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Want a better employee experience? Don’t force a return to the office

 1 month ago
source link: https://www.fastcompany.com/90751143/want-a-better-employee-experience-dont-force-a-return-to-the-office
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Want a better employee experience? Don’t force a return to the office

The office should be a productivity tool that employees can use strategically.

Want a better employee experience? Don’t force a return to the office
[Nattakorn ; Prostock-studio /AdobeStock]
By Carl Oliveri3 minute Read

It didn’t take long for leaders at major companies to put the proverbial clamps back on their employees. Financial firms are tracking employee badge swipes to monitor office attendance. Major tech companies are also falling in line and preparing for a mass return to their corporate HQ.

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In-person mandates like these truly disregard what many employees accomplished during the pandemic. When businesses were faced with the unknown at the onset of COVID, employees went home and got to work. The stigma around remote work was proven resoundingly false. Need proof? Look at the sky-high earnings, record profits, and increased productivity organizations reaped in 2020 and 2021. Now everyone’s just supposed to forget it happened and fall back in line? Think again.

WHAT IN-PERSON MANDATES ARE REALLY ABOUT

Here’s the big question: Exactly why are businesses trying to revert to the traditional office work model when it has often deprived employees of work-life balance?

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Slack’s October 2021 Future Forum Pulse survey had some eye-opening stats:

  • “Of those currently working fully remotely, nearly half of all executives surveyed (44%) want to work from the office every day, compared to 17% of employees. And 75% of these executives say they want to work from the office three to five days a week, versus only 34% of employees.”
  • “Most executives (66%) report they are designing post-pandemic workforce policies with little to no direct input from employees.” (Seriously, don’t ever do this.)
  • “While two-thirds of executives (66%) believe they’re being ‘very transparent’ regarding their ‘post-pandemic’ policies, less than half of workers (42%) agree.”

As damning as these stats seem, executives aren’t trying to manipulate or control their employees. Instead, think of this as a communication failure. It’s a manager-employee disconnect. Underneath the bluster and tough-guy rhetoric, business leaders say, “We have built a fine-tuned workplace to help you deliver your best work.”

But rather than viewing the office as a space people must go to, it should be viewed as a productivity tool that employees can use strategically.

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BUSINESSES MUST GET COMFORTABLE BEING UNCOMFORTABLE

Managing change has never been a strong suit for corporate America. Technology-enabled shifts including the telephone, fax machine, internet and mobile phone have dragged many businesses kicking and screaming into the Modern Age. Don’t forget that each of these technologies succeeded and ultimately won out. Sometimes, it just takes organizations longer to adapt.

Ultimately, in-person mandates are intended to generate innovation from the intuitive and spontaneous collaboration between peers working from the office. Indeed, it’s exceedingly difficult to recreate a “water cooler moment” between people miles apart. However, the problem with in-person mandates is that they are mandates. People want to go in and work with their colleagues, they just don’t want to be told when and how they have to do it.

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Our data scientists here at Robin have been analyzing office capacity over the past few years and are finding that people are steadily coming back to the office as COVID worries ease up.

CREATING A VALUABLE OFFICE EXPERIENCE

Rather than forcing people to come to corporate HQ, businesses would be better served by creating a compelling office experience and communicating its value to people.

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As a sales leader, I’m emphatic about the importance of in-person work for young salespeople. There’s a lot of passive learning that can take place when junior staffers hear the experienced salesperson next to them navigate a challenging conversation. These experiences are critical in skills development, so rather than requiring people come in on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, I trust my people to develop a solution that works for the group and achieves the goal I’ve set for them.

Many organizations are also creating non-traditional seating areas and collaboration spaces that create an appealing, engaging office experience. Some employees want workstations near their friends and co-workers so they can make their time at the office more valuable.

Businesses should invest in their office technology as well to help support hybrid work. Many of today’s conference rooms don’t have the right technology to make remote workers feel included in brainstorms and other gatherings.

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HQs are a core component of the employee experience, but workplace leaders shouldn’t make them the only part. Companies with in-person-work mandates are playing with fire, as they will continue to receive significant pushback from their workforce. No one wants to be told how they work best.

There will be a time when we look back on the days of employers requiring people to come into the office with the same scorn and derision as doctors who smoked in nursery wards in the 1920s. Those days are behind us. We know better. The fears around hybrid work are unfounded; if you build an exceptional office experience, employees will come.


Carl Oliveri is the CRO of Robin, the first workplace platform that puts people before places.


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