How to get staff to return to the office
20 Jul, 2022

People want to work from home because offices have become miserable places to work. Despite a global shift to hybrid working, the office still has the potential to shape patterns of behaviour at a time when interaction of inhabitants is more relevant than ever, says Georgie Chennells, Space Sense Workplace strategy and change consultant.

Our workspaces reflect our work cultures. Office spaces purpose designed for individual tasks, conferencing, eating and socialising reflect the values of the organisation and also shape the patterns of behaviour and interaction of their occupants.

Connecting people

In a well-known case study at CBRE, when the global property company adopted unassigned seating (hot desking), one of the younger employees, a 30-something, remarked that this change was a big deal for her because it would give her greater access to senior brokers and senior professionals. Previously, younger staff was too intimidated to walk into a senior member of staffs’ office, but with everyone visible and accessible, new connections were possible.

In the same way that opening up the workspace to unassigned seating gives junior employees the benefits of greater access to more senior ones, the same can be said of the converse. With the pace of societal and technological change, it’s just as helpful for senior employees to be in touch with younger ones and their perspectives.

For organisations today which rely on collaboration and innovation to be competitive, giving employees visibility of and access to one another is key to enabling this. But how this is managed is critical.

Too much access can result in too many interruptions, inhibit individual productivity and increase employee stress levels; too little access and the rigid old silo paradigm continues.

Building a culture of trust

Taking a more strategic approach to the workplace by planning for work patterns, levels of privacy and access can help to shape a workspace and culture that supports a balance of productivity, employee wellness and ultimately organisational resilience.

By strategically planning your space for the types of work to be done, and giving employees choice in where best to complete their tasks, your organisation can better support people in getting things done. Sometimes open plan is what is needed; and sometimes a quiet area of focus will be more effective. Letting the employee decide means they are trusted to manage themselves, and ultimately, own and account for their role in the organisation.

Entrusting employees to make their own choices as to how and where their work gets done requires a culture of trust and transparency. This is not something that comes naturally to many managers, who prefer having their teams seated and visible in front of them (and likely waiting for their manager to go home before they do). Without a culture of trust, there’s no point in pretending that employees really do have licence to choose between an open plan desk and a quiet focus area, let alone make the choice between home and office.

The workspace of the future is tied to organisational culture

Re-modelling the workspace is often the catalyst for a cultural change in an organisation. Adopting a more strategic variety of spaces, such as a mix of open plan desking, meeting rooms, collab spaces and focus rooms can unleash fantastic benefits in productivity and wellness, but unless the organisation using the space has a culture of trust and transparency, then those spaces won’t be used effectively. You’ll still end up with rows of sad people attached to their desks, waiting for their manager to go home.

But if you’ve developed a culture of trust and transparency, where employees are valued for their contribution to the business, where leadership walks the talk, and where adaptation, flexibility and growth are part of the organisational mindset, you’ll probably thrive with the workspace described above.

I believe the office of the future is about flexibility and choice, and tied closely to the organisational culture of the future. Essentially it’s about creating environments with a variety of spaces and settings suited to that organisation, where people have a level of choice over how and where their work gets done. These environments need to be able to flex to serve different functions as the organisation evolves. But more than anything, these environments need to serve and nurture the culture of the organisation they house.



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