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Luring employee back to the office- what will it take?

By | Raghu Krishnamoorthy | Global CHRO, Coach, Speaker, Faculty member, Thought Leader

This week, I write about a meaningful conversation with Dr. Peter Cavanaugh, a workspace expert, about how organizations should think about their employees returning to work from an office rather than continue working from home. Dr. Cavanaugh has led workplace transformation efforts- and is best known for his reimagination of GE’s iconic learning facility in Crotonville, just outside New York City. 

Organizations are wrestling with how best to get employees back to the office. Reluctance from employees is obvious due to a complex set of issues, including different vaccination levels, childcare concerns as schools are not yet open in many parts of the world, the virus itself still being a clear and present danger. These are real issues- and often beyond organizational or employee control. If organizations enforce mandates on employees to return to the office, they are likely to face a backlash. 

Dr. Cavanaugh has advice on what the organizations control in this equation- and that is the physical workspace. He says that organizations can no longer rely on the historical model of the office. In the past, the office was the place you went to work. It was an anchor for work and vital professional relationships. As we go more and more hybrid, work gets done where the employee is, not where the office is. Office space, therefore, needs to be reimagined. 

He argues that the current discussion regarding office real estate as ‘cost’ is the wrong focus. Many organizations are looking at cutting real estate costs given that fewer people will work from an office space. He recommends that organizations, instead of cost savings, approach it as a chance to increase efficiency and effectiveness. Packing employees into ‘cube farms,’ forcing hot-desking and hoteling depersonalizes the environment and does not provide the right incentive for employees to get back. One study shows that employees lose 86 minutes of productivity every day due to distractions and noise in closely packed cubicles. Hoteling makes you feel like a guest rather than create a sense of belonging you want the employees to feel. 

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