Maintaining a Positive Workplace Experience in the Era of COVID-19

Many organizations have been working to craft the right strategies for office space usage, sanitation, and work-from-home policies in order to bring employees back into the corporate workplace after the tide is turned in the COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are evolving as they allow employees to choose how, when, and where they work. At FM:Systems, we’ve studied our own workplace and made multiple surveys to employees. As a provider of also having conversations with hundreds of other companies as they make important decisions regarding:

  • When is the right time to bring employees back?
  • How can we make sure employees feel safe?
  • Does everyone come back or just some groups of people?
  • How many days per week or in what circumstances should employees work from home?

Recently, we hosted an executive roundtable to explore different ideas and solutions for returning to the office, and how to ensure a positive workplace experience for employees when we do return. to capture the full discussion. What follows are some of the highlights shared in the group.



How should we define employee experience?


In the past, many corporate leaders tended to think of employee experience only as what happened when employees were within the four walls of the office. Going forward, when we think of employee experience, we’ll need to divorce that concept from geographic location and instead consider the complete range of work experiences at any location.

The employee experience is really the full lifecycle the employee goes through when they’re thinking about work, whether it’s early in the morning or late at night, and where they do their work, whether it’s at home today, at the office or customer sites. Another dimension of employee experience involves how employees are leveraging digital tools, particularly desk desktop and mobile technology, to complete their work. Finally, employee experience includes all of the HR aspects of the employee experience, such as payroll, benefits, company policies and so on. These are all aspects of experience and ultimately make up the complete physical, virtual and institutional employee experience.



Surveys show most businesses are planning for a hybrid workplace

Companies have been surveying employees throughout the pandemic. Those surveys reveal that only a very low percentage of people are ready to come back to the office now. However, some roundtable participants noted that asking lots of open-ended questions and then digging into the results can help to paint a clearer picture of what employees want. Almost no one wants to return to the office building without knowing the pandemic is under control and the office sanitation procedures are safe. However, some employees report an eagerness to return to the office at least a few days each week, once they feel it is safe.

Research at FM:Systems has revealed that almost everyone who is working from home right now wants and intends to continue working from home indefinitely at least part of the time. However, 80-90% of respondent do wish to spend some time in the office. The question is how much time? For some it is the regular five-day work week. For others it’s as little a one day each month. This is going to vary across different companies, industries, job roles, and geographic locations.



The risk of demanding that employees return too soon

All roundtable participants saw danger for organizations where a top-down decree required all employees to return to the office. Organizations risk the disintegration of their culture due to a loss of employee confidence and allegiance. They will find it difficult to keep employees engaged and motivated if the employees perceived a lack of caring and concern from the employer. They may also be more challenged to recruit and retain top talent, given the increased competition and the willingness of competitor companies to accommodate more flexible hybrid arrangements.

Good communication and the leveraging of technology will be keys to making employees feel safe. Employees should be informed about the organization’s procedures in place to sanitize all workspaces and meeting areas as soon as they have been used. Touchless technology as well as reservation systems will also aid them in navigating the new office environment.



Will the office feel like a ghost town?

Businesses are exercising a lot of caution about when to return to the workplace. None of the roundtable participants nor any of the companies we’ve spoken with intend to force employees to come back if they are uncomfortable doing so—at least not yet. But it is also important that those who do return don’t feel like they are wandering through a ghost town all alone. For example, at FM:Systems, our utilization in our headquarters facility has been running at 1-2%.

Companies are rethinking how to arrange the workplace to make the hybrid workplace a positive experience as employees return. They are redistributing workstations around the floor plans to accommodate continued social distancing and increasing the amount of collaborative “we” space available to help employees increase camaraderie and social interaction when they do come to the office.



Hybrid work will require new measures of productivity

“Presenteeism” or the old measure of productivity based on an employee simply being at their desk in the office won’t work for measuring success in the hybrid work world. Instead, managers will need to examine tasks accomplished and projects delivered. In reality, productivity has been so high with work-from-home employees that the panel participants were more worried about their hyperconnected employees burning out from working at all hours in an “always on” work culture.

Planning how to facilitate the most collaboration, culture and cohesion on the days employees come to work in the office creates another challenge. Should full teams of employees be required to report in together in order to make office time most useful? Or should organizations simply let their employees self-organize about when they will meet in the office?

Companies will need to ease into decisions about scheduling, grouping, and performance measurement. Undoubtedly, there will be some trial and error and testing needed before arriving at the best arrangements for each unique organization. For more insights into returning to the office and the hybrid workplace, listen to the full roundtable discussion.