Is the environment your employees work in setting them up for success? Do you have insights into what your team expects from their physical workspace?
In recent years, we have witnessed a fundamental shift in how we utilise working spaces, from working remotely during COVID19, to hybrid working and now, for some companies, mandating time in the office. Throughout this time, the purpose and value of office space has adapted and grown.
Thinking about how to leverage your organisation’s working environment to get the best from employees is not reserved for office-based workers. Organisations operating in industries ranging from retail and manufacturing to hospitality and health care need to consider how the workspace enhances and enables their employees’ experience at work.
As part of our ongoing EX revolution campaign, we are on a mission to change the way people think about their employee’s everyday experiences – including their physical environment. We believe that the workplace plays a crucial role in wellbeing, satisfaction and productivity and therefore falls comfortably within the influence of the HR function, in collaboration with facilities and operations colleagues.
Collaboration and culture
The 2023 Workplace Strategy Report has found two primary functions for the physical office today: firstly, to increase collaboration and secondly, to improve company culture. Understandably, these factors are often cited as key challenges relating to remote and hybrid working environments.
Many argue that quality, in-person collaboration has a vital role to play in our world of work, so our physical spaces need to support this. Looking at the market, several FTSE100 companies including Imperial Brands, Legal & General, Experian and British Land have all focused on upgrading their office spaces, creating more collaborative environments since COVID19. But what has happened since then?
If collaboration space is a key requirement, it’s interesting to see that there has been a shift away from communal spaces in favour of private meeting rooms and focus areas. Such spaces offer employees the space to think and work in a quiet environment and to conduct private meetings. This is something people will be used to working from home and may not want to lose by coming into the office.
There has been an explosion in the use of digital collaboration tools such as Mural and Slack which help to navigate the challenges of not being physically together. At HSBC, once the company moved away from their offices, Slack usage rose 30% for active users and daily messages shot up by 80%, all within the first month. However, such tools rely on strong Wi-Fi and quiet working environments to be effective so it’s important to recognise not all workers will have the same experience.
A common pain point for organisations who practice – or did practice – a hybrid or remote working model is the detrimental impact it can have on company culture.
How a space is designed and decorated should align to your business, your brand voice and culture, and organisations can use the space to reflect the company ethos, share values and communicate why they exist.
Boosting your employee’s physical space
We can’t discuss workplace design without discussing the importance of ergonomics and safe working. Whether employees are working remotely from home, in the office or on a site, it’s essential they are not putting themselves in any physical risk and are as comfortable as possible.
Ergonomics is about ensuring your workspace is designed safely for office workers, covering factors such as temperature, noise, and also physical aspects such as chairs, desks and screen set up. For office workers, studies show that ergonomic setups can lead to a 40% productivity increase and a 56% reduction in error rates amongst employees.
As working environments continue to change, it is important for organisations to consider their responsibility to ensure these aspects are supported regardless of work location. For example, for frontline workers such as bus drivers, it’s essential that their seating is ergonomically correct and is ISO measured to ensure safety, whereas for home or hybrid workers it is important they have the right screen and desk setup so they are working comfortably.
Despite lots of trends in office space and design, one that has stuck is a rise in providing access to outdoor areas in offices and, where that’s not possible, adding greenery into the office space. This has stemmed (pardon the pun) from employees who work remotely being closer to nature more often, whether that’s in the garden or in a park at lunchtime. The addition of plants to our working environments has proven beneficial in purifying air, promoting feelings of calmness and even boosting our general sense of wellbeing.
Additionally, we’ve seen a rise in ‘coffee culture’, a phenomenon taking off worldwide in offices that encourages people to take breaks, interact with other employees and improves productivity. A study by Nespresso found that 92% of employees want to have a social space (coffee/lunch spaces) in the office, and 65% of employees expect high-quality coffee in the workplace.
All the gear
That being said, not all employees have a designated workspace for a coffee machine or leafy greenery. This is often the case for employees in industries such as construction, manufacturing, healthcare and hospitality. For these employees, emphasis needs to put on having the right physical or technological tools to do their job effectively. Research has also shown that nothing disengages a frontline employee more than being given impractical tools to work with. But at the same time, placing equal consideration to the nature of the ‘staff room’ type environment will help to ensure front line workers feel valued and supported in their breaks as well as on the ‘shop floor’.
The home office
The home is a primary ‘working space’ for many. Compared to an office or work site, it is typically more relaxing and convenient, with no commute, so it enables a better work life balance. Employers still have a role to play in ensuring the home working environment is safe, as referenced above, but also offering support to ensure employees can work at their best, for example by covering the cost of high speed broadband for employees who may struggle to pay for it themselves.
Technology enablement in physical spaces
We’ve already touched on how technology can enhance our working environments. More recently, we have seen a rise in SMART (self-monitoring, analysis, and reporting technology) offices. To maximise office space, improve productivity and increase employee experience, more companies are using technology enablers. Getting data on how many people are in the office, booking meeting rooms and using communal space is allowing businesses and HR leaders to design the most accommodating spaces possible.
The challenge is getting the balance right between ‘employee listening’ and ‘employee monitoring’, as we discussed on our recent podcast with Simon Smith, CPO from Aston Martin.
Agility is key…
From our insights, we can see that it’s not one size fits all when it comes to how to manage workspaces. Different employees will require different environments to work in; some may need collaboration spaces, some more dedicated focus spaces, however all need to feel welcomed and valued.
A key message from this campaign is that the CPO has a critical role to play in obsessing about the holistic employee experience. The physical environments in which we all work are a key part of that experience and, as such, HR leaders need to understand how things currently work and what needs to change.
To ensure we provide employees with what they need, we can look at data, insights and what others are doing. However, the most direct way to find the answer is from the employees themselves. A robust employee listening strategy will go a long way to understanding the complex and intersecting needs of the various personas within your workforce.
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If you have questions about how you can take a holistic approach to your employee experience, we would love to chat. Reach out via the form below.