Mid-March 2020. Many businesses scrambled to put together a patchwork system so their teams could work from home. At TRANSEARCH, we made the shift reasonably smoothly, thanks to already having a technology backbone set up for remote work. Two years later, we have a 100% fully remote team, and we are as efficient and productive as ever.
However, many of our candidates and clients face the ‘Return to Office’ quandary. Who is coming back? When? How often? Why? When asked what they miss about the office, most workers cite the camaraderie, collaboration, and culture working in an office provides.
“Why go to an office and sit under fluorescent lights and in a cubicle? Nobody’s going to do it,” explains Devin Shaffer of Decorilla, an online interior design service specializing in businesses and commercial offices. “People have been (working from home) for a year and a half, so they want it to feel like home.”
The post-pandemic, hybrid, collaborative workplace is adapting and transforming to meet the needs of employees. A recent survey by Vocon shows more than 40% of companies have already revamped their office space to help employees returning to the office feel more like they’re at home.
From reimagined office spaces to “any time, anywhere” schedules to policies that focus on flexibility and meeting employees where they are, businesses will thrive if they make their people’s quality of life a central tenet of their culture.
Data overwhelmingly indicates what employees have come to expect in the post-Covid world:
- 88% of workers are looking for roles that offer complete flexibility in hours and location (Citrix survey)
- Millennial workers would take a pay cut, change jobs, and give up a promotion to have greater control over how they spend their time (Harris poll for Ernst & Young)
- 74% of professionals expect remote work to become standard (Growmotely study)
- JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said, “for every 100 employees, we may need seats for only 60 on average.”
Here are three practical and strategic steps for companies to build cultures and workplaces that prioritize quality of life and well-being.
1. Cool, cozy, and collaborative office spaces
Some of the appealing aspects of working at home include easy access to creature comforts and the freedom to curate your space. The tens of millions of us who have set up home offices have become accustomed to comfort, and we do not want to go back to grey, impersonal, and boring cubicle farms! Many organizations are adding residential-style furniture, colorful aesthetics, mini markets with free food and drinks, and other homey design elements.
Beyond look and feel is the need to design offices that cultivate collaboration and social interactions. This is particularly important for most organizations that have opted for hybrid working models, with a blend of employees at home and in the office. “One of the things people have been missing is that one-to-one networking happening at the water cooler and break room,” interior designer Meena Krenek told Today. In warmer states, outdoor offices are built on rooftops and reconfigured parking lots with gardens, power outlets, and adjustable shading.
Think about removing office walls to free up more meeting spaces. Build unique rooms to conduct video calls, provide small areas for one-on-one engagement, cafe lounges to grab a cup of coffee to sit, work and interact with colleagues, and even flat screens that can move around the office. The future office will have collaboration zones built right in, where people can simultaneously enjoy impromptu chit chats and engaging discussions. This new environment will help engender connections, make the workday more enjoyable and lift morale.
2. The power of paid time off and floating days
A survey of more than 2,000 American employees by Harris found that half prefer unlimited Paid Time Off (PTO) vs. a higher salary. Yet less than 10% of workers are currently benefiting from this perk. In the post-pandemic world, it’s incumbent upon companies to make this possible.
Unlimited or unstructured PTO policies allow employees to select when and how they rest, relax, restore their energy, and return to work fully recharged to tackle responsibilities. Likewise, organizations should also be aiming to offer floating days to staff – days employees can take off for whatever reason they need, without eating into their vacation time or PTO.
“Even the most committed individuals need time away from their job, time to relax, and time to clear themselves away from the pressures of the job,” explains Loans Now owner Matt Collins in a project management blog. “We have consistently found that employees return more motivated, more productive, and a new level of commitment after taking some time away from the job.”
When companies offer flexible time-off policies, workers enjoy improved well-being and productivity; they also recognize their company values them and their needs. We moved to an unlimited PTO policy just before the pandemic. Even though we didn’t have any place to go, our team knew time-off, even during a lockdown, was beneficial. Our culture respects the importance of time away. It also speaks to diversity and inclusion, particularly for staff with diverse religious backgrounds who can use their floating days to observe faith-based holidays.
3. Ultimately, it’s all about the employee experience
Regardless of the type of business or sector, people are the foundation of an organization’s success. Their well-being, growth, morale, and quality of work-life will translate into how effective and profitable the company is. “Employee Experience” grades have emerged as critical company strategic priorities.
A survey of more than 1,500 employers by Wills Tower Watson found 92% of respondents believe enhancing the employee experience would be an important priority over the next three years, compared with 52% before the pandemic. In addition, 64 percent of workers said the employee experience impacts their ability to serve customers.
What makes an employee experience better? Flexibility! People have busy lives. They need the time for life and still be productive on the job. Hybrid or fully remote work with flexible hours gives them the time and the peace of mind to accomplish what they need to do on a schedule best suited for them. It helps prevent stress and burnout and improves wellness.
People want to work for a company with a culture and purpose that is meaningful, welcoming, people-centric, inclusive, and empowering. It is a people come first philosophy that prevails.
“Participants in today’s job market are no longer focused exclusively on how the company is performing but are more concerned with how they are performing and growing within that company,” explains Christy Pruitt-Haynes, a human-resources expert and consultant at NeuroLeadership Institute.
“The pandemic caused everyone to examine their priorities, so for many that meant their natural tendency of wanting a company to focus on their growth was amplified.”
To borrow and revise a famous quote from late President John F. Kennedy, rather than “ask not what work can do for you, ask what you can do for your work,” the mantra of the future must be “what can your employer do for you to help make your quality of life better, on the job and beyond.” Doing so will enrich your work/life experience and make work a place of passion and purpose where people can be their very best.