An article by Dan Barnham
New Year’s resolutions are notoriously challenging things, aren’t they? A new year represents new horizons and a time of pure possibility, change, and improvement, but there’s the possibility of failure. The possibility of failure doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, however—especially if you’re prepared to adapt to roadblocks on that new horizon.
Consider our eventual return to the office. We’re eager to go back and catch up on lost time for long-neglected spaces used to gather and create, so we send out surveys to employees to gauge their desire to come back after months of adapting to remote work. They’ll tell you that they’re eager for a change and to come back as well, but there’s something written in between the lines.
Your employees’ answers to that survey may be more like a new year’s resolution to hit the gym: It’s well-intentioned, but may lack that secret ingredient of adaptability that makes it stick.
An employee’s perspective
It’s 7:30 a.m. and the alarm clock goes off. The gym bag is next to the front door, but the snooze button and a warm bed are too tempting.
It’s a story we can often relate to. When it comes to making fitness resolutions, getting up and going to the gym has clear and quantifiable benefits, but very few make good on those promises to themselves. However, according to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, by the second week of February, 80% of resolution-ers are back home. Even the best-laid plans can fall through.
A hybrid employee’s return to the office isn’t all that different when you consider the similarities: It’s 7:30 a.m. and the alarm clock goes off. The briefcase is next to the front door. Do they get up and spend an hour and a half getting ready and commuting to work, or do they hit that snooze button and get an extra hour of sleep before logging on for work on time from the comfort of their own home? Getting up and going to the office has very clear and quantifiable benefits, and employees have stated they want to be in the office 70% of the time, but the snooze button and a warm bed are again too tempting.
Expectations and reality
If you ask organisations about their hybrid strategy and return to office space plans, you’d be amazed at how much space they are holding onto. When pressed on how they arrived at these numbers, they point to intention surveys and state they are being responsive to their employees’ feedback. “We know because our employees told us”, they’ll answer.
There’s some sobering factors also at play behind this: If an organisation doesn’t enforce space chargebacks or allocate desks based on employee intent, there’s a cognitive disconnect between stated and true behaviour, and that’s disorienting for a real estate team.
Anyone who is tenured in the hybrid space can tell you that your employees will state they wish to return to the office—who wants to say they don’t want to return to work?—but that’s not the full story. Like fitness resolutions, when it comes to getting up to ‘work’ or any early morning commitment for that matter, there are a host of factors that cause hybrid employees to bias their views on how often they want to come into the office.
Many team members and leaders say that they need their own desk or office because they come in ‘every day’, but after managing the Work Styles® program for 5 yearson hybrid workspaces demonstrates that their definition of ‘every day’ was incredibly loose. So loose, in fact, that it didn’t include Mondays and Fridays, or account for regularly being offsite. In reality, ‘every day’ looked a whole lot more like 2.5 to 3 days per week.
Being ready to adapt
When the world reopens, some employees will rush back to the office. After two years and counting out of the office, there’s a collective cabin fever setting in, and most of us are eager to reconnect with colleagues and a much-needed change in scenery. HR and planning teams will feel vindicated that their survey data was accurate, and all will be well for the first few weeks—much like the beginning of one’s New Year’s resolutions.
However, as the eagerness and novelty of the return to the office inevitably wears off and the reality of often-brutal morning routines and commutes set in, the snooze button will be increasingly tempting, leaving HR & CRE teams (and eventually CFOs) to confront the reality of empty seats.
The good news is that after running behavioral studies on remote, mobile, and hybrid employee behavior for the past decade, the average rate that a hybrid employee would come in was consistent, and we observed only incremental change as the Work Styles® program matured over ten years.
The thing is, the adaptation of workspaces doesn’t end with a return to office survey. Employee engagement is critical when it comes to planning your organization’s hybrid future. Consider how much weight you are placing in the accuracy of that data you collect, like a lofty New Year’s resolution.
What is your Return to Office resolution?
Learn more about the role that design plays in creating and fostering a space that employees not only want to return to, but ultimately want to stay at, here.
Passionate about mobile work, Dan has 10 years of experience in workplace and 6 years of experience in Strategic Planning and Program Management. As the Director of Workplace Strategy at Lemay, he delivers tailored strategies that optimize workplace environments and elevate employee brand experience. After 3 years managing one of Canada’s largest pre-COVID hybrid work programs, and a background in portfolio optimization & analysis, space planning, and business unit engagement – Dan’s goal is to help develop creative and custom solutions through a scalable and transdisciplinary approach.