Reimagining the Workplace in 2023: Bringing the Off-Site Energy of Flexibility and Autonomy to Life
How to return to the workplace well? This is the pressing focus taking priority in the plans of HR leaders in organisations of all sizes in 2023.
Understandably this shift in workforce planning strategy is timely and anticipated when you consider that it has been three years since the switch to largely working from home ushered in across organisations globally, resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.
The challenge now for HR is how to win back those employees to the office or physical work environment who have grown so accustomed to working from their home or alternative workplace. They are now reluctant to return to a way of working that in a multitude of ways, feels like an outdated way of doing things.
Commuting to the office when you can simply connect from home and get started with your work day hours earlier, makes a lot of sense. Having the capacity and freedom to fit work in around the school run and family activities has a great deal of appeal. So much so that with the shift to hybrid working throughout the pandemic, has led to searches for work from home, hybrid and remote roles frequently surpassing those for roles that are location fixed, with an expectation of being on site all of the time.
Moreover for employers, there have been a multitude of benefits moving to a more hybrid way of working. From employee’s that are able to be recruited from wider talent pools, to accessing options to downsize office space or disband from the office altogether. Achieving significant savings on office rentals and real estate costs.
However, for many organisations striking a balance between the advantages of home working and on location working is the middle ground that HR leaders are advising business owners and managers on right now.
Here we will explore where we are now and the ways in which to achieve the way of working of the future successfully.
The current state of play
The pressing question being asked of HR right now is ‘how do we facilitate a return to working from the office that works for everyone’? Whilst a return to work post pandemic has already resulted in many organisations making the switch to work within the physical workplace more frequently. For many of those organisations there has been push back, negative feedback and a reduction in employee morale.
Employees have grown to love the flexibility of remote working, and firms keen to keep their staff can do little about it, surveys find
Businesses more widely are considering their options. Research from International Workplace Group (IWG) , found that 38 percent of FTSE 250 firms were evaluating how to reduce their office estates. With 42 percent contemplating how to leverage shared office space, in conjunction with hybrid working as a viable solution to blend working styles, whilst reducing their office footprint.
Even larger organisations have not been immune from the shifts contributing to a change in the future of their office estates. Notably, long term office utilisers and multinational firms like HSBC are considering not renewing the lease of their Canary Wharf HQ. A location that has been their home for more than two decades.
These outcomes are perhaps unsurprising when considering analysis conducted by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) on the outcomes of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on attitudes to working in the office and the future of working preferences. 85% of those surveyed who worked from home throughout the pandemic hold a preference to maintain working from home, with the flexibility to only travel into their work place on occasion.
Yet, the pandemic and its aftermath were not the only factors leading to the demise of the physical workplace, in ways we previously came to expect as the norm. IWG suggests there are four key factors behind the ongoing workplace transformation.
- Technology: Devices & improved connectivity. Collaboration enablers, including Zoom, MS teams, Google Meet. AI & Automation. 5G.
- Economics: Talent, rising costs of talent. Decreasing availability of qualified, experienced talent. Flexibility demands.
- People: Greater bargaining & negotiation power. Increased adoption of flexibility and off site working. Demand outstripping supply of quality talent.
- Environmental considerations: Increasing need to consider the impacts we are making on the environment. Carbon footprint and the impact travel to the workplace and office estate costs are having.
The driving factors of the ongoing shift have culminated in:
- Flexible working is becoming the new normal. If your organisation isn’t offering this way of working, then your competitors most certainly will be.
- Choices have now become abundant. With a multitude of workstyles now available, employees are more aware of the choices they have and voicing their opinions and preferences to employers.
- Demand for flexible and hybrid work has been accelerated by the pandemic but also factors including technology and a far higher requirement for work life balance.
- Cost effectiveness for both employees saving on commuting costs and employers who now have an option to down size their estate size.
But with these shifts occurring faster than anticipated. How can HR reimagine the workplace effectively, resulting in it having any appeal to both the employer responsible for bottom line management. And employees who hold more bargaining power than ever before?
Despite the advantages of hybrid working, this change in working has not been without its problems. The challenges that employees and HR have needed to respond to have included employees feeling:
⚠️ Disconnected from their team, their management and visibility of opportunities
⚠️ Reporting issues with lower levels of face-to-face interaction
⚠️ Feeling concerned about the level of distractions they face by working in the home environment.
In response to these challenges, HR are now tasked with supporting the organisation to reimagine the workplace, by bringing the positive attributes and offsite energy, flexibility and autonomy gained in the home working environment to life in the physical workplace. Whilst also respecting the preferences of some employees who may wish to retain their home as their main place of work.
Tackling the challenge
One strategy that appears to be working well for graphic design platform Canva, is to designate the office as a hub of collaboration, connection and creativity.
Their recent move to make this the standard for their organisation has seen employees expected to only come into the office for a minimum of eight days a year, or as Canva describe it twice a season.
Canva attributed this decision to internal feedback being received from the employee base. A survey carried out by their HR teams showed that 81% of its teams said they wanted to balance working from the HQ with remote work.
This has resulted in there being a defined reason for when teams come together at the headquarters; collaboration & creativity. Allowing employees for the rest of the time to embrace a work style and way of working that fundamentally works for them and their work life balance.
A further strategy being adopted by organisations who have wound back their home working policies to become more Hybrid, have included Doordash, a logistics and technology company.
Up to January 2022, they had adopted a home working policy, which has since evolved to become more of a hybrid model.
The approach they have taken? A flexible workplace model, one which Tony Xu, co-founder and CEO of Doordash has described as being built on guiding principles that include:
👍🏻 The value of in-person connections
👍🏻 Passion for their shared customer obsession
👍🏻 Leverages the advantages of having attracted and retained amazing people
Further to this approach, the nimbleness of the organisation is something that the leadership of Doordash felt would benefit from an approach that combines both usability of the office and home working. The overarching premise with both workstyle adoptions was to achieve live collaboration and remote flexibility.
It’s perhaps this proposal that holds the greatest promise for HR. Collaboration of people together in real life whilst crucially retaining flexibility.
Yet it’s the premise of how to make the office an attractive proposition at all that remains the ongoing challenge for HR. Particularly when the option to work remotely has so many advantages.
Taking an open and honest approach to the why behind wanting people to be in the office on occasion provides a solid starting point. These factors can range:
- Building and maintaining a strong, collaborative company culture which can be accelerated when working together in person some of the time
- Employees, when coming together on occasion can feel reconnected to their colleagues, the organisation and the shared mission being worked towards
- Team collaboration can overcome temporary setbacks, challenges and blocks when coming together in real life.
Much like any proposed change in the workplace, resistance to change and objections can be expected. Despite this however, the power of leveraging employee voice and engaging with your people can better facilitate the adoption of change.
Through listening to the employee base, understanding any concerns surrounding office working and formulating a response that is inclusive will effectively support the aims of overcoming objections.
Further to listening, is the activity of making the office environment or workplace a safe, engaging and welcoming place to be.
Social media has offered too many examples of employees returning to their workplace for collaboration days. Where the employee has subsequently found no one in the office that day to collaborate with, whilst capturing on video an empty bank of desks offering the opposite of what good workplace culture looks like.
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It’s therefore vital that HR works in tandem with managers, employees and workforce planning efforts to coordinate schedules and plans to be in the office with meaningful experiences and work days that add value to the premise of being on site, collaborative and productive.
Sage HR provides vital and effective tools to support not only greater collaboration between your teams and management. But also workforce planning capabilities that make scheduling, visibility of your whole workforce, viewing onsite or offsite plans and the communication of updated policies around workstyle easy and accessible.
Join thousands of fellow HR professionals at small and medium-sized organisations accessing the advantages of Sage HR today, by signing up for a free 30 day trial today.
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