Employees are concerned about these situations when returning to the new office

by R. Dallon Adams in CXO  for TechRepublic

Turns out, ditching leisurewear is one of the hardest parts about going back to the office after a year of dressing for Zoom success. But what will the new office look like?

In the last year, companies have used a number of strategies and reshaped the traditional office to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in-house. On Wednesday, Qualtrics released its Future of the Workplace Study highlighting the new office amenities employees want, the drawbacks of remote work and dress code expectations as workers return to the new office after more than a year of telecommuting.

Return to the office concerns

Overall, the Qualtrics study involved more than 1,000 U.S. adults employed either full or part-time. In order, the top two concerns respondents have about meeting coworkers in-person are “being socially awkward” followed by “following proper social etiquette,” and more than one-third of respondents said they would choose a “touchless greeting” when “they see their co-workers,” according to the report.

While the majority of respondents (60%) were comfortable “working in the same enclosed space” as other coworkers, these comfort levels vary markedly across age groups. For example, one-quarter of respondents 55 and older were uncomfortable coworking in an enclosed space compared to 13% of the 18 to 34 age group and 17% for people between the ages of 35 and 54, according to the report.

Office redesign and consolidation

The majority of respondents (62%) said they’d be “satisfied” if company office locations were consolidated to create improved facilities and amenities, according to the report, and employers opening “more satellite offices for smaller teams, like a WeWork” would satisfy about half of employees.

“Traditionally, physical office locations were necessary for employees to get work done. This past year has proven, that’s not the case anymore—employees can drive results and be productive from a variety of locations,”  said Julia Anas, Qualtrics chief people officer.

That means, as companies adapt to the changing workforce landscape, they will need to find compelling ways to make the office a destination space where employees come together to be inspired to connect in person with one another to collaborate and innovate,” Anas continued.

Citing Qualtrics research, Anas mentioned a few of the desired amenities employees want including “more natural light in their workspace, access to fitness equipment, and outdoor spaces where they can collaborate with colleagues.”

In a June report, Next Energy Technologies outlined a number of office redesign elements respondent employees wanted to see at the new office ranging from increased access to natural light inside and increased sustainability efforts like a “reduced reliance on single-use materials.”

Hassan Osman, director at Cisco Systems and Udemy instructor who teaches a course on hybrid work management, discussed a few of the ways companies could reimagine the new office in the months ahead.

“One way is to repurpose the existing office from dedicated workspaces to more hybrid-friendly meeting rooms and quiet spaces,” Osman said.

“Teams are going to be dispersed between in-office and remote so expect meeting rooms to be used for on-site collaboration and coordination of in-office team initiatives. And quiet spaces to be used for focused work and distraction-free conversations with remote team members,” he continued.

Additionally, Osman said companies could incorporate “hot-desking” strategies to allocate workspaces to employees only when they need them,” noting that this implementation would help organizations “save on real estate costs while maximizing their resource and asset usage.”

Dress code at the new office

Unlike the office environment, remote workers are able to forgo the traditional business attire during the workday and instead don more comfortable clothing. In March 2020, amid the switch to remote work en masse, Walmart sold more tops than bottoms; a conspicuous discrepancy that could be attributed to increased video meetings and the visual focus on attire from the waist up.

“When the global pandemic sent everyone home, work fashion moved to the bottom of everyone’s priority list. Video filters became a substitute for make-up, crocs became the new sneaker, and sweatpants became the norm,” Anas said. “As employees begin to return to the physical workplace they will be looking for ways to combine professional dress with the comfort they experience at home.”

When returning to the traditional office, one-quarter of Qualtrics respondents said that “dropping leisurewear” would be the “hardest change” and other difficult routine changes including “wearing makeup again and getting routine haircuts,” per the report.

As employees go back to the new office, 37% of respondents are planning to dress “casual.” A similar number of respondents (35%) were planning to dress business casual when they return to the office. In general, about half of respondents (55%) said they would “would dress more casually if their office didn’t have a dress code.”

Remote work drawbacks

While working from home may have its fair share of perks a la reduced commute and a lack of dress code, there are a number of professional drawbacks to consider. About half of respondents believe on-site office workers have “career advantage for promotions and raises compared to remote employees,” according to the report, citing “visibility to leadership as the primary advantage.”

“Hybrid work will be an adjustment for many companies,” Anas said. “Leaders who take time to listen to what employees are thinking and feeling and then acting on that feedback will have the ability to create an equitable environment for all employees—regardless of in-person or remote status.”

Additionally, Anas said employer-provided professional development opportunities like “mentorships, training sessions, and networking events” could help organizations “avoid unnecessary gaps between employees.” 

“Doing this in addition to making some adjustments—like increasing intentional communication from leadership, scheduling more frequent 1:1 meetings with managers, or hosting virtual happy hours—can ensure all employees have what they need to be productive and successful,” Anas continued.

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