Workplace experience is the key to improving workflow, empowering employees, and allowing the best work to happen in an organization.
As such, creating a positive workplace experience can help with both talent retention and acquisition, critical in this era of the Great Resignation. Companies should use employee surveys and self assessments, informed by various well-researched Employee Experience Indexes, to understand how employees are reacting to their work experience, in real time ‘on the ground.’
This is especially important information post-pandemic. ‘On the ground’ can now look quite different for different employees, given our new hybrid reality.
In other words, companies now have to consider workplace experience as it applies to their office or headquarters, as well as for anywhere else employees set up shop for the day.
In the following article, we explore the workplace experience. We also review how to understand it using surveys and an Employee Experience Index, and how to improve it to create a seamless experience for all workers in all locations.
Workplace experience (sometimes abbreviated at ‘WX’) refers to all the ways the work environment impacts those who use it.
It can also refer to the overall approach companies use to improve their workplace environment. This is usually with an eye towards key metrics like employee experience and well-being, productivity, and engagement. Hopefully, this includes ensuring optimization for both the physical workplace, as well as the digital workspace.
The rise in hybrid work, remote work, and flexible working means companies must think more broadly when considering how and where employees work.
We know that the hybrid workplace and the employee experience are intimately connected; one won’t last long if the other isn’t optimized.
This means that a collaborative workspace is no longer a given, just because you’ve got great break rooms and lots of meeting room space at company headquarters.
And a good workplace experience is no longer a perk, but something employees now feel more empowered to demand.
Ultimately, the road to achieving the right workplace experience will look different for each company. It requires the right and unique mix of workplace strategy, office design, and workplace technology.
Company culture can also play a role in how employees feel about their workplace. It helps foster a more positive experience and sense of belonging—or the opposite.
Many companies looking to manage and improve their workplace experience will opt to hire a Workplace Experience Manager. This is someone who typically manages all aspects of the employee lifecycle. This can be from recruitment and onboarding through to progression and even the exit.
It’s important to note that these duties and skill sets correspond with both facility management (FM) responsibilities, as well as with human resources and IT.
Therefore, by having these three departments collaborate to pool resources and data and share duties, companies can create, optimize, and streamline a workplace for ease and joy of use—without having to hire another full time employee.
Looking at the big picture, workplace experience works best when business leaders take a human-centric, holistic approach and purposefully design all the physical and digital landscapes with which their employees engage.
We know that the happiest employees are those who feel challenged and inspired by their work. But it’s hard to feel challenged and inspired when you’re stuck in a painfully uncomfortable seat. Or if you’re plagued by shoddy wifi connections. Or if the office neighborhood software just never works the way it’s supposed to.
Specifically, a great workplace experience happens when companies maximize the following four areas:
Companies often begin with their physical space when assessing their office environment. There’s no doubt that office design is important, as are the wayfinding strategies that help people navigate it.
Like Angie Earlywine, Senior Director in the Total Workplace division of Global Occupier Services at Cushman & Wakefield, reminds us, companies with distributed workforces now need to consider the physical environments of their remote workers as well. Workers need safe, secure, and reliable workplaces, whether they’re in the office or not.
“Someone should be paying attention to making sure your employees have the right monitor setup, the right ergonomic keyboard, the right task chair, and the right virtual environment,” she says, chatting about the hybrid workplace experience.
Of course, companies can have very similar looking offices, with the same layout and aesthetic, yet still have very different workplace experiences. All because of their workplace strategy.
For example, a row of cubicles that feels stifling in a traditional office setting could become a route to a more exciting workplace experience with flexible seating strategies like hot desking or hoteling.
Remember, workplace experience is not one-size-fits all. Companies need to consider what is best for their workforce, core values, and long term goals.
They also need to develop a strategy that works for all generations in the office, for those with caregiving duties, for those with disabilities or other special considerations, and for those working remotely in home offices.
This may mean embracing work environment types that give more autonomy and flexibility to employees. This can include agile working, activity-based working (ABW), and office neighborhoods.
It will also mean carefully choosing a hybrid work model that accommodates all coworkers equally.
Part of having a good workplace strategy is meeting it with digital workplace solutions that work for all team members.
The best hybrid working tools are those that are easy to use and access. Even if you’re logging in from the ancient desktop in your parent’s basement. These typically look like an Integrated Workplace Management System (IWMS) that makes desk booking, communication, and collaboration easy.
These tools should all be accessible by all employees on an integrated Single Sign-on (SSO) platform, also accessible via mobile app.
Finally, remember that these tools aren’t just an investment to support your remote and hybrid workers. Since so much work is now online, even strictly in-office workers will benefit from better online tools, too.
According to Drs. Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer writing in the Harvard Business Review, “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
With this in mind, a great workplace experience is one that supports employees and helps foster a more collaborative culture.
“The holy grail of engagement is feeling inspired in what you’re doing and by the people you work with,” says Earlywine.
Ultimately, the physical and digital environments need to support employees in where, when, and how they do their best work. And they should be part of an overall approach to employee engagement that boosts morale and company culture.
“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”Drs. Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer, Harvard Business Review
“Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.”
Clearly, companies that are looking to reduce attrition as well as simply help their employees do their best work need to be concerned with how their employees actually feel. Do they feel excited to start work each morning? You can hire expensive consultants to develop an ultra-modern workplace experience, but if you’re not accurately understanding employee experience, it could easily all be for naught.
Given the rising awareness of the importance of employee experience, it’s not surprising that many organizations are looking for ways to measure employee satisfaction. This is often in the form of an employee experience index.
When considering employee experience, remember that first and foremost, employees want to feel like they are connected to their mission.
According to Gallup research, absenteeism and safety rates drop, while quality rates increase, when employees feel their job is important.
“The labor market is too competitive now to not be doing what you love,” says Earlywine. “Or to work for a company that you don’t believe in.”
Any measure of employee experience therefore needs to capture both workplace experience, as well as overarching employee sentiment.
There is no one standard employee experience index. Instead, many highly regarded institutions and think tanks have created and shared wide-ranging reports on the employee experience.
For example, you can pull great metrics from the indexes created by Jacob Morgan, Workhuman, Forrester, and the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute.
One of the most comprehensive employee experience indexes comes from BetterUp, which surveyed 17,000 worker responses from 18 different industries.
This index identified six elements that “have a real and measurable impact” on the employee experience:
“In reality, people today want to work for a company that enables them to bring their full selves to the job,” says Evan Sinar for BetterUp. “They want an environment that helps them grow and thrive, and connect to what’s most important to them. Creating this kind of workplace goes beyond just ensuring employee engagement. It takes a deeper understanding of the ingredients that create a positive employee experience and creating the conditions that cultivate them.”
To do this, companies looking to improve their workplace should address and foster these elements and find ways to incorporate them into their workplace, procedures, and culture.
Of course, the pandemic has forever changed the work environment. And as we’ve covered, businesses now have to also consider the needs of their hybrid workforce.
In response, we’re now starting to see research into the employee experience for remote workers as well.
Specifically, Future Forum has launched a new quarterly Remote Employee Experience Index, designed to help companies navigate this ‘new normal.’
This index measures productivity, work-life balance, managing work-related stress, sense of belonging, and satisfaction with working arrangement. In its first report, which collected data from 4,700 primarily remote workers in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Japan, and Australia, they found that knowledge workers specifically are happier with remote work. Except when it comes to their sense of belonging.
This corresponds with data from Cushman and Wakefield’s Experience per Square Foot™ survey, which found that 50% of remote workers report that their work culture has suffered as a result of going remote. Additionally, 56% feel less connected to their colleagues and 64% report that learning and mentoring suffers with remote work.
Given what we now know about the importance of connection and culture to overall employee experience, this is critical information. Especially for any organization that now uses any amount of hybrid or remote working.
“We have to deal with culture and learning and mentoring in the hybrid workplace experience,” says Earlywine. “Perhaps as we think about the purpose and future of the office, it will be to solve for those very things.”
Finally, the surest way to understand how employees feel about the workplace is also the simplest. Ask them. Employers should be regularly surveying their employees, both formally and informally, to see how any new strategies are actually working.
This should include talking to all stakeholders, from C-level and management to floor staff and even part-time consultants.
“It’s best to conduct employee surveys and focus groups regularly to check in with everyone in real time. Then adjust based on that feedback,” says Earlywine. “The antidote to figuring out how to reduce risk is in ensuring you’re aligned with employee sentiment and the company’s vision for supporting a hybrid work environment.”
To truly get happy, engaged employees, you need a more human workplace.
Employees need two big overarching elements for true work satisfaction: flexibility and visibility.
We know from Future Forum’s Remote Employee Experience Index, that workers with a flexible work schedule score higher in every area, compared to those without this flexibility.
Meanwhile, especially when teams are working hybrid or have remote workers, everyone needs better visibility around when they should be coming into the office, and in understanding where their coworkers are at any given moment. Visibility in this sense means helping workers understand how their space is being used in real-time.
Improving both flexibility and visibility can be accomplished by using engagement surveys to truly capture employee sentiment. And then by focusing on the key drivers to workplace experience:
Physical drivers of workplace experience include elements like office design, workplace set-up, amenities, and technology like desk and room booking systems and IoT sensors that enable free addressing and better reporting and analytics. Even something as simple and easy as creating fun and engaging conference room names can contribute to a better sense of camaraderie and shared space.
There are many digital drivers in the workplace. Any and all of which can be optimized to improve experience and morale. This can include tools for employees, like better collaboration and communication technology. It can also include operational aspects like facility planning, and using metrics to improve things like space utilization and move management.
At the end of the day, perhaps aside from certain AI elements, most meaningful work is done by people. So as we’ve explored, it’s not surprising that human drivers are at the heart of a better office.
Companies looking to improve their workplace experience therefore need to consider elements like employee benefits, socialization, company culture, and human processes. All of which are more complex, but certainly no less important, in a hybrid environment.
“I believe that offering the greatest amount of flexibility in where and how people work in the future will absolutely improve the overall work experience.”Angie Earlywine
“I believe that offering the greatest amount of flexibility in where and how people work in the future will absolutely improve the overall work experience.”
Ideally, companies will be motivated to improve their workplaces by a concern for the well-being of their team.
But even if they are motivated by brass tax alone, everyone can still benefit from a better experience.
According to the previously mentioned BetterUP EX Index, employees with a better experience had 28% higher productivity, 37% lower turnover intentions, a 46% stronger organizational commitment, and, critically, 59% higher job satisfaction.
In other words, take care of your employees, and the business outcomes will follow. Improving workplace and employee experience is a sure-fire way to foster well-being for employees. And therefore more engagement and greater innovation in the workplace.
The difference between a bad and a good employee experience often comes down to employee engagement. Small companies with limited budgets can still have higher levels of employee engagement when they put time and effort into creating a more meaningful and collaborative workplace experience for all their staff.
5 metrics you should measure in a hybrid workplace
Photos: MART PRODUCTION, Mikhail Nilov, Mimi Thian, cottonbro, Hannah Busing