To empower one’s staff to make their own decisions, in terms of how, where and when they can complete duties, is a hugely positive step. It allows individual employees to spread their wings and impress a greater sense of themselves on their work – provided, of course, that they do it! The vast majority of workers respond positively to trust from the upper echelons of their company, and they certainly respond to an Agile Working philosophy that grants them flexibility in terms of working location and device. However, to end up jolted too far in the other direction is a malign influence. If you regularly end up with too many home-working staff, you compromise face-to-face interaction between employees – as well as their general awareness of the company and their bond with it.
The question, therefore, is this: without taking away from staff the choice of how they work, how does a business create an office environment that incentivises them to use and engage with it?
The First Considerations Of Office Design
There are, of course, the simple aesthetics that are part of any interior design, which can potentially brighten up the place and consequently bring workforce morale with it, at least to some extent. You wouldn’t, for example, paint your walls murky green if you wanted staff to spend more time in there. Beyond that, however, the bulk of office design assets have to bear some kind of tangible, functional value. What is truly going to bring the home-working staff back? One reason that they presumably do so is simply because home is a convenient setting.
Therefore, the office environment has to be convenient. That includes elements such as the kind of storage that each employee has, office furniture (in terms of quantity, type and position), and IT considerations such as where workstations are going to be positioned and how they are kitted out electronically. Be open to experimenting with more than standard desks and swivel chairs. The office space should be open, relaxed and welcoming.
The Hybrid Workspace
So how does one achieve that?
The theory behind the open-plan office is that it gives staff the space and licence to move freely around the workspace, without being walled into the traditional cubicle farm that separated each individual from each other in the twentieth century. Hot-desking, Bring-Your-Own-Device and centralised lockers for storage are gradually being fixtures in new ergonomics. It is a theory that can certainly work in practice – except that it does not tell the full story.
There are occasions, conversely, when the quiet of isolation allows people to focus. We refer to freedom of choice for employees above, but that surely includes the freedom to work alone when they need to, in a comparatively tranquil environment. Many staff will consequently choose to work from home, if they feel it is more conducive to their concentration – yet they will not have the benefit of immediate communication with colleagues when they need it. The modern office can combat that by providing a hybrid workspace; one that is open-plan at heart and largely developed for flexible use, but with alcoves of quiet space embedded within the infrastructure. Many examples of this set-up already exist in co-working spaces. The office can bring back home-working staff by offering the best of both worlds.
Business can in one sense rely on the simple principle of evolution that humans are social beings; give them the means to interact and glean the company of others and they will take it. In a sense, no owner needs to encourage their staff to interact in the office; they just need to make it easier to do so, and find a way of making it worthwhile from a working point of view.
The best way to do this is through the use of technology. If, for instance, data is centralised in a remote setting and therefore accessible from anywhere, through an employee’s own device, it becomes easier for staff to move around the workspace and interact. That is the technical basis of Agile Working, and empowering home-working staff, in the very first place.
Yet the technical foundations can run deeper if the business so chooses, by considering how the office can improve on the devices and software that individuals use every day. They can supplant Skype for audio-visual communication with far superior hardware supporting their cloud-based applications, for example. They can provide users with a far more reliable and efficient basis for their internet connection than a home broadband line. If they outsource to a cloud provider, they will have far easier access to maintenance from the office. There are many more advantages the modern office can deliver to ensure that it is a welcoming environment for employees – while ensuring that they have the choice, and the means, to work away from the office when needed.
Some companies will turn to the gimmicks like the infamous Google slide. Ultimately, such things add very little in terms of tangible or monetary value, though they might convey goodwill from an employer or a focal point of sorts for staff interaction, away from the desk. What will actually bring home-working staff willingly back to the office is the sense for them that it is easier, ergonomically and technologically, to work there.
Viastak work to support businesses looking to leverage technology, in order to streamline the way they operate. We believe in creating flexible, dynamic enterprises that are equipped to deal with the demands of the modern global economy. To find out more, please get in touch.