June 24, 2021 - Employees are slowly returning to the office, and they are bringing a whole set of expectations with them. Barco research and other experts are clear: if we want to make the return to the office a success, it's time to listen to our employees' expectations, and to start building the employee-centric workplace.
How will we look back on 2020 within five years? We can assume it will be an atypical year in terms of workplace and employment climate. For many of us, 2020 has been a year of trials and tribulations, but also one of reflection. We have had a lot of time to think about our personal and professional lives. Am I still happy in my job? What are my ideal office hours? Should I even return to my employer?
Although it has been difficult at times to adapt to a solitary working life, remote working was sometimes a revelation. Many office workers had not had the opportunity to work from home before and for the first time, they experienced the productivity and family life benefits of (more or less) working on your own terms. These benefits are still felt today.
According to Microsoft's 2021 Work Trend Index: Annual Report, 41% of employees are considering leaving their current employer and 46% say they're likely to move because they can now work remotely. The 2021 report from Leesman – experts in workplace effectiveness measurement – says that employees' intentions to return to the office will greatly depend on both the quality of their home working experience and on the quality of the workplace they would be returning to.
Employees have raised the bar
That's a huge warning sign for employers. During more than a year of working remotely and on their own terms, employees have formed strong views, and they are not willing to return to 'average' just like that, because they have experienced 'excellent' at home.
Employees have raised the bar for their employers. As they are re-entering the workplace, they are bringing along a set of expectations on what that workplace should look like. First and foremost, they want flexibility. As shown in previous Barco research, ideally, they want to work from home 1.5 days a week and in the office 3.5 days a week, whenever they prefer.
This longing for flexibility also translates into the tools they want to use. Employees no longer want to be told how they should host meetings. They want the freedom to use their own preferred tool, and usually that's their laptop. Human resources experts often refer to this as the consumerization of the workplace, meaning that people in our workforce – more than half of whom are now millennials – want to make their own choices about workplace technology and experience.
The workplace will clearly be hybrid, but according to Barco's Meeting Trend Research, there will be strong differences across generations, gender, departments, and seniority levels. People in IT, for example, want to work from home twice as much as those in operations. Generation Z employees at the start of their career prefer to work from the office more often than senior management. Baby boomers show a strong preference for face-to-face meetings and hosting a call from the laptop, whereas millennials prefer a hybrid way of working and are open to using both their laptop and smartphone to host meetings.
How should employers respond to this mixed reality? How should they build their hybrid workplaces? Which technologies should they use? And what does this mean for the meeting room? If one thing is clear from the statistics mentioned above, a one-size-fits-all approach will not work. Instead, employers should invest in flexible tools that will meet the expectations of all employees.
Power to the people
According to our research, almost 3 out of 4 employees agree that their company has made certain technology investments to enable the post-COVID way of working. However, over 40% believe that the company has not prioritized the right investments needed for better hybrid collaboration.
Future-ready employers who are serious about attracting the best talent and creating a flexible work culture understand that what matters is not only what a workplace looks like, but also how it works. The user experience will therefore have an increasingly bigger part in technology purchasing decision. Nobody likes to read the manual before setting up a meeting. Instead, we rely on the intuitive nature of our technology. And yet, our research shows that we are not there yet. 65% of employees still struggle with their technology, for example when trying to figure out different set-ups when moving between meeting rooms.
Employers who will base their investment decisions on employee feedback will probably have the best chance of success. This is what will determine the technology adoption by your workforce. Workers' expectations and preferences should be considered when equipping the workplace to create a dynamic environment for each and every one of them. Employees have a strong voice. That's why it's crucial to make the workplace employee-centric, instead of work-centric.
Listen to your employees
To conclude with a quote from the Leesman 2021 Workplace report 'The best workplaces are carefully crafted ecosystems tuned to the needs of their users. These brilliant workplaces will draw willing employees back. Sub-optimal spaces will act to disenfranchise employees who built better at home.'
Let's start to listen to our employees when it comes to technology investments. Let's start to collect their feedback. What better way to appreciate their exceptional efforts of the past months and welcome them back to the workplace?