Transforming the office into a co-working space can boost mental health and productivity

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The nature of the workforce has changed. As countries across the world come out of lockdowns, others come back in – meaning staff are forced to quickly adapt to changes in their workflow as they seek to find the most optimal home setups or are asked to relocate their home set-ups by bringing it back in the office.

Some staff are ready with rolled up sleeves to get a vaccine and come back to the office. The blurred line between work and home-life has taken its toll on many, as workers struggle to psychologically detach from work, find themselves overworking, or lose their opportunity to socially interact with colleagues.

On the other hand, many workers around the world are more than happy to remain working from home. The last thing they feel like doing after remote working is travelling through peak hour traffic and being forced to work within a confined space for eight hours per day.

Today managers have a greater responsibility to understand the urgent needs of their staff during this time, so it has become increasingly important to pay attention and provide the right environments and tools for employees to thrive, working both in the office and at home.

Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is now a more critical focus

We know that that pandemic isn’t going anywhere in the near future, which means our work will continue to be impacted for some time. Staff now require greater support for their wellbeing and mental health no matter where they are working.

In a recent Hays Barometer Report, 72% of employees said their organisation’s focus on mental health and wellbeing has increased significantly, but less than half of employees rated their current mental health and wellbeing as positive.

We need to build the right frameworks to ensure staff can continue to be motivated in their work, and willing to come to the office when they can. After Apple recently asked all of their staff to come back to work for at least three days per week, they received harsh pushback – with many employees stating they would rather quit.

Increasing evidence has shown that we need to create work environments where people actually want to be there, while also ensuring they can be as supported as though they had their colleagues and managers around the office.

A Qualtrics report found that nearly half of correspondents in a survey stated that working from home had caused them to suffer a decline in their mental health. Staff require much more support in this new hybrid way of working to ensure they can remain productive, motivated and working towards a greater purpose within their everyday role.

It’s time to consider a counter viewpoint to the office and its traditional purpose

The purpose of the office has now shifted. Is having an office space for managers to simply watch their staff work? Is micro-managing and being there to observe staff truly adding value?

We need to identify the most important reason for an office, which is to make space for highly collaborative work.

Some traditional theories state that we need to be in the same place to be high performing, but we know now that’s simply not true. High-performing work involves appropriately understanding one another, the best ways of communicating and achieving progress, and working towards the same intent and standards as a team.

When working from home in an online environment, it’s important for teams to encourage a strong culture of updates and work-sharing. By communicating progress via Slack channels and instant messenger, and coordinating regular team catch-ups to meet up, we can replicate the office environment that mirrors your colleague popping over to your desk, minus the need to completely relocate to do so.

While some workplaces have found that working from home has forced employees to slack off, this doesn’t have to be the case. If we can build a work culture around more trusted, autonomous working, we can encourage our employees to feel confident in being delegated tasks and take control over execution collaboratively with colleagues.

This kind of culture is built by coaching and instilling trust in staff to take the initiative when growing as both individual employees and as teams. Being transparent with KPIs and targets while creating less-formal spaces for employees to have wind-downs, catch-ups and social activities ensures staff can remain motivated and feel that they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

This would be a good opportunity to include the practical examples of automation incorporated into workflows.


Reframing the office workplace to a co-working space

But how do you make sure that staff want to return to the office when yo-yoing restrictions are lifted? By making it a place where they actually want to be.

Too many workplaces have clinical cubicle desks that barely motivate staff to be there. But there are some very simple techniques we can introduce to the office that can completely change the game.

Instead of forcing staff to come back into the office, we re-framed it as a co-working space. Staff were able to come in when it’s necessary for them — this may be for certain team huddles, Town Hall meetings or face-to-face training. Some projects require quick, collaborative problem-solving, which may be more effective in person than via Zoom.

What works is allowing our staff to make that choice for themselves, and come into the office when it’s most efficient for them.

In terms of re-creating a more hospitable and encouraging environment, we made simple shifts, like creating long tables for collaboration, spaces where staff can relocate to work by themselves, as well as built a cafe and more relaxing areas where staff can take the time to network and socialise with one another.

In one office, we built a BBQ on the roof and installed table tennis tables. We also incorporated places to zone-out where they can meditate or work in solitude.

Whether to choose a hot-desk versus permanent desks became a choice for employees. Some prefer to have a set-up they can come back to each day, while others prefer to move around the office from space to space to help boost their creative energy and flow.

But the common thread that helped boost productivity and made this process more effective was by allowing them to decide when and where they wanted to work for themselves.

Empowering your staff with trust, flexibility and understanding employee circumstances will be key

Managers have an extra responsibility today to ensure their staff are motivated to produce quality work and contribute to a team with a strong work ethic who are working towards the same visions and goals.

Work motivation has taken a dive throughout this pandemic, with some 40% of the global workforce thinking about leaving their jobs. This is particularly true for working mothers, with many of those feeling like they have had no option but to leave the workforce as they try to juggle both their full-time employment and the burdens of caring for children during remote schooling environments.

Therefore, it is vitally important that leaders be more empathetic towards their staff by understanding the individual and unique challenges they face in their day-to-day and out-of-day roles.

Flexibility is vital during these times. We need to ensure staff feel supported no matter they are going through, and feel confident they know their managers and team-mates will have their back.

In a recent survey, more than 96% of staff stated that their mental health had improved when they were given the agency and freedom to flexibly make decisions around their remote working circumstances.

Staff have gone through significant changes to adapt to new workflows, and while we might not know when the workplace can return to normal, we know that the shift in workplace culture requires delicate focus and attention to appropriately adapt.

As leaders, we must ensure we can support staff with the most motivating and encouraging workspaces both online and offline. And we should see this new shift to a hybrid way of working as a blessing, rather than a curse.

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