Covid has definitely made an impact on our personal lives and the way we work - there’s a true struggle of balancing out our professional and personal side. Employee happiness has become an ever-important factor, with burnout and disengagement becoming a real threat to the modern workplace.
As offices begin to reopen, and as we slowly return to our pre-pandemic routine, managers are getting a bit antsy over setting up their own workplace of tomorrow. For the employees who worked from home during the pandemic, this was a true test of resilience - and they’re becoming increasingly interested in more flexible work arrangements.
It seems that a more hybrid workplace is the way to go. According to a survey from Microsoft, up to 73% of employees would like more flexible remote work options. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of solution, there are definitely benefits to this work model. After all, industries across the globe kept going, meaning the workforce adapted and overcame its obstacles successfully.
One thing is certain - happy employees are productive employees. And as trends shift in terms of employer branding and responsibility for a better employee experience, the ball is in the employer court. Here are some ideas on how you can increase employee happiness while running your business on the new normal standard.
The new work model obviously works, there’s no denying it. Granted, in the light of returning to the “old normal”, managers will be torn between rent prices for office space, and their team’s wish for a more flexible work model. The road they should take is establishing some ground rules.
Establishing feasible rules will only work if everyone gets to pitch in. Listen to your employees and figure out a solution that works best for all sides - employee empowerment begins by listening to what employees have to say.
The start can be fairly simple: establishing office and remote days. These can be predefined days of the week, or setting up the number of days your team is required to show up for work. A number of employers had work-from-home schemes set up prior to the pandemic, so it makes sense to beef up on those - especially if employees stand to benefit from that.
While you’re establishing ground rules on your work models, try to hear out various departments - especially if you’re running a middle or large operation. Chances are that work from home is not the same for developers, accounting and HR; different departments have different clearance protocols, and handling sensitive data on a home network might prove to be an issue. See which challenges lie in front of different departments, and how you can resolve them together.
There are challenges on managers’ plates as well. As immediate work locations changed overnight for a big number of employees, managers were left struggling to both maintain and assess work effectiveness and work hours. Luckily, new tech came running to the rescue, and the boat was kept afloat.
A number of tools, most of them in use even before the pandemic, quickly became staples of the modern workplace. As communication and management became easier, effectiveness and time tracking also became easy to handle and less of a challenge.
This has proven to be a twofold benefit:
it saves precious management time otherwise spent literally policing your team
by making work insights easily available, you’re not breathing behind your team’s neck, which can often deteriorate team engagement and happiness.
Modern times require modern rules, and an approach that moves along with the very dynamic times we live in. Empowerment is the buzzword in managerial circles, and it begins with a simple concept - trust. The modern manager must not only exude respect, but must showcase huge trust in their team being responsible for their actions.
The operational solution can also be as simple as the concept: one way to do it is to try employee scheduling tools and empower the teams to track and design their own work schedule. It makes perfect sense that this is counterintuitive to some, but you’re actually showing trust by giving your team the responsibility for the time they clock in. Not only that, you’re putting them in the spotlight in front of their peers, and peer pressure can do wonders for increased productivity in an adult, professional setting.
The whole story about employee empowerment doesn’t have to stop with time either. A pre-pandemic study showed open-plan offices were actually making teams less productive and collaborative. It’s strange how being physically close can actually make us less productive, but it makes sense on a number of levels.
This is another cue for the modern manager to take. With the freedom to work from their homes - or any other location of their own choice - team members might be reluctant to come back to wide-open offices. The reasons can be productivity, concentration, privacy, even small and quirky workplace habits or better work life balance. And as shown during the pandemic, the office doesn’t have to be obligatory for the full time.
You can work with your HR team to determine employee preferences for the coming time, and to see how your office design can improve both work metrics and employee attendance (if you’re after improving that in the first place). Designing novel workstations might be the way to go.
The modern office can mostly do away with cubicles and personalized spaces for every employee, focusing instead on providing a place to work for workers when they do come to the office. The equipment and station design will vary greatly from one department to another, but in the era of powerful laptops (tablets even), this should not be an issue. Remember, the focus is setting up a working environment that enables people to come to the office when their presence is needed, and not go overboard with unnecessary gadgets.
Whichever way your company - or your team - decides to go, meetings are inevitable. It’s also inevitable for them to be held in person in some instances, so this is another consideration when planning ahead.
Be careful when setting up requirements; not all meetings require physical presence. A hybrid model, with meetings held online, is very doable these days - comms applications such as Slack, Zoom, Google Meet, or even the old and faithful Skype, all allow you to take part, voice opinions, and see your team members in real-time.
When the time comes for actual meetings, or a situation requires you and your team to sit together and come up with solutions, make sure you can respect all the pandemic regulations. Also, if you’ll require your team to come to the office, try to come up with less formal parts on the agenda, and make a small event out of having all your people together in one place! An actual meeting is not only an opportunity for the employees to work together, but to be together after a long period of time!
Finally, growth will require you to expand your team at some point. As the trend of workplace flexibility is going into full swing, workers will naturally gravitate towards businesses that have already transitioned successfully. Taking into account all of the above, and making an action plan around those, will not only streamline your current workflows, but also act as a magnet for future hires!
Remember that, when we’re talking about employer branding, we’re not talking only about employee experience (and retention). CX - Candidate Experience - is another big thing these days, and a happy work experience begins right at the get-go. This is something to keep in mind when designing your hiring protocols and employee onboarding - there are no reasons not to do it virtually.
As trends migrate fully to new work models, it pays off to stay ahead of the pack. The modern workplace is designed to try and keep the employees happy and motivated, since we all saw it was them who shouldered the burden right through the pandemic.
However, the perks of the modern workplace are not mere benefits for your workforce, but actual catalysts for improving productivity and employee engagement as well. Leading your team (quite literally) into the future through these workplace improvements will prove to be a major employee retention factor!
Author Bio: Derek spearheads key initiatives at Deputy, a global workforce management platform for employee scheduling, timesheets and communication. With a focus on workforce, Derek helps business owners and workforce leaders simplify employment law compliance, keep labor cost in line and build award-winning workplaces. Derek has over 16 years’ experience in delivering data-driven sales and marketing strategies to SaaS companies like MarketSource and Griswold Home Care.