Teem
February 2nd, 2022

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Reinvigorating the Employee Experience

It's up to you to spearhead your employee experience strategy.

But the question today — now that everyone has been working from home for nearly 24 months — is how can companies get their employees to actually want to come into the office? Is it even possible to make the in-person workplace experience appealing again? And if so, how?

Has working in the office lost its appeal?

If you are like most leaders, the events that have unfolded since March of 2020 changed the game for your employee experience strategy. If offices were the symbol for business operations before the pandemic hit, the question is what they represent today. Even more puzzling: What will corporate offices represent once this phase is over?

Did you know that back in 2016 only 37% of U.S. workers telecommuted? Flex work options have been on the rise since leaders first noticed the impact that flexibility had on increasing employee efficiency and reducing employee stress, so that makes sense.

Will the workplace come to be synonymous with "work" again?  Probably not. Companies will return to the office, but that doesn't mean they'll be returning to how things used to be. Your employee experience strategy needs to be adjusted to address the things that have changed — namely, how you think about your physical spaces, technology, and work models.

But things have been pretty stop-and-go, just look at several high-profile company return plan announcements from 2021, and where those plans sit now, in 2022:

  • In Spring of 2021, Google announced plans to bring employees back to the office for at least three days a week — allowing them to WFH (or wherever they work best) on the other two days.
    (2022 UPDATE) Following several delays, they've postponed their January 2022 reopening date, according to a release that came out last month.
  • In a May 2021 memo, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon shared news of a mandatory return to offices by July for their entire U.S. workforce, which was to be on a "rotational schedule".
    (2022 UPDATE) A corporate memo from last month said employees would have the option to work from home for the first two weeks of this year but would like specific job roles to eventually return to in-office schedules no later than February of this year.
  • Several Microsoft offices opened in 2021 with plans to fully reopen HQ by September, but a letter to employees said those plans would be focused on incorporating a hybrid work model.
    (2022 UPDATE) Microsoft pushed back plans to reopen company headquarters, citing the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19 as the reason. According to Jared Spartaro, the company's VP of modern work, "Given the uncertainty of COVID-19, we’ve decided against attempting to forecast a new date for a full reopening of our US work sites in favor of opening US work sites as soon as we’re able to do so safely based on public health guidance."
  • In March 2021, Amazon stated they planned to "return to an office-centric culture" as its baseline. The statement read, "We believe it enables us to invent, collaborate, and learn together most effectively."
    (2022 UPDATE) Two weeks ago, in a Fortune gathering of 100 CEOs, Amazon's CEO Andrew Jassy talked about the delayed return to the office, voicing his belief that people will go back to working in the office, noting that remote work will remain a major part of our lives for the foreseeable future.

Is your workplace worth returning to?

If return plans from some of the world's biggest companies are any indication, the average employee will probably come into the office for at least part of the workweek. And most leaders agree that while the future of the workplace experience is still being developed, the value of working face-to-face has never been clearer.

How to improve your employee experience strategy in 2022

Proximity isn't necessarily the same as community.

Our employees have enjoyed flexible work schedules for years, so working from home (WFH) was common before the pandemic. Even back then, employees often expressed that some days they enjoyed in-person collaboration far more than working at home by themselves. We like to think that's because the office workplace experience made it possible for people to share ideas and work creatively with other members of the team. There’s nothing better than that.

What will work for your office might not be the same thing that works for someone else, but here are some ideas to improve the workplace experience in your office based on what's worked for us in the past.

Create value, receive value

Here's the biggest tip: If you ask people to come into the office, make sure they're getting something valuable out of it.

Ask yourself this: What can you do to make their workday better? Save them time. Reduce their stress. Give them chances to hit their goals. Make sure it's easy for employees to find the desks, rooms, resources, and coworkers they're looking for without a huge hassle. The tools they use shouldn't add more stress to their day — which can happen if an employee app doesn't connect with their other workplace systems.

Whatever it is, communicate the value. Make it clear, specific, and authentic. They'll be more likely to engage when they can see the value.

Keep in mind that people are already familiar with certain scheduling and communication tools. If new workplace systems don't integrate with those solutions, it's problematic for the workplace experience and can be frustrating for your employees. That can deter people from wanting to come back to the office. On the other hand, integrated systems streamline the workday.

Lighten the mood with food, music, and games

Before the pandemic, every month after our company "All Hands" meeting, we brought in food and encouraged our employees to stick around to munch and mingle and get to know each other a little better. Because we’ve grown so quickly, we’ve found that it’s really important to take time out of our busy work schedules to provide some games and more opportunities for new employees – and employees from different teams who don’t have much daily contact with each other – to get to know each other.

Plans for returning to the office are likely to generate some excitement for many employees, but those feelings might be mixed with some nervousness. For many new hires during the pandemic, in-person experiences have been impossible or rare. And anyone in your organization could be worried about approaching their first conversations with each other once they're back.

If that's something you're worried about, you might try our Return-To-Office Bingo game to start filling your workplace with some easy fun. After all, it's been a while since we've had much face-to-face interaction so who could blame us for being a little rusty in the social-skills department?

No employee experience strategy is complete without flexibility

Here's an important one: Support your hybrid workforce. Desk hoteling is a modern alternative to hot-desking that opens the door for hybrid work without wasting space or resources. Plus, it gives employees more autonomy over where they sit when they come into the office and that's a big priority these days.

We like to refer to the "book online, work from office" capabilities of our tools as the user-friendly digital tools of the modern work era. That's because our space booking software gives employees the power to reserve workspace from anywhere — a must-have in today's office. It's a key element of any employee experience strategy because it drives engagement by delivering convenience and efficiency. Plus, it also provides leaders with valuable information about how their spaces are being used.

Celebrate personal and professional milestones

Nothing pulls an employee experience strategy together better than a celebration.

Celebrate your employees’ personal and professional milestones. It helps build stronger relationships when the entire office is excited about something happening in a coworker’s life. That might be a promotion, a big win, or something more personal like an engagement, pregnancy, or other exciting news. Find reasons to celebrate together, whether it is done in person, virtually, or any combination of the two that makes sense for your organization.

We've been known to throw small baby showers in our offices. Sometimes our employees would get their fellow colleagues to participate in their gender reveal by collecting guesses from each employee on the gender of their baby. Then there would be a cupcake reveal to show who guessed correctly — boy or girl?

Our team loves to celebrate anything we can, and when we were in the office, we made almost every holiday an in-office company party. One year, we went out and bought a grill just so we could BBQ and host a fun Fourth of July party at the office. It was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but it turned into such a good opportunity for everyone to take a break, celebrate the holiday together, and get more excited about being part of the team. Plus, it created some great bonds between colleagues and showed off our great team culture. Historically, we've done fun stuff like a salsa-off for Cinco de Mayo, a costume contest for Halloween, and an ugly holiday sweater competition in December.

The more participation the better, so poll your employees and see what they'd be interested in celebrating in the office.

Ready to develop a winning employee experience strategy?

There's an ongoing shift in employees' expectations and behaviors, the effects of which are still evolving. These changes are going to continue trickling into each facet of your employee experience strategy.

In a post-pandemic world, you have to look past the conventional uses of the office. The office is valuable because it remains a top way for companies to foster culture, belonging, and collaboration. But a successful employee experience strategy requires a commitment to creating a dynamic, supportive, and engaging environment.

Looking for employee-friendly solutions to reinvigorate your employee experience strategy? Get helpful guidance in our latest e-book.

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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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