By Cynthia P. Martinez
To think beyond the safe, coordinated and mandated guidelines that businesses across the nation will adhere to when returning to the workplace, as designers we are discovering there is one critical component missing: engaging employees to envision their future workplace.
As companies exit quarantine due to the COVID-19 crisis, companies that take a collective deep breath and re-think what worked before the pandemic, what didn’t, and what could be better – while including their multi-generational employees in the process – will together be enlightened moving forward in the new normal.
Full-team engagement brings a fresh perspective, varied ideas, and never-imagined solutions for the workplace. The pandemic brought about the catch phrase “in this together.” Companies want to help accelerate economic recovery but must realize that employees are the economic engine of businesses. Their creativity, innovation and productivity is achieved when people who share a common purpose come together in the workplace.
The thought of returning to the workplace from the security of home has many employees feeling uneasy. They know the transition back to work and a “new normal” will come with safety procedures and lessons learned. Working from home has changed how they work and has increased overall productivity. An overwhelming percentage of employees say working part-time from home is a welcomed option.
Working from home, though, comes with some adjustments. The physical transition from work to home is missing. The day becomes blurred between when the workday starts and when it ends. People are still figuring out the right balance between virtual meetings and the lack of in-person interaction with co-workers which may be, for some, the greatest motivation to return.
Today’s workplace offers amenities reminiscent of home, and now home is the office. People love the flexibility that working from home provides, but the losses are a sense of community, social interaction and collaboration, and a shared sense of purpose found in the office. Companies are challenged to reconcile these two experiences.
Some employees may yearn for the way things were, but the “old normal” was not perfect. There have been passionate arguments for and against the open office – the latter argument louder about lack of acoustical and visual privacy, not having your own desk in some cases, bad lighting, lack of technology, temperature controls, and little meeting space.
A thoughtfully designed environment recognizes and supports how employees work best, complemented by an inclusive culture and transparent communication from leadership, making employees feel safe, connected, and valued. The result is a natural exploration and unleashing of their most creative and innovative ideas, maximizing their potential in the office, or at home.
A great place to work signals productive and happy employees who have formed part of the solution and had input in shaping their new work environment. Knowing they have been engaged in the return-to-work plan will likely make them feel safer and even excited to return to the office and be with their people.
A look on the bright side of this time in quarantine, companies will learn that employees are unequivocally grateful for this gift of time. In the “old normal” the thought of work/life balance was merely a myth to employees. This time at home has had a positive impact on new ways teams are collaborating due to advances in technology and a sense of achieving work/life balance.
The time is now to pivot and adapt to the right balance of measures and policies that support company culture and mission. This new employee engagement paradigm will provide an increase in communications and a focus on employee health and wellbeing with a more resilient, responsible, and dedicated workforce.
A newly formed partnership between The S/L/A/M Collaborative and Heery Design, A SLAM Studio, inspired this piece by Cynthia P. Martinez, corporate practice leader – Denver.
Cynthia’s expertise as an interior designer has led to work with Fortune 500 corporations in re-imagining the 21st century workplace experience. She is the programs chair for CoreNet Colorado, co-chair for the Community Relations committee for CREW and a member of the Economic Development Council for the Downtown Denver Partnership. SLAM is a national, fully integrated architecture and design firm with practices in corporate, healthcare, education, justice and sports facilities.