New research conducted by Steelcase in the fall of 2021, The New Era of Hybrid Work, highlights the concerns prevailing upon employee mindsets globally and helps zero in on the key mistakes that companies could make as they fully settle into hybrid work environments. As companies all over India resume their pre-pandemic office settings, they are also fully confronting the demands of hybrid work environments. Remote and in-office work have come together to form a hyphenated identity that is not merely about the unique interior design of these spaces but also the freedom and expectations that define them. Focusing on work and not the experience of work The research delved into factors that influence employee engagement, productivity, and retention. According to the results, 31 per cent of the employees interviewed in India stated that they felt more engaged and productive, and less likely to leave when they like working from their office. This liking is defined by a combination of office amenities and how valued an employee feels in the work environment. Offices should strive to be more than just a space where employees are expected to clock in nine to 12 hours of their day. Instead, they need to make office the space where employees genuinely look forward to spending so much of their time. Even as leaders work hard to create a work environment that fosters inspiration, purpose, trust, creativity, and freedom, sometimes their all-consuming focus on company digits can dilute their best intentions to provide the former. Especially now, as companies appear more transactional as they highlight remuneration, perks, and remote working policies to draw talent. People want to feel valued and recognised not just as stats in the workforce, but also as a vital and unique presence in their office space. “Organisations need to be resilient, now more than ever before. Every company needs energy at this point, especially now when energy is sapping away, and people are unable to see a clear direction ahead. There needs to be an increase in communication with every generation of employees,” says Praveen Rawal, MD of Steelcase. This also means that companies need to be more agile while adapting to the new realities, and not continue to impose old metrics to evaluate employee performance. More than ever before, freedom and flexibility are of critical value in the corporate workspace. An insistence on hours logged in or “butts on seat” is seen as outdated in the post-pandemic world. Employees prefer new modes of accountability that respect their intelligence and intention.
Unchanged office spaces One of the more interesting findings from the research was how 76 per cent of employees and 87 per cent of the leaders interviewed in India liked working from their office more than from home. However, in a post-pandemic world, companies should be prepared to rethink the office experience that they provide. The willingness and openness to do so can help them retain employees and score high on likeability. “It becomes imperative now to adjust the floorplan to offer both privacy and a sense of community,” says Rawal. A general freedom of movement that mimics the freedom that employees enjoyed in the past two years with work from home can benefit greatly. Cafeterias, lounges, sofa settings, and pods can be tweaked to serve as places of both leisure and productivity. For instance, Steelcase’s Flex collection helps create a range of adaptable and high-performance spaces across an entire floorplan—be it focus zones for heads-down work, exclusive areas for work that demands collaboration, or team neighbourhoods. For instance, the Flex Cart can store and display eight work boards, hold all team essentials, and yet be light and portable enough to be wheeled anywhere in the office. Open-plan without privacy can be detrimental Employees enjoyed a greater sense of privacy while working from home, which they have to relinquish when they return to the open-plan office spaces that can now seem intrusive. Over 31 per cent of employees in India do focus work as compared to 22 per cent of leaders. Yet a majority of leaders in India typically have a cabin/private office to themselves, while employees are expected to deliver their best in an open-plan setup that does little to facilitate focused thinking. Private offices that are exclusively reserved for leaders can also get in the way of empathy—leaders can become insulated from the challenges that employees face while doing focus work in a noisy, open-plan office crowded with distractions. Organisations that are proactive enough to set up enclosures and reservable enclaves have a greater chance of driving a genuine connection with their executives based on trust and impartiality. Loss of assigned work space While offices are thinking of squeezing down on real estate to match lower employee occupancy in hybrid working models, this decision is also making employees feel like nomads at work. According to the Steelcase research, 15 per cent of employees working for large organisations, globally, have lost their assigned desks, compared to pre-pandemic times. The loss of an assigned space at work ruptures the sense of belonging that people felt in their offices, and is no different from the isolation that they felt while working from home. Offices need to figure out a system that eliminates this sense of alienation by creating a stable place that denotes an area for individual work, where employees can leave their belongings or even find a team member. If designed thoughtfully, a hybrid workspace could strike the perfect balance between the many contrasting forces that govern the energy in an organisation: collaboration and singularity, community and individuality, freedom and accountability. Though the ideal hybrid workspace is not exactly an easy concept to implement, companies that lead with ground rules that are anchored in democratic values, intuitive policies, and shared purpose stand a better chance of succeeding. The pages slugged ‘Brand Connect’ are equivalent to advertisements and are not written and produced by Forbes India journalists.