The idea of being able to work from anywhere, at any time, requires a seamless experience irrespective of where an individual is located. This means the workplace experience needs to transcend the office building into every work setting whether that be a coworking space, satellite office, public space or an employee’s home.
While the office remains a vital portal into the workplace experience, the pandemic has demonstrated that it is just one portal of many. There is now an opportunity for organizations to rethink and reimagine the purpose of the office space. Research by global real estate company CBRE found that the primary reasons for employees wanting to return to the office were for team connections and community engagement, to collaborate face-to-face, and for access to tools, technologies, and space that facilitates their work.
Focusing on Employee Needs
As more research surfaces around the reasons why people want to commute into the office, organizations can make informed decisions around their workplace experience. Ensuring that decisions are rooted in the needs and expectations of their employees will be critical to securing a positive employee experience.
A research report published by Australian developer Mirvac called The Rise of the Omni-Channel Worker in the Digital Age found that organizations can use their real-estate portfolio as ‘a platform to provide a range of services and experiences for omni-channel workers’ and that buildings can be designed to be adaptable to meet changing corporate needs.
Workplace leaders can take learnings from the hospitality industry to design experiences which are fundamentally human-centric. Corporate Real Estate typically focuses on the core physical elements of workplace experience that focus on efficiency. But the key question now is: how is the workplace experience making everyone who works here happy and more productive every day? There is an opportunity to learn from the hospitality and customer service world and apply it to workplace experience. Workplace leaders need to have a clear understanding of who their employees are and what they want in order to provide the tools and services to enable them to have the best experience.
By identifying the needs and expectations of employees across different work settings, organizations can focus on designing human-centric experiences for their employees. This will allow them to build culture and technology tools to bridge the gap between employees in different locations.
Measuring for Quality
Organizations are now measuring the quality of employee experience as a whole instead of individual aspects such as employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. This is because the quality of employee experience is generally indicative of these areas and represents a more holistic approach. However, measuring experience across different channels of work presents its own set of challenges.
Historically, the baseline employee experience was centered around the physical environment. Organizations measured space efficiency, utilization, and optimisation as a sign of productivity and workplace success. The rise of flexible work has shone a harsh light on this metric. Workplace experience now needs to be monitored and measured through metrics such as employee comfort, productivity and feedback, in tandem with workspace data.
Measuring employee comfort may seem like an intangible metric, but it is a strong indicator of how an employee feels about their workplace experience. Within office design, environmental psychologist Dr Jacqueline Vischer’s model of environmental comfort is a well-established framework – this presents three different levels of comfort (physical, functional, and psychological) which relate to worker experience and productivity. High levels of comfort indicate positive employee experiences, whereas low levels of comfort suggest poor employee experiences.
Vischer’s concept of environmental comfort can be expanded for the new era of work, and can be adapted as a useful way of organizing and exploring the knowledge we are acquiring in relation to employee experience. Levels of physical, functional, and psychological comfort can be measured and give an insight into occupant satisfaction and wellbeing as well as task performance and effectiveness.
Traditionally, organizations have focused on the physical comfort of employees in an office environment and they have generally been successful in creating spaces in which employees can feel comfortable, safe, and unthreatened in the most basic sense (not too cold or dark, not too stuffy, not too noisy, etc). This level focuses on design aspects such as lighting, ventilation, acoustics, and temperature.
However, employers can no longer solely rely on the physical office to provide comfort to employees who are working in a hybrid model. In this scenario, organizations need to depend more on providing functional and psychological comfort to get a sense of the quality of employee experience. Functional comfort is about more than being safe – it is about being able to do the work you need to do, with the right tools and settings at your disposal.
Within the office, that means creating an environment closely aligned to the type of work being undertaken (whether focused or collaborative work). Beyond the office, it depends on the access to the right tools and technology. Before the pandemic, organizations paid scant attention to functional comfort beyond the office. Now, employees expect to be always connected to each other, to their workplace, and to their tools.
Psychological comfort goes beyond safety and beyond simply getting the work done – this focuses on the degree to which employees feel like they belong in an organization, their sense of identity and autonomy, their relationship with colleagues and the company culture, and their overall wellbeing. While these aspects were creeping into the corporate agenda before the pandemic, now organizations are wide awake to the vital importance of positive mental wellbeing for employees. According to a study by researchers at Warwick University, happy employees are 12 per cent more productive at work than unhappy employees.
As organizations start to focus their attention on the functional and psychological comfort of employees, they will look for the tools and technology which can best facilitate and enable the right experiences for the workforce. Tools which provide access to the building, colleagues, resources, communication and services will be prioritized – but they will also have to be people-centric in approach to enhance psychological comfort in employees.
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