Workplace department priority #1: Eliminate uncertainty and friction

Carl Oliveri
Carl Oliveri

As businesses establish multi-disciplinary workplace departments in greater numbers, we are kicking off a new series featuring Q&A’s with Robin executives tasked with helping our customers implement effective return to office (RTO) strategies.

Each person will offer their unique perspectives into their job role’s responsibilities and priorities in executing an effective RTO strategy. In our first installment with CTO Brian Muse looked at the importance of creating a tech-enabled employee experience. Next up, Robin CRO Carl Oliveri offers workplace leaders insights into eliminating friction to attract workers back to the office.

What is your definition of a workplace department?

An effective workplace department should include three important business units — facilities, IT and HR. Together, this trifecta oversees the employee workplace experience, from onboarding to where the employee sits and which tools they have access to. The events of the past year created an almost cyclonic effect where flexible work brought these three units closer together than ever before. Today, a truly impressive workplace department not only creates the workplace experience, they coordinate together around its most vital component – the employee.

From a CRO perspective, what do businesses have to gain by creating a workplace department?

For us, it’s about eliminating uncertainty and friction in the employees’ day. It’s about happiness, sure, but it’s also about productivity and eliminating obstacles that could throw them off task. Employees don’t need to worry about the logistics behind what they do when they arrive - where they will sit, who they will see, how they’ll safely access office resources, etc. They can just show up, feel safe, feel supported and be productive.

The fact is, there is no more “same old” approach to the office environment. Much like digital transformation turned every company into a technology company, the Covid pandemic has turned every company into a hybrid workplace in some way, shape or form.

Organizations that try to fight against this sea change will ultimately lose. If we look at the announcement from Goldman Sachs to have all employees return to the office this summer, the CEO also admitted that “the pandemic had helped push digitalization, creating more efficient ways of business,” but he worried about how continued remote work – in any form – could impact culture. We’re certainly in a trial period for how hybrid offices could impact culture, but from a bottom line perspective, when you look at data showing employees will leave their jobs if their flexible needs are not met, it’s a risky gamble to say zero hybrid.

Companies that optimize their physical workspace to reflect modern workflows place themselves in a prime position to attract, engage, and retain employees.

Where is the best place to start? 

Communication has never been more critical when it comes to preparing for return-to-work scenarios. Prior to a return to the office, managers should over-communicate as much information as possible to help put employees’ minds at ease. Before workers even get to the front door, they should already know exactly how their day will play out – not just what their calendar looks like but where they will be sitting, who will be sitting near them, who will be in the office, when, what the office capacity limit is and so on. At Robin, we develop workplace management software for the hybrid workplace, so our staff are able to see all of these insights in real-time from their device.

The first step is to listen to employees and make their safety paramount. Technology, like we create and use at Robin, is an important tool but it is equally critical for managers to share why the company is making specific decisions on office return procedures. Knowing that managers are considering all factors of safety, including masks, sanitization, distance, and so on will help to relieve anxiety and instill confidence in returning employees. Things like marking foot traffic direction on the floor with tape can go a long way in not only keeping employees safe, but demonstrating that the company cares about their safety.

What is the revenue consequence of a poorly managed or absent workplace department?

The U.S. was struggling to make use of flexible work pre-pandemic. Now, hybrid work - if done right - is the most effective way to run a business. The biggest challenge for workplace departments is how to create a flexible work environment where employees are motivated to show up to the office, work hard, and stay with their employer. The stats clearly outline the risk workplaces face if they don’t get this right, with some research reporting as many as one in four are considering quitting.  

What is the best way for workplace departments to motivate employees?

Employees are going to experience a mix of emotions when returning to the office, not all of them positive. If I could offer one piece of advice it would be to remove the onus off of the employee. As a business, you have to earn the employee back. The only way the office is going to work is if people feel like they are going to be more productive there than anywhere else. Giving employees the option of choosing where they can work within an office that helps them be the most productive is going to be the best way to facilitate engagement.

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