The question marks that continue to swirl around any return-to-work plans present ongoing – and frustrating – riddles for companies to try and solve.
Indeed, building and executing an office reopening strategy can feel like framing a house while the foundation is being poured. There are a fleet of variables to consider, from occupancy planning to seating policies to booking systems… to the social implications that underpin every employee’s personal values, goals, and feelings during these shifting times.
A few months back we spoke with Matthew Savino, managing partner of SHRP Limited, a management consulting firm based in Ontario and the co-founder of HRLive about the top concerns and considerations he’s hearing from clients as they consider the HR implications of hybrid work models.
“Wherever you have people and relationships, you have a potential for conflict, and that was true long before the pandemic,” says Matthew. “But the baseline level of conflict and anxiety in the workplace has been higher than we’ve ever seen during the pandemic, likely because things often become exacerbated without that personal connection.”
Impact of a massive social experiment in how we work
While some colleagues have never met each other, it’s also easy for emails, social media posts, and other forms of communication to be misconstrued. They become harder to interpret without in-person discussions, and as a result, can dampen morale.
“If companies are going to have a successful hybrid workforce, there has to be an intentional, proactive approach to ensuring conflict is actually productive,” says Matthew. “And when it’s not, you have to resolve it quickly.”
Matthew also cautions that no one has studied the long-term effects of hybrid work. There are many possible factors to consider: the social and mental implications on disconnected co-workers, networks, conversations, reduced innovation born from collaboration, distractions in the home environment, and the blurred lines of a work-life balance.
“COVID has triggered the largest social experiment in working life in decades,” says Matthew. “While most employees seem to enjoy the balance, not everyone does – so it’s important to plan for all eventualities.”
Matthew believes that office towers will not remain empty for long, “Great resignations” or not. He points to a recent study out of Chicago that found that hours of work increased while working from home during the pandemic, but productivity actually fell, and communication and coordination costs were higher.
“Employees communicated with fewer people, received less coaching, and less 1:1 time,” says Matthew. “A hybrid model won’t solve these issues, so it’s important to have policies and agreements in place so that people understand what’s expected and everyone can work efficiently.”
Matthew also indicates that while some clients seek to shrink their office space, making big decisions like this can hurt the long-term bottom line. Instead, right now it should be about making the best use of the space one has.
“Any technology or tool that can help manage risk, that can help make an environment more enjoyable, can give employees more confidence in returning to the office.”
Put space analytics technology to work
One reliable tool to that end is deploying space analytics technology to provide deep information on how offices are being used, well beyond rudimentary ‘people counting.’ It generates insightful data that provide real-time information on how often new and returning visitors attend the office, how long they stay, how different teams behave in distinct ways, and how individuals prefer to work.
Effective analytics can ensure office space is used as intended, that it supports people the way they prefer, and that it delivers the resources needed to help teams succeed in a changing workplace. Combined with clear, frequent and transparent communications to staff, it can go a long way to avoid miscommunication, reduce conflict, and boost morale.
It’s a complicated time, and a complicated path to restoring offices to what they were – blended with what they must be moving forward. We live in the era of data and it, when used properly, can guide the way and help teams stay efficient, safe, and collaborative.
For more thoughts on the importance of a people-centred strategy that’s driven by data, check out our CEO James’ recent article in CEO World.