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Wanting to get employees back in? Youíll need to adapt the office space first

By Marcus Beaver, UKI Country Leader at Alight Solutions

April 6 2022 - It's clear that employees are gunning for permanent hybrid working strategies moving forward out of the pandemic. The spaces businesses rent used to be the hustle and bustle for 40 hours a week, but times have changed since staff have proven working from home is just as productive. Now they can catch up over a quick video meeting, or attend the office once a week when they know colleagues will also be in. But organisations are wanting to encourage staff back, especially when they are the heart and soul of a company.

We are returning to some level of normality, and organisations are wanting to make use of the spaces they rent. But staff wonít give up flexibility so easily, especially when output per worker exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time at the end of last year. Businesses need to make the trip worth employeesí time. Successfully encouraging staff back in involves creating places where they want to be every day, where the environment is inclusive of a strong culture that is valuable to be at.

Offices need to offer what people can get from working at home: no longer can they simply offer a computer and a desk. Companies worldwide are starting to realise that an office is more than having a room fit only for function with endless rows of desks and computer screens. Itís one of the reasons so many younger workers want to work at the likes of Facebook and Google. From office desks and meeting rooms to roof terraces and Daleks, the office space is fit for function, fun and face to face.

To attract and retain top talent, office spaces must be reimagined with the employee experience in mind. When designing an office, employers must think about what the room will be used for, but also somewhere people will want to go to on a regular basis. It will take investment, but nobody wants to work from a bleak office when they have the comfort of their own home. Thatís why employers need to take this opportunity to make workspaces a place where employees want to be, because the truth is they donít need to be there anymore. A space with comfortable sofas where people can talk to colleagues is a great alternative for quick meetings or catch-ups that would otherwise require a meeting room with a stronger sense of formality that isnít always appealing or perhaps even as productive. Small things as simple as offering free snacks to staff members or free refills for fizzy drinks and water are a great way to entice people back. A breakfast bar that offers nutritious and delicious food to employees can also be a great way to start the day in the right mindset. Things that bring comfort that employees may not have at home.

The new age of working will see employees using offices to collaborate. From formal meeting rooms designed for working in groups, to informal social spaces for staff to come together in a more relaxing environment, the focus needs to be on encouraging a space where colleagues can collaborate and work as teams. Itís clear that staff donít need to come in to stare at their screens and remain at their desks all day. They want to come in to brainstorm and bounce ideas off one another, or to shoot ideas and thoughts around the room. A great way to foster collaboration? A large dining table where teams can have lunch together and take a breather from work can do wonders to strengthen team bonds. Making this feature more homely, rather than a simple meeting table, might help workers relax and feel more at ease. Businesses need to revisit what their office spaces are used for. Only then, can true collaboration, innovation, and creativity be achieved.

Leadership needs to create an environment that people want to be in. When in the office, this is all about creating a positive and beneficial culture. It could be choosing a day when most are in the office and encourage team activities, shoutouts for great teamwork or even organise company events. Taking it one step further, office drinks after the day is over are a great way to keep employees in the office for longer hours. Not to work, but to socialise, build team relationships and boost morale after perhaps a stressful day or week or work. If drinking is not for everyone, events like ice-skating, art groups, or volunteering can help to develop a firm's feeling of community and make employees feel like they belong and are a part of the company rather than just working for it. Transforming offices can go beyond the physical space, to create experiences only available to those who choose to work from their office.

The employee experience - above all else - needs to come first. Itís essential to think about what they need, want, and wish and adapt office spaces accordingly. Employees canít be forced into offices; they have to want to go in for this to work. By fostering efficiency, teamwork, and socialisation, employers will be in good stead to have their offices filled up, all while attracting new recruits. Organisations must adapt their spaces and let the rest happen naturally. If they try to force anything, they will only push their people in another direction.



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