Before the pandemic, “employee experience” and “workplace experience" were often used interchangeably. Since an employee’s experience revolved so much around their time at the office, employee satisfaction and engagement often heavily depended on the work environment around them.
While “employee experience” and “workplace experience” weren’t completely synonymous terms before COVID-19 hit, they definitely aren’t now.
With 80% of employees expecting to work from home around 3 times a week in 2021, it’s clear that the workplace will play a key role in employee experience, but in a different way than before the pandemic hit.
The dramatic shift in where and how we work has ushered in a new understanding of how these areas of “workplace” culture overlap, and where they diverge. As we navigate a new world of hybrid work where people want to split their time between working remotely and in the office, we need to start thinking about the office as just one piece of the workplace puzzle. As the definition of the workplace changes to include remote settings, our understanding of workplace experience and employee experience must change too.
So how do we decouple these important concepts to more accurately address the hybrid future we’re stepping into?
For some companies, the answer lies in decoupling the role itself, splitting off responsibilities in the C suite into new roles like the “Chief Remote Office” that recognize the different challenges of remote management compared to a physical facility. In other cases, workplace teams are evolving so they’re better equipped to help folks succeed no matter where they’re working.
Let’s look at the shifting landscape of employee experience and workplace experience as the pandemic forces an evolution in how and where we work.
What’s the difference between workplace experience and employee experience?
It’s helpful when untangling the relationship between employee and workplace experience, to have a solid definition of each.
Here at Robin, we define them like this:
One way to think of workplace experience (WX) is as an ever-evolving ecosystem made up of everything that impacts employees’ ability to do their best work. This means the workplace extends beyond the four walls of an office and into the remote settings folks find themselves working in now.
Where “workplace experience” and “employee experience” diverge as we move to hybrid ways of working
Now that we understand the difference between the two terms, let’s dive into the key factors that make up each and how workplace teams are evolving to make sure their people have optimized experiences for both.
2020 was a rocky year. It’s in every organization’s best interest to focus on workplace and employee experience to increase recruitment, reduce churn, and raise overall satisfaction ratings across the organization in 2021 and beyond.
Internal and Brand Communication
Solid internal communication and external brand communication is one of the most important and most easily addressed areas of employee experience. Consistent communication— the kind that accurately and timely conveys policies, changes, and important information across departments and teams—can bring everyone into the fold, making them feel valued and trusted, and conveying a sense of transparency.
Extending from this attention to internal communication, creating effective brand communication externally creates trust in prospective employees, and allows current staff to become brand champions that will gladly further the interests of the organization through testimonial and social proof.
All of these communication efforts create a virtuous circle of trust and evangelism that can give everyone the sense that they’re on the same team and pushing for a common mission.
COVID TIP: Now's the time to overcommunicate. With folks spread across states and countries, workplace teams need to work extra hard to make sure everyone’s in the loop.
COVID TIP #2: Survey your people more often than regularly as we navigate a new remote work/hybrid work landscape.
Caring for employee needs goes well beyond ensuring they are up to date the quarterly earnings report. Caring for the wellness of your staff is one way to ensure their experience continues to provide cohesion and goodwill. Employee-led wellness initiatives and committees are one excellent way to ensure your staff is getting the types and variety of support they need or want.
In addition employee-led initiatives, having a variety of supportive programs driven from the top ensures that employees feel like they are being offered a full spectrum of services, and having their time and contributions valued. These could include:
- Wellness programs and facilities (yoga, massage, health club reimbursements, etc.)
- WELL building standards (Providing the right kind of air quality, light, nutrition, temperature, etc.)
- Perks like healthy snacks, social opportunities, meals, laundry, etc.
- Benefits such as mental health support, unlimited PTO structures, flexible work programs, etc.
COVID TIP: Take a look at your current perks and benefits. If you have any based exclusively in the physical office (things like free lunch, beer on tap, in-office massages, etc) consider what a remote alternative could look like.
While the forces that drive culture within a company aren’t formulaic, people teams must take into account the effect of culture upon engagement and employee experience. An intentional approach to culture (well-defined and communicated mission, company values, and beliefs) and an ongoing commitment to creating individual and team cohesion will be reflected in the investments your employees make in the company and their colleagues.
COVID TIP: Screen fatigue is real and one of the main culprits are video call happy hours. It’s time to get creative to create a culture of connectivity while folks don’t see each other as often in person. At Robin, we’ve held two virtual “untalented shows” where Robinauts show off “ mundane talents” they’ve worked on while stuck at home.
Health and Safety
Chief among employee concerns in the era of COVID-19 is the ability to safely and confidently navigate the workplace setting. For the workplace experience team, the focus has shifted to creating well-distanced, safety-minded spaces that are still functional and collaborative. This includes concepts such as:
- Responsible space design and use of resources with adequate distancing measures.
- Active and evolving communication and workplace policies.
- Technological enhancements that make the workplace safe and equitable.
- Work-scheduling that maximizes access while maintaining safety.
- Rigorous and transparent sanitation policies, including self-service hygiene and sanitation practices.
COVID TIP: Check out our full guide to office safety. Physical safety is key for creating a sense of psychological safety too.
The ability of every employee, vendor, and visitor to interact with the office environment effectively is one of the highest concerns for a workplace experience manager. Meeting the letter of the ADA is only the beginning; opportunities exist to enhance the experience of those with both disclosed and undisclosed disabilities and impairments (a figure that could encompass as much as a quarter of the population).
Especially as we move towards hybrid work where folks will be coming into the office part of the week, making sure office access is equitable is essential. Expectations should be clearly set across the organization. Desks, meeting spaces, and office resources should be available for everyone who wants to come into the office and use it.
COVID TIP: Make sure employees have a way to interface with the office whether they’re working remotely or in the workplace. Usually, this takes the form of a digital map that helps people plan when to come into the office for days and weeks ahead depending on who else will be on site. This is key for team collaboration.
In addition to the wellness-focused aspects of the WELL standard, comfort also comes into the equation when discussing workplace experience. Adequate sunlight, greenery, sound mitigation, ventilation, and temperature control also contribute to the positive experience within the built environment.
This can extend to focus areas that can be tailored to the sensory or disability needs (such as individual temperature or light control, low-sensory or relaxation areas, and employee-led accommodation such as comfort or ergonomic policies.
COVID TIP: Employee’s at home offices are now included in your company’s overall workplace experience. Consider creating a budget to help employees invest in ergonomic WFH setups or the technology they need to connect meaningfully with colleagues.
Ease of Navigation
Ease of use and navigation through the physical workplace can introduce elements from all of the above workplace experiences. Making a space easy to navigate through advanced wayfinding, accessible digital signage, interactive booking systems, and status boards help employees feel more confident in their space, leading to greater feelings of inclusion and purposeful use. Many of these navigation tools (especially things like booking apps for conference or desk space) also make the office a safer and more welcoming place to work in the era of social distancing.
COVID TIP: Minimizing wandering and wondering in the office is more important than ever to help decrease the possibility of viral transmissions. We recommend putting up signs and markers to help with wayfinding AND as friendly reminders to wash hands, use sanitation stations, give coworkers space, etc.
Remote work is now a permanent piece of the hybrid workplace experience
For companies that had no prior remote work policies (or even limited flexible work policies) the change brought on by COVID-19 has created urgency in optimizing the remote workplace experience too. The true challenge in remote or hybrid work models lies in successfully translating the in-person experience to the virtual environment.
Concepts like access to files, collaboration and communication tools, ergonomic work from home setup, and remote-friendly company culture cues are increasing in importance as we accept the new normal of life and work. This also means translating the perks and benefits people enjoy in-person to a reasonable counterpart in the remote setting.
In many cases, making intentional efforts to bring the best of the in-office experience to the remote setting will go a long way to improving employee experience overall. Workplace experience and employee experience may not be as inextricably intertwined as they were before, but that doesn’t mean we can send people to work from home and expect them to be as productive and connected as they were in the office.
And when those employees venture into the office, enabling them to make a smooth transition for a day of work in the actual office is imperative. Employees that know they will have a positive experience whether they are at home or in the workplace are much more likely to report high levels of satisfaction and productivity when participating in employee engagement, satisfaction, or workplace surveys.
With the right technology, policies, and investment in place, companies can expand their operations and reputations successfully, and reap the rewards of a truly dynamic and resilient approach.