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A few thoughts on the new employee experience

Here I sit in my coworking space, and it’s just not the same. Gone has some of the bonhomie and camaraderie. It’s something the air hugs just can’t mask. The social distancing works and over the course of my first day back we gradually get used to the chatter that used to make us smile. By the day’s end, it’s the same but different. So, is this the end for coworking spaces? Is social distancing going to kill them off just as they got started? Far from it, I think. In fact, I think we’ll need alternative spaces more than ever.

I have loved working from home over lockdown. I have not missed the train journey into London one bit. And through the wonders of Zoom, MS Teams, Slack and Miro, I have been able to stay as close to my colleagues as I did before. Collectively, we have used this crisis as one big experiment to prove that virtual working can work. We knew it, we just needed to force the conditions to speed up behaviour change. It’s just hugely regretful that we had to have a human disaster to make that happen.

But this discovery should not mean that those that can jump from one extreme to another should all work from home. At heart, we are social animals. Whether introvert, extrovert or ambivert (read the book ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain) we do benefit from working alongside others. Experiments have shown that if you give a task to a person working alone, and then give the same task to a person working in a room alongside others (not collaborating with others), those in the social setting will be more productive. So, while some studies may have shown that productivity has increased during lockdown, this could be down to a combination of changed circumstances and very focused minds. A looming recession has the tendency to do that.

Personally, I have no intention in rushing back to my London office in the same way I was committed to it pre-lockdown. I enjoy working from home, but this is because I have the facilities to enjoy it – namely, a home office. I also enjoy the twenty-minute walk to my coworking space at Platf9rm in Brighton. It is far preferable to the 80-minute commute to Park Street, London. And, in these summer months I can be home in 20-minutes (or 1-minute if I’m in the home office); have lunch with a friend; and even work late and still be home quickly.

But it’s summer. In the winter months to come, I may wish, as might government, to share more space with colleagues and coworkers; to bring down heating costs and lighting costs, and drive down our collective carbon footprint. If employers start to contribute to home office heating costs, then CFOs might want those costs to be shared too. And so the flexible coworking space may well come into its own.

There is going to need to be a lot of flex and all this means is that the future of employee experience is going to be a blend of opportunities. For the preferred employer, they will need to be more agile in how they provide employee support, facilities and services than ever before. It also means that leaders will have to get better at providing choice and managing outcomes. By this I mean moving away from a focus on controlling structures (rotas, pay, hierarchies, time) and instead focus on the things that matter (focus, freedom, quality, invention). Provide flexibility for the latter and the outcomes will follow.

There is going to need to be a lot of flex and all this means is that the future of employee experience is going to be a blend of opportunities. For the preferred employer, they will need to be more agile in how they provide employee support, facilities and services than ever before.

For office workers that seems easy, but for those working in production plants there are similarities. What matters is getting X amount of product done in Y amount of time safely and to the quality required. It is an employers job to help workers organise themselves to get this done. Other than that, get out of the way. It’s the Autonomy that Daniel Pink wrote about alongside Mastery and Purpose.

That is not going to suit rigid businesses still run on Victorian industrial principles of command and control. All that brings me back to my coworking space. Preferred employers should consider moving from a ‘one size fits all’ (this is your place of work, this is when you do it, this is what you are paid) to an ‘all types, many shapes’ (where do you want to work, how do you want to organise yourself, how do you want to be rewarded).

All these behavioural nudges will help people create the better work lives that we all yearn for. Boris Johnson may be imploring people to get back to their desks, but many people have seen a different way of working, and they like it. For coworking spaces, how they can build relationships with large enterprises and help spread workers across the UK, leaving them hyper-connected and closer to home, will be critical.

Coworking is far from finished. It’s just started. And, I love it as much as I love the G&T smelling hand sanitiser at Platf9rm that just makes me want to clean my hands (nice bit of behavioural science at work there). I love the opportunity to mix with people within my field and outside my field. I love how that diversity might feed innovation. It’s all further proof that we can return to work and behave differently – we just don’t need to all rush back to the same offices at the same time.

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