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Office Apocalypse Now: Where do we go from here?

The pandemic is over but the great return to the office never happened! There’s no better time to re-visit your workplace strategy and re-focus it around your employees rather than the real estate.

The workplace strategy should answer some of the most important organizational questions today, such as – how we work to ensure employee peak performance, increase employee satisfaction, reduce real-estate costs, and make a sustainable and responsible organization.

In this post, we will focus on what is a workplace strategy and how to properly define it in an iterative way:

  1. Align with high-level business goals
  2. Evaluate the current state of your workplaces
  3. Build assumptions and model projections
  4. Put your workplace strategy into writing
  5. Promote and socialize within the organization
  6. Learn, update and repeat

What is a workplace strategy?

Historically, Workplace Strategy used to be defined as the dynamic alignment of an organization’s work patterns with the work environment to enable peak performance and reduce costs.

It’s a good starting point and not enough for the state of work in the post-pandemic world. The way we work has changed quite dramatically and so our workplace strategy needs a refresh. To make the definition more accurate to today’s world, we need to add two very important components, other than the employee performance and costs. These are the employee experience measured by employee engagement and workplace satisfaction, as well as organizational sustainability!

Workplace strategy is the alignment of an organization’s work patterns with the work environment to enable peak performance, reduce costs, and ensure a great employee experience in a sustainable way.

To sum it up, the workplace strategy focuses on 4 key business and organizational objectives:

  1. Increase employee performance;
  2. Reduce real-estate costs;
  3. Improve employee experience;
  4. Build sustainable and responsible organization;

Continue reading to learn how you can define your own modern workplace strategy.

Align with high-level business goals

Defining your global workplace strategy should start by carefully examining the true nature of your business and current goals. Is your company in a high-growth or moderate growth mode? Are you trying to maximize growth or streamline costs? Are you focused on reducing employee turnover or increasing employee engagement? Your workplace strategy should address these company objectives directly!

The next step is to build assumptions with the key stakeholders about what the priorities will be in the next 2-3 years. Will priorities stay the same or will they change? How much change is anticipated?

Based on the answers, you should be able to order the 4 workplace strategy aspects by priorities. For example, if you’re in high-growth mode, you will probably order them as follows – 1) Improve Employee Experience; 2) Increase Employee Performance; 3) Ensure Sustainable and Responsible Organization, and 4) Reduce real-estate costs.

Please, keep in mind that 90% of the costs for most organizations are directly associated with employees, 9% with the real-estate costs, and 1% with utilities. So even if your business goal isn’t growing as fast as you can, you may still want to focus on employee experience and performance as top priorities in your workplace strategy. People make great businesses so having employees as the top priority in your workplace strategy is always a winning strategy.

Evaluate the current state of your workplaces

Before building a new workplace strategy and starting to make changes, try to understand why things exist the way they do. Despite COVID changing everything, things were working the way they do for good reasons. The better we understand why things were laid out the way they were, the better we will be able to define the future.

The first step to evaluating the current state of your workplace is to assess and collect all data and KPIs, such as:

  • Leased space: How much space do you have on a long-term lease? How much space do you have per person?
  • Space specification: How many desks, meeting spaces and all other types of spaces do you have?
  • Space costs: What’s the cost per square foot? Cost per employee? Total workplace costs as % of revenue?
  • Space utilization: How many people use the office each day? What percentage of your desks and conference rooms are used and how often? How much of your space is vacant or goes unused?
  • Employee satisfaction: Are employees satisfied with the workplace environment and amenities provided?
  • Employee (workplace) engagement: What percentage of employees come to the office each week, or month?
  • Energy efficiency: How much energy do your real estate assets consume? How much of this energy comes from renewable sources?
  • Waste management: Do you use reusable materials in your offices for all supplies such as coffee, drinks, etc?
  • Commuting: What’s the average commute time for each person? Do you have programs to reduce the commute time for everyone? You can learn more about sustainability at work here.

Note: An important point that touches upon all of these is the technology stack you use for managing your workplace. Technology is now more important than ever and it should play a key role in your workplace strategy.

Build assumptions and model projections

Once you collect all the data about the current state of your workplace, the next step is to map it with the goals and priorities we outlined before. Then, we can start building assumptions about how different changes we introduce in our workplace strategy can influence the outcomes and align with the goals.

If our focus is on Employee Experience, then we should dig deeper into Employee Satisfaction and Engagement. Where we can examine carefully the feedback from people and base our strategy around solving and improving any challenges there.

For example, by incorporating a hybrid work model, we can significantly improve a lot of the important workplace parameters. Starting from improving the employee experience, then increasing the space utilization, reducing the real estate cost as we will need less space, and last but not least, reducing the overall commute time for all hybrid workers. The hybrid work advantages are hard to miss but so are the hybrid transitioning mistakes.

Another example might be incorporating more coworking and flex space options in your workplace strategy. As a result, we can expect improved employee experience, a massive reduction in real estate cost, as well as less commute time on average as people might choose spaces closer to where they live.

Once you build this assumptions list and model the outcomes, you can test them by making pilots. If proven successful you can incorporate them into your global workplace strategy.

Put your workplace strategy into writing

As soon as you see good success with the changes you want to make, it’s time to put everything together. Remember, your strategy lays out how you will achieve your workplace objectives and how they align with the organizational goals. In this step, you should document the approach you will take to get from where you were to where your workplace should be. Using unorganized processes is a common hybrid work mistake you want to avoid.

When writing your workplace strategy, you should try to find the balance between being very specific also, use it as guidelines. Keep in mind that you won’t be able to answer every single question that every person will have. However, you should provide guidelines so that people can make the right decisions themselves.

Continue reading about how to write a hybrid work policy here.

Promote and socialize it within the organization

As soon as you have a draft strategy, it’s time to share it with key stakeholders and executive sponsors to get their buy-in. The outcomes of this presentation should be focused on alignment with the business objectives rather than tactical and execution details. Of course, how you will achieve these objectives matters but it’s more important what the benefits are, such as improved experience, reduced costs, better sustainability, and therefore increased employee performance.

Last but not least, make your strategy known to the people it’s built for – your employees. You can announce it at a company-wide meeting, like an All Hands, to socialize about what the future holds for your workplaces and why. In that step, it’s important to have the support of the key stakeholders but also of the employees that were part of the pilots and tested your assumptions. They should be your promoters and help you socialize the new workplace strategy!

Learn, Adjust, Repeat

Defining a good workplace strategy is a never-ending game. You should expect and plan for any changes. Predicting the future is never easy, but listening to your employees and staying on top of workplace trends is a great place to start.

If you want to learn more, you can download our free “Guidelines and Policies for Optimizing your Hybrid Workplace” eBook!

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