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The switch to remote or hybrid work in early 2020 was abrupt for all of us. employees and management were willing to give one another some latitude during the pandemic, but now that COVID is largely behind us, we have what The Atlantic has dubbed a “trust recession.”

As organisations have attempted to normalise hybrid working we are faced with a situation where many leaders are wondering whether their remote employees are actually working. Consequently trust is eroding among colleagues as a result of the physical separation we have experienced over the past two years.  

The Elephant in the ‘Office’

This trust deficit results in a an ‘elephant in the office’. A wicked conundrum faces leaders. 86% of people are reluctant to come back to the office full time, and yet 79 % of leaders are convinced that they need to bring people together to address trust, collaboration, company culture and most of all productivity.

“Eroding trust is exacerbating the talent crisis. Leaders need to work to rebuild and maintain trusting relationships  with and among their employees,” writes The Harvard Business Review.

The pandemic has caused a major shift in employee expectations and people are re-evaluating their lives both personally and professionally. This swing has led to an increase in employee activism. People no longer just want a job. They want and expect to work for a company that shares their values and beliefs and they’re not just concerned about themselves. As a result, the voice of the employee has never been louder or had a greater impact. 

No time for micro solutions to macro challenges

CEO’s that fail to address this crisis are likely to see lower morale, increased attrition, lower productivity, and stalled innovation.

Leaders are trying to do the right thing by shifting to hybrid work models to give people more flexibility. Yet, according to research from McKinsey, these choices can create a transactional relationship with employees, and may not provide what people really want, which is to feel valued and feel a sense of belonging to their organisation.

A plethora of surveys have been conducted over the last two years, and all have suggested that only a single-digit % of people want and can sustain a wholly remote routine.

In 2022 we now seem to be arriving at a consensus that hybrid working is the way forward. This means that we need to evolve an ecosystem of workplaces, but the office will still remain the central hub in the ecology of spaces.

Workplace Matters

One of the more recent studies conducted in early 2022 by Steelcase uncovers how the office can help. The report underlines the fact that the  office can be a vehicle for communicating values and creating a community at work where people feel they belong.

The workplace is the body language of an organisation, and it speaks volumes about the culture and what’s important.

The simple fact is that that there are a  raft of commercial benefits for the organisation if their people like their office. Put simply, the Workplace matters, and it matters in ways many leaders don’t realise.

Steelcase came up with 3 Key findings in their report.

Key Finding #1

The office plays a crucial role in how people relate to their organisation.

Working from an office is a way to stay connected to your company's culture and pursue your goals.

The researchers analysed a wide range of factors that contribute to important employee outcomes, such as engagement, productivity and feeling connected to the company culture.

The authors explored various aspects of work including income, hybrid work and other considerations. They also took into account issues such as commute and tenure at the company.

Productivity and feeling connected to the culture can most be impacted by whether they like working from the office, rather than what might appear to be the prevailing trend which is to shun the office altogether.

Employee retention is most influenced by their tenure with the organisation followed by liking working in an office.

The office plays a crucial role in how people relate to their organisation  when people like working from their office they are

  • 33% more engaged
  • 30% more connected to their company’s culture, 
  • 20% more productive and
  • 9% less likely to leave.

Key Finding #2

People want the autonomy and flexibility of hybrid work but are also  looking for choice and control and a sense of belonging in the Workplace.

Many people are now moving back to the office but they are willing to trade remote workdays for their own workspace and privacy at the office. They want to have a dedicated workspace even if they're working remotely. People are looking for choice and control, and also want a sense of belonging in the workplace.

When asked, more people would prefer to have assigned desks in the office and fewer days working from home.

Key Finding #3

Access to private spaces is more important than ever. Contrary to the headlines, people want their office to help them collaborate and focus.

Noise distractions like video, people, and social media are now more common in the workplace. As a result, it's becoming important to have privacy' like offices and personal spaces.

As office environments continue to evolve, organisations need to be flexible to make the changes that are best for them. Some organisations might want to make the office more like a clubhouse or others might want it to become a place for collaboration and socialisation.

Investors are spending more of their workdays on video calls. Designing spaces that support this new way of working is important. Technology platforms are not the only solution, people also need places that foster community and a sense of belonging. 

What People Need and Expect Now

The research on people's relationships to their own office has shown that people have a more positive experience if they like their Workplace and it identified five critical employee needs that, when addressed, will improve how they feel about their company:

  1. Belonging-a sense of community, trust, and shared purpose
  2. Control-more choice and control over where, when and how they work
  3. Productivity-support in-office and remote workers more equally to focus, collaborate and build relationships
  4. Comfort-places to rejuvenate and support wellbeing
  5. Safety-be and feel physically and psychologically safe

By addressing these findings, organisations can focus on what matters and make the changes to their workplaces that are the most important to their employees

This research underpins the sentiment that the office is not dead but that it needs a major change if it is to survive.


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