January 28, 2022 by Andrea Rajic
Table of contents
Remote, hybrid, distributed. No matter how you call your workforce, one thing is for sure: managing the new workplace is all People Operations experts think about nowadays.
At Gable, we know that first hand - we spoke to 200+ People Ops and Workplace professionals in the past 3 months alone. The experts we spoke to come from high-growth companies with over 100 employees, who are either hybrid or fully remote, with a distributed workforce.
These companies are looking to achieve a few essential things:
Design a successful workplace strategy
Engage employees and improve their talent retention
Provide a sense of belonging to employees
Gain insights into how their distributed workforce is doing
Manage their workplace from one centralized suite
These reasons are hardly a surprise, as many studies show the workplace is the center of attention for a growing number of companies worldwide. In fact, 40% of HR and People Operations professionals say managing the hybrid workplace is their #1 priority.
We synthesized the findings from 200+ People Ops and Workplace meetings and made this guide to help you design the winning workplace strategy.
For most employers, the complexity of hybrid workplace challenges starts to emerge when they talk to employees and analyze survey results. In a relatively short time, the workplace transformed from sitting at an office desk five days a week to doing that same thing at home.
At first, companies worldwide took a reactive approach and offered work-from-home stipends and budgets for home offices. And while all these are welcome, they stop at the technology aspect of the workplace.
The full scope of workplace challenges starts to unfold when companies realize one of these three things:
However, when employees say they don’t want to work from home all the time, it doesn’t mean they want to go back to 40 hours a week in an office. The realization that the workplace is no longer a single place with a singular function is usually when companies start thinking about a truly flexible, hybrid workplace strategy.
Once upon a time, the Workplace function was part of the Real Estate and Facilities department and revolved around office buildings, landlords, and long-term leases. Now, it’s a multi-department effort often shared between People, Workplace, and Operations teams to ensure every aspect is considered - but especially the people one.
The workplace is not just a physical location anymore - it’s an amalgamation of the built environment, technology, and the experience it provides to the people working in the organization. The new workplace centers the people, and the cross-functional approach results in uncovering new challenges and implementing outstanding solutions to ensure employees are happy, satisfied, and productive.
When we say that in the new workplace, people come first, what we mean is companies are talking to their employees more than ever - and listening carefully. The downsides of the old office system are very well known - the distractions, long commutes, poor work-life balance, presenteeism, etc.
But there are challenges in the remote world, too. Employees are experiencing Zoom fatigue and burnout. Companies are on the lookout for the best ways to empower people, ensure engagement and belonging, and provide all employees with the best experience.
Understanding the different needs of every single employee and merging those needs into a strategy that works for all employees - that’s the goal companies have in the new workplace. The insight we got from People Operations experts from companies of various sizes show what they have seen to be the best practices:
Provide flexibility in terms of when and where employees work
Give the same access to remote, hybrid, and onsite employees
Level the playing field so all employees are equally supported
Focus on employee experience with benefits that matter to employees
Provide spaces for employees to meet, collaborate, and connect
Enable remote and hybrid work, but without the isolated WFH mindset
Continuously talk to employees and feel their pulse
For many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic opened the doors to geographically-agnostic hiring. Remote and hybrid work provide incredible opportunities for hiring the best talent anywhere, and employers have taken note. So have the existing employees, who have started relocating away from big city centers. As one manager said - everyone is starting to be everywhere.
And when employees are everywhere, so is your workplace - and your company culture. Reinforcing the company culture, values, and employee experience for employees everywhere is the single most critical thing People teams think about nowadays. So how do you do that?
People Operations professionals tackle this task by making the distributed workforce feel seen, heard, appreciated, and provided for while also offering flexibility. And to do this - you need to dive deep into what your workforce needs.
People Operations and Workplace experts we speak with say that they need to reinvent everything they know about the workplace. The preconceived notions about where, when, and how employees work need rethinking and redesigning.
The one-size-fits-all approach - where all employees in a geographical area work from one single location, with the same desks for everyone regardless of their job - simply won’t work for the future. Employees are looking for flexibility and a strategy that considers their individual needs. Their workplaces need to be modular and flexible, allowing for different activities during the day, from Zoom calls to focused work or collaborative sessions.
Different job functions have different needs, and things get more granular when we take employee locations into account. Every employee will use the office or workplace differently, depending on where they live, where they prefer to work, and what they do every day.
Fully remote employees will come into the office a few times a month or less, while hybrid workers can go into the workspace a few times a week. For those who want to come into the office more often, visiting 4-5 times weekly remains an option. In addition, closeness to where employees live is becoming more essential by the day, as workers aim to cut commutes.
This flexibility that employees cherish so much can show to be tricky for People Operations teams from a space planning angle. It’s challenging to plan the workspace needs of a distributed company, especially if the company is in hyper-growth and has an ever-growing headcount.
In this scenario, flexibility matters for the People Ops teams, not just the employees. When your talent acquisition relies on hiring the best people wherever they live, you won’t be able to provide a traditional HQ or office in all those locations - especially not in a scalable way.
While adapting to the new workplace reality and revamping their strategy, People Ops professionals also need to stay in the know and measure their progress. For some companies, that means measuring how attractive their benefits package is. For others, it’s all about seeing and understanding how employees use workspaces and what they represent for them.
People Ops professionals need more data, insights, and knowledge about their workforce without added hours to their workflows. They also need the ability to provide flexibility and options to every employee while ensuring a seamless and easy-to-set-up approval process in place.
What a flexible workplace represents is not a free-for-all scenario where everyone does everything with no structure in place; it’s an experience designed to support, elevate, and empower both employees and managers to grow.
That growth requires real-time insights that enable People teams to monitor and track how successful their workplace strategy is, what they can adjust, and how they can support their people even better. For companies that are growing quickly, the need for insight - and scalability - increases exponentially.
The complex challenges People Operations experts face revolve around when, how, and where employees work; they tackle the employees’ needs for belonging, inclusion, and collaboration. From the point of view of the People teams we speak to - the workplace is becoming a tool for talent retention, attracting the best new hires, and showcasing the values and culture of the company.
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