January 14th, 2022

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Technology for Flexible Workplaces: Reinvigorating the Employee Experience

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Are you worried about your organization's transition back into the office?

Between making the necessary changes to their workplace and worrying about pushback from their employees, leaders are facing some steep challenges at the moment.

That's why many employers are rolling out their return plans slowly and taking a flexible approach. Here's how a gradual return to work can benefit your employees and help you ease them back to the office.

How do we ease our employees’ transition back to the workplace?

Avoid culture shock

Even if going back to a fully in-person arrangement was the probable outcome for most companies (it isn't), an abrupt return would be problematic.  People have formed new routines and grown accustomed to the higher levels of flexibility that working from home affords.

They can walk their dog at lunch, eat dinner with their family, and squeeze in a workout between meetings.

They aren't being micromanaged or worried about someone walking by and seeing their screen during the occasional social media check. Uncomfortable work clothes have been traded in for loungewear. And let's be honest, nobody misses having to deal with the lengthy, stressful commute between their home and the office. They are unlikely to give all of that up, especially if they feel forced to do so all at once. 

After working from their homes for so long, the idea of coming back into the office might feel overwhelming and even a little jarring. Ideally, they'll have some time to get warmed up to working in the office again. A gradual return to work plan helps smooth out their transition back to the workplace, whatever that may look like for your organization.

Minimize burnout

When stress is high and fatigue emerges as a prolonged response to interpersonal stressors at work, it becomes employee burnout. According to Gartner's research, highly-fatigued employees are 54% less likely to stay at their current company, and their performance declines by up to 33%.

That's important to keep in mind, considering the findings from Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index

  • 50% of employees surveyed reported being overworked
  • Almost 40% of employees were downright exhausted
  • 20% felt employers didn't prioritize work-life balance

 

For countless overextended workers, a gradual return to work plan can help them feel welcomed back into the office without tacking on any additional stress or causing them anxiety. Waiting too long to address smaller issues often causes them to compound into bigger, more complex problems that drain additional resources and are much more difficult to correct. 

Having more autonomy and freedom of location is one way to help address the problem of employee burnout. Flexible and hybrid work strategies that allow employees to use an app to book space in the office also give people more control over their workday. They have the ability to explore all their options based on their specific needs, so they can quickly find — and lock down — the perfect spot for collaborating with their in-person and remote colleagues, taking calls with clients, or focusing on a solo project.

Get employee buy-in

One survey from Accenture found that more than 80% of employees prefer a hybrid work model. Desk sharing accomplishes two important tasks that enable hybrid work. It enables people to work onsite without having to sacrifice flexibility. It also makes it easier for companies to make adjustments to their space while managing a high degree of variance in office utilization.

Well-intended as it may be, no gradual return to work plan will be successful without actually meeting the needs of the returning employees. Continue to gauge how your employees feel about being in the office. Employee sentiment is likely to change as the circumstances do, so treat this task as an ongoing responsibility.

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Take the time to listen to your team, address their concerns as they're presented, and keep all stakeholders in the loop. Make sure you explain all of your policies clearly — not only what they are, but also the reasoning behind them. A little transparency goes a long way, and at times as uncertain as these, people are really looking to their employers for honesty and clarity.

Logistical considerations for a gradual return to work

When will your organization return to the office? Will it be on a specific date or have you put your reopening plans on hold until further notice? For many companies, there are still many outstanding questions and open-ended answers. As the world grapples with the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, employers' continue to push back the next phase of their return or put plans on pause altogether.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends that employers encourage rather than require employees to be vaccinated in order to return to the workplace. 

There's an essential and urgent need for companies to adapt as circumstances evolve. With each new variant and regional surge, re-evaluate your plans. Ask yourself whether or not your strategy matches up with current conditions and expectations. Stay informed and look to your local health authorities for guidance. Keep up with any and all applicable laws and regulations. Actively seek information and act quickly when it becomes available.

Tips for implementing your gradual return to work plan

Have protections in place to keep employees safe

First and foremost, employee health, safety, and well-being remain a priority. That goes without saying, but what does it really mean?

Most organizations have formalized new policies that are subject to change as new information becomes available, new needs are determined, or they enter into the next phase of their return. The tricky part is that there is not much unanimity when it comes to things like mask mandates, requiring proof of vaccination, incentivizing employees to return, or other topics relating to COVID-19.

Controversial subjects aside, it's critically important to provide employees with a plan that establishes who can work onsite, covers the requirements for working on company property, lists all the safety measures and related procedures that have been implemented, and explains what is expected when present in the office.

Anticipate an increase in hybrid meetings

Years without much, if any, face-to-face interaction have taken their toll. While there may be no love lost for their old 9-to-5 office routines, people are excited about getting together in person again.

From a career and company culture standpoint, the opportunity for colleagues to work together in close proximity is valuable. Amir Goldberg, an organizational behavior researcher from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, believes that the bonds between workers have weakened since the pandemic. Not only that, he suspects that the bonds between employee and employer are diminishing as well.

Looking for a fun way to break the ice? Check out our free Return-To-Office Bingo card.

Enabling hybrid meetings is one way to merge new and traditional ways of working, allowing organizations to benefit from the benefits of both. But with a hybrid workforce, you need to ensure you have the right equipment to support fully in-person meetings as well as mixed on-site and remote attendance. If you haven't already, now is the time to invest in teleconferencing systems and other tools to help bridge the gaps between working from home and working in the office.

Conference room scheduling software gives people the information they need to see which rooms are available for effective hybrid meetings. Employees can view a room's location, equipment, capacity, and other important details that can help them narrow down their search for space. The best solutions integrate with your existing calendar system, so employees won't have to worry about sending out meeting invites on one system and trying to find a meeting room that's available at the same time in a separate system — keeping the process smooth and simple. The easier it is to start scheduling meetings and booking conference rooms the better.

Find a solution for accommodating flexible seating

Dedicated office space? Or desks you can book on-demand?

Many companies have decided to replace individual workspaces with shared seating set-ups to accommodate a distributed workforce. But as much as leaders want to help avoid the expense of empty real estate, hot desking isn't the right solution for everybody. In fact, before the pandemic, hot desking was being met with a lot of pushback.

This time around, the promise of a more flexible work arrangement is changing public opinion, which brings us to the present day. Now, more than 50% of employees worldwide prefer a hybrid work model that allows them to work remotely part of the time. 

Bring employees back - Teem Blog

So, you've decided to switch to flexible seating. But how do you deploy your new seating strategy?

Desk booking software makes it easy for employees to organize their schedule as they plan their workweek. Employees can also explore desk availability at a moment's notice, enabling them to save their seat in just seconds. Desk availability can be viewed from a map of the floorplan or a scrollable list, and users can filter their options so finding the right desk is easier than ever. 

Ready to set your gradual return to work plan in motion?

With the right solutions in place, a gradual return to work can be accomplished without tedious, manual work.

Nothing will ruin your gradual return to work plan as much as an unhappy, disengaged workforce. That's why, in an ever-evolving workplace, more companies are investing in technology that's designed with employees in mind. With the right solutions for your workplace, you can help reduce friction, boost engagement, and give employees a new and improved workplace experience.

Learn more about the growing importance of technology in the employee experience and how to identify solutions that make a meaningful difference. Download the e-book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teem

Teem by iOFFICE provides enterprises with space scheduling and management, workplace analytics, building, and campus wayfinding, and visitor management to help cultivate workplaces that fuel productivity, efficiency, and creativity.

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