There are some great workspaces options these days, but HR needs to help employees with the transition
I was talking to a friend the other night about his new work location.
He’s been with the same large bank for a few years in downtown Toronto, working in a traditional work environment with cubicles and individual offices.
But more recently, the bank decided to switch gears. Not only are employees encouraged to work from home as often as possible, but the organization is using a hotelling system, meaning no one has a designated desk when they do go to the office.
The transition has not been smooth, according to my friend. While people are expected to sit with their departments, seats fill up quickly because there’s no set schedule on who’s working from home. So it’s often a matter of having to find another location that may not be close to your team, or even on the same floor. People who arrive early are fine, but arriving after 9:00 can be more challenging.
My friend has even encountered people “saving” seats for friends.
While working from home does help with his child care responsibilities, my friend actually prefers to work in the office – but he’s finding that a challenge.
And HR has not given much direction around the change, he says.
It sounds like a mess to me.
I’ve got another friend who worked for a telecom company in a traditional office environment for decades, with his own office, and then had to transition to a smaller, fully open-concept office with floor-to-ceiling windows overseeing Toronto’s downtown far below. Having gotten used to that change for just over a year, he’s now being moved again to another location that’s also open-concept but lacks any windows. That’s a pretty dismal setting for work, with no natural light.
Changing times, changing workspace
The variety of work environments available now is amazing, compared to a few years back. Newer or cheaper technology allows many workers to work from home. But this means offices are often 50 per cent empty most days.
So, with rising real estate prices, employers are trying out different options such as hoteling to lower costs.
That’s all well and good, but they need to appreciate what an impact that kind of change can have on employees, when their work environment goes through that kind of upheaval, and little support is provided. You can’t just plunk people anywhere and assume they will be fine as long as they have their laptop. Our surroundings can really make a difference.
Good air quality, natural light, good water quality and comfortable temperatures top the wellness list, according to a Harvard Business Review survey in 2019, along with reasonable noise levels.
And experts have shown if you’re going open concept, design is crucial, so it’s about providing separate meeting areas along with private spaces so employees don’t feel over-exposed all day long.
As mentioned before, I’m now in an open-concept office, having been tucked into a cubicle for years. And I can now say I’m very comfortable with the noise level and constant movement around me. Privacy is still a challenge sometimes, leading to hushed conversations in the kitchen or bathroom, but meeting rooms are easily accessible for private conversations.
And the company has worked hard to make people feel comfortable, communicating about the chnges and incorporating colourful elements like furniture to spark up the wood interior. There’s lots of natural light and the addition of plants will make the environment even better.
We’ve also got noise-cancelling headphones for phone calls or to cancel out any extraneous noise when we really need to concentrate. And when someone makes an announcement, everyone can hear, there’s not always a need for a company-wise email. That makes the workspace feel smaller and more connected somehow, despite the open spaces.
If employers are literally going to pull the rug out from under employees and herd them into a whole new type of environment, they’ve got to do some work. They’ve got to find out about employee concerns and address them ahead of time; they’ve got to provide some structure such as scheduling for hoteling environments; they’ve got to keep up the communication; and they’ve got to stay on top of concerns to make sure there’s not a major drop in productivity.
You don’t want to be losing employees just because they can’t find a place to work when they come into the office.