A nationwide survey by one of South Africa’s largest workplace consultancies has revealed what we are missing about the workplace – and the surprisingly high number of people who want to get back to the office. Linda Trim, director at Giant Leap, said the survey was carried out during stage 4 of the lockdown and canvassed the opinions of several hundred people across the country who normally work in an office. “It showed that 86% of people wanted to go back to working in an office but would like to have the option of at least a day a week to work from home or other remote locations.”
She added that while remote work was initially very popular, as time at home wore on, people realised there was a complete lack of work-life balance. People often reported feelings of isolation and difficulties in carrying team tasks; many missed coworkers. “The survey showed that 70% of people missed the general social interactions of the office, while 85% said they missed the ‘colleague interaction’ while working at home.” Moreover, 81% felt that it made general work communication much harder.
Interestingly, 70% reported that they were more sedentary working at home which is one the risk factors of health conditions such as diabetes, neuroskeletal problems such as back and muscle pain. The South African results are similar to findings by global design and architecture firm, Gensler’s recent US Work from Home Survey, which polled 2 500 workers across the United States.
“It showed that only 12% of U.S. workers want to work from home full-time, while 74% said people are what they miss most about the office. Most want to return to the workplace,” Trim said. She said that the survey showed that most want to spend the majority of their normal work week at the office, while maintaining the ability to work from home for part of the week.
“Notably, the quality of the work environment workers left directly correlates to their willingness to return. On average, the more satisfied a respondent was with their prior work environment, the fewer days they want to work from home,” said Trim. When asked about the most important reasons to come into the office, respondents overwhelmingly chose activities focused on people and community, including scheduled meetings, socialising and face-to-face time.
“About 55% said scheduled meetings with colleagues, 54% said socialising with colleagues while the same percentage said impromptu facetime were top reasons for coming to an office. Workers also listed access to technology and the ability to focus on their work as key reasons to come in,” Trim said. According to Trim, South Africa would slowly get back to work and offices would again be the epicentre of the working world. “But wellbeing is now paramount. We are increasingly being asked to design for distance while still enabling interaction. Workplaces have to be resilient to this and future pandemics and as they change will become better places for people,” she added.
Linda Trim is the Director of Giant Leap, a workplace solutions company based in Johannesburg.
With the almost evangelical rush to convert offices to open plan in the last twenty years, workers in South Africa and around the world are increasingly revolting against the design trend as they demand a shift away from what was once an unquestioningly popular, cost cutting management trend.
Linda Trim, Director at South Africa’s design specialists Giant Leap, said that it has become increasingly clear that many work spaces are prone to constant interruption. “The phenomenon of ‘open plan human spam’ is now something that is being addressed the world over. And now may be a particularly good time to review this model as many people are set to continue working from home while the corona virus poses a threat.”
“Having access to only open plan, without area demarcation, is just too noisy an environment for many people. Open office plans, which are specifically designed for collaboration, can make it tough for people to do any sort of meaningful, deep thinking work.” “And ironically, there is growing evidence that open plan offices are in fact a collaboration killer.” A 2018 Harvard study compared how employees reacted when they were moved to open plan offices.
Said Trim: “Overall, face-to-face time decreased by around 70 percent across the participating employees with email use increasing by between 22 and 50 percent.” “Also very interesting, was that in the 15 days before the switch to open plan, participants had an average of around 5.8 hours of face-to-face interaction per person per day. After the switch to the open layout, the same participants dropped to around 1.7 hours of face-to-face interaction per day. That’s four hours less of collaboration per day.”
There’s growing evidence open architecture triggers a natural human response to socially withdraw from office mates and interact instead over email and messaging. “We spend so much time working, offices shouldn’t just look modernist and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, but they should also feel great to work in,“ said Trim. “Offices around South Africa are slowly acknowledging the need for change and much of our current consulting is helping businesses address exactly this issue.”
What’s the solution?
Rethinking how a space is structured could change the way people do their jobs. An approach that is beginning to gain traction across the US and starting to pop up in South Africa too is the replacing of general open plan spaces with distinct zones, also called ‘neighbourhoods’. “Workers move through five or six distinct zones during the day. Each space has a purpose, from socialising to research, allowing people to alternate between focused work and chances to recharge. The design culminates in individual ‘deep-work chambers,’ intended for focus,” said Trim.
The focal point of the zones is often small rooms free of distractions meant to give workers a chance to do the kind of heads down, all-consuming thinking at times missing from today’s offices. “The rooms even include a place for workers to change clothes and can also serve as mediation spots as a way to physically and mentally reset.” Employers around the world are trying various, and often inventive approaches to give people ways to do such focused work and regain what was lost when the ‘walls went down.’
Change management and user education is important to help adapt the office so there are fewer interruptions for workers. “Whatever the approach, it’s clear office workers want change. And offices will have to adapt to make the work experience all people friendly,” Trim concluded.
Linda Trim, Director at South Africa’s design specialists Giant Leap.
REMOTE working, the working style that allows people to work outside of a traditional office environment, is already a growing trend around the world, but is likely to receive a substantial boost from coronavirus fears.
Linda Trim, a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap, said that even before the outbreak of the pathogen, there had been a cultural paradigm shift and growing acceptance of “working from anywhere”.
“The coronavirus has accelerated this trend,” she said. “It’s giving us a glimpse into the future when even more people are expected to work from home. “It will likely prove a real-time litmus test not only to see if businesses can carry on functioning effectively during an emergency event, but also if companies could give their employees more freedom from the office in the future.”
Trim said that the real test of a company’s ability to allow its employees to work remotely always comes down to excellent IT organisation and preparation. “Thanks to digital transformation and cloud computing, many businesses have probably already migrated a lot of work to the cloud. Collaboration tools should also be in place.”
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, many businesses have told their employees to work from home and connect through videoconferencing, team messaging apps and chat apps. Other tools include Google Drive, which is a cloud storage platform that keeps files in one secure and centralised location. Remote workers can store and share documents, spreadsheets and slide presentations. For large files that are too big for regular email, Dropbox offers various features for managing remote employees who can sync, share and collaborate on documents.
She added that the remote working trend is based on sound principles of reducing people’s carbon footprint by not travelling to work every day. Equally, smaller offices are needed if people work from home, further reducing carbon footprint and potentially dramatically cutting the costs of needing more office space.
Remote workers tend to be happier too and the option to work from different locations is an increasingly expected norm by younger workers entering the workforce. “Employers must understand the different ways that Gen Z work and ensure that they are able to attract and retain them into the workforce, particularly in the midst of a skills gap in many sectors.
“To do so, companies are likely to appeal to Generation Z’s desire for a career with a purpose and well-being, something that is easier to offer by creating work choice. “The next few months are likely to lay the groundwork for an even greater acceptance of remote working as business will do all they can to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading,” Trim concluded.
Linda Trim is a Director at Giant Leap, a workplace design specialist company.
In an effort to support a healthier and more productive workforce, employers are increasing their spend on well-intentioned wellness programmes such as onsite gyms and standing desks.
But Linda Trim, a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap, said that while employees do like the extra facilities, they want the basics first, which is something companies tend to forget.
“Employees want better air quality, access to natural light and the ability to personalise their workspace more than anything else. It makes sense, as these factors are the biggest influencers of employee performance, happiness and well-being.
“We are increasingly asked to consult to CEOs of South African businesses on how to improve poor workspaces that prevent people and companies from progressing. For them it has become a pressing need to have people-first workspaces.”
A high-quality workplace can reduce absenteeism up to four days a year. That can have a major impact on the bottom line. Employees who are satisfied with their work environments are 16% more productive, 18% more likely to stay and 30% more attracted to their company over its competitors.
Here are three steps you can take to improve your work environment and the well-being of employees:
1. Stop spending on barely used office perks
“A good rule of thumb is to never assume that you know what your employees want, instead find ways to ask them,” Trim advised.
They might then put less emphasis on office perks that only a minority of employees will take advantage of (like an onsite gym) and more on changes in the workplace environment that impact on all employees such as air quality and access to light. Interestingly, we find that many employees want a view of the outdoors.
2. Personalise when possible
We’ve all got used to personalising our outside-of-work lives. We watch the shows we want to watch and listen to the music we like to hear.
“Employees are beginning to expect these same privileges in the workplace,” she added. “Specifically, employees want to personalise workplace temperature, overhead and desk lighting and noise levels.”
Research by global acoustics company St Gobain showed that good acoustics could mean a 15% reduction in cognitive stress for staff working in an open-plan office.
American technology company Cisco manages the acoustic levels in its space by creating a floor plan without assigned seating that includes neighbourhoods of workspaces designed specifically for employees collaborating in person, remotely or those who choose to work alone.
Other companies such as US biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals allow employees to control natural light streaming in through their office windows with a cellphone app. “The same strategy applies to light or temperature. You can position employees who want a higher temperature and more light around the edge of your floor plan, and those who like it quieter and cooler in the core,” she said.
3. Create a holistic view of workplace wellness
Workplace wellness includes physical, emotional and environmental wellness. All three need consideration:
• Emotional wellness: Give employees access to natural light and quiet rooms where they can focus on their work comfortably.
• Physical wellness: Provide people with healthy food options and ergonomically-designed workstations.
• Environmental wellness: Make sure your workspaces have adequate air quality, light, temperature and proper acoustics.
Linda Trim is a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap.
If you are a business that’s planning the design of your workplace for the next generation of workers, it is time to get a move on.
Linda Trim, a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap, said workers who expect an experiential workplace, meaning the feelings and responses that a person has throughout their workday, are coming into the market quicker than many think. “They are going to arrive in the next year or two.
For this generation, or even previous generations of workers, the workplace experience is now nearly as important as the job itself.”
How should businesses prepare?
Reconfiguring for a disparate workforce
In today’s workplace, up to five generations work alongside one another, making a huge impact both on the culture and workplace.
She said: “These workers include introverts and extroverts, millennials, baby boomers, those coming into their careers and almost exiting. This means workplaces will need to be reconfigured and planned with agility in mind, with different types of spaces for employees that work in very different ways.”
The challenge is designing spaces with a huge amount of variety and agility, knowing that groups today might work differently than groups five years from now, three years from now or even 10 years on.
The workplace and collaboration
When most people think about the workplace as a destination, they typically think of an actual physical environment that provides a laptop, a phone, but without the ability to do the work anywhere but that office. “But that’s quickly changing,” said Trim.
The biggest reason employees go to the workplace is the human connection: meeting with colleagues, social interaction, connecting with the company’s brand and culture, and feeling like a part of an organisation.
Many organisations have experimented with remote working, but many employees prefer to go to an office because it provides a wide variety of work styles, collaboration and space, sometimes even fun spaces, to innovate with their colleagues.
The detail is always in the design
“To make the workplace attractive you can’t skirt good design. It matters for two reasons. The first comes from the fact that the primary driver for an organisation is to have more productive and more profitable operations. To accomplish that, you need to attract and retain the best employees, and keep them happy and prosperous,” she said.
Good design is a thoughtful approach that helps drive the workplace in how it functions and works for employees that goes beyond video conferencing or wireless technology. “It really comes in everywhere, from primary space to flex space, collaborative and creative spaces and, of course, how people feel in the spaces.”
Promoting wellness at every step
If you don’t have a wellness programme, chances are your competition does. “It’s not a fad and it’s not going away,” said Trim. “In the US, about 75% of companies offer a wellness programme and we expect this to be a trend that catches on in South Africa too.”
Design and the use of furniture can play a role, notably ergonomics, in wellness, such as sit-to-stand desks, fully adjustable task chairs and monitor arms, and accessible power.
Some of the ways we approach how we design workplaces gives us the ability to affect some of that positive culture change or help enforce good behaviours that will help affect the well-being and health of employees.
“From making workspaces more comfortable and collaborative for all generations of workers to using design to create a unique culture in the workplace, there are many changes ahead. One thing is for certain, the workplace is more important for your next hire than the person you hired five years ago,” concluded Trim.
Linda Trim is a director at workplace design specialist company Giant Leap.