Pre-pandemic, most people had no choice but to do work from the workplace. The type of work they had to do didn’t matter. Their work preferences and personal responsibilities didn’t matter. When 9 am rolled around, they were in the workplace. Their bosses, and their bosses’ bosses, expected them to be.
But today that norm is changing. People want a say in where and how they work. Nearly half of employees (48%) want the flexibility that a hybrid work model provides. Instead of conforming to a one-size-fits-all model, people want to feel empowered to do their best work wherever they’re most productive. The workplace plays a critical role in meeting these expectations and creating a workplace where people want to be. To build a workplace experience that’ll keep employees engaged and empowered to do their best work, you need a strategy.
In this ebook, we’ll show you how your workplace team can create an experience that’s flexible and centered around the people who matter most: your employees.
We’ll cover how to:
1. Become an expert on your workforce’s needs
Today’s workforce is dynamic. People can be productive in places outside of the physical workplace. In fact, they prefer to switch up their environments. Only 8% of employees want to work remotely five days a week. Far more people want a hybrid environment where they can work on-site at least once a week. The new workplace should be able to adapt as people’s needs change. To do this, you’ve got to have the right structures in place. Let’s look at what those structures are and how to build them.
Gather a strong cross-functional team to build the new workplace
Every company has unique needs and should tailor its workplace experience to meet them. To devise a strategy, you’ll need the expertise of HR, IT, and Facilities. If you haven’t already, create the organizational structures this team needs to inform decisions. That may include:
- An owner – This is the person who oversees this work. You can hire someone new to own this function or appoint it to an existing leader.
- A steering committee – This is the decision-making body that oversees your team’s workplace experience strategies and helps set priorities.
- Working groups – These are the teams that put specific workplace experience projects into action. For example, your company may decide to have a workplace technology group.
- Reporting cadence – This is how often your team reports on progress and who it reports to. You should also decide how often to share updates with employees.
These structures will save you the hassle of building a cross-functional team for every new workplace initiative. Bringing together skill sets will expand the capability of your team and ensures you’re able to problem-solve from all angles. For example, to understand which areas of the workplace are underused, you may need space utilization data from your Facilities team. If you’ve formed a cross-functional working group for space management, a rep from that team can source this data for the broader group.
Finally, creating these structures isn’t possible without executive support. To get buy-in, look for ways to highlight how this work ties to your company’s broader goals. Improving the workplace experience may seem trivial until you can prove the business value of your efforts. You may need to survey your company to gather data that will help you make your case. Include questions on these workplace topics:
- Satisfaction with their work arrangement
- Sense of belonging
- Stress or anxiety about work
- Work-life balance
- Resources and tools
Be sure to include a question about people’s likeliness to leave your company. This will help you understand how scores on the above topics might impact employee retention. Once you’ve compiled survey data, analyze it and present the most compelling stats to your executive team. Prepare to answer questions about what you’re trying to accomplish, why it’s important, how you’ll do it, what success looks like, and how you’ll measure it.
Get clear on who you’re building the experience for (and why)
Now that you have a cross-functional team in place, it’s time to get clear on who the workplace will serve. The obvious answer is employees—but which ones? To know for sure, define employee personas. They’ll help your team build a workplace experience that supports everyone, no matter where and how they prefer to work. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Start by sending out a survey to your company
Ask questions that’ll help you collect the data points you need to build out the personas. Include questions around the work obstacles employees face and what they need to thrive at work.
2. Group the survey responses
Work with your stakeholders to identify a handful of groups with shared attributes. Here are some example groupings:
- Employees who go into the office 2-3 days per week
- Employees with both remote and in-office teammates
- Employees who are work-from-home parents or caregivers
3. Add demographic information
To paint a clearer picture of each persona, add employee demographics details. Your HR team should be able to help you pull information like employee age, role, and location from your company’s HR information system (HRIS). For example, you could find that your younger employees have a surprisingly higher preference for working on-site than Gen X and Boomers. These insights will make sure you’re basing your workplace efforts on data rather than assumptions.
Based on the data, organize interviews with employees across your organization who fall within each group. Ask questions about their roles, behaviors, and attitudes about their work. This is your chance to dive deeper into the survey results and use their answers to refine the personas.
Finally, be sure to socialize these personas with your cross-functional team. This is the most important step to ensuring the work you’ve done is put to use. Meet with your team to decide how to leverage the personas in your work. Be sure to update the personas on a every quarter so they always represent your workforce and its needs.
Get employees involved in shaping their own experiences
Iteration is key to building a great workplace experience. To that end, formalize a process for collecting feedback. This will help your team understand which parts of the experience work and which need improvement. It’ll also engage them and get them more excited about developing solutions. Here’s what you need to do to make this happen:
Provide more than one method for people to share feedback
Give people the option to choose the feedback method they find most comfortable. For example, you may want to create a #workplace-feedback channel on Slack and an “always-on” survey that allows feedback submissions from employees at any time.
Give employees clear direction
Prompt people to be as specific as possible when sharing feedback. If you have more than one workplace, be sure to ask which one they’re sharing input on. Encourage employees to share examples when possible.
Send out regular feedback nudges
Encourage people to be active participants in shaping their workplace experience. Send out monthly reminders asking employees to share feedback, and reiterate the channels and process they should use.
You’ll have more success if you send these nudges out across multiple channels. For example, you might send out an email, Slack message, and include a short plug for feedback in your weekly all-hands meeting.
Don’t forget to close the feedback loop! Let employees know when you’ve incorporated their input. It’ll show them that their feedback helps shape the workplace experience. If your team decided to backlog the action item, let the employee know where their feedback sits on your list of priorities. If you don’t take action on a piece of feedback, circle back to the person who shared it and let them know why. This way, employees will know their feedback was received and thoughtfully considered. To encourage people to remain engaged, invite these employees to participate in future focus groups or other workplace initiatives when they come up in the future.
Keep an ear to the ground for market trends
Last but not least, make sure you know how the workplace is evolving outside of your bubble. It’s tempting to focus on your company alone. After all, you want to create a great experience that’s tailored to your employees. But keeping an eye out for trends in your industry will help you bring insights back to your company. Here are a few ways to do that:
Keep your professional connections warm. Schedule time to meet one-on-one with people in your industry on a regular basis. You’ll be able to learn from what’s going on at their companies, the problems they’re running into, and how they’re solving them. You can also ask them for advice on how to approach workplace issues.
Consume industry content
Make a point to read about your industry. Define a target number of articles to read every week and set aside time for learning. Use an RSS content aggregator (Feedly is great) that’ll pull content from your favorite workplace publications into a single feed. You can also create a Slack channel with your cross-functional team to share your favorite pieces.
Study the stats
Data is often the key to getting buy-in from team members and executives for new workplace initiatives. Look out for new and relevant studies about workplace trends. There’s a lot of great data-driven content about the workplace right now since the industry is evolving so rapidly.
Staying on top of what’s going on in your industry is too often the first thing to fall off the list when things get busy. But making time for this work is important. Block off time on your calendar to dig into content and chat with other workplace folks. You’ll be able to bring these insights back to your team and try new approaches to solving workplace challenges.
2. Give employees the power of flexibility
Too many restrictions around the who, what, where, and whens of the workplace is overbearing at best. At worst, companies face lower employee productivity, poor online company reviews, and retention issues. In fact, in Envoy’s recent study, we found that 47% of employees would likely look for a new job if their company didn’t offer more flexible work options. The key to creating a workplace that empowers your employees in a hybrid environment is flexibility. We’ll go over a few ways you can give employees more flexibility in the workplace to drive a better experience.
Flexibility in where employees work in the workplace
In a hybrid work environment, the workplace serves a new purpose. Since employees are on-site fewer days a week, they need to be intentional about how they spend their time there. In the new workplace, people want to be able to make meaningful connections and work productively with teammates. One way to help them do this is by making sure the workplace has a range of space types for all different types of work. Let’s check out a few examples:
These are dedicated workstations. They’re typically a desk but can also be a cubicle or office.
Designated team zones
These are spaces where employees, teams, or departments work together. They can be permanent or temporary. For example, certain people may sit near each other while they’re working on a shared project.
Hot desk areas
These areas are for “hot desks”—desks that employees can book for the day. Unlike assigned spaces, they’re for short-term use only.
These are the areas of the workplace where people can gather to do work together. They’re resourced for whiteboard sessions, presentations, and other types of group work.
These spaces are for short, informal group check-ins, like a standup meeting.
Informal meeting areas
These areas are often located around the kitchen and away from spaces that require a quiet environment. Employees can use them to work alone, in groups, or to have informal conversations not related to work.
These are the heads-down workspaces where employees can do work without disruption. They’re sometimes individual pods or designated quiet zones.
Don’t forget the folks who are remote. Group workspaces should have technology that enables seamless collaboration with remote employees. This way, no matter where people are located, work can move forward. We’ll talk about this more a little later.
Thoughtful space management will also help keep employees healthy and ensure your company makes efficient use out of its real estate investments. 66% of employees have concerns about their health and safety in the workplace. You can assure people the workplace is safe by monitoring who’s on-site and enforcing capacity limits. For example, you may have a policy that states that collaboration spaces must not exceed 10 people. You may also rearrange furniture to increase the size of tight spaces so people can keep a safe distance.
Ask employees how they want to use the workplace and match the appropriate space types to their needs. Once you know this information, you can begin to manage your space to suit these requirements.
We don’t need a dedicated seat for every person every day. If a workstation or an office is sitting empty on any given day, it’s wasted money. You want to have a robust, active office space and to do that you need people in it.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) at Lionsgate
Flexibility in when employees work on-site
Hybrid work offers employees more work flexibility, but without guide rails, people would be coming and going at all hours. One of the best ways to manage workplace traffic is to create office schedules for your employees. Let’s look at the four main types of office schedules workplaces can employ.
- Cohort schedules – Employees work certain days or weeks on a regular basis
The most common method is to schedule one cohort to come in on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and a second cohort to work on-site Tuesday and Thursday. Another approach is to schedule half of your employees to work on-site the first and third week of the month, and the other half to work on-site the second and fourth week of the month.
Cohort schedules are best for companies with employees that need to be in the workplace but don’t need to engage with other departments to accomplish their work. Manufacturing companies that can’t operate unless employees are on the factory floor find this method works well. This method can also work well for agencies or professional services firms with independent teams.
- Staggered schedules – Employees must come in at a set time to prevent lines from forming at the elevator or security stand
Staggered schedules are best for workplaces that need to control how many employees arrive at one time to prevent overcrowding or long lines. If you work in a building with multiple tenants who all use the elevator or stairs, this model prevents a deluge of people from arriving at once.
- Custom schedules – More flexible but less predictable than group and staggered schedules are custom schedules
These are schedules that change week to week depending on the employee’s or team’s need to work together on site. Either managers can set their employees’ schedules, or employees can set their schedules—both have their pros and cons. Custom schedules are best for companies whose employees work in shifts and must be on-site with the same people to do their jobs, such as manufacturing, service work, and film production.
- Employee-designed schedules – Employees set their own schedules without any oversight from their managers or a workplace team
Employee-designed schedules are best for companies with employees that expect flexibility and can be productive when remote, such as tech companies. Employee-set schedules are also the best option for companies whose employees need to collaborate in person across many departments.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach employee schedules. What matters is that the process works for the people who have to follow them. In some cases, different teams will design their own schedules. It’s helpful to document these schedules somewhere. Pin them in the appropriate Slack channels, add them to your company intranet, and consider posting them on digital display around the workplace. This will allow employees to see when their coworkers will be in so they can plan accordingly.
Flexibility in how employees do work
Workplace technology is critical to providing employees work flexibility. The right tools can enhance people’s on-site experience and enable seamless interaction between employees working on-site and remotely. Here are some technologies that optimize the hybrid work environment:
- Upgrade your microphones and cameras in your conference rooms. This will give remote employees the best possible collaboration experience.
- Add digitized whiteboard tools that allow employees to work creatively no matter where they’re located.
- Give employees on-the-go flexibility by investing in mobile technologies. Some examples include communication apps like Slack or a room booking app that helps employees reserve a meeting space via their mobile device.
We’ve covered the importance of enabling flexibility in where, when, and how employees work. Now, let’s talk about how workplace teams can partner with employees to refine the workplace experience.
3. Enable workplace experiences that strengthen community
According to a recent study conducted by Envoy and Wakefield, the top factors that influence when employees would go into the workplace in a hybrid work environment include:
Put simply, collaboration and connection play a big role in bringing people to the workplace. Here are some ways to involve employees in creating a connected and collaborative workplace.
Empower employees to build a meaningful experience together
A Deloitte survey suggests companies with flexible work environments will “use offices to develop more emotional connections, facilitate collaboration, and create human experiences.” To do this, help employees use the workplace in the ways that drive the most value for them. Supporting productive work is one way to do this. It’s also important for employees to be able to use the workplace to build community—especially in a hybrid work setting where workplace interactions typically revolve around meetings and work.
A third of employees say technology should be a top priority for their companies this year.
Let’s start with helping your employees collaborate efficiently. A third of employees say technology should be a top priority for their companies this year. Bring your cross-functional team together to evaluate your tech stack and invest in tools that support teamwork. Plan to augment your technology budget to increase employee access to productivity tools, real-time collaboration apps, and communication platforms.
Here’s a short list of things to consider:
- High-quality speakers and microphones
- Conference room scheduling
- Desk booking
- Digital room schedule displays
- Virtual whiteboards
- WiFi provisioning
These technologies may be new to your company. If so, pilot groups, feedback sessions, data collection, and employee interviews will be crucial to making the most of them. Also be sure to make proper investments in audiovisual support so issues that pop up are repaired with minimal disruption.
It’s also important to empower your people to use the workplace in ways that support them beyond work. This will help drive inclusion, workplace satisfaction, and reduce turnover. For example, employees may want access to conference rooms or the kitchen space to host skill-sharing events, employee resource group (ERG) meetings, or happy hours. You can help by ensuring these groups have a regular meeting space that supports their needs.
By formalizing a meeting space, people can gather and know exactly where to meet each week. Employees who opt to not attend can plan to move their work to another area of the workplace, or work remotely to avoid distraction. Another benefit to a regular meeting space is having the technology prepared to support remote participation. You can encourage organizers to include a Zoom link in the calendar invite and send out a reminder to the company over Slack before each gathering.
You can also support by making sure people are aware of these gatherings in the first place. To do this, use employee communication channels to promote the events. This will help people feel welcome and invited to take part.
Give people a variety of ways to connect
According to Microsoft’s annual Work Trend Index, the pandemic has impacted how often people interact with their networks. Not only do people engage less with their extended networks, but they also talk less often with closer connections. In the early days of the pandemic, weekly calls to catch up with workplace buddies were a norm. Now, they’re just another meeting on people’s calendars.
Workplace teams need to reinforce company culture without overwhelming employees. To do this, offer ways for people to build connections that require different levels of participation. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Pair new employees with a workplace buddy so your new people have an immediate connection with someone at work. Match remote employees to people who work on-site so they feel more connected to what’s going on in the workplace.
- Create special interest Slack channels for employees to join (e.g., #random, #plant-enthusiasts ). This way, people will feel connected without the pressure to engage in real-time.
- Make it easy for employees to meet people outside of their team. At Envoy, we use the Donut Slack integration to encourage employees to connect for a virtual coffee chat or peer learning exchange.
Try out a few things and see what sticks. Make sure you’re getting feedback from employees to learn what they like and what could be better. Use your employee personas to guide this work. This will help you create connection opportunities for all of your employees and will ensure everyone can remain engaged at work.
Adapting your workplace to help employees thrive in a hybrid work model isn’t a one-off effort. It can’t be solved with a fun annual gathering or comfortable seating arrangements. These things contribute to the overall experience, but they can’t solve critical company challenges related to employee retention, productivity, and attracting new talent. A strategic, ongoing effort can encourage engagement and help your company keep its people.
Work has changed. Workplace teams need to ask themselves: How are we changing our workplace experience strategy to match? This work requires cross-functional support and constant employee participation. It’s about creating flexibility in where, when, and how people do work. And, just as important, it’s about helping employees build community through shared experiences that keep them engaged.