Fueled by the pandemic, business leaders have faced consistent challenges over the past 20 months – one of which has been navigating the return to the office. The dizzying rate of changing restrictions has created lots of back and forth when it comes to adapting our ways of working. But it seems that, as the world is now hoping to find some semblance of stability with Covid, many businesses are moving towards a hybrid approach rather than the standard 9 to 5 – offering their employees the flexibility and choice of both remote and office working.
Stuart Sykes is Managing Director at Sharp UK.
Despite this, many businesses are continuing to have difficulties when convincing their employees to return to the office – even for one or two days a week. The reasons for which vary greatly, from anxiety towards heading back to the office, to struggling with child-care, or simply just preferring the home-work life-balance offered by remote working.
Insights from Sharp revealed a demand from workers to get back to the office. The investigation, which surveyed more than 6,000 office workers in small-to-medium-sized businesses across Europe, found that over half (55%) claimed it was important for them to be able to meet with and work with colleagues physically. In addition, almost three in five (58%) said that working in a dynamic office environment had become more important since the pandemic.
The idea that employees do not want to return to the office is an ongoing challenge for companies, and many are attempting to figure out how to appeal to current and future employees. In our survey, we homed in on the aspects of the office environment that are deterring employees – our research showed that the top five reasons were:
- Lack of suitable technology
- Restrictive layout
- Shared facilities with multiple companies
- Only accessible by public transport / Dull or uninspiring design
- Lack of variety of working and meeting spaces
So, faced with this feedback, what can business leaders do to improve their appeal and encourage a return to the office?
What can business leaders do?
The most important way that an organization can appeal to the post-pandemic workforce is to create a collaborative working environment that maximizes the available space with technology solutions. As we’ve seen, collaborative office space has never been more important.
One aspect of the office that workers missed during lockdown was being able to easily collaborate and work together with their colleagues. Business leaders should take stock of the available office space and assess how suitable it is for collaboration and communication - a dedicated collaboration space with the latest technology can keep employees connected, productive and agile.
Traditional office spaces can be restrictive, and purpose-built meeting rooms costly, so the answer could be as simple as introducing free-standing seated tables with built-in AV screens throughout the office. These products would offer the flexibility needed to create and foster a collaborative working space in any office, for groups of three, five or seven.
In addition to seating, it’s important to have the right audio-visual solutions in place for the space. With a hybrid workforce, some employees will be at home on the days their colleagues are in the office, and the technology in the office must be able to support this and help prevent employees feeling isolated from one another. It’s therefore worthwhile to explore solutions that deliver interactive and collaborative virtual video meetings.
What’s more, AV solutions can be used instead of putting up posters with branding and messaging on walls, especially where office space is rented. It shall remain important for businesses to display key information as it helps to create the feel of a warm and creative environment – whilst allowing a company to make its brand and presence felt. Moveable display screens can be used as an alternative – they are both agile and flexible, and can really help to brighten a space.
Going the extra mile
The pandemic has led to more people taking more precautions and paying attention to their health, and businesses have been reminded of their duty to protect employees from potential workplace health threats.
To this end, businesses can create an office space that goes the extra mile – one that uses air purification technology to help reduce the presence of airborne particulates. Air purifiers break down impurities like bacteria, viruses, mold, and odors, and reduce employee exposure to unwanted particles by keeping air office air clean and healthy. This can help alleviate some of the anxiety around returning to the office.
Another step that companies can take to help create a safer and more secure office environment is by creating an efficient sign-in and reception service. Not only does this give visitors a great first impression, but having a touchless sign-in experience promotes a hygienic method of signing-in, minimizing the spread bacteria and viruses in the workplace.
There are a number of ways that businesses can create an office space and encourage workers back to the office. It will be important to consider and listen to what employees are looking for, but also to manage expectations. This will help to ensure there is a smooth transition to the post-pandemic working world.
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Stuart Sykes is Managing Director at Sharp Business Systems UK, and is responsible for Sharp’s entire UK business.