Return to Work(place) topics emerged and were divided into three categories: Employee Well-Being, Organizational Culture, and Transforming the Floorplate, with subcategories ranging from employee physical health to organizational values and surface materials.
“Ideally, the workplace should provide people with resources to meet their job responsibilities,” said Beck Johnson, Senior Research Specialist at Haworth. “How well the physical workplace provides those resources communicates to employees how the organization prioritizes meeting their needs.”
Transform the Floorplate
We found that during the first few weeks of the pandemic, most customers were highly focused on floorplate solutions that could be implemented to either keep essential workers at work safely or prepare for the return of workers in the near future. The highest rated floorplate topics were Clean and Safe Facilities and Product Solutions.
In general, many organizations began to rethink the role of all types of spaces—social spaces, private offices, common spaces, etc. What do they actually need to provide, and to whom? Specific cleaning protocols were also frequently desired. And many organizations were wondering about physical distancing practices in various spaces. They were curious what others were doing across their own industries.
“Clients are adopting agile and flexible settings replicating the community spaces developed by coworking operators. These organic spaces are easily and quickly adapted to suit small engagements and larger events,” said Brendan Bruce, Haworth’s International Director of Ideation Services, who is based in Singapore.
Organizational culture was also high on the list of customers’ concerns during the first few weeks, especially when it came to change communication. Employees relied on their organizations to know what was happening during a time of rapid and constant change. It remained a primary concern of most customers for the duration of the engagements.
“One way to maintain an organization’s culture is through effective communication,” said John Scott, Senior Workplace Design Strategist at Haworth. “Each culture needs to communicate with its employees who are working remotely in different ways. Some cultures require a more social approach to connecting people, while others need more specific guidelines and structure, all explained in sequential order. Some are more visual, while others need to understand what defines success in order to be effective.”
Employee well-being, which includes physical health, cognitive health, and psychological safety, was a primary concern for customers from the beginning, and remained so every week. “Workplace design can affect health in a positive way, increasing movement, good posture, air quality, light quality, and nutrition,” said Carolina Roa. “Mental health could also be affected in a positive way through relationships, sense of community, altruism, and collaboration.”
Some customers were interested in what their leadership could do to demonstrate better empathy and support for employees. Many were concerned with reductions in productivity among workers. And a large number were interested in managing employee stress levels. Change communication and communications plan questions factored into this.
Many organizations may be navigating returning to the workplace for the short-term, but this is a pivotal time to think about the office of the future. Going forward, supporting well-being, culture, and flexibility, finding the balance between virtual and physical interaction, and enabling collaboration will be vital for people to perform their best.
“One of the biggest concerns before the pandemic was burn-out caused by chronic work stress,” said Beck Johnson. “How stress gets managed—whether remotely or in the workplace—will undoubtedly continue to impact employee performance. Job demands are the greatest source of stress, so it’s important for managers and leaders to address this appropriately.”
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