The Next Great Employee Benefit: A Better Office

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Feb 17, 2020

Employees now demand a seamless digital experience between their private and professional lives.

That’s according to the results from the first edition of the Happy Office Life Report, a study I participated in late last year. For the report, we looked into the demands and pain points from employees spread across North America and Europe. The results decisively reflect the digital trends in our private life and can be categorized into three separate concepts: On-demand everything, a sense of control, and digital proficiency.

Happy employees are what drives growth, empowers innovation, and brings creativity to the workplace. For any business, employees are your greatest asset. Or at least they should be. And as such, it’s employer’s and manager’s jobs to provide the best possible working environment for employees to thrive.

Do you know how many employees are in your office building daily? What about how much time they spent anxiously scrambling to find a meeting room for an important last-minute call? Are employees actually utilizing and enjoying the common spaces you’ve curated for them?

Even for small companies and offices, it can be hard to have an accurate pulse on the organization and its surroundings in such a fast-paced environment. But listening to your employees and proving you are responsive to their needs is critical to providing the best possible working environment.

It’s also urgent. As Gen Z enters the workforce, the war on talent is taking on a whole new dimension. Exasperated by the advent of private Industry 4.0 technology, employers are beginning to look towards the office itself as the next big employee benefit.

Together, these two phenomenons collide, creating a request for the office of the future: An office that is on-demand, high-tech, and personalized. But before jumping to conclusions or solutions, let’s gain a better understanding of the problem.

We asked respondents what their greatest pain points were in their current offices. The results were resounding and unanimous. Two pain points stood out far beyond all others, and they were that employees do not have enough control over their work environment and that their workplace is too slow in the adoption of digital technologies to improve their working life.

Not enough control over the working environment

Outside the office, we’re constantly surrounded by digital services that seamlessly integrate into our daily lives. With Uber on call 24/7 and the ability to have anything from a ramen bowl to authentic Italian pizza delivered straight to your doorstep at the touch of a button, we’re used to a certain level of control over our experiences.

So it’s no surprise that the number one pain point for employees is that they feel they don’t have enough control over their working environment.

This wider societal trend has worked its way into our offices too. Now, we’ve crossed the point of no return, the end of the one-size-fits-all office solution. Enter the age of the on-demand workplace.

The slow pace of digital adoption

Employee’s second-largest pain point follows the same train of thinking, but from another angle.  The slow pace of digital adoption across the workplace. When the technology which enables us to have control over our experience is missing, as employees, we start to feel a void.

When you then walk into the workplace, and that feeling is taken away from you, it hinders your ability to perform at your best. Creating tech-forward workplaces, where employees have the same level of control that they feel in their private life, is no longer an employee benefit. It’s become an expectation.

And while workplaces that are slow to uptake digital technology may have multiple characteristics, they are all held together by a similar mentality: The “wait-and-see” or the “it’ s-too-expensive” approach. And it’s the opposite of innovation.

Key drivers in creating a digital, on-demand working environment

To put it in a nutshell, employers today must curate the employee experience with on-demand, tech-forward workplaces, which give employees elements of being in control of their own experience. To get to the bottom of what employees want in the workplace, we also asked what their key value drivers in the workplace are. They responded:

  1. Physical space and its ambiance:  For the majority of respondents, the most important value driver when considering the office is how the physical space is laid out, how it functions, and how it makes them feel at work.
  2. Building Amenities: Providing access to functional spaces is important in creating the office that employees want. This means that meeting rooms and conference areas should be easily accessible, the technological framework should be up to date, and interaction with these spaces should be streamlined.
  3. Smart and Technology-Driven Offices: Employees demand that today’s offices should be equipped with smart technology. This means going beyond the basics and creating a connected office. This can be done via multiple channels, including performance management software, social interaction platforms, or interactive building-wide technology, which integrate the above into a single platform.

Together, these factors create an intersection that proves as easy wins for employers. And it’s not only forward-thinking employers that are catching on. The inevitable rise of PropTech – that is, property and technology – has brought with it a plethora of new start-ups looking to get a piece of the action, resulting in an array of solutions for anywhere from corporate buildings to start-up spaces.

For employees, these smart workplaces can mean streamlining mundane processes and freeing up time to focus on more engaging work. For decision-makers, it can mean collecting more data to help improve the decision-making process in the future. For the building itself and its’ managers, PropTech can create a more comfortable working environment, happier tenants, and higher tenant retention.

Considering that 9 out of 10 employees believe technological solutions to their pain points would be valuable, employers who don’t act risk falling into the perpetual cycle of being left behind. That being said, it’s been predicted that commercial offices are likely to take years before they catch up to our private lives.

This presents a significant opportunity for corporates and landlords. The incentive for decision-makers to walk the talk on employee engagement puts them well ahead of their competition. For these first movers, the decision is thus in “how” rather than why. This forward-thinking mentality is the first step in success.

As all employees demand technological evolution in some form or another, looking beyond solely practical improvements and also including tech, which makes employees’ lives easier, safer, and more comfortable is a good place to start.

What does this mean for HR leaders and corporate decision-makers?

When choosing an office or communicating with your commercial landlord, communicate these forward-thinking values. If this is what employees demand, then it’s your prerogative as a tenant to make choices that are going to enhance your long-term strategy. Also consider that whilst data-privacy is a fine line, by optimizing the office environment and at the same time, capturing data, it’s possible to create a continuous feedback loop, leading to further improvements

This survey has confirmed many of my previous preconceptions about pain points and value drivers. But it has drawn my attention to the high level of openness of the workforce to improve their office environment through technology. In the long run, offices will have no choice but to catch up to employees’ desires. What’s still to be seen is who the leaders are in this new era of digital, control-giving, on-demand offices.