Return-to-work mandates are a hot topic in corporate America and have become a big factor in the talent recruitment and retention conversation. The solution will look different for every organization—and while we wish it were one size fits all—it must be tailored to fit the unique needs of every company. But there’s no doubt employees are demanding flexibility and choice in their workplaces.
In our experience working with a range of companies across many industries, we’ve seen several models play out. We have continued to follow the latest trends and data on this topic with interest. Here’s our take on what matters most to employees when it comes to their workspaces.
1. Make in-person connection intentional
The number one perk that employees wanted before the pandemic was flexibility in where and when they work. While increased freedom and independence offer employees value from a psychological perspective, finding a balance that works for the individuals and the organization is key.More than how often we get together, scheduling in-person time is the most critical factor when planning an effective hybrid work model—however, this is often overlooked. Without coordination, teams lack predictability in their schedules and may find themselves simply sitting on video calls all day from the office—something they could be doing from any location.
Managers can play an important role in helping employees make good use of their time on-site. They should be encouraged to spend time with teammates, network with colleagues from different teams, and use the equipment best leveraged on-site. But often, middle managers are left unsupported in their efforts to plan and coordinate moments of social interaction.
When it comes to satisfying all the needs of your employees, it takes time and effort to get it right. The needs of a parent with an infant and a child-free person are different on a personal level, but they all need the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.
The good news is you don’t have to guess what they need. It’s a simple question to ask your people what they prefer. You should ask them over and over again as the answer can change many times during their working lifetime based on the circumstances impacting them at that time. Allow for flexibility in your policy to find the balance that works for the team, the organization, and your customers.
2. Make the workplace a desirable destination
Working from home may offer flexibility to employees, but not everyone has the same space and amenities. You can attract employees into the office by making it a treat—a desirable destination. Design your spaces to deliver a sense of awe, delight, and joy through the facilities, services, and experiences you provide.
Think about a program of events for your employees that can fit into scheduled in-person time to make the day more enriching. Bring in guest speakers for discussions and insight sessions. Connect with what matters to your employees and curate an experience that centers on their needs while they attend. As an extension of point number one, this type of experience creates an additional purpose for those days in the office and brings teams together in an empowering environment.
Décor plays a huge part in creating a desirable destination, too. Make sure your employees feel represented in the workplace by designing spaces to reflect the local culture. This design consideration helps ensure everyone feels like they belong. We put this practice into action when we helped design the Atlanta campus for a global technology client. Read that story here.
3. Plan spaces to meet multiple purposes with ease
Think beyond desks, quiet areas, and comfortable gathering spots. Instead, picture beautiful, dynamic team suites that are designed to offer flexibility throughout the work day. These spaces have the cherry-on-the-top amenities that make teams rush to be the first in line to book the space for their work sessions.
When it comes to creating an amenities-powered space, where do you begin? Staff your space with a concierge to help craft an incredible onsite/offsite experience. Create places that your team can reserve for multiple days that they look forward to gathering in. Bring in a barista—not just an automatic coffee machine. Mindful details like using flatware or providing coffee cups from makers like EastFork offer little moments that will surprise and delight your community.
When you offer an experience that they can’t find at home, you may even see a rush to reserve these spaces! While it may be out of budget to outfit an entire office with these amenities, creating at least one beautiful, reservable space that can accommodate analog and digital collaboration will go a long way in impressing your team and making them feel grateful and appreciated.
HOK has produced some great research1 that shows just how many different types of space workers need to meet all their needs.
- Concentrating space: Individual, focused work
- Communing space: Everyday tasks
- Creating space: Creative thinking and brainstorming
- Congregating space: Meet and collaborate
- Contemplating space: Refresh and be mindful
- Socializing space: Build social connection
The shift between these states happens quickly, so plan capacity for people to move freely among those environments. Doing so will make the office a comforting and effective place for your employees to work, thrive, and connect.
4. Design the workplace for inclusion
It’s estimated that 15-20% of us are neurodivergent2—a label that covers a broad spectrum of conditions, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette syndrome, and Dyslexia. That means there’s a whole bunch of folks who have different sensory needs that may impact their ability to perform at work.
Even without a diagnosis, many of us find it overwhelming to be in a busy office after working so long from home. Creating spaces to meet the different sensory needs of your employees demonstrates consideration and thoughtfulness to their well-being and helps them feel valued by the company.
In July, we hosted a panel of leaders in the inclusive design community. They led us through a powerful discussion that challenged industry norms and sparked new ideas. Our speakers were generous enough to share recommended resources to help you navigate the inclusive design space. Find those resources here.
5. Be a purpose-driven company
Underlying all of this, you need to give your employees a reason to care about your company. Are you a purpose-driven organization, and does everyone know the common goal they are working towards? A well-designed and well-functioning workplace will never replace this fundamental aspect of talent acquisition and retention.
The 2022 Purpose Power Index defines purpose as “commitments to a purpose beyond profit, to improving lives, and to creating a better society and world, not just for shareholders.”3 Purpose matters to your customers—Dynata’s audience modeling tool found that 85 million U.S. consumers are motivated by a company’s purpose to buy goods and services. But you don’t have to be a multi-billion-dollar consumer brand like Seventh Generation or Toms to see the value in having a purpose.
Purpose-oriented companies have higher productivity and growth rates, along with a more satisfied workforce who stays longer with them.4 What’s more, Deloitte research shows that such companies report 30% higher levels of innovation and 40% higher levels of workforce retention than their competitors.5
Purpose links closely with a well-defined employee value proposition that helps employees understand the value you intend to bring to them. It is activated through internal programs and activities to build momentum and establish it within the corporate DNA. A good employee value proposition is credible to your organization and focused on human ideas that will support a “sticky” culture.6
The magic of a workspace that works
A sense of purpose. A feeling of belonging. An opportunity for playfulness. Folks want a workspace that invites them to show up as their authentic selves and enables them to perform their role successfully (and with less stress). Leading with trust, making mindful changes, and embracing accessible, inclusive design will go a long way in retaining talent and cultivating a community that lasts.
- Understanding Neurodiversity: How Many People Are Neurodiverse?
- Jim Stengel Co., “Purpose.”
- Josh Bersin, “Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement,” Deloitte Review 16, January 27, 2015. View in article
- How Activating Your Purpose Can Help You Retain Talent | Inc.com