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As more companies embrace hybrid work, they are considering how to maintain a strong company culture that improves employee engagement. That includes rethinking some traditional office amenities.
Gallup’s “State of the Global Workplace” report found employee engagement decreased by two percentage points between 2019 and 2020, from 22% to 20%. That means a majority of workers – 80% — are not engaged in their workplace. Employees experienced record levels of stress and burnout in the midst of the pandemic, which contributed to the problem.
While this is a deeper issue that goes far beyond office amenities, employees used to enjoy certain perks when they spent the majority of their time in the workplace that helped them feel more connected to their colleagues and the company.
They looked forward to holiday celebrations and social gatherings, and they took advantage of on-site gyms or complimentary massages.
Now, with 80% of company leaders planning to allow remote work to continue at least part of the time after reopening, they are finding new ways to help employees connect.
Some corporate leaders are taking the concept of global reach that comes with having employees spread outside of the office and extending their company culture to the public.
Design company Gensler calls this the “Inside Out” approach, where companies design spaces with amenities that employees and the surrounding community can enjoy. This takes shape in various forms.
The Storefront, as Gensler describes, is a physical space clearly initiated by a company where employees and community members can engage, such as in a coworking space, a sheltered or semi-enclosed park, or another hub for networking. The purpose behind this idea is to take away physical barriers between a company and the surrounding city, to create involvement that breeds engagement.
The Pop-Up, similar to the Storefront, is a space designed for employee-public engagement. Though sponsored by a company, it is not branded as fully as a Storefront. The branding in this instance is more subtle, including elements of the company and workspace.
An Experience takes private-public engagement out of the physical sphere and into a virtual world. It uses virtual and augmented realities to weave the threads between a company, its community, and its stakeholders. These experiences are designed to act as virtual spaces to test ideas, share thoughts in a forum setting, and even survey employees for feedback on the design for future physical spaces.
Facebook is using these concepts in the development of its 59-acre city near its headquarters in Silicon Valley. This new space will serve Facebook employees as well as the public, and includes plans for supermarkets, pharmacies, cafes, restaurants, 1,729 apartments, and 193 hotels. A planned 200,000-square-foot retail space will be built around a 1.5-acre town square, as well as four acres of public parks and two acres of elevated parks similar to the NYC High Line.
Facebook also plans to create 1.25 million square feet of new office, event, and conference room space for social media companies. As a value-added benefit to employees, they will have early access to the lower-rent apartments before non-employees are able to lease them.
The workplace uses office amenities to create a hospitable and welcoming feel. With employees only seeing coworkers and clients face to face a few days per week, creating an environment that encourages collaboration and creates human connection is key.
Rather than requiring employees to be in the office, develop an office space where employees want to converge to work, collaborate, and gain the social interaction they don’t receive when working remotely. Use this new shift in schedules and space as a way to change the social expectations of what going to the office looks like.
A Work Design Magazine article by NELSON Worldwide senior designer Nicole Zack encourages companies to use their physical space as a way to remind employees of their common work goals and values, giving them inspiration and the motivation that comes from coworking and sharing synergistic energy that is difficult to reproduce from their living room or a coffee shop. In other words, they should make coming to the office a perk in itself.
The magazine calls this new concept of space the “Innovator’s Guild” – an inspiring and stimulating environment where employees have the privilege of access to the space and other members of the group, as well as being innovators within the guild, like the social clubs of old.
It’s easy to get caught up in the “cool” factor of office amenities without considering the function or enhancement each one actually offers to your employees’ day-to-day lives. While there’s nothing wrong with flashy, fun, or fabulous as perk characteristics, the idea is to find office amenities that offer substance first and style second.
Here are some ideas to make your office more like the Innovator’s Guild.
Do THIS: Create a common area that doubles as a social gathering place, accommodating flex schedules and even different parts of the day. Make these areas flexible and adaptable, where employees can host a team web conference at 5 p.m. and then have friends join them for happy hour at 7 p.m., when the coffee bar transforms into a wine bar.
Not THAT: Buy a fancy coffee machine that sits in a cold breakroom with cafeteria-style chairs and tables, where employees do not feel compelled to spend time, either relaxing, socializing, or collaborating over a drink or a meal.
Do THIS: Create workspaces where working parents can bring their children for a short time while conducting a meeting or other in-office duties. The schedule and space changes resulting from the pandemic has created the need for working parents to adjust faster than ever before. It’s easier for a mom to supervise her kids in another room, doing their homework or other activities, while she works remotely. This space can be as simple as a room with comfortable chairs, kid-sized tables with docking stations for kids to do homework or art projects, and a small refrigerator where parents can put snacks. You can even include a TV with some gaming consoles.
Online photo editing website PicMonkey has a strict policy of welcoming children during office hours. Their co-founder and CEO Jonathan Sposato told FastCompany that for parents, supporting and providing for their children is one of the key motivators in pursuing their work, but they don’t want it to come at the expense of family time.
PicMonkey offers paid maternity leave, a nursing room, and encourages flex scheduling time for employees to attend their children’s events, or even bring their children into the office when necessary.
“Sometimes even a few moments in the office on the way to/from a pediatrician’s appointment can mean the difference between the day running smoothly versus being logistically insane,” Sposato said.
Not THAT: Develop an entirely open-concept space that looks clean and chic, but also is full of glass and metal and offers no place for kids to spend time when you have a company with a significant number of working parents. And don’t update your office design without updating your workplace policies. A beautiful, comfortable office is important, but the best office amenities for working parents are policies that give them flexibility so they can leave early to make it to a baseball game or a doctor’s appointment.
Do THIS: Create bright, welcoming, comfortable common workspace areas with Wi-Fi access, plentiful electrical outlets or docking stations where employees can be available for social interactions and plug into whatever network they need if they step away from their desk for a change of scenery. Arrange furniture to create spaces where people can be extroverted or introverted.
Not THAT: Spend lots of money on a loud, central gaming area without surveying employees to see what percentage would use it for social interaction and who would prefer a more flexible common area. (You still can put the games in a smaller, more contained space.)
Do THIS: Make sure your office amenities have function and not just flash for the sake of looking cool. Choose amenities that are multi-purpose, or reflect company values, branding, and culture.
Not THAT: Spend money on office amenities that only part of the employee community will use. Rather than get expensive desks for one department, invest in powerful Wi-Fi and a video conferencing area designed for efficiency and quick connection.
Companies focused on employee engagement also put wellness at the forefront of their new office amenities, including making way for mental and emotional health enhancement.
A new headquarters for the American Physical Therapy Association puts movement as core value in its building design. The company’s CEO, Justin Moore, said this choice came from the value that movement drives engagement, participation and collaboration, which defines a high-performing team.
In a new building in the Potomac Yard in Washington, D.C., the APTA headquarters encourages walking by taking fire exits and stairs and designing beautiful avenues of inspiration. One set of stairs in the building’s seven-story atrium showcases the bright, open environment and is set next to the elevator so employees and visitors have a choice in how they move. Another set of stairs is designed to feature views outside large windows down Potomac Avenue, adding an element of grandeur.
The building itself is set near a regional bike path, as well as across from the site of an under-construction Monorail, both choices designed to encourage commuting modes other than a car. Employees who bike to work no longer have to store their vehicles in dark parking garage lockers. The new office site offers a public plaza near a “Boke Café,” that acts as a social hub and lunch area. This area connects to lockers, showers, and other amenities for bikers that encourage other exercise, like the office gym. Even the area surrounding the building has been turned into a public park in the urban setting, encouraging public use and engagement.
The idea of increasing employee engagement is not only to make employees feel happy – it also contributes to overall efficiency and production. Gallup reports that highly engaged workplaces experience 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects, and 21% higher profitability.
This same report showed that engagement increases when employees spend some time working remotely and some time interacting with coworkers in the same space. The optimal engagement boost occurs when employees spend 60% to 80% of their time working off-site -- or three to four days in a five-day workweek.
Employees in this category are also most likely to strongly agree that their engagement needs related to development and relationships are being met.
Volkswagen uses more than 30 virtual reality training experiences that cover topics including vehicle assembly, new team member training, and customer service. This allows employees to train at a pace they are comfortable with, and even start training before their workspace is ready. It also creates a hands-on learning environment
In this new era of hybrid work, investing in a great employee experience involves much more than hosting an occasional happy hour or providing free pizza on Fridays.
You need to rethink your workplace design and policies to empower employees to collaborate from anywhere while still giving them a reason to come to the office.
Having the right technology is essential when it comes to planning, managing, and optimizing your office spaces.
Space management software can help you see how employees use your office in real time, and mobile apps enable anyone to reserve spaces as they need them and access office amenities at their fingertips.
For more tips on how to enhance the employee experience and improve engagement in the new hybrid workplace, download the latest research report from Verdantix.
As a member of the Business Development team for iOFFICE, Rebecca is spirited and is quick to take initiative. Previously a customer and daily user of the IWMS provider, she has extensive experience on both the front and back end structure of the product. Rebecca's enthusiasm for facilities management and her tangible experience in the field give her an unprecedented understanding and perception of iOFFICE customers. Rebecca is able to relate to organizations implementing on IWMS, and has a unique perspective on what makes the experience a success.