A company’s office used to be the gathering place for employees to connect, collaborate, and conduct their best work. The COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. People got a taste of working from home, and they liked it … a lot.
Today’s employees don’t have the strong connection to their physical offices. A study by consulting firm Accenture shows 42% of employees working on-site feel disconnected from their jobs, while 22% of remote workers say they lack connectivity to their workplace and colleagues.
It’s not a surprising sentiment when you consider many employees joined companies as remote workers and have never seen the inside of a physical workplace. Hybrid and remote work structures rule, and people aren’t keen on making the commute when there’s greater work/life flexibility in a home office. Why would they want to come back?
Answering Why We Work the Way We Do
The Great Resignation resulted in many people questioning what it means to “work.” What is the attraction to work? Should I try something new and different that gives me more control over what suits my lifestyle, then find a company that fits my desires, or is it a blend?
The pandemic era brought many issues central to workplace dynamics that were previously taken for granted to the forefront. People may have unique work needs, but there is—and has always been—an added benefit of performing tasks together. The past few years have taught us the balance and the benefits of remote work, with the human element emerging as the priority defining the purpose of in-person collaboration when it takes place.
Now, employees aren’t keen on returning to the office. No number of perks or threats will alter the fact employees are in control of how, when, and where they work. Advanced Workplace Associates, a management consultancy, found 86% of 10,000 surveyed employees want to work from home at least 2 days a week. And an ADP report revealed 64% of workers would consider quitting if forced to return full time.
Employees aren’t asking for a foosball table or free lunches as incentives to return, nor will they tolerate ultimatums. People desire purpose in what they do, especially with work. For employers, defining the purpose of a physical office to meet employee needs is what can reconnect them to your workplace and colleagues. And it all starts with purposeful use of every square foot of space. The question then becomes: What do employers do to put purpose center stage in their office spaces?
Purpose Over Place
The standard workplace management model is based on fitting people into places. An employee is assigned a desk, a chair, and equipment in an office or a cube. Over the past 10-plus years, those workspaces have shrunk while office occupancy density has increased. Before the pandemic, employees complained of an inability to focus and work with their teams. It’s no wonder employee experience scores soared when working from home became the norm.
Purpose in workplace strategy and design means providing the company, teams, and each employee with the resources, collaboration opportunities, and ability to connect with others in ways they can’t get when working remotely. The key is to focus on human-centric patterns of behavior, space use, and flexibility in function and inspiration for a hybrid workforce, with data at the center of these decision-making processes. Also critical to this conversation is understanding the distinction between occupancy and utilization in a space to guide strategic investments in workplace design based on how employees are actually interacting with office locations.
Creating Purpose Requires the Right Data
It’s an employer’s responsibility to create environments that allow employees to thrive. Building purposeful workplaces starts with understanding four factors that influence employees’ perceptions:
- Social conformity—What do people think their environment is telling them to say, do, and want? Employees often alter their behavior because they’re aware of being observed.
- Wishful thinking—People say what they’d like to be true about their workplace and the jobs they do within it.
- Context—People respond differently in different contexts. No two people see and feel their workplace in the same way.
- Mindset systems—Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, describes two systems that impact employee mindsets. “System one” is quick, instinctive, and driven by emotion. “System two” is the opposite: slower, more deliberate, and more rational. When predicting what they’ll do in a particular situation, employees use system one. When they make a decision, system two instinctively kicks in.
Understanding how this data impacts workplace decisions is crucial. By collating and aggregating behavioral information, facilities managers can create spaces that employees actually want to work in—all while ensuring utilization is aligned with business needs.
Behavioral stats should then be combined with occupancy and utilization information from other sources, such as sensors and badge swipes, using a centralized platform that aggregates data by breaking down silos. Think of it as a single pane of glass that takes multiple data sources and enables flexible decision-making for workplace experience, office design, and real estate planning. Accessing key information and data points in this manner allows employers to view actual, real-time insights as opposed to just snapshots, with little or no context surrounding them. This approach addresses the key need for a “why” and “how” at the center of current future-of-work conversations, a paradigm shift from the simple “where” of previous eras, where in-person office work was a given.
By focusing first on purpose, then maximizing data from all workplace sources, business leaders can evolve space occupancy and utilization based on immediate employee needs while maintaining flexibility to adapt to new work requirements, unforeseeable crises, and potential growth.
Simone Fenton-Jarvis is the Director of Workplace Consultancy at Relogix. For more information, visit www.relogix.com.