Why workplace experience matters and how to improve it

Why workplace experience matters
February 5, 2023
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Creating a workplace experience that is worth the commute is an integral part of strengthening your company culture and optimizing your real estate portfolio.

Easier said than done in the hybrid work era. 

Occupancy numbers have not returned to pre-pandemic levels, and many workplace leaders accept they may never will. We’re ushering in a new era of the workplace, one where the office is optional. Business leaders must find a way to inspire people to return to the office. 

Utilization has not reached pre-pandemic levels. Source.

"Before the pandemic, I look back and think, 'we were lucky that people were naturally here,’” says Lewis Barker, Director of Real Estate & Workplace Services EMEA at ServiceNow. “Now you have to put effort into it. You have to be purposeful with that activation, whatever it is, to make the biggest impact on that employee."

Enter workplace experience managers.

From overseeing employee engagement to right-sizing real estate portfolios, workplace experience managers have become one of the most important roles to emerge in the flexible-work era, and for good reason. Encouraging employees to come to the office requires a dedicated person (and team). 

Below we discuss:

  • What is workplace experience?
  • Why is workplace experience important to companies?
  • How can you create a better workplace experience for employees?

What is workplace experience?

Workplace experience is a human-centered strategy for creating optimal work environments that support employees’ productivity, performance, and well-being. Several factors come together to create the workplace experience. 

Company culture, technology solutions, and office design all play key roles in developing the overall experience your employees have in their work environments. The ultimate goal of workplace experience is to improve a range of business outcomes including increased revenue, better recruitment and retention, and lower real estate costs.  

Years ago, workplace experience leaders were only concerned and charged with experiences within the confines of a physical office. Today, workplace experience breaches those four walls. Now, those in charge of workplace experience have to consider all of the places where work happens, including home, co-working spaces, and HQ.

"Hybrid meetings that happen at home are as important to the workplace experience team as the ones that happen in the office,” explains Lara Owen, Vice President of Workplace Experience at NetApp,  “because they all contribute to whether that is a good meeting or not."

With so many factors at play, it’s no surprise that those in charge of workplace experience collaborate quite often with their HR, IT, and Facilities Management colleagues. 

Why is workplace experience important to companies?

Regardless of your work model (hybrid, remote-first, 100% on-site), workplace experience is an integral part of fostering a positive, productive, company culture. 

Employees who can come to the office should feel inspired to do so and inspired to have gone there—that inspiration derives from the workplace experience. 

Brett Hautop, workplace consultant and former VP of Workplace at LinkedIn, explains: 

"I'm choosing to give you my time. I need to be rewarded for it and not just because you're giving me free things, or you're giving me amenities,” he says. “It's going to be that you've done this with such intentionality that I came in and said, I want to do that again. It was so worth it." 

Below are three key changes that make workplace experience more important now than ever before:

1. The definition of the workplace has changed

The workplace was once a set office where employees came in to work five days a week for eight hours a day. Now, for many companies, schedules are flexible and the workplace includes the traditional office as well as the places remote and hybrid employees choose to work. To maintain a cohesive company culture and an equitable work environment, workplace experience must be top of mind for business leaders. 

The expanded work ecosystem presents many new opportunities for improving workplace experience. New technologies that can support virtual communications and collaborations can help employees feel connected and engaged no matter where they are. 

Smartly designed office spaces and stipends for home offices can create work environments where employees feel comfortable and do their best work.

2. The workplace must now accommodate multiple ways of working

The traditional office, with its assigned seating and limited collaborative spaces, is a thing of the past. Today’s workplace must accommodate both collaborative and focused work to ensure all team members have access to a work environment that supports their productivity. 

It’s easy for companies that have embraced hybrid work to assume that employees will use the office for collaboration and do focused work at home, but it’s not that simple. Not all employees have a suitable home environment for doing their best work. Whether it’s family distractions or a lack of space, these employees still need an in-office solution where they can complete heads-down work. 

The modern office must balance the needs of these two types of work. For collaborative spaces, this may include features such as technology-enabled conference rooms, reconfigurable furniture and layouts, and comfortable spaces to accommodate both large and small groups. For focused work, employees need privacy, limited distractions, and a space that can be “theirs” for a few hours.  

3. Recruitment is more difficult due to increased remote opportunities

Remote work has created global employment opportunities that didn’t exist before, and employees are spoiled for choice. To be competitive, companies have to find new ways to attract talent. Perfecting your workplace experience is one of the best ways to show employees that you understand their needs and will support their performance and wellbeing. 

Features such as a hybrid work policy, a comfortable work environment that accommodates various work styles, and modern technology solutions make a big difference to employees. If an employee is considering a remote opportunity from halfway across the world and your company has a local office, an excellent workplace experience can tip the balance in your favor. 

Below are four benefits to having a good workplace experience: 

Recruit the best talent

In the past, a worker’s job search was limited to their local area. This meant less competition to recruit the best talent, leading to less emphasis on an excellent workplace experience as a recruitment tool. Now that remote work is the norm, employees have seemingly limitless job opportunities. Companies must optimize every possible recruitment tool, and workplace experience is one of the best places to start. 

Improve employee retention

Employee turnover is a significant expense for businesses. Gallup reports that “the cost of replacing an individual employee is one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary — and that’s a conservative estimate.” 

Improving the workplace experience can eliminate this enormous and unnecessary expense by creating a positive environment that meets employee needs.

Empowers employees

​​85% of companies that are rethinking their workplace designs are focused on improving their collaboration spaces. On the surface this makes sense. Collaboration is often cited as the most important reason why non-executive employees go into the office, followed closely by building camaraderie.

But what the post-pandemic hybrid push has taught us is above all else, employees value autonomy. They want the choice to come into the workplace. And they want to be able to choose how they create their workplace experience on any given day. 

This is why we’re seeing so many forward-thinking companies invest in modular, or configurable, furniture. 

“It's no longer one-size-fits-all,” explains Devorah Rosner, Senior Manager of Global Workplace Operations at Twilio. “[Modular furniture] allows more variety to meet people where they are, to work how they work.”

But again, workplace experience expands beyond the confines of an office. How are you creating an empowering workplace experience for employees who aren’t in the office? 

At Cloudflare, Caroline Quick is testing out a no-hybrid-meeting concept. If one person is remote for a meeting, then everyone joins remotely.

“We found that full participation in video conferencing was a total game changer,” says Caroline Quick, Head of Global Real Estate and Workplace at Cloudflare. “It leveled the playing field and made it easier for everyone to participate in meetings.” 

Workplace experience can increase your workplace ROI

Creating a better workplace experience can directly impact your bottom line. Take, for example, one of our Fortune 500 customers. 

Using insights from our occupancy sensors, they noticed that employees who came to the office would scatter across a handful of floors in the building. As a result, each floor was underutilized. Employees who came to work didn’t experience that buzz of human energy that most folks want from the office. 

To help create that energy, our customer hibernated two floors. This led to an increase in utilization on the remaining open floors; in simpler terms—more people were working, socializing, and coexisting side by side. Employees loved it. 

Not only that, but our customer reduced OPEX costs (staffing, cleaning, and energy costs associated with those hibernated floors). 

How can you create a great workplace experience?

It starts with understanding how people use your space. 

This is particularly relevant in the post-pandemic era. Workplace leaders are finding that designs that worked in 2020 may no longer reflect employees’ behaviors and preferences. 

We also find that employees’ behaviors continue to evolve. 

Early on with the return to the office, for example, employees were uncomfortable being in small, enclosed  spaces with coworkers. Innovators, like Nathan Manuel of PagerDuty, created new space types like common space conferencing to accommodate this. 

As time passed, this discomfort subsided for many. Now we see meeting rooms as a primary driver for people to come to the office. The point is, the new workplace is incredibly fluid. Agility is a crucial ingredient for your success. 

As part of that agility, you must gather both unbiased utilization data and feedback. Surveys are a great way to seek employee feedback. Some workplace leaders encourage employees to leave post-it notes in each room or space type. This allows people to give succinct feedback while experiencing the space. 

Gathering data and feedback is only useful if you can do something with it. This, again, is why more and more workplace leaders are investing in modular and configurable furniture. Movable walls, desks, and space types make your office more agile—so you can keep up with the evolving needs of your people. 

To create a positive employee experience, explore the new devices, furniture, and software available that can help make work faster, easier, or more accurate. The right mix of technology and amenities can revolutionize your employees’ productivity as well as their workplace experiences.