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How Do You Know What Will Bring Your Employees Back? Ask Them.

As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, many workers are being asked to return to the offices by their employers. While some are ready to return to in-person arrangements, others are still hesitant to return after knowing the comfort and safety of home offices for well over a year, employees are still willing — but only if certain changes are made.

workforce during the pandemic

As managers and executives ring the bell for offices to reopen, how can they persuade a workforce that has proved they don’t need offices to perform to come back? While many are blindly guessing at what may draw them in, they risk guessing wrong and losing their workforce in a worker’s economy. How can executives find out what they must do to bring employees back into the fold? Ask them.

What do employees actually want?

While each office community is different, according to data from our recent report, The Case for Office Space: How Buildings Need to Change to Suit a COVID-Weary, Climate-Conscious Workforce, employees are primarily concerned with how their company will handle employee health and wellness concerns. These concerns aren’t just limited to their physical well-being. While surviving a global health crisis, employees’ perception of health has broadened; they now consider outside factors, such as the climate crisis, as a part of their personal health.

As they draw the line from the planet’s health to their own, they want these concerns reflected in their offices, as well. According to our report, the most important factors that employees want to be addressed in their office are renewable energy (66%) and reduced reliance on single-use materials. These concerns are a far cry from traditional health and wellness changes such as increased sanitation and distance between desks.

Employees are also looking for their employers to take mental health precautions into consideration — 39% of employees said the lack of natural light was their biggest complaint about their old office. Now that many have had the opportunity to work near or in front of a window for the first time, they are experiencing the positive physical and mental impact access to natural light can have on them. And they want to recreate that in their offices.

What are employers willing to change?

With employees’ demands now in writing, are their bosses and managers on the same page? In short, no. There is a clear disconnect between employees’ expectations and the realities their bosses are willing to create. While many decision-makers are aware of the impact that the climate crisis can have on their employees’ health, they are focusing their efforts elsewhere.

Decision-makers listed water conservation (62%) as their primary concern. While over half of decision-makers said that they were also concerned about renewable energy, only 19% of decision-makers said they would reduce single-use materials. Decision-makers are also not concerned about a lack of natural light for their employees — only 24% of decision-makers said they would consider improving access to natural light or more windows.

A Clear and Present Disconnect

While communication has triumphed as the best trait for a healthy workforce, it is clear that there is a lack of communication between employees and their leaders. This disconnect is a clear and present danger for businesses — if they fail to meet their employees’ needs, they risk a deteriorating workforce amidst a worldwide labor shortage.

Not all decision-makers are even aware of this disconnect, however. A majority (85%) of decision-makers believe that their company is meeting some or all of its employees’ expectations for a healthy office environment, however, only 66% of employees said that their companies are only meeting some of their expectations, or none at all. So, how can decision-makers navigate this disconnect to find out what their employees’ expectations are, to earnestly meet them? Accessing them directly.

The most simple way to find out what will bring your employees back into offices is to ask them clearly. By asking them directly, it not only eliminates the risk of guessing but creates a positive chain of communication among leadership and employees, demonstrating a level of trust during continuously uncertain times.

Creating a simple anonymous survey or conducting individual interviews with employees can tighten employee-company bonds and avoid costly attrition of a diminished workforce. To find out more about employees’ expectations and how the future of the office may forever change because of the pandemic, download the full report here.


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