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After recovering from the initial shock of COVID-19, workplace leaders have spent much of the past year solving challenges and striving to stay one step ahead of global trends. It hasn’t been easy — but many organizations have managed pandemic work-life with grace, ensuring business continuity and navigating uncharted territory by spinning up new processes and technology almost overnight.
As we look forward to the coming year, it’s time to prepare for a new set of challenges and opportunities — especially when it comes to the employee experience.
What can we expect in the months and years ahead? And how can you begin preparing for the future of employee experience today?
Even before the pandemic forced organizations to send non-essential employees home, remote work was growing in popularity. As of 2019, 66% of companies allowed employees to work remotely at least part of the time, with 16% going fully remote, according to data shared by Thrive Global.
After the pandemic has ended, over 40% of employees are expected to continue working remotely at least part of the time, according to a Gartner survey in April.
But as governments implemented stay-home mandates to curb the spread of the virus, even companies who didn’t previously offer remote work options were forced to adopt a work-from-home policy.
The result? Companies around the world have invested a lot of time, energy, and budget into creating long-term remote work solutions. Now that businesses have overcome initial obstacles (like how to successfully communicate with their workforce virtually), the next frontier is helping create an enjoyable at-home experience. That means providing an allowance for better desks, ergonomic chairs, Wi-Fi, and even gym memberships.
As the line between home and work has become increasingly blurred, employers will also need to consider how to help their workforce establish clearer boundaries between the two. That may include re-evaluating expectations of when employees need to be online to support flexible working and encouraging them to take more personal time when they can truly disconnect.
Although many employees have grown accustomed to working productively from home, most want to spend at least part of their week in the office. The new hybrid workplace will become a destination employees choose to go to, rather than a place they are required to be.
The future of work will include offices that more closely resemble hotels in both form and function.
We’ll likely see the rise of “corporatality” — a mix of workspace and hospitality. Modern workplace design will take cues from hotel lobbies, offering various spaces to sit, eat, work, and meet with others.
Also, like hotels, employees will reserve space on an as-needed basis, rather than returning to the same desk every day. The customer experience will receive more attention too, with the addition of visitor management systems, digital signage, and more amenities for guests.
And in the near future, we expect to see more creative workplace designs, including activity-based work environments and office neighborhoods. While employers will likely keep their central offices as hubs to attract and retain talent and promote great experiences, they may choose not to renew leases for less populated offices and opt for coworking spaces instead.
In recent years (and especially over the past few months), organizations have been re-evaluating their culture and hiring practices to support inclusivity and attract a more diverse workforce. Leaders recognize that hiring more employees with different backgrounds and experiences fosters greater innovation, improves employee satisfaction, and increases profits.
According to a study by McKinsey, companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity in the C-suite were 21% more likely to earn profits above-average in 2017, while companies with culturally and ethnically diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see higher profits.
Of course, it takes more than hiring diverse candidates to become an inclusive organization. Employees and the general public increasingly expect businesses to dedicate more resources to cultural sensitivity training and supporting antiracist work both inside and outside the organization. Corporations who name diversity as a pillar of their company will need to ensure they reflect it in their actions, too.
In addition to solidifying remote work as a norm, the COVID-19 pandemic also shone a spotlight on health and hygiene in the workplace. As some people return to their offices during the pandemic, many organizations have committed to routine sanitation and improved air filtration.
A whopping 83% of executives said they would hire additional employees for health and safety roles, including 73% who would hire professionals to manage physical distancing and sanitation measures, according to a McKinsey survey. And this heightened focus on employee health and wellbeing will likely continue even after the pandemic ends.
After all, preventing the spread of germs — whether it’s something as serious as COVID-19 or as simple as the common cold — just makes good business sense. Healthier employees are more productive.
In addition, the future of the employee experience will include a greater emphasis on employees’ mental wellbeing. According to Gallup, two-thirds of full-time employees experience burnout on the job — and burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times more likely to look for a different job. Burnout can trigger and exacerbate common mental illnesses, like anxiety and depression as well.
By offering support services like counseling, organizations can recognize and address employee burnout before it impacts performance or drives away top talent.
2020 was the year that halted travel and limited our physical interactions. Suddenly, in a matter of weeks, organizations plowed ahead with digital transformation initiatives that had been on hold or planned for later. Along with IT leaders, workplace leaders were largely responsible for driving these transformations forward and ensuring employees were well-supported as they began working from home.
The speed of new technology adoption set a new precedent. We expect this accelerated pace to continue in the coming years, especially when it comes to software that keeps the workforce connected.
Forward-thinking companies will adopt employee experience platforms and mobile workplace apps that connect multiple processes rather than navigating through several disparate systems.
That includes apps that handle space reservations, service requests, and internal communications while relaying space utilization data back to facilities leaders. This creates a seamless workplace experience and improves employee engagement. It also gives busy facilities leaders advanced visibility into how people are using the workspace so they can continuously optimize their real estate for better experiences and better ROI.
It hasn’t been an easy year, but it has been a year of tremendous transformation. The pandemic has forced workplace leaders to think even further outside the box and develop unique solutions. It’s pushed us to be flexible in ways we didn’t know we could be, and — for better or worse — it’s changed the way we communicate and collaborate for the foreseeable future.
As we look ahead, there are plenty of opportunities to create a workspace that helps employees thrive. The future of employee experience is one in which employers recognize employees’ need for greater flexibility — and they deliver. It’s one where companies are dedicated to diversity, inclusion, and promoting better physical and mental wellbeing. And it’s one where technology simplifies our lives rather than complicates our workdays further.
After a challenging time for facilities leaders, we predict a bright future.
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Tiffany covers leadership and marketing topics and enjoys learning about how technology shapes our industry. Before iOFFICE, she worked in local news but don't hold that against her.