Updated: May 12
Thank you for following our Key Trends in 2023 Series! See the five trends and articles here!
Are the processes, practices, and places that served your company in the past contributing to stress in the present?
We hear a lot about “Burnout” in the media. The World Health Organization classified burnout as a “syndrome” that is caused by “chronic workplace stress,” in 2019. This heightened level of stress has become pervasive among employees, growing most steeply in numbers since the onset of the pandemic.
Burnout is a bottom-line issue with drastic effects on employee performance and culture. Somewhere between experiencing stress and achieving full burnout, organizations have an opportunity to support their employees while creating new ways of working.
A Culture of Over Availability
In 2020, many employees filled the time previously spent commuting, with additional work hours. Schedules became filled with back-to-back engagements utilizing new capabilities for virtual meeting. As in-person interactions have become more prevalent, there is a need to create new etiquettes for meeting schedules.
Clients have expressed that untamed virtual collaboration schedules have added stress on top of already stressful commutes, as they must adjust their train schedule to adhere to meeting requirements.
In-office days are still work-from-home days as employees often compensate for time “lost” to commuting by allowing virtual meetings and focus work to spill into personal hours. Without time to recuperate these work practices become unsustainable.
One Size Fits Few
Everyone has different levels of comfort in a workplace. Many workplaces have been designed to fit the fictitious average person, causing the majority of people to payout some level of energy to compensate for the psychological and physical stress of the workplace. Everything from lighting and ergonomics to seating placement and noise levels can reduce the effectiveness of your workforce.
Reduced environmental choice and control, hinder a person or team’s ability to perform at optimum levels. This can also be true for the home office, as many workers are seeking to complement their home experience with new places and people.
Is your workplace the reason for burnout or the remedy?
Many employers are calling their workforce back to the office, but without adequate reflection, this move is poised to create more challenges than it solves. Returning to an outdated office can reduce productivity, innovation, and increase stress levels.
Here are some factors that contribute to stress in an outdated office:
Connections | Employees often report high levels of stress with finding and connecting to technology in individual and collaborative spaces. Delays created by locating IT support for setups or a cable to bridge incompatible technology creates frustration and hinders productivity.
Noise Levels | Noise levels have long been a challenge in open offices. With the influx of virtual meetings, most spaces have not been optimized to support increased calls. Lack of sound masking and sound absorbent materials contribute to distraction and high levels of stress.
Isolation | Employees express feeling isolated in their workplaces due to low attendance in their area or the perception of low attendance due to the quantity of unused workstations. Relationships are dwindling as it has become more challenging to casually see co-workers outside of direct teams. Fearing isolation, employees are more likely to choose to work at home when it is difficult to book spots directly with their teammates.
Adjacencies | Delayed meeting starts are often the result of a workplace that is not optimized for collaboration. Transitioning between team neighborhoods for interactions with key collaborators can include long internal commutes.
Privacy | Places that provide audio and/or visual privacy are limited for the average worker to utilize. Opportunities to focus in low sensory spaces or feel comfortable having a sensitive conversation, are minimal.
Design & Location | Many offices have not been designed for developments in moveable technology or hybrid and in-person collaboration. All or nothing locations miss out on new operating models that might be a better fit for your workforce.
Between inconsistent technology connections, long internal commutes, and noisy or lonely offices, your workplace is likely contributing to stress levels. Bringing awareness to sources of strain for employees creates a roadmap to enhance engagement and efficiencies. Reevaluating your systems will ensure they are serving the future of your organization and creating appropriate boundaries to support your people.
People-first approaches to change management are attuned to the impact of change on employees. Involving employees in the process and making adjustments along the way can ensure success. When engaging with a workplace change manager, office design projects receive higher levels of employee buy-in and employees express more comfort with the pace of change.
Company supported boundaries for meeting availability and workloads are helpful to employees, especially in times of organizational change. Reigning in over availability, in the interest of quality and longevity, can be institutionalized through team agreements.
Team agreements, which give employees a platform to define best practices for working together are a useful tool in reducing employees’ stress levels. Formalizing new practices can restore employee focus on the areas that matter.
Through aligning on everything from expectations and etiquettes to operating practices, team agreements can alleviate strain and ensure organizational values are present in all levels of interaction. Cross-functional relationships can be mapped by workplace specialists to ensure all collaborative interactions are supported.
Flexible work practices, supported by team agreements, allow certain types of work and communication to be completed asynchronously. Asynchronous platforms and tools can open schedules, reducing meeting frequency, providing more opportunities for deep focus, and elevating work quality. In addition to enhancing employee performance, time flexibility can reduce stress levels by providing balance for caregiving or beneficial self-care practices such as mid-day walks.
Workplace specialists can create efficiencies and maximize the relevance of your processes, practices, and places. Interviews, workshops, and analytic platforms, provide a wealth of data that workplace consultants can use to uncover stress contributors and provide remedies.
This data can also be interpreted by workplace strategists resulting in effective layouts and spatial allocations that alleviate key sources of strain. Workplace consultants support your organization in creating ease and improved function for employees.
Through change, many of us are carrying outdated relics. It is time to assess when we do things, how we do things, and why.
Updated: May 18
Curious about the trends we are seeing at the start of 2023? Follow us as we dig into five key trends. See the five trends here!
If you are feeling drawn to work outside of your home, you are not alone.
A growing number of employees, who feel supported by their organization with autonomy and choice, feel a natural pull to work outside of their homes. These employees, who have been working remotely, are seeking to complement their home office with new places and people. This could be the company office, a co-working space, or a “Third Space” like a café. Organizations can benefit by leaning into complementary offerings to meet the emerging needs of their workforce.
As employees are expressing a shift in preferences, it is a good opportunity for organizations to reflect on workplace experience and employee resources.
“I’ve been going into the office a few days a week, when I’m not in the office I feel like I lose my edge.”
“This will be a welcome and needed opportunity to get out, be with people, and make work more fun.” -Response to an invitation to join a community co-working meet-up group.
Where employees want to go and if they ultimately choose to go, rely on several factors, including:
Convenience | Long and challenging commutes are cited as a barrier to regular office attendance.
Habit | Remote employees are often out of the habit of including other locations in their work week. Many are unsure how to include commute time on top of a workload that has expanded to include previous time spent in transit.
Relevance | If the office or alternate location does not enhance employees' work activity, provide suitable resources, inspire socialization, or enable serendipitous encounters, there is less incentive to visit regularly.
Invitation | We have learned in client workshops that employees on teams that that have been designated as remote, feel the need to be invited into the office.
Workers are seeking spaces that support their needs. When technology in the home outperforms the workplace- it is hard to make a case for the office.
Connections | At a baseline, reliable WI-FI builds confidence in the ability to maintain productivity outside of the home. Ease of connecting to technology in individual and collaborative spaces is critical to effectiveness.
Seamless Transition | The speed at which employees can find their workspace and get set up in a conference room, is critical to productivity and stress level reduction. Hybrid workers can be delayed by lugging equipment back and forth between work and home, when storage or equipment is not readily available.
Privacy | Having limited access to private spaces is often reported as a deterrent for leaving the home office. Enclosed spaces are key for sensitive conversations and focus work. Having reliable access to spaces that provide audio and/or visual privacy increases psychological safety and confidence in spending the day at an alternate location.
Updated Equipment & Workplace Design | Technology and tools should be aligned with the programs and individual technology used by the organization. Design of collaborative spaces will be most successful if they are optimized for in-person and hybrid interactions. Tools that are readily available and well-maintained build trust between employees and the organization.
Trip Planning | In addition to booking space, employees want to know when other people are going to be in the office and where they are sitting once there. Employees report planning their schedules around team and manager interactions but wanting to know who they can expect to see in the office.
Rebuilding The Habit
Interest in events or alternate work locations does not equal attendance.
Turnout is often disrupted by last minute meetings and the intoxicating draw of daily routines. Prioritizing in-person experiences is enabled by creating buffer time for commutes and setting boundaries around meeting schedules.
“I just got a meeting scheduled for this morning. Don’t think I’ll be able to make it. Next time!”
“I accommodate early meetings by taking them at home, then I get into the swing of my workday and it’s hard to leave.”
In-person experiences with co-workers have the potential to elevate the health of the organization. These types of interactions are particularly valuable for improving connections and relationships, onboarding, early career development, culture, and knowledge exchange.
Learning from others and opportunities to mentor are beneficial to the organization and bolster employee career progression and fulfillment. The serendipitous exchange of knowledge and ideas through unplanned interaction and proximity, at the water cooler and beyond, are unmatched in virtual encounters, especially where psychological safety exists in the workplace. In detriment to culture, visibility bias can become a barrier to growth, without managerial upskilling.
Regardless of whether you have been mandated or inspired to venture out of your home, here are some ideas for adding another place into your workday.
Strategize with your Leader - Work with your leader or yourself to prioritize your workload and create a strategy for making time for transit and socialization.
Couple New Habits with Existing Routines - Tack on an in-person day to a regularly scheduled event or meeting. Perhaps take your weekly stand-up call from the office.
Set a specific goal - Pick a consistent day(s) of the week, pay period, or month to venture out. Repetition supports this practice and can be helped by creating a reoccurring block on your calendar, including commute time.
Coordinate with friends - Having friends at work is good for employees and beneficial to the health of the organization. Coordinating in-person schedules not only with teammates but also friends outside of your direct team, enhances the experience in a place. The benefits of working with people you like will be most impactful when time for lunch or coffee is planned on your calendar.
Co-Working Meet Ups - If working from a "Third space" interests you - Organize a group of co-workers, friends, or neighbors to meet up regularly at a café. Working side by side with people in a new space can reduce the burden of certain tasks.
The sense of community created from in-person activities and post-event engagement, pulls in employees, enhancing likelihood of attending future events, and re-establishing relationships.
From our interviews with clients and industry leaders, we have seen the best results when office attendance is linked to a regularly occurring team ritual. Common work-related rituals include team and all-hands meetings, senior or middle manager workshops, annual holiday/festive type events, and guest speakers.
In two exemplary case studies, the combination of meaningful work-related events, combined with company provided refreshments, two days per week, created a shift in regular weekly attendance, at the time of writing. For one company following this approach, they have seen on average nearly 50% occupancy, at a time when most companies are hovering around 30% occupancy. In-person events are most successful when they are well communicated in advance and again after the event to share images and stories.
Organizations who support employees in creating new location habits, have seen an elevation in employee driven outcomes.
Engaging a skilled workplace strategist and change manager can support employees and organizations in changing processes and habits, reducing barriers to in-person experiences.
Pairing in-person events with existing team rituals and appreciation can help build loyalty and belonging within your company's culture. We have seen success in organizations that engage cross-functional teams in strategy workshops or focus groups which double as team building and a means for innovation.
Creating a strategy for the design of your workplace with a specialist, can ensure your design reflects and enhances work activities, building relevance and encouraging return visits. Providing spaces that support group gathering, collaboration, and team socialization, will support these use cases in which we are seeing a natural pull.
Consider new models of real estate, to include geographically dispersed flex, coworking, or third spaces, to ensure your organization gets the benefits of in-person interaction, in line with the preferences of your employees. By including work opportunities and events in alternate locations as well as the company office, employees can meet each other while making spatial associations with your organization's brand and culture.
Through the use of engagement tools and analytics, workplace specialists can understand the most productive location and collaborative needs of teams, making recommendations for beneficial in-person experiences. Working with a workplace consultant can uncover the needs of your workforce and draw out relevant insights and trends. Understanding this data about your organization can bring closer attunement between your workers and place strategies.
Employees desire a change of scenery, socialization, and resources. Through understanding how this desire appears in your workforce, companies can create a strategy for in-person activities that enhances culture and organizational health.
Updated: May 17
Join us as we explore five key trends we are seeing at the start of 2023. See the five trends here!
Does your company support flexibility or is this perk a honey trap?
Misalignment between communications and infrastructure creates uncertainty. Here are some methods to ensure you are supporting flexible workstyles and maximizing opportunities for success with hybrid, remote, and in-person models.
Workplace flexibility exists on a spectrum. Creating an operational model that offers the right level of flexibility for your organization comes from deeply understanding the needs of your organization. A review of your products, services, organizational goals, processes, and day-to-day activities of roles will inform the model that will benefit the future of the organization.
Through conversations with clients and business leaders, it is evident that some organizations are committed to incorporating flexibility into their operations, while other organizations are leaning toward "flex-washing."
"Flex-washing" can include leveraging surface level flexibility for attraction and retention, without developing the necessary infrastructure to enable or enjoy the full benefits of flexible working. This leads to a lack of clarity for employees and a return to outdated solutions when the road gets bumpy.
The quotations below illustrate the two camps described above:
“We know we’re not going back to the office; we’re working with our 'People' team to create a strategy for our spaces that supports our remote first operations.”
“Our CEO has mandated everyone is in 3 days a week; can you let us know what we need to change, so people want to come back in?”
In Q1 of 2022, the leaders we interviewed, expressed anxiety about making a full return to the office. By Q4 of 2022, our interviews with twenty top businesses and clients, showed a trend in embracing new forms of flexibility, without formalizing their future business model.
For many organizations in the U.S., flexibility was meant to be a short-term strategy to navigate the onset of the pandemic. As a result, rapidly changing operating models have been challenging for organizations, who may or may not have committed to the change as a long-term strategy.
Activity Based Working has been the standard for many workplaces in Europe, where employees enjoy enriched workplaces that enable internal mobility and corporate guidelines that support external mobility, in alignment with the principles of agile working.
Diversifying Working Hours
Time flexibility or asynchronous working can enhance employee output and allow people to find ease in the management of their work and personal responsibilities, in and out of the office. When given the opportunity to tackle an activity at personal peak performance times, productivity and effectiveness can be improved. Asynchronous communication tools and team agreements support this style of flexibility are used by most top organizations.
Asynchronous work can reduce the need for certain types of meetings and provide more equitable opportunities for contribution, especially from less vocal employees. Opportunities to choose when it is most impactful to work asynchronously, in-person, or live virtually, can enhance work quality as well as the experience of the team. This has the potential to foster higher productivity and improved employee morale.
New models of work built on location flexibility and including progressive parameters for time and days, have been shown to give companies an advantage for attracting and retaining top employees. We are seeing these organizations benefiting from access to wider geographic and demographic talent pools, than location specific roles.
Defining processes for dispersed and in-person interactions, creates valuable efficiencies for employees, and are key to ensuring company values are woven into activities and interactions.
Many organizations, particularly those that span across multiple time zones, locations, or large campuses experience some degree of dispersed work. While locations may have been fixed, relationships have not been confined to a single location. Many employees report collaborating with and learning from teammates outside of their office, prior to the pandemic.
Regardless of where your organization lands on the spectrum of flexibility, it is beneficial to include learnings from dispersed and remote teams into your operating strategy and managerial learning.
Visibility bias is a concern for managers of remote and dispersed team members. Evidence shows that without awareness, careers may suffer from lack of in-person interactions with a manager. Creating, managing, and supporting flexible working styles is a new skill to many, requiring learning and development.
Co-creating, agreeing, setting clear objectives, and identifying desired outcomes, is the cornerstone of managing flexibility in teams. Creating agreements with teams regarding etiquette, behaviors, and expectations can give employees a framework to be effective in their role and formalize boundaries that support flexibility.
Filling in knowledge and experience gaps for managers reduces visibility bias, enhances team effectiveness, and employee experience regardless of their location. Managerial upskilling, to include trainings for dispersed workforce management, can provide managers with critical skills that benefit their reports and the health of the organization. The Knight
Index is a useful assessment tool to identify the areas of upskilling required for managers and leaders to operate successfully in a flexible work environment.
Workplace Consultants are a useful asset to the team as facilitators of this process; including mapping an organization’s collaborative activities and interactions across verticals to ensure all working arrangements are included.