As companies and their employees’ thoughts start to turn to the prospect of returning to the office, it’s worth reflecting on the impact COVID-19 has made on the business culture.
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Three years ago, working from home for many employees seemed impossible, as it wouldn’t be suitable or productive for their role. The pandemic forced us to shift our ways of working, with little thought or planning. Fast forward to 2022 and there is more of an expectation that people function in the new hybrid working world.
However, the inescapable reach of the pandemic meant many simply had to make it work as best they could with little in the way of preparation.
Office life after the pandemic
Initially, there were plenty of technical challenges to overcome, and much of the attention was focused on resolving them. Fortunately, there was understanding from all directions as people wrestled with performing their functions at distance. Hiccups and wobbles were more forgivable, given the world situation.
In the rush to simply get the basics operating as normally as possible, little thought or planning could be put into trying to replicate some of the additional advantages of office life. Be they social, collaborative, environment, or something else; the need to complete day-to-day tasks took precedence.
Fast forward to 2022 and there is more of an expectation that people can function remotely. With vaccination programmes ramping up, returning to the office seems to be a viable option on the horizon. This opens the door to a range of questions, amongst which would be:
- Will things return to how they were?
- Will there still be the same sense of patience from all involved, if someone elects to work remotely but experiences technical difficulties?
- Can companies start to rebuild the sense of community and collaboration that is often best fostered when working in the same office space?
- Are employees comfortable sharing an office space with others again and how can companies reassure them?
- How can I be confident that the shared space of an office is safe?
Meanwhile, the loss of our day tribe and the shared experiences it creates has been keenly felt. At heart, we are social animals and losing the option to interact in person with those we share our working hours has been a test of which many are looking forward to seeing back.
Companies must find solutions, so those employees choosing to return to the office are reassured whilst those continuing to work at a distance are more integrated into all aspects of daily working life.
Making employees central to the office experience
There has been a shift, not so much in power but in expectation. Previously, office culture was set up and decided from the top of an organisation, often with little input from further down the chain. The office is now competing with the home, and many won’t consider home working a luxury for which they need special permission. Instead, in the eyes of employees, they will now be seen as equally viable options.
It’s a challenge that businesses will need to face. By exceeding the expectations of their employees in the office environment, they can help improve workplace satisfaction and performance and make it a more attractive option.
For an organisation, the face-to-face interaction of employees can prove advantageous in several ways:
- Closer collaboration helps to drive innovation.
- New ideas and processes can spread to new teams as people working close together overhear developments.
- Team identity can grow as social interactions are shared.
- Fast resolutions to simple roadblocks such as a quick walk to a colleague’s desk and chat can resolve issues without the need to set up a video meeting.
The benefits to companies may be clear, but what can a company do to influence employees to elect for the office over the home environment more often?
- Recognise the concerns and offer solutions that make the office safer.
- Communicate the changes being made.
- Sing the praises of the virtues of in-person collaboration.
- Make the office flexible working space with different areas for different working styles.
It seems simple in theory, and it can also be so in practice. The need for more stringent hygiene regimes is essential, but equally so is a system that allows your employees to access that information to be confident the space they are using is safe.
Empowering your employees to find a suitable space for them and their working style evolves through the day whilst leaving room for them to interact with their colleagues can all be done with a simple tool.
It gives them choices where and how they want to work in the office whilst opening opportunities to easily submit feedback on what they like and where improvements could be made. It gives them a voice in their working environment. Meanwhile, it helps connect remote workers to those in the office, bringing them closer together for collaboration and social interactions to build company unity.
What would be the expectations of your employees about such a tool?
A solution like Haltian Empathic Building brings all of these expectations into a web interface that can be accessed from any device that can run a browser. It’s a solution that’s simple to install and even easier to use. The development team includes game designers who are experts at making interfaces that people ‘just know’ how to operate.
From choosing the right kind of space to suit your mode of work to check that nobody has used a desk since it was last cleaned, it empowers employees to take control of their working day and gives them options to improve it.
Office collaboration near and far
Welcome to the new office! Is it the same as the old office? Well, not quite. Businesses need to embrace the changes and adapt to maximise the potential opportunities the post-COVID-19 office offers.
The collaboration will always be a key driver of innovation, but how does an organisation help foster that spirit across the company in the new working order? With some employees steadfastly working from home and other focusing on completing projects whilst in a quite space, help may be needed to encourage those crucial interactions.
Tools like Haltian’s Empathic Office can simply and visually communicate an employee’s work mode. As their availability changes throughout the day, their co-workers can see when they are open to more social or collaborative working styles
Time reserved for solo work? This can be clearly conveyed using the avatar’s speech bubble. Working more openly? A quick update and coworkers will be able to see this. There’s even a way to indicate you are working remotely in your avatar so those at home can feel as included as those in the office.
Showing your current working status visually allows people to naturally congregate and work together in a social environment at appropriate times whilst still giving them the ability to complete work undisturbed when required.
Optimising the office for employees’ health
The pandemic has recalibrated many employees’ priorities, bringing concerns about the office environment’s safety much more to the forefront. It’s up to organisations to meet those worries head-on and reassure their staff to help create positive work outcomes.
Greater awareness of air quality can prove beneficial for companies since research shows that cognitive function starts to drop as the level of CO2 in a room increases.
A new approach to using meeting rooms can help employees experience the freshest air and, in turn, assist keeping them at their sharpest when working in a meeting space. These simple to implement steps will help all involved:
- A meeting is booked and a room reserved, as normal
- 10 minutes before the meeting the organiser checks the air quality in all available suitable meeting rooms
- Calendars are updated to reflect the new meeting space with the freshest air
As staff adapt, they’ll recognise the meeting in their calendar as a placeholder and that the actual venue may be changed shortly before it begins to help give them a room with the freshest air. It’s a system they can literally breathe in and appreciate.
The same approach of reassurance can also help in a hot-desking environment. Employees want to be confident that where they sit has been cleaned since it was last used to minimise pathogens’ potential transfer. Therefore, a visually clear guide to to the office and desks available can make their choice and life simple.
One glance at the seating plan in the Empathic Building solution shows if anyone has sat at a desk in the last twelve hours. Blue desks are free, red are occupied, and purple shows that it has been used since it was last cleaned.
Cleaners can reset the status of desks in the tool as they complete their rounds. This way, at all times, employees can be confident the space they are using is safe and hygienic.
Adapt your office to how it is actually used
Improving and adapting your office to serve better the needs of your employees will enhance their working day.
We welcome you to download our guide and start your journey not just into an office, but into a better office environment for all your employees after the pandemic. Get your access to the return to office guide here:
Download our Return to Office Guide to find out how your company can plan to make a smooth return to office after COVID