Published On October 26, 2022Ready to welcome employees back to the office but unsure about the best approach? It’s understandable. Working outside of traditional workspaces for an extended period of time only magnified work-life balance issues.
According to the 2022 global study conducted by Economist Impact and sponsored by Iron Mountain, employee well-being and safety rose to the top priority for organizations since the pandemic. Through this research, executives from around the world shared how their priorities have shifted over the past few years.
Does this priority shift mean employees currently have the upper hand when it comes to return-to-office (RTO) strategies? The short answer is yes.
Employees who have enjoyed greater flexibility since transitioning to a remote or hybrid role will have a hard time going back to the way things were. And with unemployment rates at a 50-year low, the demand on employers to offer flexible work options has skyrocketed and is being honored at most levels of the organization.
To find out what would make going back into the office worthwhile, we launched a LinkedIn poll and heard from nearly 450 working professionals from across various industries. Here’s what they’re looking for:
More collaborative spaces (26%)
More quiet spaces to focus (35%)
A more organized space (17%)
Better access to information (22%)
As we move to more definitive RTO strategies, organizations are taking these two-plus years of learnings to determine how to balance organizational needs with employee preferences.
So, let’s talk about what organizations can do to make coming back into the office worthwhile for employees.
Quiet spaces for heads down work
For those who don’t have quiet spaces at home, heading back into the office for focus time might be just what they need. However, it’s also possible that the pre-pandemic workspace was too noisy or distracting for many, which could discourage them from returning. So it’s no surprise that 35% of those surveyed said they’re looking for more quiet spaces where they can do their best work.
When your team is in the office, things may get a little hectic. So, having dedicated quiet areas like small offices that anyone can reserve or use may give people that balance of team camaraderie and quiet time in their workday.
Innovation can be sparked in almost any setting and some people think best on their own. Without a specific quiet zone or sectioned off area to work, they may decide to stay home or work alone from a nearby coffee shop.
When people are in a good workflow rhythm, they don’t want interruptions. So now is the time to think about adding or expanding dedicated solo workspaces in your office.
Collaborative spaces for elevated productivity
Right behind quiet spaces, our poll results took a 180-degree turn. We found 26% of respondents are looking to add more collaborative spaces. This reaffirms what we already know: people may only want to go into the office if there’s a chance for high-caliber collaborative working sessions.
This means more than just a big room with Wi-Fi, large-screen displays, and video equipment with cables running everywhere. I’d venture to say nobody wants to return to a time when we had to troubleshoot internet connectivity or take turns swapping charger cables. Or worse—five pages of directions on how to connect your laptop to the video screen or no directions at all.
To upgrade your collaborative spaces, standard conference room capabilities of the past won’t cut it. Many big tech companies have been successful at encouraging productive collaboration by making spaces as easy as possible to navigate (with or without IT personnel present).
Here are a few ways to support engagement in your collaborative spaces:
Smart whiteboards that make it easier to brainstorm and capture notes
360-degree cameras that focus on the speaker and provide a more immersive experience
Multiple screens for more dynamic presentations
Wireless presentation options
Built-in speakers and microphones, as well as better soundproofing
Electronic reservation system to avoid scrambling for available rooms
Consider adding some of these upgrades to provide a better experience in existing areas and as you build out additional collaborative spaces. Instead of having precious square footage dedicated to file cabinets or sprawling server rooms, think about cleaning out and consolidating those spaces to create more room for collaboration and heads down work. Give people the opportunity to use the space in a way that’s more valuable for them and the organization.
But wait, there’s more
Every department has its own needs, which is why it’s important to understand each team’s work styles and processes to help set them up for success if they do return to the office. Whatever office upgrades you decide to move forward with should add value and support productivity and efficiency for everyone.
In addition to more collaborative and quiet spaces, our LinkedIn poll showed 22% of employees want better access to information and 17% would like a more organized space. To do this, you’ll want to consult your records management team and include an anytime spring cleaning in your return-to-office plans.
Most people access information digitally, but physical records in file cabinets still persist. To provide better access to information in a more organized space, it’s all about change management—helping people understand that they’re already accessing files in a digital way that enables them to do their best work. If you’re only packing and moving boxes and not thinking about how you can improve processes and technologies, you’re missing an opportunity to have a significant impact on the workspace.
We’re happy to be part of this movement to clean up and organize the workplace so that it’s safe, secure, and accessible. To help determine how your team can create more collaborative spaces, protect focus time, and create a better workplace of the future, check out Iron Mountain Clean Start.
Aurora Cammarata is a Corporate Real Estate and Facilities Advisor at Iron Mountain. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.