Learning & Development

5 Tips from People Operations Experts on Managing the New Workplace

Remote, hybrid, distributed—no matter what you call your work model, one thing is for sure: Managing the new workplace is the #1 priority for people operations experts worldwide. 

When discussing their workplace-related challenges, people ops professionals say they want to achieve a few critical things: 

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1. Design a workplace strategy employees will love.

2. Transmit company culture to all employees.

3. Increase engagement and talent retention.

4. Provide a sense of belonging to their people.

5. Understand how their distributed workforce is doing.

6. Manage the workplace from one place.  

These goals are not surprising. Recent studies have shown the workplace is the center of attention for more and more companies every day, and 40% of HR and people operations professionals say managing the hybrid workplace is their #1 priority

Talking to 200+ people ops and workplace experts in the past 3 months alone gave us essential insights about designing a killer workplace strategy, so let’s dive right into these vetted tips:

Identify Workplace Challenges

For many employers, the multiple layers of a complex, distributed workplace only started to unravel after implementing employee surveys and talking to employees. Due to COVID-19, the workplace shifted fairly quickly from sitting at an office desk to sitting at the dining room table at home. 

As this shift was abrupt and unexpected, most companies worldwide initially reacted to what happened and accommodated employees with work-from-home budgets, stipends, and allowances. These additions to the workplace facilitate work from home and are generally well received by employees, but they do have a flaw: They don’t see the workplace as more than technology and location. 

Employers typically gain a complete understanding of complex workplace challenges when they realize one of these facts:

  • Not all employees have the conditions (or desire!) to work from home all the time.
  • In a hybrid model, some employees have access to workspaces, while others don’t, all based on their location.
  • Hiring remotely means companies have to be intentional about ensuring people feel connected, have a sense of belonging, and get a clear vision of the company culture.

However, the most significant realization for people operations professionals has to do with the very nature of the workplace. It’s no longer one place, and it no longer serves a singular function. Understanding how the workplace has evolved and will continue to evolve prompts companies to start thinking about designing a new workplace strategy. 

Rethink Who’s in Charge

The workplace function was part of the real estate and facilities department in most big companies until recently. Workplace mainly had to do with office spaces, landlords, long-term leases, and an occasional perk like Ping-Pong tables.

This alignment has changed rapidly, and the workplace is now a cross-department effort, usually shared among workplace, operations, and people functions. Granting a place under the people umbrella to the workplace teams is a long-overdue paradigm shift. People are what make the workplace, and it’s about time it started to reflect employees’ needs, responsibilities, and sensibilities. 

The cross-functional approach shows that the workplace is no longer just a location—physical or virtual—but rather a combination of space, technology, and people. As such, the new workplace puts employees front and center and strives to provide them with exceptional experiences to keep them happy and productive. 

Ask the Right Questions

An employee-centric workplace starts with companies listening carefully to their employees. Whereas we’re all aware of the negative aspects of the traditional office environment, like distractions, commute times, presenteeism, and nonexistent work/life balance, the challenges of the remote workplace need to be discussed with employees. 

Taking employees’ pulse is precisely what many organizations are doing as they try to find new ways to empower employees, increase belonging and engagement, and offer a world-class experience to their teams. 

The new, distributed workplace is also increasingly individual, making it critical for people teams to understand the different needs of every employee and use that knowledge to design a strategy that works for all employees. 

Focus on Your Employees’ Needs

People ops and workplace experts now need to reimagine everything they know about the workplace and discard all the notions about where, when, and how employees work. There is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach, at least not in companies that pride themselves on attracting and retaining the best people. 

Many employers started hiring remotely in the past 2 years. Remote and hybrid work has provided them with fantastic opportunities to find the best talent, but employees love this approach, too. They are starting to relocate away from big cities, looking for a better quality of life and lower cost of living. In other words, everyone is starting to be everywhere. 

If your employees are everywhere, then so is your company culture. Reinforcing company culture, reflecting the essential values, and providing a best-in-class employee experience is top of mind for people teams. So how do you do that? By looking deep at what your employees need. 

Employees need modular, flexible workplaces that accommodate various tasks and activities in their workday, from taking meetings to deep-focus work. People in different roles have different needs, so everyone will use the office or workspace differently, depending on where they live and their workday. 

For example, remote workers would want to come into the office a few times a month vs. hybrid employees, who need workspaces a few times a week. Visiting four to five times a week can still be an option for those who want to come into the office more often. However, only a tiny fraction of workers are willing to commute to an office for hours, so employers should note the importance of having a workspace close to where employees live. 

This geographical flexibility can be tricky to navigate for people operations teams, especially with space planning. Rapidly growing companies need to constantly plan and refresh their workspace offerings, which can be challenging to do in a time-effective, scalable way.

Here Are the Best Practices People Operations Experts Recommend for Designing a Workplace Strategy That Works for Every Employee: 

  1. Give employees flexibility about when and where they work.

2. Provide the same access to all employees—remote, hybrid, and on-site.

3. Ensure all employees are equally supported, regardless of where they work.

4. Focus on employee experience—provide perks that matter to employees.

5. Provide workspaces that satisfy different work needs. 

6. Adopt distributed work but without the isolation of work from home.

7. Introduce surveys and pulse-taking as a recurring way to get employee feedback.

How to Optimize People Operations

Now that we’re clear on what employees need, we can ask another critical question: What do people ops teams need to manage the new workplace? Most of the answers to this question have something to do with knowledge, data, and analytics.

First of all, people teams need to stay in the know and get insights about the success of their workplace strategy. Monitoring and analyzing the workplace are no easy tasks, especially if they add to an already burdened workflow of people operations managers. 

A centralized management suite, a steady stream of data about workspace usage, and an easy way to plan and provide distributed workspace options are the holy grail of workplace management today. 

These are new challenges, and they’re unique for every company. The good news is that the solutions are bespoke, too, and companies can design a workplace strategy that supports, empowers, and elevates employees to their fullest potential. For employees, this means their needs for inclusion, belonging, and collaboration will be met. For people operations teams, a good workplace strategy will become a tool to attract the best talent, retain employees, and showcase what your company culture is truly about.

Andrea Rajic is the Marketing Manager at Gable.

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