By Chase Garbarino, HqO CEO, finalist of Best SaaS Product for Real Estate or Property Management at 2022 SaaS Awards

The work-at-home adventure of the past two years may have gotten off to a rocky start, but most people have long since settled into the new normal — and they like it. With no commute, no dress code, and more flexibility, employees see a lot of benefits to the remote or hybrid lifestyle. Many have developed new ideas about what they expect in the workplace and have mixed feelings about returning to a structured, impersonal environment.

Recognizing this cultural shift, companies are reimagining their office space to make it more appealing. Leaders recognize the advantages of bringing people together in the same physical space — among other things, to encourage collaboration and productivity, as well as to engage employees in the company’s mission and culture. That synergy is sorely needed.

Last year, only one in three employees felt a sense of engagement, according to a Gallup poll. That’s an alarmingly low number and hardly a recipe for success.

Fortunately, most businesses are ready to address the problem.  Nine out of 10 employees polled last year said enhancing the employee experience was a priority. That’s a lesson companies have learned from online retailers, who have built successful businesses by emphasizing the customer experience. Though users, in this case, employees, haven’t historically been the focus of this effort because there weren’t any purpose-built and dedicated technologies available to support HR efforts.

As a result, organizations are rethinking and updating their workspaces. Some are even creating positions for employee experience and workplace experience managers who focus on people (HR), spaces (corporate real estate), and IT to create a cohesive, collaborative environment.

Find out what employees want

The first step in creating a user-friendly workspace is the most basic, and the most logical:

Find out what employees want. Listen to what they tell you and act on it. Demonstrate that you value the employee experience and want to make your people happy.

Compensating employees with appropriate salaries and benefits is the primary way to recognize their value, but it’s not enough. The day-to-day environment and experience matter just as much. In fact, 72% of employees now value hybrid work as much as they value salary, according to the HqO State of Workplace Report. And 72% of employers agree that workplace experience and engagement tools are a critical element of success for the office of the future, reinforcing that workplace tech is now an expectation of the workplace.

Remote employees who have been largely on their own for the past two years have had lots of latitude in how, when, and where they do their jobs. They’ve come to appreciate an environment tailored to their needs and flexibility that contributes to a healthy work-life balance.

To replicate some of those advantages in the workplace, start by evaluating its look, feel, and functionality. In all likelihood, the current design reflects the way you operated in the past and might not be relevant or functional for the way your people work today. Find out how your employees use the office space, ask what they need and adjust accordingly. For instance, if you’ve moved to a hybrid work arrangement:

  • Determine how many bookable desks you need to accommodate employees on their in-office days;
  • Think about flex spaces, conference rooms, and lounges, too;
  • Figure out where they should be situated.

Take advantage of technology

Use technology to ease the staff’s re-entry into the new office environment. For example, consider mobile apps that enable employees to book desks and conference rooms for their days in the office, so they’re not scrambling for space when they arrive.

Technology can also help you offer employees perks that recognize their personal needs and make them happy to be there — concierge services, on-demand refreshments, fitness and wellness programs, and more. Conveniences such as touchless entry address today’s focus on safety and hygiene.

Keep in mind that one of the main reasons to bring people back into the office is to facilitate and encourage interaction, so design the physical space to make it easy for your employees to connect and for teams to collaborate. Look for tools that will help them interact with the other members of their teams and the organization as a whole.

The opportunity to collaborate with others and exchange feedback helps everyone focus on a common goal and create team spirit; a big advantage that’s impossible to fully recreate with personnel in far-flung locations.

As you implement changes, find out how they’re working. Be prepared to make adjustments as you go, adding missing elements and discarding those that might not be on target. Until you know what your employees value most, try not to dictate hard and fast workplace policies.

Collecting data on usage can be helpful, so long as people understand why you’re collecting it.

If they know you’re trying to identify what they need and want, they’re more likely to support your efforts. Systems that give you high-level engagement data about usage — how, where and when employees are using the facilities — can help you optimize both employee satisfaction and further investment in your property.

Empower employees to enhance productivity

Talent is at a premium in today’s marketplace, so it’s essential to make employee satisfaction a top priority. Perks can be the icing on the cake, but the day-to-day experience and interactions matter most. By designing your workplace for your employees, you can make them feel important and valued. When people are empowered to do their best work, they’re more likely to be engaged and productive.

And that’s a win-win for your staff and your organization.