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CEO Agenda

The Data You Need as You Return to the Office

Rebecca Corliss

COVID-19 turned the typical workplace paradigm upside down, and now it’s up to corporate executives to manage the new landscape. Google and Twitter, for instance, are two of the latest big companies to announce their plan for returning to the office –  with both behemoths planning to require employees to come to the physical office at least a few days per week.

While these transitions obviously come with difficulties, it’s also an opportunity to reinvent and re-architect the workplace and how the future of work will look. The office must evolve into more than just a physical location to perform work; it must become a dynamic, frictionless, and social hub with a workplace strategy that is flexible and that prioritizes employee satisfaction. Maintaining competitiveness now requires creating this type of work atmosphere.

Focusing on the employee experience

The shift to remote work demonstrated that productivity could still be high even if staff weren’t in the office full-time. Remote work has proven to be more productive for some, in fact. That implies businesses and their facilities managers must reconsider what would entice people back to work. The “back to business as usual” mindset won’t fly anymore.

Four million Americans left their employment in July 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; resignations peaked in April and have stayed high since then. During this Great Resignation, employers are having a hard time keeping and sourcing talent. Health and safety concerns persist, as well. 

All these variables mean that businesses are rethinking how they motivate workers to show up to the office and what perks they may provide. In fact, according to VergeSense data, 66% of companies are concerned about the impact on employee satisfaction of coming back to a physical office. More established institutions are beginning to contemplate providing considerable perks that were traditionally reserved for Silicon Valley tech firms.

They’re more concerned with office “look and feel” and how to develop a work environment that’s more welcoming. Decentralized offices – smaller offices in several places rather than just one headquarters – are also becoming part of the strategy to attract and retain talent regardless of where they’re located.

Starting and sustaining the conversation

Recognizing that the employee experience must be prioritized is one thing; really delivering that experience is another. How do you know you’re making changes that will truly benefit your employees and isn’t just cosmetic in nature? If you ignore or misjudge your employees’ changing workplace needs, this can take a toll on employee engagement among a competive hiring market. e     

 An effective return to work strategy demands open communication and transparency both before and during the shift – and this should be a continuous dialog. Establish an open line of communication with your personnel. Be upfront about your intention to establish a return-to-work policy based on employee experience. Explain the issues influencing your choices and be forthright about your plan.

Spend time hearing what employees think about their workspace and how they use it. To collect feedback directly, you can hold roundtable talks organized by team leaders to exchange feedback with executives or virtual townhalls/department-wide forums. Surveying workers about their expectations and concerns is another method. 

And once you have employees coming back into the office, it doesn’t stop there. You can also leverage spatial intelligence to gain a better understanding of real-time occupancy trends – and use that data to validate the workplace decisions you’re making day to day. Leverage data to gain confidence around what workplace improvements have the biggest impact.      

Top two questions to dig in with employees     

Here are two crucial questions to ask employees to gather the information you need to develop your strategy:

“How would you describe your ideal back-to-the-office return experience?” Don’t make the mistake of thinking every employee has the same hopes and objectives in mind when it comes to hybrid work. It’s a good idea to start collecting preliminary data, such as occupancy statistics, when workers first return to the office. Combine that with qualitative trends to assist you with finding the best employee allocation in on-site spaces.

“What are your future hopes for the workplace?” To make the return-to-work transition as smooth as possible, it’s essential for executives and workers to have aligned expectations for not only the method of returning to work, but also for the future of hybrid work. Currently, the emphasis may be on getting back to work safely and efficiently, but what happens next? It’s crucial to create regular practices for reviewing data-driven workplace insights.

When employees choose to come to the office, it will be for a specific purpose. Allowing employees to choose to come in when it makes the most sense for the task at hand engenders goodwill. Of course, you don’t want all your staff at the office on one or two days while the rest of the week is vacant; otherwise, you risk straining your resources. However, this relates to the preceding point about talking with employees. Invest in tracking how often employees come in of their own initiative and begin to notice patterns. These trends can then be used to improve the management of your office and the resources you offer.

This information will assist leaders in addressing another major concern: unpredictability. Leaders who lack data frequently attempt to mitigate unpredictability by prescribing when employees should report to work. This method comes at a hefty price: it entirely contradicts expectation of personal choice and the office’s intended function. 

The alternative is to start re-establishing predictability by implementing room and desk booking software, which allows for more efficient space usage while also providing extra statistics and information about when and where people work. You get the best of both worlds — employee autonomy and predictability — if you take the time to learn how employees use space.

What a successful transition requires

Returning to work and/or finding a balanced hybrid approach isn’t going to be perfect and complete overnight. It’s a process that will take time to complete, and it will require constant monitoring. Employee surveys and talks are valuable, but they don’t give you the full perspective of how your employees feel about their jobs and where they do them. Workplace analytics solutions will help you fill in the gaps in your usage and flesh out the information you need to successfully return to work.

Written by Rebecca Corliss.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Agenda - The Data You Need as You Return to the Office
Rebecca Corliss
Rebecca Corliss is a Future of Work author and researcher with a passion for workplace tech. As vice president of marketing at VergeSense, her mission is to serve customers looking to transform their workplaces to meet today's employee expectations. VergeSense is the leading workplace analytics platform serving the Fortune 500.

Rebecca Corliss is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn.