December 9th, 2020


How IT and HR Can Build Trust While Bringing Employees Back To The Office

In the past few years especially, the workplace experience has become a central priority for many business leaders.

They read Jacob Morgan’s book, The Employee Experience Advantage. They started to see how companies that invested heavily in workplace experience technology for employees and other initiatives had average profits four times higher than those that did not.

Some organizations even began hiring specialized positions to bridge the gaps between managing the physical environment and improving the overall employee experience, known as workplace experience managers.

This hybrid role between human resources and facilities management focused heavily on improving the physical workplace — one of the three pillars of the employee experience.

So, how has that position evolved over the past year, and what will it mean in the future workplace?

During an iOFFICE webinar, Verdantix Smart Buildings Research Director Susan Clarke offered her insights on the biggest workplace experience challenges leaders will face as they return to the office. Here’s what she shared.

What is ‘workplace experience’ today?

Jacob Morgan defined the workplace experience (WX) as the physical environment, employee experience technology, and the policies and procedures that shaped a company’s culture. The global pandemic effectively removed one of those three pillars by forcing many organizations to transition to a fully remote work environment.

Still, it seems clear the physical office will remain an important part of the equation in the long-term. But today, being the best workplace experience manager you can be means thinking about how your employees feel in a broader sense, Clarke said.

For instance:

  • Are they happy with the work they’re doing?
  • Do they have what they need to be productive?
  • Are they performing at a high level?
  • Do they feel motivated and excited by new challenges?
  • Do they feel connected to their colleagues and to the company’s mission?
  • Do they feel their managers and leadership team support them?

While research shows many employees appreciate having the flexibility to work from home, the majority want to return to the office for at least a few days per week.

To be the best workplace experience manager you can be today, look at how your employees feel in a broader sense.

With everything a work-from-home arrangement has to offer: comfortable clothing, no commute, multitasking home and work tasks, why are so many employees looking forward to coming back at all?

Feeling disconnected from company culture

Over half of those surveyed said their top reason for wanting to return is to collaborate more effectively with their coworkers.

Many employees are missing the energy and inspiration that came from working with others and meeting in person. They’re experiencing burnout and feeling disconnected from others and even from the bigger picture of how they contribute to their company’s goals.

Others are dealing with loneliness and a breakdown in social capital, or people’s willingness to work together to get things done.

Employee burnout and toxic productivity

It may also cause us to redefine employee productivity. In many ways, our idea of what it means to be productive is still rooted in the 9-5 mentality and measured by a certain level of output, rather than results. To stay competitive today, your company needs employees who aren’t just completing tasks. They need to solve complex problems, think strategically, and be creative.

How much energy do we have to be creative and innovative and try new things?

“When someone says, ‘Are you being productive at home?’ The knee-jerk answer is ‘yes’ because I’m afraid to say otherwise,” Clarke said. “And even if you’re burnt out on digital and Zoom fatigue, overload and all those things, I think many of us would be hesitant to tell our employers the real story, the whole story of what our true level of productivity means and how much energy we have to do things like be creative and innovative and try new things.”

Rising demand for flexibility

Employees have wanted more flexibility over where and how they work for a long time, but the success of working remotely over the past two years has pushed this concern to the forefront. Now the demand for flexibility has reached new heights, causing many employers to change their stance on remote work to accommodate employee expectations.

Because of that, many of the challenges listed above could linger as we enter the new era of the “hybrid workplace”, where employees spend some of their time in the office and some of their time working remotely.

Improving the employee experience as a workplace experience manager

Encourage better boundaries

One of the biggest challenges employees are struggling with today is how to integrate their home and work lives, Clarke said. It’s more tempting to continue working later into the evening when your home office is just a few feet away from your living room or bedroom.

Employees are struggling with how to integrate their home and work lives.

There are a few ways workplace experience leaders can help employees establish these boundaries:

  1. Encourage people to have a routine that includes regular breaks and physical activity.
  2. Managers should avoid scheduling back-to-back virtual meetings if possible to give employees time to regroup. And because it can be draining to maintain eye contact during long virtual meetings, Clarke said, giving employees permission to turn the camera off on occasion can help.
  3. Encouraging a “digital detox” at some point during the week can also help employees avoid burnout.

Create a safe, engaging work environment

When offices reopen, attracting and retaining top talent will be a high priority for workplace leaders. That means creating an environment that not only allows employees to meet and collaborate safely but also prioritizes their long-term wellbeing while keeping them engaged and motivated.

This is where investing in new workplace technology and building systems can help.

For instance, Clarke said, in a recent survey of 250 real estate and facilities executives, 59% said they were investing in air quality monitoring systems. Others are exploring solutions for welcoming the sudden influx of guests back to the office, such as a visitor management system that also allows them to conduct wellness checks and maintain secure logs for contact tracing.

Workplace experience managers are also revisiting their conference room scheduling tools and other technology to help bridge the gaps between face-to-face meetings and virtual meetings. In the future, that might even include augmented reality or omnipresence video technology.

Recommended: The Future of Meeting Room Management: 5 Bold Predictions

It might also include technologies that improve the employee onboarding experience, enhance employee engagement, and measure performance in more meaningful ways.

In the meantime, though, workplace experience managers are focused on more immediate ways to improve the employee experience with technology. That includes making it easy for employees to navigate their new environment with wayfinding software and giving them a convenient way to find and reserve workspaces with room reservation software that can be accessed from employees’ mobile devices, or from kiosks and tablets in the office.

Workplace experience manager: Future of the role

There has never been a more interesting time to be a workplace experience manager. Those in this position have an opportunity like never before to redefine what it means for employees to be productive, collaborate, and engaged in their work.

In many ways, it’s about the digital workplace experience as much as it is the office. Workplace experience software that makes it easier for employees to find resources quickly and work together will help them navigate this new frontier.

The future of the employee experience will not only be defined by how employees work inside the office, but how they integrate work with their personal lives. It’s not surprising, then, that 85% of executives who responded to McKinsey’s Future of Work survey said they plan to provide new technology to do exactly that.

Integrate virtual and in-person experiences

Teem’s solutions make it easy for employees to find and reserve desks or rooms wherever they’re working. They can make reservations for an important meeting in advance or quickly find a place to set up when they arrive for the day.

Workplace leaders can see how they’re using the office so they can make adjustments as the needs of their employees evolve. For instance, they can add more workspaces or adjust meeting rooms so they’re better suited to the average meeting size at their organization. And because Teem is part of iOFFICE’s comprehensive suite of integrated workplace experience software (iXMS), they can add more solutions for strategic space management and data analytics as they grow.

To learn more about how you can support new ways of working, check out our e-book Reinvigorating the Employee Experience.

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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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