This article is part of Raydiant’s new Future of Workspace Series which features interviews with a wide range of professionals and thought leaders to learn more about the future of office space and how the workplace experience will evolve.
The following is an interview we recently had with Leslie Saul, President of Leslie Saul & Associates, Inc
What will be the 3 biggest lasting changes to the workplace caused by COVID?
- Short term, companies will assume that if only a third of employees are at the office, they can switch from assigned seating to unassigned seating, and thereby take less space. It may or may not work long term, as lack of assigned seating reduces the attachment that employees may feel to a company. When reducing the number of workstations, there should be an increase in the amount of space devoted to collaboration, private quiet work, and socializing, as an inducement to come to the office.
- Companies who think that some of their workers can be 100% remote are risking a much faster turnover of employees. Companies can hire from less expensive locales, such as Canada, and employees who work 100% remotely can work anywhere in the world. It will be much easier to change jobs and change personnel, but there may be a serious loss of company culture. On the positive side, since merit will be more important than race, gender, religion, college degree, or location, remote work may lead to a more diverse workforce.
- If workers are expected to work from home, are companies providing an ergonomic work set-up and high-speed internet to every employee? What about employees in studio apartments in big cities? Will they have enough space to do the work effectively? Some industries, such as architecture and interiors, utilize much more than computers to get work done. Will heavy-duty backpacks become a thing for the hybrid worker, who has to commute some of the time and work from home some of the time?
- Tools both technological and personal must be developed to help remote workers and in-office workers feel more engaged. Engagement has been an issue for the past ten years after a Gallup poll uncovered that fully 30% of employees do not feel engaged at work. Adding remote work to a difficult situation may increase the lack of engagement to 50% of workers.
What workplace technologies will be the most important in the years ahead?
Video meetings are here to stay. I hate when people say that they are “zoomed out” because the world would not have been able to function without video meetings during the past 15 months. (We use Teams). There are other software platforms that our office has used, including Google JamBoard. I believe that some of these technologies will continue to be used even after many have returned to the office.
What will the workplace of the future look like?
There will be fewer cubes, and more social spaces, and collaborative spaces, as well as private quiet rooms. Remote working tools, including Zoom, may be used to keep in-office and WFH employees on an equal footing. Affinity groups for seating or in extra rooms will help foster attachment and engagement. Affinity groups are non-work related, such as people who like plants, or beer making, or knitting. Encouraging employees to bring their whole selves to work will benefit the company with more engaged and happier workers.
What can organizations do to prepare for this new future?
I think it would really benefit companies to get to know their employees better. What are their living situations like? Do they prefer working from home or do they prefer working at the office with just a little flexibility for days when you feel like staying home or coming to the office? What kind of work do they like doing best from home? The rule of thumb has been unsupervised work that requires concentration is better at home, and collaborative work is better at the office, but perhaps some people would prefer doing emails and calls from home, and work that requires concentration at the office.
I think the days of hard and fast rules are behind us. Saying that the workplace is flexible, but then assigning days in the office, or hours of work, will tell employees that you are not committed to the concept of flexibility. Trust your workers to know what they need….and find out what that is! Find out what their goals and ambitions are. Some people just want a job to pay the rent. Others are passionate about work and want to develop a career. Employers need to know that. I am not talking about an annual review, but an on-going discussion to keep up with employees as they change over time. That will lead to engagement, a strong culture, and the attachment to a company that will ensure its future success. Everyone reaps the benefits of a happy and engaged workforce.