The Workplace Experiment – US East
24th June 2022
Attendees at a MovePlan roundtable event shared their experiences of returning to the office post-Covid. Titled The Workplace Experiment, we welcomed Steve from the financial industry, who has had a long partnership with MovePlan as one of our clients.
Kim Giles, Senior Project Director at MovePlan, welcomed those attending and said that a common theme among our clients is that “you’re all in the same boat” when it comes to working out a plan. “I don’t think we’ve come across any company that has it all figured out and everything is working well,” she said.
Attendees were presented with thought-provoking quotes to aid discussion.
Gallup: “A workplace value proposition represents the organisational culture, benefits and interactions employees experience when working on site. For the organisation, it’s why we come to the workplace”
How do we define hybrid?
With many companies adopting a hybrid model post-Covid, Kim questioned what this might look like, and said: “Many of the leaders out there are proclaiming a need to come back to the office. We need to see people and bring them back. The way we do business has fundamentally changed. To expect people to come back to the office and for everything to be like it was pre-Covid is doing a disservice.
“People are voting by not coming back to the office. Many organisations are reviewing data and realising that people are not returning. This raises questions around what does the office offer? What is its purpose? ? There is no magic answer to that, but it does all comes back to culture. To look at this in more depth we need to consider why are we asking employees to come back, why do we need them to come in, and how are we defining hybrid culture?”
Steve explained that one of the first steps they took in adopting a hybrid strategy was to categorise roles.
He said that pre-Covid, there was a level of flexibility which was managed by senior staff. Now, he said, thought needs to be given to the differing roles to create a more consistent approach to remote and in-office work.
“It’s about mapping every role to a category to decide how often we expect them to come in. We are definitely going to see flexibility going forward but the bucket of who was remote before and who is remote now has grown,” he explained.
The company has split roles into four categories: fully in the office; three days a week in the office; two days a week in the office; and fully remote.
The role of HR
With these changes, HR and real estate now work more closely, Steve explained. There is a recognition that HR and Real Estate must be aligned.
He said the company had recognised the need for colleagues to continue the flexibility offered during Covid and said HR had taken the lead to make sure there was empathy with different colleague situations.
He added: “Let’s say you’re primarily an in-office colleague. If you give everyone in that category a permanent seat that will generate a different requirement than sticking to unassigned seating.
“We had to look at space and what was needed versus what people were doing.
The company is now tracking clients by their category, which he said helps them understand the opportunities and challenges of aligning the real estate with the new way of working.
“When we make people decisions, we have to tie that in with real estate and how that impacts our facilities.”
HR was also involved in communicating with employees. Executive leaders were informed of the changes and then fed this down to senior leadership before passing on to colleague level.
From here, he said the company could predict its expected future occupancy levels.
“We believe we are getting closer to what the truth looks like,” he said, adding: “Our last line in the sand was February 2022 and since then our occupancy has been very consistent at 33 per cent. We are seeing a very consistent number of colleagues coming back every week. Based on that we’re making predictions about the future.”
Attendees at the event discussed the need for leaders to be purposeful about decisions.
One said: “Choice was a key factor. We wanted choice for the employees and to establish guiding principles.
“We aren’t designing a return to work; we are trying to figure out the future of work.”
He added: “We must prepare leaders. Hybrid leaders need to manage a mixture of different working environments to make remote and office working successful, and they need to be prepared for this.”
Attendees spoke about the need for inclusivity to cater for different people with different needs.
One said: “If we call someone remote, do they have the correct environment to work at home? We are a laboratory and the work still has to be safe and secure and some work cannot be safe and secure in a remote environment. We have to adapt and evolve as an organisation and what we are doing now might be right for now but not in the future. Our employees and leaders need to evolve and be flexible.”
Corporate culture and resistance
Raising the topic of culture and resistance to change, Kim asked: “By forcing people to come in do we risk becoming part of the Great Resignation because we’ve become too rigid?”
She presented statistics suggesting that remote workers can be forgotten about, missing out on opportunities to advance their careers, along with a quote about remote working.
Johnny C Taylor, Jr. SHRM:
With Covid-19 forcing a leap to remote work in many sectors of our economy, and organisations struggling to determine the best workforce strategies post-pandemic, there’s one fact that can’t be ignored – remote work is not ideal for everyone”
Ending the discussion, Kim said it was important for companies to “leave enough room for adjustments”, adding: “You may find that the hybrid model you have today isn’t what it will look like in the future; it’s important to keep the conversations going. Just be gracious with yourselves and know there is no answer out there.
“Every one of us on this call and all our clients we work with are all facing the same challenges.”