We are in the era of employee experience. Unless you provide your workers with a positive employee experience, you will struggle to make significant productivity gains. How is this connected to the environment we all work in, though?
Employee experience means moving away from a narrow focus on improving company culture and worker engagement. By broadening this out to other areas, you can improve the experience of employees and, alongside that, productivity.
This broadening out incorporates several aspects of working life including the physical environment of workers in addition to a company’s culture, the technology the company uses, and the human approach it takes to doing business.
The Physical Environment
In terms of the physical environment, this about everything employees can see, hear, touch, and even smell in an office. Therefore, it includes:
- The layout of the office
- The office demographics, i.e. the age, gender, cultural diversity, background, etc of co-workers
- The decor including everything from carpets to art hanging on the walls
- Physical perks such as a kitchen or cafeteria, relaxation areas, or a gym
When looking at the physical environment, it is important to consider how that environment makes employees feel. For example, do they feel comfortable, safe, and energized to get on with tasks assigned to them? Or, on the other hand, does the physical environment sap their energy, depress them, or make them feel confused?
In the former example, employees will be more productive, and there is research to back this up. This includes research by the furniture manufacturer Steelcase. It commissioned Ipsos to survey 10,500 workers in 14 countries, finding that highly engaged workers are also highly satisfied with their work environment.
Research by the architecture and design firm Gensler has also found over several studies that:
- Workers and managers believe the physical environment affects performance
- Focus, balance, and choice are key drivers of employee satisfaction as well as performance
Modern Ways of Working
Gensler also identified four areas that employers should focus on to improve the physical environment and make employees more productive:
- Space to focus
- Collaboration areas
- Spaces to learn
- Spaces to socialize
Arranging the desks in a different way or moving to an open plan office environment isn’t going to cut it. Instead, you need to think more deeply about modern ways of working, facilitating and improving as many of them as possible.
After all, employees are rarely tied to their desks throughout the working day anymore. Instead, they attend meetings, have informal chats in various locations throughout the office, and communicate with colleagues and the outside world digitally.
Even within these broad headings, there are variations:
- Meetings – this could be a large meeting in a boardroom environment, a one-on-one meeting stripped of formalities, a teleconference meeting, or many other variations
- Informal chats – this could be chance encounters at the water cooler, deliberately walking to a colleague’s desk, walking together through hallways, or meeting a colleague in the kitchen
- Digital communication – this could be emailing from the office computer, using a messaging app while walking through the carpark, or logging into a project management tool from home
You get the idea – adapting the physical environment to improve the employee experience is about much more than decor or physical office layouts.
Why Aren’t Things Improving?
Many companies, particularly corporations in the tech sector, have been focussing on employee experience for some years now. The situation must, then, be improving, right? Recently, however, it isn’t. According to Deloitte, employee engagement remains flat and, in some cases, has dropped.
Part of the reason for this is a lack of focus on employee experience, including in relation to the physical environment.
There is another factor at play, however: technology.
In a survey of Fortune 500 CEOs, 67 percent said their company is now a technology company. This applies even if they are not in the traditional tech sector as digitization is taking over everything.
It Is Now Time to Focus Also on the Virtual Working Environment
One of the things that digitization is changing is the way we all work. Therefore, it is no longer enough to focus only on the physical environment when considering employee experience. After all, much of the work we now do is in the virtual world.
So, the next evolution of improving the environment of workers to enhance the employee experience is to also consider the virtual environment they work in.
Making the virtual environment human-centric, familiar, comfortable, easy-to-use, and reflective of the physical environment are all essential to this, as is creating virtual spaces for focused work, collaboration, learning, and socializing.
In other words, taking the virtual working environment to a new level of personalization, interactivity, and connectivity. This is the next stage of improving employee experience.