As you know, workers have returned to the office. Now, how can organizations keep them engaged while they’re there?
CFOs, CEOs and CHROs of companies of all sizes, industries and geographies are considering how to engage their workforce in new ways that are effective for their organization and meet the desires of their employees. As they develop strategies for 2023, leaders should have clear goals for how they plan to reimagine and revitalize the employee experience in and outside of the office — because hybrid work is here to stay.
The benefits of working from the office have changed
The transition to remote work showed us that workers don’t need an office to get things done — and they enjoy having flexibility in when and where they work. In Grant Thornton’s State of Work in America survey, 75% of respondents said working from home improved their work–life balance. And in response to the prospect of returning to the office full-time, nearly half of respondents said they would look for another job.
“Work is much more than a job — it’s an opportunity to build relationships, make connections, learn and grow,” said Kim Jacoby, a director in the People and Organization practice at Grant Thornton.
While they enjoy the flexibility that comes with remote work, employees indicated their connections to others have weakened, and they feel more disconnected from their company and their colleagues. One-third of State of Work in America respondents said the lack of face-to-face collaboration during the pandemic diminished their team cohesion and their sense of belonging. Others simply missed socializing with work friends.
Having transitioned employees back to the office, it’s time for organizations to reimagine the size and purpose of their office space. It shouldn’t be a place employees feel forced to go, but something they look forward to — whether they’re coming in every day or once a week — to learn, socialize and build relationships.
The right experiences will bring people in
How can organizations bring new meaning to working in the office and make hybrid work even more attractive moving forward?
“No one wants to go into the office to sit on video calls or answer emails all day,” said Margaret Belden, director in Grant Thornton’s People and Organization practice. “The office, in our new hybrid world, should offer something different that employees can’t get at home — and couldn’t get in the office before.”
Consider how the real estate development sector created social settings and environments that brought people together for a coffee or a meeting. Companies like WeWork created spaces that allowed people to gather near client or project sites through fun, engaging spaces that were not office-like.
Then, multi-use developments began sprouting up — malls were falling out of favor and required more to attract people. That led to new developments of multi-use retail communities that included places to live, shop, eat, exercise, go bowling and attend a movie — all within reach at one place. That same thinking can inspire organizations to reimagine how to bring employees together in more creative ways.
Commit to new strategies in 2023
Heading into 2023, organizations need to prioritize their people, draw inspiration from coworking and multi-use developments and reallocate their real estate spend to programs and initiatives that will increase engagement and retention.
These eight strategies can help guide organizations and their employees to use their office time and space in new, effective ways.
- Start with leadership. When leaders are committed to the benefits of in-office time, others will get on board, too. Leaders need to clearly and consistently communicate their reasoning for going into the office, emphasizing the importance of using that time to reconnect, collaborate and rebuild team bonds — not just get day-to-day work done. That might mean repurposing virtual calls with in-person strategy sessions or organizing regular skip-level luncheons for employees to share feedback or connect informally. Whatever their reasoning, leadership should lead by example and be present.
- Make the office a social and wellness hub. Employees can get their work done at home. The office should offer something different. “Employees want to come back into the office to see other people. Socializing is a huge benefit of coming into the office — and it makes people feel good, too,” said Jacoby. Building in consistent, unique social opportunities will help fulfill the connectivity needs that employees are missing when they work from home. Plus, coming into the office can improve their well-being through elevated work experiences. Unique wellness spaces that employees may not have at home like outdoor areas, standing and treadmill desks and on-site meditation and exercise classes provide additional benefits to consistent in-office work.
- Provide engaging professional development. If an organization’s learning opportunities are offered exclusively online, transitioning them to in-person will create a more dynamic experience for those participating. In-person professional development opportunities will allow for hands-on workshops, as well as the ability for employees to make connections in person. Focused networking and relationship-building events can be particularly helpful for new entrants to the job market and new hires assimilating at all levels.
- Build philanthropy into office culture. Employees care about what their employer is doing to give back. “Levels of pride rise when employees are doing something for the greater good, together,” Jacoby said. “Workplace volunteer opportunities have been shown to improve productivity and boost employee engagement.” Ongoing volunteer programs and opportunities add purpose to in-office time beyond regular work and tasks. For example, Grant Thornton’s Purple Paladins program partners with an emerging nonprofit every quarter, giving employees an opportunity to donate or volunteer with causes in their community.
- Bring the fun. Organizations can emphasize the non-work interactions of going into the office in addition to the work-related interactions. Office-hosted social gatherings, trivia events and celebrations can provide a lighthearted way to connect.
- Diversify activities and keep the feedback loop going. Not all ideas for reimagining in-office time will resonate with everyone. Organizations should poll their team regularly to understand what fits in with their lifestyle and how their in-office time is or isn’t working for them. Pulse surveys, ongoing assessments and regular check-ins between managers and employees will help keep lines of communication open for ideas — and to gauge employee well-being.
- Monitor burnout. Returning to the office may have caused a disruption in routines for many employees. Teams can promote a healthy work–life balance limiting communication outside of work hours and leveraging technology to set boundaries and honor flexibility. Teams should also keep their hybrid environment in mind and continue celebrating the successes employees have seen from hybrid work.
- Amplify the offering. Leverage the way your company stands out with its hybrid work model. In recruiting and retaining talent, you first need to have a clear strategy to support this way of working moving forward — then, amplify it during the hiring process. “This also means reinforcing the organization’s view of hybrid work and how employee remote work preferences will not adversely impact their standing, advancement or incentives,” Belden said. “Leaders need to be cognizant of how they’re presenting their work culture and policies, particularly as current and prospective employees adapt to a more long-term hybrid work environment.”
2023 is an opportunity to move beyond in-office strategies that were employed during or before the pandemic. Employees want to engage with their offices and colleagues in new ways, and they expect their employers to hear and understand their needs. No matter what strategies organizations employ, their intent should be genuine.
“By listening and implementing programs that employees actually want, organizations will benefit from a happier, more engaged workforce, better retention and more effective use of their office space as they navigate the future of hybrid work,” said Jacoby.
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