It wasn’t long ago that a job candidate would accept a position partially because of the company’s office amenities. The office wasn’t just a place to do work, it was also a significant reflection of the company’s culture. A major part of the entire employee experience, the office played an important role in creating the energy and personality of a company to which employees connected. As the pandemic kicked workers out of offices and they got comfortable at home, the pool tables that once acted as visible proof of a healthy work environment and a desirable place to be collected dust.
Now companies are wondering if they can get back to the bustling culture they once had. Culture and offices are tightly intertwined though, and offices don’t have the same purpose as they did pre-pandemic. Now people want to be at the office for reasons other than just a place to work. How do companies make offices a desirable place to be?
The past twenty months have been quite the shift from our lives before but company culture remains critical. While everything else seems to be in flux, having a steady and healthy culture at a company can decrease worker anxiety and improve worker happiness. The metric of happiness is gaining validity in the workspace as Indeed, a global employment website, recently released the “Work Happiness Score.” The Score, displayed on company profiles, reveals to employers how their employees feel while also letting potential employees gain important insight into life at the company. Data points for the Score include: belonging, inclusion, flexibility, trust, flexibility, satisfaction, stress-free, a sense of purpose, and more.
Employees already back in some capacity at the office are happier than they thought they’d be. “The biggest misconception about workplace happiness is taking extrinsic things and thinking that’s what people are really interested in — these perks,” said Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness. While physical features can help build connection and add to a more collaborative, friendly culture, offices need to offer more. The happiest employees have the most freedom, allowing them to choose when they have access to an office, and any technology that supports that initiative will be well received.
Part of the elusive work-life balance seems to blur with the social aspects of an office. For example, the perceived value of socializing with colleagues has increased with the time away from the office. “There’s something very unnatural about having been separated from co-workers for so long,” stated Joe Du Bey, CEO and co-founder at Eden Workplace, a workplace management platform. It turns out people want access to an office for many reasons and an office’s ability to amplify and promote those reasons will be crucial in employees’ return.
Offices need a purpose and the people element is one of the most attractive reasons to be in an office. According to Grant Christofely, North American Associate Director of Workplace Strategy at M Moser Associates, companies must change how much space is dedicated to individual versus collaborative work. He said, “The social aspect of work is one of the most important parts of the physical workplace.” Some of his clients have reversed what was a majority of individual workspace to one with a majority of collaborative space.
Changes to the office need to be made carefully as they could counter the developing culture. Du Bey cautioned against making assumptions about what’s next and to instead lean on existing data about what is most desirable to people about an office; “You don’t know what you don’t ask and what people want keeps evolving. The right technology can discover and enable the work environment they want and you need to succeed,” he added.
Collaborative spaces are fantastic in theory, an unrestricted area where collisions can organically happen and employees can mix with other departments. The result would be an increased social support system within the office while letting the creative juices flow. A WeWork study once found that the most satisfied workers claimed to collaborate with five or more people every day. However, these spaces need help from technology to meet their potential. This can come in the form of desk booking software where individuals and teams can plan to work in close proximity with who they need access to. Or room booking solutions where entire areas can be reserved for larger meetings, confirming that the time in the office is collaborative and also constructive.
While looking to the future can be full of optimism, the present cannot be ignored and there are still concerns from COVID. With caution being common in small areas or in large groups, another way to draw people back into offices is to give them space. Technology that reserves space can also dictate and modify the area’s allowed occupancy so there’s enough distance between occupants based on their preferences. Solutions around mobile access control can minimize bottlenecks in busy areas. When employees feel like a space is ready and supportive of their wants and needs, they’ll be more open to coming back to it.
Creating an office that is supported and enabled by technology takes investment but the alternative is an empty space without employees. Today’s employees want to be happy and have their employer support their personal needs while adhering to flexible schedules. The office environment continues to change but offices will not be vacant if they reflect the good culture, collaboration, and flexibility people want. Until then, offices will need to be flexible and, more likely than not, patient.