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Impacts of Remote Work: Five Hidden Costs Employers May Overlook 

By Pat Clark
Chief Financial Officer
SpaceIQ

Many states have begun loosening restrictions as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. Employers are now grappling with the decision of what the future of their offices will look like – and how much it will cost to adapt to a new business normal.

In the past year, companies observed how remote work impacted their internal operations, employee productivity, and overall business performance. Now, when paired with a practical cost/benefit plan, these observations can help companies determine the best path forward: bring all employees back, go with an all-remote workforce, or create a hybrid of the two.

Understanding employees’ workplace needs

Our employees’ well-being has always been a priority, regardless of the pandemic. As we look at transition plans, understanding employee needs and maximizing their engagement is at the forefront of our decision-making. For some SpaceIQ employees, a work-from-home setup is a dream. Others are counting down the days until they can return to a physical office. Many fall somewhere in between – hoping for flexible options to alternate working remotely and in a physical office space.

Managing expectations for a return-to-work plan should be No. 1 for companies seeking to ensure the safety of their employees. Globally, employees have shown that remote work is viable and even preferable for productivity and engagement. Of the estimated 48 million full-time employees in the U.S. who hold a remote-work-compatible job, 82 percent say they would like to work remotely at least weekly. The challenge lies in developing a budget-appropriate plan that offers opportunities to work remotely while resuming uninterrupted operations in a physical office.

Five hidden costs of remote work

Companies often overlook the hidden costs of remote work that should be addressed when considering a work-from-home or hybrid environment. Additionally, these costs can increase with the fiscal requirements of maintaining a physical location.

1. Developing a centralized network infrastructure

Beyond the use of laptops, cables, and monitors, office technology harbors additional costs for communication. Using platforms such as Slack or Microsoft Teams has become more critical than ever for businesses that have reduced face-to-face interactions. Companies that continue to leverage these platforms need to consider the maintenance and security of their network infrastructure.

2. Understanding the soft and hard costs

Nurturing an internal culture with remote workers is critical for employee engagement. The hard costs of remote work are easily calculable, but soft costs surrounding employee connection, team-building activities, or all-hands meetings may be more challenging to pinpoint. Remote work will require additional effort to keep employees connected. For example, our Human Resources and Marketing teams collaborated and coordinated a global gift distribution for employees in Q4 2020. SpaceIQ CMO Nai Kanell led the effort and explained, “It was no small feat and expensive, but it was worth every penny. We want people to know personally, ‘Hey, we’re one team working together regardless of location. We care about you.’”

3. Maintaining data integrity and security after turnover

Data integrity is a critical issue for virtually every company.  One data loss survey conducted by TechRepublic indicated that 95% of the participating organizations say they suffered data loss in 2020. Remote work has led to an increased reliance on email, which increases the potential of unintentional sharing of sensitive information. Moreover, 60% of survey participants reported working in a shared home office or communal spaces where distractions are unavoidable. In addition to confidentiality concerns, distracted employees are more likely to make errors that result in the loss of sensitive company and/or customer data. Increasing employees’ focus on the criticality of maintaining data security through on-going communication and training is critical.

Additionally, companies need to plan well in advance regarding how they will protect their confidential data when employees leave the company. When an employee leaves an organization, companies should take immediate action to collect equipment and protect sensitive information. Many companies choose centralized system control to enable immediate termination of employees’ access to confidential information and company applications, reducing the likelihood of data loss.

4. Budgeting for the costs associated with relocating employees

Many employees chose to relocate during the pandemic.  It is critical that employers know where employees are moving to ensure that the company is not unknowingly becoming liable for income taxes, property taxes, and employment taxes in new states.  Also, where employees choose to live could impact their tax bill if it is somewhere other than where they were working before the pandemic.  Employers and employees should expect that depleted state budgets might prompt states to go on the offensive when it comes to collecting tax revenue from employers and their  employees working remotely, even if it is only temporary. Generally, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employers are not required to reimburse employees for work-related expenses incurred working remotely. Even if your state does not require your company to foot the bill for remote work expenses, companies may want to offer reimbursement for the cost of internet, ergonomic equipment, or technology purchases. These can be marketed as company perks but will add to the bottom-line impact of supporting remote work.

5. Adapting operations for geography

For managers with teams now in multiple time zones, shuffling meeting times and juggling schedules is part of the reality of a geographically dispersed team. The amount of time it takes to coordinate moments for team collaboration can place an additional strain on managers who are already struggling to meet day-to-day demands, develop team culture, and adhere to company-wide policies. Organizations that rely on managers to balance these different facets of remote work should be aware of burnout and turnover that may affect their leadership teams.

Remote work options also is pushing many employees to relocate to new cities and countries. A 2020 DSJ Global survey revealed 69% of those polled would move to a different location for a better job. This choice can create complex issues for employers. Business registration in multiple states or countries can be costly and time-consuming. Local tax and labor laws aren’t consistent across borders. Unemployment and workers’ compensation insurance coverage typically is governed by the state where the employee works, not where the company is headquartered. If your business covers relocation expenses, plan to spend upward of $97,000 for current employees and $72,000 for new hires.

Additionally, recruitment is another element that may require additional investment. Kanell says, “We are spending a lot more money on recruiting than we did in the past. We also need to be more flexible in terms of where people can work from. This flexibility entails business registration in the multiple states where we have found top talent to join our team.” Going through the registration process requires administrative costs and time, along with gaining an understanding of the local pay rates for that talent.

Remote work and the agile office

Regardless of the framework businesses choose, remote work has evolved from a loose trend to commonly sought benefit by employees. The post-COVID workplace will be focused on longer term, agile workplace development. Last year has shown us that more companies are going to be embracing a hybrid structure versus the “normal” office that so many of us have grown accustomed to. There is no “normal.”

The benefits of having a remote structure and the need for recognizing the potential additional costs are clearly present, but we also have to remember: It’s not all or nothing. Employers are considering the productivity benefits of staying remote while also understanding the need to keep employees safe in a collaborative, in-person environment.

Companies can embrace better workplace agility by understanding both the financial costs and the employee productivity and job satisfaction implications of remote work.

Keep reading: Boost Team Collaboration with 10 Remote Working Tools

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Long-Term Remote Working: Six Must-Have Keys to Success

Remote Working Trends and Options: Eliminating DesksBy Devon Maresco
Marketing Coordinator
SpaceIQ

Remote work is here to stay. The prospect of long-term remote working is yet another chapter in the long history of workplace evolution, and companies need to adapt. That doesn’t mean pivoting to accommodate this change temporarily—it means setting up for flex work, distributed teams, and remote employees as the new standard.

Is working remotely effective? All signs point to yes, which is all the more reason for companies to get behind the trend and start adapting. It’s not as simple as allowing employees to log in and work from home. Embracing remote work means companies need to reestablish expectations, create new processes, and give employees new opportunities to be productive.

Here’s a look at six must-have keys to success and the role they play in a sustainable shift to remote work and distributed teams.

1. Remote accessibility

Remote work demands remote accessibility. Employees need access to the same digital resources they would use in-office. This goes beyond access to an email server or the company cloud. It needs to encompass the complete suite of apps, programs, and tools they need to do their job. For many companies, this means looking into licensing and cloud-based platforms, to ensure everyone has access no matter where they’re working from.

Companies moving to remote work permanently need to also consider cybersecurity. Opening up access to a wide array of applications, data, and systems means shoring up practices and protocols that might leave the company and employees vulnerable. Make cybersecurity a priority to enable safe accessibility for all.

2. Collaborative tools

Remote work often means working alone, but it doesn’t need to command isolation. There are a plethora of collaborative tools out there, and companies need to leverage as many as needed to enable distributed teams. From file repositories like Dropbox to collaboration through Google Docs, give teams the tools they need to be productive as one.

Among the most important collaborative tools are project management platforms. From keeping people on-task to delegating amongst the team, these apps serve as a home-base for bringing teams together. As an added bonus, there’s opportunities for management to communicate with staff, track progress, and weigh in on problems.

3. Seamless communication

Communication goes hand-in-hand with collaboration. Thankfully, there are so many applications out there that combine them. Microsoft Teams, Slack, Discord, and Facebook Messenger all help employees maintain communication in a broad capacity. Whether it’s weighing in or asking questions, a trusted means of communication is the backbone to any successful remote work migration.

While it’s vital for working together, good communication also plays a role in helping employees adapt to a new remote work norm. They need to be able to chat with employees in the same way they would in-office, with opportunities for banter and off-task chatting. Even something as simple as the #random Slack thread serves an important purpose.

4. Engaged leadership

Managing a remote team successfully comes from learning to balance a hands-on approach with a trusting one. Leaders need to position themselves as accessible and available to solve problems, while maintaining the role of authority. While the tendency might be to hold the reins tighter, it’s actually smarter to give them some slack. Employees need to adjust and feel like they have room to adjust. Bearing down on them can taint the allure of remote work.

The most important trait of remote managers? Empathy. Emotional intelligence and the ability to empathize with each individual’s unique situation creates mutual trust between leaders and subordinates. “I give you the freedom and understanding to do a good job; you prove to me that you can do it your way.”

5. Flex work solutions

Remote work doesn’t signal a death knell for the office. Many employees like the office and the familiarity of going to work. Whether they choose to come back to the office full time, split their schedule, or show up at random, there need to be desking options available to them. This is why hoteling is so popular in the age of flex work. Like remote work, it gives employees the power to choose their own work style and provides a framework for support around that optionality.

6. Patience and flexibility

Even the best digital resources and agile strategies aren’t enough to make a remote work situation successful if they’re not backed by patience and flexibility. Companies need to show clear support for their employees and provide them with peace of mind as they transition remote. That means easing the transition, checking in on the adjustment process, and putting emphasis on trust. Employees need to feel excited about the transition and feel comfortable reestablishing their own habits in their own way. If they feel supported, they’ll adapt quickly.

These six keys add up to a remote work approach that’s designed to foster success. Remote work solutions need to enable employees, support teams, and benefit the business. The above focus items do exactly that. Most companies have some semblance of a remote work system in-place. Use this roadmap to fill in the blanks, to make it more effective and, most important, sustainable.

Keep reading: Remote Working Trends and Options: Eliminating Desks

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Making a Confident Return to the Workplace

By James Franklin
Chief Customer Officer
SpaceIQ 

For more than a year, uncertainty has been a common theme in our daily personal and business lives. Lockdowns shuttered businesses of all types and sizes and forced most employees to work from home. With vaccinations underway, many company owners and business leaders are determining if now is the time to return to the workplace. 

The pressure to have staff come back to work is being felt across the globe, especially as more companies publicly announce their returntotheoffice plans. Some countries, like Australiamoved back months ago, and other countries are using its plans as a guide for how to make it happen. As North America and Europe will likely delay their returns to fall 2021 or even 2022, the amount and speed of change is expected to grow. 

Australia’s success shows the workplace of the future is being defined by activity-based working (ABW) strategies and more diverse choices in where employees work. Space planning analytic tools are also evolving. Platforms, such as those offered by SpaceIQ, are essential for businesses to not only devise what workplace return methodology best meets their needs, but to also stay current with evershifting office space trends.    

Will Employees Want to Return? 

For some companies, it has been more than a year since employees were in the workplace. There was fear that work-from-home would hinder productivity. That is not the case. According to a Mercer study, 94% of 800 employers surveyed said that productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, even with their employees working remotely. 

So, the time has come to welcome employees back to your workplace. What if some do not want to come back? A recent study published by TechRepublic showed 29% of employees said they would quit if forced to return in-person. Work-from-home offers flexibility not seen with an office job. Parents have reaped the benefits of consistent childcarethe freedom to make doctor appointments on their schedule, and not spending valuable time commuting to and from work. 

Because finding and retaining happy, engaged employees is difficult enough in today’s tight labor market, keeping top talent on board means more than good pay and a few in-office amenities. Employees, especially new ones, want flexibility in how and where they work. Implementing an ABW approach is another way to show your employees the value of being in the office by showing it is more than just a static space. Dynamic workplaces provide employees options. They can select where they work based on that day’s activity. 

ABW is all about flexibility. But that does not mean every employee will embrace new office structuresPeople are naturally averse to change and ABW is a big one. Some employees likely will resist more flexible environments. For CyberArk, an Israel-based information security company, most employees prefer static or designated seats as defined by the country’s prevailing work culture. Many global companies also discover that because workers don’t have assigned desks, they may lose the “personal” touch afforded by individual spaces. 

Fortunately, workplace technology can be used to implement a safe environment upon return and help managers to gauge how many of their employees are willing to return to the office. Better understanding employees needs will help you establish an approach that makes staff want to return to the office. In turn, they may be more productive and help foster a more positive workplace culture. 

Workplace Data and B2W 

Regardless of when a return is planned, it is unlikely all employees will come back all at once. Some elements of remote work will remainBut many companies are opting for flexible schedules of mixing inoffice and remote work.   

Workplace technology offers a seamless approach to both planning for and implementing a back-to-work strategy. Activity-based work is a shift from providing generic workplace that fits typical types and styles of work to designing space that is purpose built for certain activities. This means more productive space as it is tailored to the work it supports.   

This level of planning is not possible, at least not in an effective and timely manner, without technologies that support space planning and utilization, hotelingemployee health checks, contact tracing, social distancing, and other measures to keep staff as safe as possible. 

Workplace analytics are critical to implementing the what and how of your return to work. For global companies, implementation plans for one region may require only opening one office at 50 percent, while bringing 15 percent of employees back in another location. What if another surge hits? Are you ready to shutter one location, set up employees for remote work, and shift critical tasks to offices in another state or country? 

Return with Confidence 

If COVID has taught us anything, it is to be agile and confident in every decision. Employee safety is paramount when considering a return to the office. There is no room for error. That is why technology is key to managing every aspect of a back-to-work plan. 

Platforms such as those offered by SpaceIQ allow HR, Facilities, IT, and company leaders to weigh the pros and cons of their back-to-work strategies. We recently shared a return-to-work template to help guide your every move as employees come back. 

But a post-COVID return is only the beginning. Once the initial move is done, you should focus on contingency plans. Planning for inevitable contingencies is a smart, agile strategy. As Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, said: “…we’re all living some form of Option B.” 

Employees expect business leaders to have the answers and create workplaces that allow them to feel both safe and productive. Contingency planning is a great start. The next step in a confident return is thinking about the future. 

Less Structure, More Social 

What we knew as business normal is anything but now. The future workplace will be defined by how agile it can be in response to employee needs and new crises. SpaceIQ is strengthening the ArchibusSerraview, and SiQ product lines with technology tools that allow for maximum agility while supporting day-to-day productivity demands. 

Companies realized early on that remote work did not hinder productivity. Large organizations like Twitter embraced remote work by allowing employees to work offsite indefinitely. Others are likely to scale back on their investments in physical workplaces as we adjust to this new normal. 

Workplaces will not disappear completely, but businesses will make smarter decisions about how they use space. Technology lets you to analyze historic space utilization data and how that measures against today’s hybrid work structure. 

According to a McKinsey study30% of companies are likely to terminate leases while 55% will reconfigure how existing space is used. Space allocation is also shifting. CBRE survey of 10,000 companies showed employees want to come to the office 62% of the time for team collaboration and face-to-face time and only 16% for workplace amenities. What this shows is individual space and support services/amenities are less important than collaboration and social spaces. 

An Agile Future 

We have already seen a significant shift toward agile workplaces. Demand for remote work during the coronavirus pandemic shed light on the need for modern digital resources and technologies. Overnight, companies adopted platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Asana to help teams work from home. Not only have those adoptions remained, but they have also become more robust as companies build out their agile, digital infrastructures. 

Business of all types and sizes are looking for ways to create workplaces where employees want to be and where they can do their best work. SpaceIQ is here to help. We have solutions to manage real estate, optimize current and new workspaces, structure hybrid work schedules, and maintain every aspect of your workplace. For more information on how to partner with SpaceIQ for an agile workplace future, visit us at https://space.iq.com. 

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The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Workplaces

By Devon Maresco
Content Strategy Specialist
SpaceIQ

In the same way open offices and coworking did before it, the concept of hybrid workplaces has changed how people work. Just like these past revolutionary work concepts, it’s important we take the time to assess the pros and cons of hybrid workplaces. As they gain momentum companies and their employees need to understand the benefits, drawbacks, opportunities, and pitfalls associated with this new form of work.

A recap of hybrid workspaces

A hybrid workplace consists of both in-house employees and remote workers who work together as a distributed team. The hybrid workspace can take many forms as it pertains to a physical space. For example, many businesses adopted a hoteling model to accommodate an unknown daily capacity of in-house employees. Other companies evolved into more agile work environments that allow in-house workers to more easily adapt different workspaces based on their needs.

The advantages and disadvantages of the hybrid work model come from not only the structure of the workplace itself, but in how remote and on-site employees collaborate. While these solutions can vary across companies, the fundamentals of a hybrid model remain the same. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

The positives powering hybrid work

As you might expect from a new work model that’s quickly defined the professional landscape, there’s a lot to love about hybrid work. The benefits of hybrid work are many, for both employees and employers alike.

For employees, the biggest benefit of hybrid work is flexibility. Whether they work in-house, from home, or split their time between the two, a hybrid workplace supports them. It’s meant to bridge all gaps between different work styles, so a person can accomplish their job regardless of setting. This is especially important for companies scheduling on rolling shifts.

This seamless working experience goes all the way down to the workspace level. Hybrid work demands workspaces as flexible as the concept. Hotel desks, hot desks, breakout spaces, and the like are all essential in a supportive hybrid workplace. More than keeping the concept functional, they further promote employees to work in the fashion that best fits their needs.

From an employer standpoint, hybrid work offers powerful optimization opportunities. For example, ratio desking allows companies to operate with fewer desks than total employees, without depriving people of the space they need. Likewise, a dramatic shift to remote work and force portfolio consolidation, which can free up significant cash flow otherwise tied up in overhead.

These examples add up to some key, specific benefits that make hybrid workplaces a long-term prospect for today’s dynamic workforce:

  • Offers the best of both on-site and off-site accessibility for employees
  • Improves flexibility, agility, and optionality of the workplace
  • More effective use and utilization of spaces and workstations
  • Saved workplace and facility costs through more efficient use of space
  • Improved employee experience, which can influence and improve culture
  • Access to a broader talent pool when hiring or expanding

Negatives to beware of in hybrid workplaces

There are still a few kinks in the hybrid model that companies need to work through. It’s a proven, reliable solution to distributed teams and workforces, but there are some key drawbacks that can cause complications if not accounted for.

The biggest is lack of oversight. With some working remotely and those in-office employees flitting between different areas and workstations, companies give up a traditional sense of control. This is okay, so long as there’s a guiding hand to help employees develop good habits and understand new expectations. Social-emotional competency is vital for management, and good systems for communication are imperative.

Distractions are also something to be aware of. Employees used to the traditional work model of one desk and one task could find themselves both easily distracted and/or unsure of how to stay on-task. Companies can support these individuals with thoughtful workspace design and encourage employees to adapt their habits, rather than abandon them.

Finally, there need to be systems for bridging in-house to remote in all senses of the concept. Employee-to-employee communication. Access to , files, and technologies. The connection needs to be robust. Outside of employee preference, there can’t be any factors that make working in-house or remote any better than the alternative. Companies need to be mindful as they level the playing field, while simultaneously raising it.

Again, these examples add up to some clear-cut pitfalls. The good news is, many of them are avoidable with thoughtful design and management of hybrid workplaces:

  • More difficult to communicate in real-time, especially between distributed teams
  • Access to technology and applications may differ from office to home
  • Employees may find it difficult to adapt or develop new habits
  • Employees may feel alienated if not supported in their choice of work style
  • Hybrid requires more processes of control to allow for freedoms in work

Why the hybrid model is here to stay

Simply put: because the benefits of the hybrid workplace outweigh the potential negatives. That and the fact that, for some employees, there’s no going back to a centralized workplace. Companies might’ve adopted a hybrid work model out of necessity due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s one that’s going to far outlast it as the new way to accommodate everyone unique work styles and preferences.

Keep Reading: Hybrid Workplaces are the Future of Work

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What’s the Future of Work Post COVID-19?

What’s the Future of Work Post COVID-19?

By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist
SpaceIQ

Since the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic, companies have speculated on the future of work post COVID-19. As the months dragged on, most companies came to the same conclusion: the future of work depends on a successful pivot during the pandemic. Rather than wait for the virus to pass, companies began to explore new work schedules, desking concepts, remote work, and a host of new workplace standards and practices.

While much of the workforce is still settling in almost a year into the pandemic, the future of work post COVID-19 is becoming clearer—thanks in large part to the adaptations of leading companies. Here’s what’s trending up and paving the way for the future of work in our upcoming post-pandemic world.

Remote work is here to stay

Remote work was arguably the single biggest pivot during the pandemic. The exodus from the workplace to home offices, dining room tables, and couches has proven that a significant portion of the population can work from home. As they settle in, many employees are finding that they enjoy the freedom remote work affords them, and are willing to put up with some of the cons attached to it.

Employers are also discovering the benefits of a remote workforce. Expect many employers to trim back their workplace footprint in the coming years as more employees opt for remote work. New workplace desking concepts are also good for the bottom line, as they exhibit better space utilization and cost-efficiency.

The amicable view on remote work by both employers and employees indicates this is one trend that’s here to stay.

Distributed teams

In conjunction with remote work, distributed teams are also sure to stick around. Whether they’re all remote or a mixture of remote vs. in-office, teams are no longer in the same place, which means their communication standards have changed.

The future is filled with more Slack messages, Zoom calls, and Dropbox collaborations. Teams might not all be in the same place, but they need to be on the same page. Employers need to take distributed teams into consideration as they plan upcoming investments in technology and look for ways to upskill managers.

Hoteling emerges in a big way

Hoteling office space is right behind remote work in terms of lasting changes to how we work. Hoteling has allowed companies to facilitate a safe return to work by giving employees the freedom to choose their workspace, while tracking workspace utilization. It’s not only great for contact tracing, it’s a valuable desking concept for agile work environments and companies practicing flex work.

Hoteling offers a perfect medium between the freedom of hot desking and the structure of assigned or static workspaces. Managed correctly, hoteling will become the lynchpin for companies with complex scheduling across flex teams. As we move past the pandemic, employers will look for ways to downsize their square footage while growing their workforce, and they’ll rely on hoteling and flex work to balance these adjustments.

How will coworking and hot desks fare?

In 2018 and 2019, hot desking and coworking appeared to be the clear frontrunners in the future of work. These workplace concepts even ushered in the current crop of space planning software more and more companies will rely on into the future.

While hot desking and coworking will see a rebound post-pandemic, there’s fear that they won’t bounce back with as much gusto. Coworking spaces will reappear and may thrive thanks to a significant uptick in remote workers, but the business model has become shakier under the context of the pandemic. Hot desks may cede their share of the workplace to hotel desks, which give more control to facility managers when it comes to understanding worker habits and workspace utilization.

We haven’t seen the end of coworking and hot desks, but the future might bring different iterations of these concepts from what we know them as pre-pandemic.

Will we ever go back to static desks or open offices?

The future is the age of the agile workplace, which means we’re not likely to see a resurgence of static desking concepts. Open offices aren’t off the table, however, provided they’re rooted in flex work principles. Benching won’t likely bounce back as well—breakout spaces will take their place.

The more dynamic an individual workspace, the more likely its future in a post COVID-19 workplace. The reason? Dedicated space will become a burden on the balance sheet if distancing policies stay in place. Even if they don’t, employees are becoming acclimated to new occupancy standards and won’t want to pack into confined spaces if they can help it.

Early trends squash speculation

The above trends aren’t speculation—they’re emerging standards. Almost one year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing the makings of a future beyond it. The adjustments and transitions companies are making now aren’t short-term pivots—they’re planning for the future. There’s no going back.

While these standards will continue to evolve, they’re setting the stage for employee expectations. After a mass migration to remote work, distributed teams, hoteling, and flex work, employers and employees alike won’t be in any hurry to up-end their work arrangement again!

Read Next: Space Planning Software Buyers Guide

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Workplace Thought Leadership

Back-to-Work Planning & Employee Sentiment

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

Going to the office has drastically changed, and that makes workplace policy and facility management more complex. While you’re implementing new safety measures such as social distancing, mask wearing, and disinfecting, don’t forget to include employee sentiment as part of your back-to-work plan.

Employee sentiment matters because this is also a stressful time for employees, and you need to establish trust as they return to work. Generally speaking, stress negatively affects physical and mental health, turnover and absenteeism rates, productivity and motivation, morale and complaints, and even on-site accidents. The world is dealing with collective trauma, and your back-to-work plans can exacerbate or diminish those challenges.

Employees understand that the coronavirus is dangerous. They may be familiar with well-documented cases of workplace infection and feel vulnerable to catching the virus or spreading it to others. They may worry that they are putting their lives on the line to come to work. Listen to their concerns and ideas and take them into consideration when you make your back-to-work plans. When you ask them to risk coming into the office, your actions should reassure your employees that you’re worthy of their trust and that you’re working to reduce that risk.

Employee Sentiment Matters

Your hard work and good intentions for reentry planning won’t mean much if those plans don’t match employee needs. In a recent Future Workplace survey, employee experience ranked first among 50% of HR and business leaders as their top initiative for 2020. Since a high percentage of employees are anxious about returning to work, employers can’t afford to ignore employee sentiment.

Most employees feel job-related stress at least some of the time. When you add in COVID-19-related challenges, the stress may be difficult to manage. Although you may think you are doing an excellent job following CDC guidelines or even going beyond recommendations, that may not be enough for some employees, especially those with health concerns or extra COVID-19-related responsibilities.

Unlike momentary stress such as a looming deadline or an important presentation, COVID-19 stress is chronic, unrelenting, and can directly impact the workplace. It’s safe to assume your employees will be stressed at least some of the time. They may experience physical and emotional symptoms of their stress.

Although most remote workers continue to be productive at home, three factors (in addition to safety and security) influence well-being and work effectiveness: trusting relationships, social cohesion, and individual effectiveness. Employees who feel they can share their experiences and concerns without repercussions will feel safer in the workplace, and this can positively impact performance.  It’s not just about creating a physically safe working environment. You also need to create an emotionally safe workplace.

A cookie-cutter approach won’t suit everyone’s needs. If you listen to your employees and respond appropriately, they will appreciate your efforts. They will remember that you cared about them and their needs during a crisis, which can earn you employee loyalty and trust for years to come.

Gauging Employee Sentiment

You can create both formal and informal listening opportunities. The easiest way to get a lot of information quickly is to use workplace reentry surveys. Surveys make it easy for employees to respond quickly and to do so at their own convenience.

Start by gathering feedback about four main areas:

  • Physical Workplace: social distancing, mask wearing and enforcement, cleaning/hygiene, health screenings and contact tracing, ventilation
  • Remote Working: IT support, software/hardware issues, communication, manager oversight, performance and expectations
  • Work-Life Balance: personal health concerns, child care, homeschooling, elder care, household unemployment/illness, anxiety/depression, trust in management
  • HR Policies: compensation, access to FFRCA funds, sick leave, bereavement leave, vacation days, health insurance (including contract/part-time workers)

It’s critical to assess what employees know and how they feel. Do they understand your policies? Are they aware of your efforts to promote safety? Are they doing well emotionally? Do they feel safe confiding their concerns? Doing so will allow you to determine if you have been communicating well and whether your employees believe your workplace is a physically and emotionally safe place to work.

Listen to Your Employees

Even when you implement safety measures, it may not be enough for all your employees to feel safe. This holds true nationally, where one survey shows that fewer than half of employees say safety measures like social distancing will make them feel more comfortable returning to work.

Whether you’re gathering data from surveys or personal interviews, communication will help employees learn more about their individual circumstances, some of which may affect work. An employee living with medically fragile people, for example, may be more cautious than others. A parent with elementary-aged children may appreciate flexible hours.

Survey data can provide valuable insight. You can use sample employee sentiment surveys or create your own using survey software or Google forms.

You may also want to interview your employees individually and institute an open-door policy. Listening closely can help you understand your employees’ needs and circumstances. Interviews can provide qualitative data that surveys miss and allow you to ask follow-up questions. Through your actions, you can show your empathy and help your employees trust that you care about them.

Communicate Early and Often

In a rapidly changing environment, emotions are strong. Uncertainty and change are hotbeds for anxiety, stress, and depression. Keep your employees informed of situations both inside and outside the workplace to provide reassurance. Even if it’s bad news, employees will respond better to the truth, especially when it’s delivered early. They will grow to trust you as a source of accurate information, and employees will appreciate extra planning time when you give them advance notice of changes.

Don’t forget employee  mental health. Help them recognize the signs of stress and provide resources for mental health aids and intervention. Inform them about your workplace’s mental health benefits and hotlines. Consider virtual socializing opportunities to help employees connect with each other. Refer employees to mental health apps that can help manage anxiety. Cultivate a safe place for employees to share their concerns.

Above all, keep the lines of communication open. It’s particularly important for remote employees to maintain a strong connection with the office. Whether you use email, task management software, apps, and/or other tools, maintain IT support and use the same tools consistently so that you and your employees can respond quickly if a crisis arises.

Sometimes, bad news is inevitable. Your decisions may be unpopular. Even when you try to be as flexible as possible, some situations are beyond your control. When you communicate your decision-making process, show that you’ve taken employee concerns into consideration. Modeling honesty and transparency will help your employees do the same with you, and this will help you create a better employee experience.

The COVID-19 situation is difficult for everyone at the office. When you’re planning workplace reentry, risk and uncertainty can create high levels of anxiety in an already stressful situation. If you take the time to listen to employees, gauging employee sentiment will help you create an effective, responsive back-to-work plan, and build a higher level of communication and trust.

Keep reading: 10 Tips for a Safe Return to the Workplace

Categories
Workplace Thought Leadership

Work From Home: Not a Forever Option

By Nai Kanell
Vice President of Marketing
SpaceIQ

As articles continue to show that company after company believes it is a good idea to embrace employees working 100% remote, an uncomfortable thought sinks in. What if SpaceIQ followed Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s vow to let his employees work from home “forever?”

There are organizations like Gitlab that have been successful in 100% remote work. However, it’s a tech company and employees knew what they were getting into when they signed on. I doubt healthcare, banking, or manufacturing could ever move to 100% work from home (WFH). But what about a SaaS company like SpaceIQ, or its owner ArchibusSerraview?

I am a proponent of remote working to some degree because it allows you to source the best talent and, ultimately, create a workforce culture that supports flexibility. Before COVID-19, employees weren’t pushing for 100% remote working. We wanted flexibility in our work schedules and accommodation from our employers. There are some of us who’d like to start later in the day because “productivity” and “morning” aren’t compatible. And what about parents who need to drop kids off at school after the start of “normal” work hours? The list goes on: put in a day’s work even when we’re sick; save a PTO day for a real vacation, not watching a plumber fix the water heater.

We’re asking for freedom to work when we want, how it is best for our productivity, and where we can get the job done while supporting our teams.

There are many disadvantages to 100% WFH—excluding mandated remote work due to COVID-19. Here are 10 reasons to think “flexibility” instead of “entirely” when it comes to WFH.

  1. Home Not-So-Sweet Home. As commercial real estate becomes more expensive, residential real estate is following suit. Some people buy just enough home to accommodate their families. Outside of that, they may not desire more space. So, when COVID-19 forced the world to shelter in place, many of us were unprepared to do so. We jimmy rigged ironing boards into makeshift standing desks. Many of us don’t have a spare bedroom for private work areas or endless Zoom or Teams calls.
  2. Did the Second Hand Move Backward? Do you know what day it is? What time did you start working? How many times did neighbor Fred walk his dog by your house this week? If you’re anything like me, I want a change of scenery from my home. Prior to COVID-19, coworking spaces were taking off because people want to work in environments that nurture creativity and collaboration. With 100% WFH, the world seems to stop spinning. Even Aristotle understood the importance of work structure: “Time is the measure of change.”
  3. I Miss the Bean Bags. Many newer workplaces were designed for productivity. Companies created activity-based workspaces that cater to how employees of all shapes and sizes work their best. WFH hinders spontaneous, active brainstorming or collaboration. Try doing a white boarding session over video conferencing—easier said than done.
  4. My Monitor is Smoking. Home office equipment wasn’t meant for the day-to-day grind of a busy workplace. How many of us have lightning-fast laser printers for those long contracts you just can’t read on a computer screen? Not me. And let’s not forget business vs. personal internet connections. How many times did your lousy connection speed end a meeting in the middle of an important discussion? people dropped off a meeting because of your internet? (Hand raise!)
  5. Remember the Titans! Whether we want to admit it or not, some employees perform better in the office with a coach guiding them to success.
  6. Death By Meeting. More than 100% of my working day is spent in meetings. You read that right. I have to work longer to fit in more meetings. Prior to 100% WFH, I spent about two-thirds of my working day in meetings. Those five-minute discussions that quickly solved an issue are now full-fledged meetings. I sometimes feel like Doctor Who—jumping from one meeting to the next. WFH requires more communication because we feel obligated to spend time with our teams and colleagues because we don’t see them every day in the office.
  7. We ARE Family! Let’s face it, I think we all miss socializing personally and professionally. COVID-19 and working remotely has completely killed that. I miss my colleagues at work and hearing about their weekends or a funny joke. When SpaceIQ was acquired, it was difficult to feel a sense of solidarity amongst the team because we weren’t in one place together and connected. Now, try to virtually build working relationships with new bosses and coworkers. You need to plan time into your meetings for pleasantry and small talk—more so now than when you were together in the office.
  8. Can You Hear Me Now? Communication was tough enough when people were in the office, in the same room. Now, we “talk” via Zoom and Teams, voice calls, or through email. It takes many more written words to clearly communicate than it does to have a simple, in-person conversation.
  9. Kickstart My Brain. There are certain personalities that feed off other people’s energy to jumpstart their creativity. Who hasn’t relished in sitting down with your team and brainstorming the next great offering? Yes, we communicate more in our 100% WFH world, but there’s a lot to be said for congregating in front of white board and free-flowing ideas to solve the latest problem. In-person creativity sessions demand our full attention. Admit it, you multitask on video calls.
  10. Mmmm…Doughnuts! OK, this isn’t true for all companies, but I work in tech. It’s common to have snacks and, on occasion, some meals provided at no cost. They call that a perk! I chose to work for you not just because I liked the job, the company, and the pay, but because you have provided me a place to work where I feel I can be productive and get fed. Sounds weird, but when you’re pulling 10-hour, stressful days getting a product release out on deadline, those Hot Pockets and chocolate-covered almonds may be all there is for dinner.

To WFH or Not to WFH…

Remote working is not going anywhere. There will always be a desire to work from different locations. However, the whole 100% WFH situation doesn’t sound appealing…and probably by a lot more people than you’d think. My guess is that if polled, employees would like the option to work from home but also to come into the office when needed.

Give me the choice and I’ll opt for a mix of WFH and time in the workplace. And that’s the key: provide employees with a choice. Work from home forever isn’t for everyone. Maybe we can dub it WFHWIRFM…work from home when it’s right for me.

Keep reading: 8 Apps for Remote Workers Productivity and Success

Categories
Workplace Thought Leadership

Accountability and Acceptance for Remote Employees

By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer & Co-Founder
SpaceIQ

Remote work is increasing in popularity, capitalizing on an independent workforce that wants to be trusted and own their work. But the rise of out-of-office work doesn’t mean employees are any less interested in camaraderie and collaboration. With remote options comes a new remote employee management challenge: making remote workers accountable and feeling accepted by colleagues.

Connected communication

A 2016 Gallup poll revealed that 43% of the workforce telecommutes at least some of the time—a 4% increase since 2012—and that number is rising. Studies show remote workers are more productive and less likely to quit than in-office employees. Managers need to adapt their leadership styles to help virtual employees achieve their goals.

Any great leadership style starts and ends with communication. The blossoming office Internet of Things (IoT) makes it easy to stay connected with remote employees across town or across several time zones. Cloud storage options allows instant access to digital files and information regardless of time and day. No more waiting for files to be updated and emailed to co-workers for further revisions.

Collaborative information sharing isn’t the only IoT tool for connected communication. Voice and video meeting systems like Zoom and GoToMeeting provide personal connection between remote workers, their teammates, and managers. A Forbes/Zoom study found that half of executives surveyed found video conferencing improves understanding of information and issues. Among high-growth companies, 73% of leaders agreed that virtual connectivity increases communication quality.

But beware of over-communicating with remote employees. Just because you don’t physically see someone doesn’t mean following up on every task via phone, email, and IM is acceptable. A Harvard Business Review article calls this “digital dominance, a relentless and uncomfortable form of harassment.” Many companies create remote communication norms that use acronyms (NNTR for no need to respond) to streamline messaging and reduce unnecessary back and forth.

Create a virtual water cooler

Video conferences aren’t just for meetings. Some offices host a continuous video livestream to create links between offices in different cities. SpaceIQ has a portal between its Mountain View, Calif., and Salt Lake City, Utah, workplaces. These “virtual water coolers” provide a channel for remote workers to engage in idle chatter, share ideas, or simply say “Hi!” to colleagues. If a rolling live feed isn’t workable, carve out time for “online social hours” using a tool like Zoom. Remote workers connect via a webcam and join peers to talk about family, the latest movie, or  what’s happening in the world. To keep things equitable, rotate connection times between time zones. While the cameras are off, encourage employees to use tools like Slack channels to stay in touch.

Not just email, but real mail

Someone in the office celebrating a birthday? There’s no slice of cake for remote workers. Did an off-site employee land a huge account? They won’t hear an office-wide round of applause. Video conferencing is one way to make those connections, but you can’t shove birthday cake through the Internet. Or can you?

There’s nothing stopping a great manager from using delivery services to send a birthday cake or present to a remote employee’s home. Coordinate the delivery with a video celebration to make the most of the moment.

In addition to a “Happy Birthday!” singalong, studies show regularly recognizing a person’s achievements is a critical component of team building and employee engagement. Sending remote employees real mail—even a handwritten note—goes a long way in reinforcing a person’s worth to the company.

SpaceIQ makes an effort to bring all of its employees together twice a year for team-building exercises, financial updates, and product overviews. It’s a cost well worth the connection it creates between team members who may only engage through email or chat. We also hold a quarterly “Gong Ceremony” via our portal to celebrate new business wins.

Ultimately, the way to make remote employees accountable and accepted is to treat them as you would any other worker. However, the steps you need to ensure they’re treated the same requires consistent oversight, scheduling, and personal diligence. The extra effort can result in improved productivity and happy employees.

Keep Reading: spotlight: slack for work-life and real-life

 

Photo by Avi Richards on Unsplash

Categories
Blog

COVID-19 and Employee Fear on Returning to the Workplace

By Nai Kanell
Chief Marketing Officer
SpaceIQ

Between stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, there’s understandable fear of public places during the COVID-19 pandemic. People don’t want to pick up the virus or risk transmitting it to others if they’re an asymptomatic carrier. Despite their avoidance of public places, many people face the prospect of a return to work soon. It’s cause for anxiety and trepidation. Employers need to make strides to proactively address COVID-19 and employee fear on returning to the workplace.

There are a lot of different opportunities for employers to quell fears about returning to the workplace. Even small reassurances go a long way. Here’s what companies can and should do to help mitigate coronavirus concerns as they welcome employees back to work.

Maintain optional remote work opportunities

Just because your city or state has lifted its stay-at-home order doesn’t mean you necessarily need to usher every employee back into the workplace. If your company has remote work protocols in-place, it’s not a bad idea to extend them—especially if employees demonstrated good productivity over the past weeks and months. Allowing employees to continue to work from home can be a goodwill gesture that shows you care.

For companies eager to bring employees back in-house, a hybrid schedule is a great compromise. Bring back your most essential teams, while allowing peripheral teams to telecommute for an extra week or two. Just be careful not to create division in your workplace. A simple solution is to offer an opt-in remote work policy. Employees with anxiety about a quick return can continue to work from home, while those eager to get back into a routine will gladly come to work.

Ease employees back into the workplace 

For larger workplaces, a slow return to work can mitigate employee anxiety in a big way. There are many ways to stagger a return to in-house work based on the flexibility of your workplace:

  • Bring back one department at a time over a multi-week timeline
  • Implement a hybrid work schedule—three days remote vs. two days in-house, or similar
  • Scale into capacity through a hybrid schedule, adding another in-house day each week
  • Stagger shifts or adopt first and second shift splits to mitigate workplace congestion

Even simple return to work policies can significantly reduce employee fears—for example, scheduling the first shifts back in-house on Thursday or Friday. It’s also smart to coordinate a brief reorientation period, to allow employees to reacclimate without the stress of a full workload.

Make a concerted effort to sanitize

The biggest fear employees have when returning to the workplace is exposure to COVID-19. They want some certainty that reentering a social environment won’t result in a coronavirus diagnosis. While there’s ultimately no guarantee, employers can make a show of sanitizing the workplace.

Create new policies around workplace sanitization and hygiene, and enforce them. Put up signage to remind employees of hand washing and respiratory etiquette. Ensure paper towel, tissue, soap, and hand sanitizer are readily available at key points in the workplace. Encourage employees to disinfect desks and other flat surfaces when they’re done with them.

In addition to these basic sanitization efforts, show employees you’re committed to cleanliness. Inform them of new sanitizing efforts by your janitorial team, or let them know you’ve scheduled more frequent deep cleanings. Employees shouldn’t just feel like they’re working in a clean space, they should know they are.

Open communication channels

Employees have questions and they’ll expect answers. It’s not enough to implement new policies or ease the return to in-house work; companies also need to open the lines of communication. Send out a company-wide memo or host an all-hands meeting and make it clear that your employees have a voice. Some simple suggestions include:

  • Hold a Q&A session where employees can ask questions
  • Provide an online form or portal where employees can voice concerns
  • Host one-on-ones with employees to gauge their feelings
  • Provide weekly emails or memos to keep employees informed

Some companies will opt for an open forum-style approach to communication, while others may offer anonymous feedback channels. Regardless of how your organization welcomes employee feedback, the important thing is that you listen to it and act accordingly.

Be aware of employee concerns and act accordingly

Every person is going to process the return to work differently. Address COVID-19 and employee fear on returning to the workplace on an individual basis as-needed. For some, a return to the workplace means a welcome return to normalcy; for others, it’s extremely stressful. Act in a responsible capacity and make concessions where possible.

A structured, organized return to work will yield best results. Don’t just open the doors and expect things to go back to normal. Make it clear your organization has a plan and execute that plan with an air of confidence and purpose. The smoother the transition, the better the results.

Keep Reading: COVID-19 Workplace Resource Page