By Jacqueline Bird, Head of Move and Change Management at Crown Workspace
So, the debate on whether staff should return to the office rumbles on.
Two years ago, hybrid working was being embraced and adopted with open arms. It felt like our workplaces had come of age and we had all finally been given permission to untether ourselves from our desks and work in a way that truly embraced the freedom to be your best, whenever or wherever that may be.
However, over the last 12 months, some of the world’s most famous organisations have made a conscious effort to return their staff to the office. Strong enforcement tactics have been enlisted as they have reminded their staff that “the office remains the primary workplace.” The Chancellor famously weighed into the debate earlier this year, saying, ‘The default will be you work in the office unless there’s a good reason not to be in the office.’
Such opinions have elicited resistance from many workers, politicians, and some employers, who are very happy with the new WFH/hybrid working models.
The hybrid model does offer many benefits – organisations such as Airbnb have told their staff they can work anywhere in the world without experiencing a pay cut! The ultimate endorsement on how you can do your best work from any location.
This unchallenged level of freedom comes with an overwhelming climate of trust, which focusses and empowers your workforce to do their best work. Hybrid working has resulted in the need for less real estate, highlighted by recent news that Meta has paid £149mn to break its London office lease early as they don’t need all that space anymore. However, this does mean that less energy and resources are required to fuel giant buildings and travel to and from them, reducing the world’s carbon footprint.
This model does also bring challenges for some; the disconnect from colleagues and peers, diminished friendship groups and relationships can bring a real sense of loneliness and isolation. This solitary model has a knock-on effect on our cities and high streets. With falling demand, they become lifeless as businesses close, leading to job losses for the staff that worked there.
There are entrenched views on both sides, but how can employers who would like their staff to be in the workplace more nudge them back gently, without damaging relationships by making it compulsory or going even further and monitoring and reporting on individuals.
A route we have guided several organisations down recently, is to make it an inviting destination of choice that employees want to be in – and stay in.
Create an appealing environment
One way to get teams back into the physical office space is ensuring the working environment is agile and meets the unique demands of everyone within the team. Employers should focus on the aspects that employees value the most and ensure that they provide a distinctive environment that home working cannot equal.
A good way to ensure that you are providing your teams with what they want from a workspace is to get regular feedback and let them be involved in the design decisions. This could take the form of monthly forums or possibly online polls so teams can vote on the interior décor, fixtures and fittings.
Employers are competing with the comfort of home so they must work to transform workplaces to be welcoming environments, with the right tech needed to do the job effectively and provide ergonomic equipment that matches any orthopaedic requirements that individuals may have.
Look at where you can add value for teams, this can include introducing things such as guest chefs on the days people are less likely to come in, offer free weekly fitness and meditation classes or introduce free snacks and hot drinks.
At one with nature
Another way to create an inspiring environment is to incorporate biophilic design. This draws inspiration from the natural world and can be useful for spaces that have no access to outside areas. Spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can reduce feelings of stress or anger, improve mood and help with anxiety.
Simple improvements such as adding living walls, plants, water fountains, and even photographs of nature to the office are examples of this. Where the space allows, adding window boxes and rooftop gardens can also add an extra natural element to the workspace. Look to maximise natural light in the office, placing desks as close to windows as possible, and locating less frequented sections, such as conference rooms in the centre of the building.
Offices are not just places to do work anymore; they need to have multiple functions and be spaces that employees want to spend time in. A modern office might, for instance, provide quiet areas, hubs, recreation areas, phone booths for mobile calls, lounge areas and ad-hoc touchdown spaces, instead of requiring employees to complete all tasks at one desk in a designated spot.
By creating a vibrant think-tank space, employers can help make the office a place that sparks spontaneous idea generation and this is more likely to encourage employees to want to spend time there.
Scents can be used to immediately engage with employees as soon as they enter the workspace, as well as setting the mood and atmosphere for the day or meeting ahead. Research has shown that smell is the sense most closely linked to emotional response and recollection and it is the most sensitive one.
A workspace with a pleasant scent can lead to positive outcomes, such as increased productivity and overall job satisfaction. Popular choices for offices are fragrances that illicit calming, soothing emotions and create a welcoming space that are not too divisive – such as vanilla, tea and camomile.
Looking to the future
Employers can communicate to their staff that the physical workplace can have benefits and advantages over the home by making modifications, altering areas for changing needs, developing new collaborative spaces, and focusing on sustainability.
My advice is to find a healthy balance, a place where you get the best from both ways of working. Few people long to return to the office full-time, but many can be persuaded to attend more often, if it’s made a pleasant, worthwhile experience.
Striking the perfect balance has many benefits for both your staff and your organisation – it’s the best of both worlds.