Oops, we did it again! We’re solving the wrong problem with employee workplace experiences.
When the pandemic began, restaurants, to survive, had to convert overnight to take-out and drive-up options for their customers. Some restaurants simply took their in-person menus and put the food in a Styrofoam box. Others, the more customer-responsive and “design-thinking” ones, re-vamped their menus and created meals that would travel well and re-heat to reflect in-person dining. This is at the core of design-thinking – not simply trying to revamp an established approach but re-thinking it to align to customer expectations that changed overnight.
Like the transition that restaurants had to make – organizations had to figure out a way to immediately create remote working environments for their employees. For the most part, they succeeded and within days of shutting down offices worldwide, workers were up and running in their home offices, dining rooms, bedrooms, basements, and patios, albeit with animals and babies in the background. Organizations had to reinvent the way employees used technology, participated in meetings, related to one another and accomplished tasks working without the benefit of meeting with one another in person. In both cases, we made it work – some more successfully than others.
In March 2021, the consulting firm Andrew Reise published a study of 416 respondents that worked remotely over the past year in a 3-part series. In a nutshell, “Even with all of the benefits of working from home, like canine co-workers, pajama pants, and a lower gas bill, the office still has its place. Respondents of our study said, “Having interactions with people outside my circle,” “Exposure to upper management,” and “Happy hour after work” were among the things they missed the most about working in the office. To bring it home, working partially at home and in-office appears to be the best fit for employees looking to retain a flexible lifestyle while also having access to the social interaction they crave and the equipment they need to succeed.” You can check out the entire study by clicking here.
Now, we are faced with returning to work as we emerge from the pandemic (at least in many parts of the world). Organizations (and employees) are faced with a monumental decision – remain remote; create a hybrid office model or return to the office 100%. Once again, we are solving the wrong problem when it comes to the employee experience. We are focused on the solution – one of 3 options – instead of focusing on the problem or better yet, on the employee experience and what their needs are to be successful both personally and professionally. Instead of designing better experiences, we are asking employees to choose an option while in other cases these “choices” are being mandated from the ivory towers of organizations. Why not take a design-thinking approach to this problem? And ask a simple question, what is the problem we are trying to solve? Is it productivity? Is it real estate costs? Is it employee satisfaction? Can we honestly say that we’ve determined the problem with how to address employee experiences in a post-pandemic environment? I think not. If we were, we wouldn’t be asking employees to choose one of these 3 options, we’d instead design experiences in response to the problem we’ve determined needs to be solved.
If you’re working in an organization still struggling with this decision, perhaps it’s time to take a different view of how to create better employee experiences. Here are 6 ideas to get your started.
-Start with the employee in mind (sound familiar to a CX approach). What has worked well over the past 18 months? What needs to be improved? What has provided better experiences for employees? What has proven to be a challenge for them in a work-from-home environment? Do employees want the day-to-day interaction with colleagues?
-Like an artist, begin with a blank canvas. Rather than trying to create a “hybrid” model – why not create an entirely new model? Take the learnings from the pandemic virtual environment, combine them with your pre-pandemic environment and the learnings from the afore mentioned bullet-point and create a better overall experience?
-Research how other organizations are managing the design of their employee experiences. Many are struggling through the same challenges so why not reach out and see what others are doing, what challenges they are facing and what solutions they are designing for their employees.
-Recognize the limitations, but don’t let them restrict your design. Some employees must report to work, i.e., production staff in a manufacturing environment. But that shouldn’t restrict your ability to create a better design. Ask yourself, how might you create better working environments for those employees whose jobs can’t be virtual?
-Keep the customer in mind. Regardless of your market approach (B2B, B2C, B2B2C), how can your newly designed employee work experience benefit your customers? What are the downsides and upsides to your newly designed experience?
-Manage expectations for both. Customers and employees both have expectations of the experiences they want with your organization. Engage both constituencies in the design process to ensure you are aligning to their expectations and managing them as well. Too often, as CX professionals, we only think about meeting or exceeding expectations when managing them is key.
This point in time provides a phenomenal opportunity for us to change the paradigm, blow-up the status quo and think outside the box to create better employee experiences. It’s time for us to move beyond one model or the other, to creating a model that works for and with our employees. There’s nothing wrong with an office environment as your final solution – but at least you’ve explored the other options and concluded what fits best for your organization once you’ve designed it with the employee in mind.
We thought the hard work was going virtual overnight when we shut down the world because of the pandemic. The hard work is only just beginning as we emerge from this world crisis. Why not take full advantage of the opportunity to design something new, rather than just throwing the same menu item in a Styrofoam box and calling it take out?