Back to work. Where is my office?

The humble office now becomes a headache.

Many employers are taking advantage of the return of workers to reconfigure their offices. As they try to open up more spaces for office collaboration and expect a smaller fraction of their staff to work in-person each day, organizations are reducing the number of offices and ending the practice of assign to most employees.

San Francisco-based Envoy, a work platform provider that launched a desk booking system eight months ago, says it has attracted 1,000 customers and helped employees book 2.1 million desks over the past six months. final months of 2021. Boston-based Robin, which also sells what it calls “workplace experience software,” estimates that 90% of reserved desks on its system are floating among employees; 90% of offices were preassigned before the pandemic.

Desktop sharing, which includes practices such as “hot desking” or “hoteling”, is not new; some organizations, like management consulting firms, have shared offices for decades. It’s a logical solution for configuring post-pandemic workspaces, potentially even allowing a business to reduce the amount of office space it needs. There is only one problem: human nature. “It’s a real pain. That’s a lot of change,” says Zach Dunn, vice president of customer experience and co-founder of Robin. “People felt something was being taken away from them.”

A year ago, San Francisco-based Dropbox announced a groundbreaking new desktop, pledging to do away with individual desktops to focus on collaborative work as the company shifts to a “virtual-first” model. Those who insist on having an office away from home could use a stipend to become a member of a third space. “This is a permanent change,” CEO Drew Houston said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal for an article titled “The Death of the Office is Upon Us.”

This approach has not been universally popular. Former employees interviewed by Business Insider complained that the company’s decision to redevelop its offices, which removed the ability to work in the office and removed many old perks like a gourmet cafeteria, hurt the company’s culture. company and pushed some employees to head for the exits. The company said its turnover rates for 2021 were in line with those of its peers.

Alison Hirst, who teaches organizational studies at Anglia Ruskin University in the UK, has been studying flexible desks since discovering the firm in 2006. What she discovered: Choosing a different desk every day is work – a job in which no one wants to engage. kind of like doing work, an unnecessary activity that you have to do before you can start working,” she explains.

Hirst found that employees come to the office early for choice, and the first places to go are those around the edges. Corner spotlights are the most sought after; like zebras in the savannah, apparently we feel safer when we know no one is behind us. Then, over time, workers start returning to the same desks over and over again; others, realizing who owns the office, respect those choices. In other words, if people are not assigned desks, they assign desks to themselves.

“Before, there were a lot of exhortations about how employees should commute,” says Hirst. But “moving is a nuisance”.

People who lose their desks “will say they feel lost,” adds Graham Brown, an associate professor at the University of Victoria’s business school who studied hot desking. “They find it very disruptive.” He explains that with territorial markers – a plant or a child’s drawing, for example – and with familiarity, an office develops meaning that helps deepen a worker’s connection to the organization.

Experts also agree on another point: if you work next to employees you don’t know, you’re unlikely to interact with them. “Physical proximity to strangers does not in itself trigger conversations,” says Hirst. Cue the helmet.

So how can companies adapt to hybrid work schedules without wasting money on unused desks or triggering worker dissatisfaction? Researchers and office management experts have a few key suggestions:

forget to save money

Dunn at Robin said companies need to focus the conversation not on cost savings, but rather on creating spaces that provide more utility for their employees. “Don’t present it as a way to save money,” he says, noting that some employees might conclude, angrily, that flex-desks are primarily used to cut costs. “Let’s say you’re doing this because the office needs to be better for collaborative work.”

Dunn added that companies will also succeed because they have invested the resources to repurpose the office in a way that genuinely benefits workers, such as creating a co-working space. “You get a lot less resistance,” he says. “Get a better coffee maker, get a cappuccino maker,” suggests Brown.

Don’t start from the top

While upper management should communicate things like health and safety measures, more intimate changes like those to office spaces are best communicated by an employee’s direct supervisor, Dunn says. “Ask managers to try to coordinate team days,” he suggests.

Go ahead and assign desks to people

Executives say one of the most effective ways to manage flexible office is to make offices and worker schedules a little less flexible.

A popular option is to create a “neighborhood”. Assign an area of ​​the office where specific teams should congregate and clearly indicate which days are for which teams, suggests Larry Gadea at Envoy, adding that companies can set up team meetings to get everyone in on the same day. “It’s reassuring to know when they need to be there,” he says of the employees.

And while you’re at it, why not just assign desks to employees, so they don’t have to bother doing it themselves?

About Kristina McManus

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