5 Ways to Plan, Design, and Execute Employee-Centric Workplaces
Last week, we hosted a webinar with Kate Lister and Mark Wartenberg–here’s a recap of how to plan, design, and execute an employee-centric workplace. To recap our recent webinar, workplace strategy and design innovators Kate Lister (Global Workplace Analytics) and Mark Wartenberg (Nike) had a candid conversation about how to plan, design, and execute a workspace that’s centered around employees. A lot was discussed but here are five key takeaways that resonated with us:
1. We did a lot of things poorly–pre-Covid–that shouldn’t be repeatedMany practices were “broken” before Covid. From employee onboarding to office attendance policies, there are several practices that shouldn’t be repeated or replicated as we adapt to our more post-Covid times. One of the things Kate believes companies should not replicate, is not involving the true stakeholders of change management–i.e., not listening to your employees. Kate also mentioned that some companies “reduced the amount of surveys they sent to employees during the pandemic” which to her, is the total opposite direction to go in. “Replicating” the pre-Covid office experience–the very experience the vast majority of employees will quit their job for–will do nothing to attract people back to the office. “To be frank, I think one of the main reasons why people want to stay working from home is because of how awful we’ve made offices in the past,” Kate mentioned. The great opportunity we have is to actually engage in healthy change management–meaning:
- Accept change
- Listen to how change has affected people
- Understand what employees are saying
- Follow through with adapting to evolving needs
- Maintain an agile mindset ready to iterate if necessary
2. From physical offices and remote spaces, our workspace ecosystem must provide equity for allEveryone should be involved in the conversation and execution of an employee-centric workspace. Now is not the time to build silos between leaders, employees, and teams–everyone needs to be able to participate in their shared future-of-work. In order for employee-centricity to work, companies must embrace a new company/employee dynamic based on transparency, fairness, and flexibility.
Generally speaking and as an example, during pre-Covid times, offices were really great for extroverts. And when we all got set home, introverts thrived in the remote office environment. Now, as a mix of extroverts and introverts want some sort of a balanced remote and in-person blend of working, offices don’t only need to change from pre-Covid times but provide a level of equitability for all types of workers, personalities, etc. Don’t go from opposite to opposite–i.e., don’t blindly replace all individual spaces with “we” space. Introverts won’t come in if they can’t escape. Just like an extrovert coming back to a cube farm–they’re most likely fine with connecting via zoom, at home, then coming into a space just to put on headphones and collaborate virtually. Building an equitable-for-all space is a nuanced undertaking that may take multiple iterations to get right–making an open, democratized conversation all the more important.
“The equity of being able to involve everybody — and anybody — at the same level, makes an enormous difference. Yes, it [workplace design] is controlled and it’s not a free-for-all; however, the more people we involve the more successful we will be.”
Mark Wartenberg, Director Americas Infrastructure, Nike
3. Actually listen to what people sayIt’s one thing to send a survey but to actually put the feedback into change is what truly makes spaces employee-centric. As noted by Mark, “What I hope happens and will be successful as we continue to talk about employee-centricity is actually listening to what people say. And if we have a preconceived notion, we should lose it.”
Mark and his colleagues spend a lot of time listening to employees–things like corporate building standards are a direct reflection of employee feedback. Furthermore, they look at what people actually do and take the time to build something agile and conducive to those tasks. Creating an adaptive, employee-centric workspace comes with a long-term commitment which is the acceptance that how people work, may change, and our spaces should be as adaptive as them.
4. When it comes to data, don’t assume–actually measureWhen designing an office, ask yourself: “What are we measuring and are we actually measuring it?” In other words, it’s one thing to say your new social areas will “foster enhanced collaboration”; however, do you have the proper mechanisms in place to capture data that shows you’ve actually achieved that? Additionally, are you enacting and executing change based on actual data? There are a lot of misconceptions about what makes an office a good one and no change should be made unless there’s a clear reason based on usage data. Because even if the change didn’t perform as predicted, you still have data points to reference when you recalibrate and adjust subsequent changes.
5. The feedback loop should have continual roots but work towards being real-timeAs Kate puts it, the feedback loop in which we make changes based on, has to evolve into something real-time, in order to be adaptive. Why? Because change is inevitable and constant, and much of the stress or “angst” people are feeling with “returning to work” is the result of workplace strategies that use old practices to address evolving trends.
Employee-centricity: Recognize, believe, measure, and listenAs noted by a webinar attendee, fostering an employee-centric environment depends on four understandings:
- Recognize that many past office practices didn’t focus on people–history is there so we can learn, not repeat bad behaviors, tendencies, etc.
- Believe in people and put them first–from the C-suite down to the individual contributor, change only works when people move forward together.
- Measure, recalibrate, and re-adjust based on people–accept that disruption requires iteration. You may not get it right the first time and that’s okay–keep workplace strategies as fluid as employees.
- Actually listen to people–never underestimate how much actionable data you can get from surveys and technological systems that monitor utilization data. It cannot be stressed enough–don’t assume, act on real feedback and data.