Helping employees stay engaged has gotten more challenging since the pandemic. As millions of American workers have transitioned back to in-person work after two years of remote and hybrid work, many have begun to see their offices with new eyes. Recent polling shows that workers—particularly younger workers—are experiencing lower levels of engagement with their work than before and are the most reluctant to want to return to full-time, in-person work. The reasons vary, but confining, uninspiring offices do not do much to encourage workers to give up all the newfound benefits and flexibility of remote work in order return to working in-person, which is seen more and more as busy work and drudgery. Creating an engaging office environment will not satisfy every employee who’d rather be home, but it does go a long way toward making the work day more pleasant and giving reluctant workers extra incentives to come in and collaborate.
The people best suited to advise the office redesign are the very people who work in it. Asking employees for input on how to make the office more comfortable and inviting (and possibly, fun) shows them that their opinions are important and reminds them that they are part of a team that collaborates. It also allows them to voice their biggest complaints with the current environment, such as the temperature, noise level, and furniture.
Traditional desks and chairs are uncomfortable over long periods and are associated by many with stodgy office work. Integrate some comfortable workspaces wherever possible so that employees have a few options about where they station themselves. While some tasks inevitably require a desk, opt for comfortable, ergonomic chairs for your employees so that desk work doesn’t feel like a punishment. If possible, encourage employees to personalize or add character to their spaces so that they have a more personal connection to the office and have things to look at or interact with during the day that lighten those moments of tedium.
Having lots of printers, scanners, photocopiers, and filing cabinets throughout the office can create a cluttered and depressing environment. Countless online software products exist to help small offices get organized, store and transmit documents, and issue payments without a lot of special equipment. Cloud technology has come a long way to help businesses move closer to paperless operations. Taking some time to investigate applications that allow you to snap a photo of receipts and store them electronically can dramatically reduce the number of cabinets needed to store documents; automated invoicing and bill paying programs help keep your incoming and outgoing money organized and recorded without requiring physical ledgers and paper records; online check printing services that not only print your business checks but also mail them for you require no equipment at all—other than your laptop or phone—and eliminate the need for printers, toner, envelopes, stamps, and registries when it comes to mailing your payments.
If the office space is big enough, consider redesigning the layout so that there are multiple types of spaces to work. A quiet space is appreciated by those who need concentration and/or some down time. Recreational spaces have proven to be popular with employees, as well, and the interaction over a game or recreational break can improve collegiality. Work with the space as creatively as you can, and solicit ideas from employees so that you don’t invest in game tables or screens or activities that no one uses.
Natural light has been shown to improve mood and enhance productivity. Letting as much natural light in as possible creates a feeling of openness and makes a small space seem bigger and more inviting. Opening windows—when feasible—allows more light and fresh air in, making the office feel less stuffy. Depending on your employees’ preferences, there may also be some natural ways to enhance the fragrance in the office with plants and flowers or other natural scents. (Remember to get opinions, as some employees may be sensitive to strong smells or the chemicals in artificial air fresheners). But a brighter, more aromatic space can make people a little more comfortable while they work.
Free food has proven a successful at incentivizing people to come in to the office; food also encourages socializing and can enhance the collegial relationship by creating a more friendly, laid-back environment. Whether you offer free breakfasts on certain days or snacks and treats regularly will depend on your budget, the size of your staff, and the preferences of your workers, but appealing food is something people appreciate and look forward to.
While an enhanced office environment cannot, alone, create a positive, engaging working experience for every employee, it goes a long way in closing the comfort gap between an office and a home.