The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has shared data showing that productivity dropped 1.9% over the past two years. This may be one factor influencing the return-to-work orders of industry leaders such as Google and Meta, which require employees to spend some of or all their time on-site each week.
Stepping into 2024, workplace productivity is one issue that is top of mind for HR executives. Returning to work offers pros and cons for organizations as a whole and individual employees. Completing the transition successfully will come down to whether organizations can facilitate connection among employees, nurturing an engaged company culture and monitoring and improving workplace productivity under new circumstances.
“In the wake of the pandemic, many companies have had a wake-up call about the value of employees,” said Olga Miranda, national account manager at FedEx Office. “They realize just how true it is that a company is only as good as its talent, and they want to show their appreciation for that in creating a positive return to work experience.”
Organizations that want to keep employees engaged, encouraged and connected will want to consider the return to work from three angles:
Think people first
Companies using heavy-handed tactics to push employees back to the office may find that the return to work goes hand in hand with new challenges in morale and engagement. It’s imperative organizations get ahead of these challenges by focusing on the humanity of returning to the office and supporting the unique needs of every individual.
Every organization has the opportunity to make decisions that put the employee first. For example, some companies might seek to create a more flexible and inclusive approach to time off like offering floating holidays that employees can take when they want. Companies also are finding ways to put people first when customizing the workspace, working with a print provider to create custom backdrops, retractable banners or unique murals that create a sense of identity in the space.
Miranda noted that companies can make individual employees feel more welcome by putting the spotlight on them in personalized and meaningful ways, such as birthday banners, high-quality promotional items, or personalized cards.
Build a welcoming physical space
When bringing employees back into the workspace, it’s important to have a plan for how to make this transition as welcoming and seamless as possible, both in how it’s communicated and the physical space you’re welcoming employees into. This is a unique opportunity to refresh the experience employees have when they’re on-site with welcoming, warm spaces decorated with high-quality signage, special installations and wall murals.
“If you’re bringing people back on-site, it goes a long way to make sure it’s a fun and comfortable space,” Miranda said. “I’m seeing corporations create spaces where employees can relax and spend time with other employees. It sends the message that, if you have to be on-site, we want everyone to feel good and enjoy it.”
Miranda sees corporations designing more casual spaces, including coffee shop settings, where employees are encouraged to create those valuable, creativity-inspiring connections with colleagues. In creating these spaces, using high-quality signage and a trustworthy, experienced installation provider is critical. The caliber of the materials and accuracy of color applied to images can communicate volumes to employees.
Gather your community together
In a hybrid work environment, employees need to build and maintain relationships, online and offline, bridging the gap between the two. This is a new kind of community that requires new traditions and routines to become strong. In fact, according to Gartner, 68% of executive teams are reevaluating their company’s culture within the new normal of hybrid work.
When you’re building new traditions, think about employee spaces and habits. Is the common area and office space decor updated, fresh and welcoming? Are there places to gather? And is there regular time dedicated to gathering both online and offline each week? Connection requires interaction, which can come from setting aside time specifically for community-building.
Miranda noted that many organizations have been putting new energy into company wide events. Even when cost is a factor, companies realize the importance of momentum and synergy when people return to the office and they want to capitalize on the moment to get as much value out of it as possible. Well-decorated and intentional large- and small-group gatherings can often give companies the biggest bang for their buck and a chance to kick-start community-building in an on-site setting.
“Warm, community-oriented events are very popular right now, and you can really set the tone of an event with the accessories you use,” said Miranda. “For example, some companies hold events outside their workspace, color-coding the tents to easily organize people into groups and offering different bracelets for employees to share something about themselves. A certain color tent for a certain mood, or winning a raffle based on the bracelet you chose, things like that. When people mix it up socially, good things can happen.”
Employees hold the key to hybrid workplace productivity
Organizations have plenty to think about when it comes to workplace productivity in a hybrid environment. But it’s important to remember that every aspect of high performance starts with employees themselves. To thrive in this new landscape, companies must put employees front and center, investing time and resources in efforts to help employees adjust and build new relationships in this new way of working. How you communicate with employees, from the quality of the materials to the message itself, speaks volumes.