The workplace of the future puts employees first

(Getty Images)

As businesses return to the office, distinguishing between buzzwords and long-term trends means prioritising workforce experience

Hybrid working. The new normal. Zoom fatigue. WFH. Among many changes, the pandemic has popularised a slew of new jargon, as professionals worldwide adjusted to drastic shifts in their work environments virtually overnight. But as businesses develop their return-to-office strategies, it can be difficult to distinguish between hype and long-lasting trends.

Managing employee experience in the hybrid era

After more than a year of working from home, employees are used to autonomy – and most aren’t willing to give it up. Previously, the concept of employee experience was synonymous with office environments. It was about the design, services and amenities in these spaces and how they combined to enhance productivity, engagement and wellbeing. Providing an exceptional experience at work had become a weapon in brand-building, talent attraction and retention, and broader business success.

But this view of employee experience has always been too narrow. For millions of office workers, the pandemic has exposed an often-overlooked fact: work is a thing that you do, not a place you go.

According to Gensler’s recent US Work From Home Survey, people are anticipating a return to a new and different workplace. Companies that try to resume business as usual where the office is concerned will only cause employees to question whether it’s worth making the commute.

The challenge for businesses is to give employees more control over where and how they work while maintaining health, safety and privacy, and planning appropriately for workspace needs.

The workplace of the future puts employees first

Identifying the right balance of people and spaces

As more people become vaccinated, businesses are beginning to reopen their offices, but it’s difficult to gauge workspace demand when arrangements are flexible and schedules can change daily.

Without the right technology, managing office occupancy is challenging. While reviewing security badge swipes can indicate how many people are in a building at a given time, it doesn’t provide any insight into how those employees are using each space.

Space management software and occupancy sensors help solve this challenge by showing where people are on digital floorplans. This makes it easy for real estate or facilities management teams to spot areas that are becoming overly crowded and may need to be reconfigured, such as small conference rooms or break rooms. Once they identify these areas, they can use space-planning algorithms to map out and implement changes.

Even after the pandemic, this can help businesses understand longer-term space usage patterns to optimise the workplace according to employees’ needs.

Creating more personalised experiences

Now that many employees realise they can be productive remotely, it’s more important than ever to create office spaces with purpose. Activity-based working – allowing employees to select a type of space that best supports the task they’re engaged in – gives them the flexibility they’ve come to expect while helping companies manage costs in an environment where office occupancy may vary from day to day.

Imagine walking into the office, and a mobile app immediately displays the most relevant announcements and services available. On choosing a workspace, all settings – from the lighting to the window shade above the desk – adjust to the user’s preferences. This could soon become reality. Intelligent workplace technology can communicate directly with employees’ smartphones to provide real-time information, such as which areas are available or occupied. This results in an office experience that’s as untethered as remote work.

Reducing real estate costs

Many organisations were only using 40 to 60 per cent of their corporate real estate space before the pandemic. Now, with most office workers planning to spend at least part of their week working remotely, companies are looking for opportunities to consolidate that unused space.

Using daily reports to monitor peak and average occupancy rates, workplace leaders can determine which areas of the office get the most traffic. To better manage seating, they can also implement desk-booking software to make certain seats reservable. This gives employees the flexibility to choose when they come to the office and where they sit while providing valuable workplace analytics to help predict future trends.

Employee-focused workplace strategy

Employee experience remains a critical tool for competitive advantage, but the rules have changed. According to PwC’s 2021 US Remote Work Survey, 87 per cent of executives say the workplace is “important for collaborating with team members and building relationships”. Despite predictions of the death of the office, it remains a vital component of company culture. Implementing technology that puts employees at the centre of workplace strategy and continually informs its execution through rich data will position businesses for success.

Originally published on Business Reporter

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