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Why culture, technology, and space, are all critical to employee experience

In the post-pandemic world, every company needs to make employee experience central to their business. Not only because work has changed, but because employees themselves face new challenges and have new expectations, both in and outside of work.

According to the best-selling author and work-expert, Jacob Morgan, employee experience is about creating a workplace that employees want to work in, not just one they think they need to show up to. Most importantly, employees also echo this sentiment. Our new research of over 1,000 UK knowledge workers, examining current working habits and how employees feel about the future of work, revealed that one-third (32%) of workers are looking for a more mindful work culture, which has set boundaries.

However, research from our consortium, Future Forum, showed that almost three-quarters (72.2%) of workers want a hybrid remote-office model of work in the future, compared to only 11.6% who would prefer full-time office-based work. This highlights that the space and culture workers need is about more than simply having a showcase HQ in a large city centre.

As we mark the end of Stress Awareness Month, business leaders must understand that boosting employee experience in the workplace requires an intentional approach to three key areas of work: culture, technology, and physical space.

**Creating a culture of flexibility **

A year ago, ditching the commute was a novelty. Today, it’s an expectation. Gaining those hours back in the day haven’t only been used for the occasional lie-in and maybe some exercise, but to provide the flexibility that helps people homeschool kids, care for unwell relatives, or shop for essentials.

For many knowledge workers, the 9-5 work day has long been a myth. Even pre-pandemic, we were hopping on trains at sunrise and potentially checking messages into the evening. We flexed our lives around work, but not vice-versa. The pandemic has shown us it can go both ways, and people respond to this.

But flexibility isn’t just a benefit to employees; a culture of flexibility also means opening up your business to a much wider talent base. In fact, our research highlighted that over a third (36%) of UK knowledge workers think that companies which offer increased work flexibility, when it comes to hours and policies, are the most attractive. The 9-5 is restrictive to many people; from those in different time zones to those caring for others who may already be working part-time jobs, or who are currently re-training.

In the future, we can expect to spend less time on needless travel or the ‘presenteeism’ of being in office, clock-watching, without work to do. Offering flexibility as standard will mean more time for value adds and less time wasted. It will mean building and retaining a more diverse workforce instead of letting the work hours dictate the experience and skills an organisation has access to.

**Enabling a true digital workplace **

For the flexible workplace to flourish, particularly given the physical HQ is becoming less essential, organisations need a digital HQ that can keep everyone connected and aligned. With 31% of those who have been working from home in the last year admitting to feeling disconnected and unsupported by their colleagues, this has never been more imperative.

Greater flexibility, both in location (office, home, or elsewhere) and with hours worked means an increase in asynchronous working (working together, but not in real-time). With the right tools, this can be great for both employee experience, and productivity.

For example, using a business messaging app, rather than an hour-long status check meeting, workers can share updates digitally, giving everyone immediate, transparent access to the latest information. Meanwhile, app integrations can pull relevant information, whether marketing documents or developer code, into that same space. With all that information at their fingertips, workers can catch up instantly, while managers can perform quick check-ins without the need for endless diary invites or easily buried emails.

However, putting in place the right virtual hub doesn’t only boost productivity. It’s an important way of creating a communal culture even when workers are in different locations. As well as this, it promotes a focus on employee wellbeing—something that attracts a quarter (25%) of UK workers to an organisation—by keeping everyone connected.

Kooth PLC, a pioneer of online counselling and mental health support, harnessed Slack to help implement the supportive culture that’s vital for employees to keep delivering their demanding work. The team uses Slack for real-time support during difficult counselling sessions, as well as for onboarding, daily collaboration, and also to build a sense of community and culture. Every new hire has a buddy they can ping questions to on Slack, while lighter topic-driven Slack channels like #koothpets offer spaces to build rapport and get to know colleagues beyond day-day work.

Whether it’s for streamlined check-ins, real-time problem solving, or simply sharing a snap of the cat, a robust and adaptable virtual HQ is a key pillar of modern employee experience.

Rethinking the physical office

While the virtual office is key, we’re not in a sci-fi future, existing entirely in cyberspace. Whether it’s at home or elsewhere, the physical spaces workers operate in continues to affect their overall experience. As such, the physical office won’t disappear entirely, but, just as it has over the past century from cubicles to open-plan, it will begin to change, based on employee needs.

We may see smaller satellite offices appear in local hubs, rather than huge city-centre HQs. Or organisations may reinvest their office budget in leveling-up home offices, providing employees with everything from keyboards and desks to fibre-internet connections or a coffee allowance.

However, given the costs and infrastructure associated with these changes, this is likely a longer term change to employee experience. Further, the health and safety context of the pandemic is uncertain, and the progress of tackling the virus will place certain limits, in the short term, to how communal office spaces can function.

**Putting employees at the centre **

From the immediately clear benefits of a flexible culture and a virtual HQ, to the longer-term changes to the office, we’re moving from a moment in which the pandemic defined work, to a time in which employees will.

As workplaces source new talent beyond city-centres, and employees enjoy the benefits of flexibility and workplace technology, employee experience will become a key KPI for businesses.

For organisations looking to start their employee experience journey, a focus on culture, technology, and space, is a key place to begin. Using these pillars as a framework, and with worker-needs informing each step, business can start creating the future workplace; one which fosters the employee experiences that benefit everyone.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Stuart Templeton, Head of UK, Slack .

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