees are expected to be productive and engaged working from home long term, then these barriers to their success cannot likewise be ignored.
At the same time, it’s equally important to realize that as the pandemic starts to lift around the country and the world, corporate travel will resume, as will commuting, and employees will be expected to be just as productive when they work on trains, in airports, hotel rooms, and cafes.
That’s why the concept of a “workplace” is forever changed. The focus of a workplace experience is shifting from where you work, to how you work. The emphasis is on empowering you to be productive and engaged. From anywhere. It’s called the Workplace of You.
This new workplace concept puts you at the center. Understanding how you work, what tools and technology you need to be seamlessly efficient, and how the different places you work from enable your success, are the key elements to ensuring your productivity, engagement, and job happiness. It’s not enough to focus only on rebuilding corporate offices, because that only forms one part of the total workplace experience. Instead, the Workplace of You shifts focus to enabling you to work successfully from wherever it is you need to be.
That is not to say that corporate offices will become obsolete. In fact, corporate offices may remain one of the most important elements of your workplace ecosystem. Offices offer among other things, a centralized hub for interaction among peers, physical resources, work environments, and meeting rooms that enable your success in a variety of important ways that other locations cannot. The only difference is the change in perspective, in which corporate offices are no longer the sole workplace that drives your productivity, engagement, and job happiness.
As we learned during the pandemic, some people thrived working from home full-time, while others desperately missed the personal interaction with peers. It became clear that everyone has different environmental needs that drive our ability to thrive, and these differences are equally successful at achieving goals. Therefore, empowering your success means encouraging you to work in the environment that best supports your ability to thrive, rather than urging you into environments that don’t.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Albert Einstein
On the operational side, what this shift in thinking means is reallocating resources and redesigning policies that enable employees to work from anywhere. For starters, it means ensuring everyone has the right equipment-both hardware and software, along with access to adequate Wi-Fi or hotspot capabilities, headphones, speakers, and other equipment-with a bag to carry it all. Companies can also utilize their design team and ergonomists to help create the right working environment in peoples’ homes and provide tips and tools for effectively working in transit areas, while on transport, and in cafes. If your corporate office provides access to good food, a fitness center, and conference rooms for meeting clients, then corporate travel policies should ensure business travelers have equal access to all of these things wherever they’re traveling. These are just some examples.
Finally, instead of establishing a hybrid program requiring staff to be in the office a certain number of days per week, consider instead designing the corporate office to offer a different work experience than that of the home environment, and encourage employees to decide for themselves the best environment from which to achieve their weekly goals.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, the best way to engage employees is to give them control over their work lives, rather than make best-intended decisions on their behalf.
One of the main opportunities this kind of new workplace offers companies is the competitive advantage it provides. Placing people at the center has already proven to increase employee retention, attract top talent, and cultivate happy employees. In addition, research has shown that employees who feel valued and engaged are 24% more likely to increase sales and that companies with happy employees retain their talent 50% more and enjoy revenue growth that is three times higher than companies that don’t. In this world where employees are leaving their jobs for companies that will value them, putting them at the center has become even more relevant today than ever.
The workplace experience for office-based industries is forever changed because we are forever changed. Leaning into, and embracing this evolution, is the key to sustained innovation, growth, and opportunity. Belonging to an organization that is full of happy employees who are empowered to be successful, is a win-win for us all.
“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” – Georg C. Lichtenberg
Leni Rivera is a Workplace Experience specialist, author, speaker, and thought leader, and is among the key people to watch in this space. She is passionate about enabling, supporting, and engaging employees to thrive in physical environments that are conducive to both productivity and happiness. Having a 20-year career spanning three continents and in senior leadership roles in Interior Design, Real Estate Development, and Global Workplace Services, along with pursuing a master’s degree in Organizational Psychology, Rivera has the unique ability to understand the impact of a physical environment on employee behavior, on business growth, and in expressing a culture.
Rivera is the author of the first book in the industry, Workplace Experience, owner of WorkplaceXperience Consulting, and creator of the Workplace of You, with her newest book with the same title is forthcoming.
Find Leni Rivera on the web at www.WorkplaceXperience.net.
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