Is Your Return to The Office Still Producing Unhappy Employees? If so, a Team Led Structure May be The Cure.
In our recent State of the Workplace Survey, leaders ranked employee interaction and fraying organizational culture as top concerns; yet, many organizations are setting work schedules contrary to the problems they want to solve. Overemphasizing presence in-office can lead to unhappy, dispirited, and unimaginative employees (and workplaces). Promoting collaborative team work schedules that underscore and center socialization, connectedness, and team-driven collaboration will promote culture and spark the interactions leaders want to see.
You can’t mandate great culture. Requiring a certain amount of in-office time or days of the week won’t automatically make staff interactions meaningful. It’s also not the only way for employees to form connections. It’s more likely staff will develop stronger bonds working on projects as team members, attending a conference together, or participating in shared training.
In fact, deepening ties amongst people requires less in person time than you think. Studies indicate just 25% of time together can be enough time to build meaningful bonds between people. How many of us have fostered great relationships by only meeting at conferences a couple of times a year? It’s why the U.S. has a $100 billion dollar convention industry devoted to bringing people together, fostering connections, and sparking innovation.
For those worried about the loss of random interactions – remove the rose-colored glasses. Those interactions are oftentimes siloed. Studies show most interactions happen within 25 feet of an employee’s desk. We were already not chatting with employees on other floors or buildings. We also tend to talk to people that look like us. Organizations are better served creating intentional, virtual water cooler moments that group employees who wouldn’t naturally interact with each other than waiting for serendipity.
A team led approach to in-office hybrid work, where teams visit the office together for a specific purpose, answers culture and connectivity concerns; and, provides employees with everything they want from the office while minimizing the worst parts of office life.
Socializing in measured doses energizes most people, even introverts. Interacting with others, releases multiple chemicals from the brain which make us feel happiness, closeness, and trust. It’s the body’s “pick-me-up” throughout the day. It quite literally feeds our brains and “provides a protective influence on cognitive functions” especially as we get older.
But social fatigue or social burnout happens when you’ve socialized to the point where you can’t anymore. Extroverts reach this point later than introverts, but most of us get there eventually leading to a feeling drained and exhausted.
The office environment is like running an endless gauntlet of social stimuli. We are constantly “on,” navigating politics, saying just the right things, and putting our most attentive self forward for every meeting or in-person engagement – even on a quick trip down the hall! It’s like prepping to be on stage each day. That’s what the old routine felt like, a 5 day-a-week, 8-hour long performance, that feels like it sucks the life out of us.
So it really isn’t all that surprising that on the one hand employees find it energizing to be around people but also find the office distracting, draining, and an impediment to getting some types of work done.
And before you think it, the answer is yes: you can have your cake and eat it too!
The solution–a better balance between what employees’ desire from the workplace: socializing, collaboration, and belonging, and what they don’t: endless social interruption, siloed focused work, and sparsely populated offices where those who are present aren’t on their team or project.
If being comfortable at home is the least exhausting option and the daily office grind can feel like a Broadway performance, team interactions are the sweet spot. There is comfort in working regularly with a team, it doesn’t feel performative. Teamwork and brainstorming can be invigorating and energizing when done in person and in small doses. How often you get together depends on the work the team needs to do “collectively” vs work individuals can do on their own wherever they work best. This can mean different things for the various teams in organizations: 1 week a month for product design, 2 times a week for sales, or once a month leadership. The key is leading with trust, providing choice, and creating a welcoming environment and the conditions for employees to “fill their cup” with what they need. This in turn will create the organizational bonds leaders are concerned about.
And don’t forget the physical work environment also impacts our wellbeing and our work. Does your office space encourage interaction? Companies that understand the transformation of the move to collaborative in-office work are making changes. Cisco flipped its 54,000 sq. ft. New York Office from “30% of ‘We’ space and 70% of ‘Me’ space” to the exact opposite, now providing employees with a majority of collaboration space to meet their in-office needs.
Make sure your office has plenty of natural and artificial light, both warm and cool depending on what the work zone is. Ensure your spaces are clutter free, with plenty of comfortable seating, a range of space sizes for collaboration and socializing and yes, even some tucked away quiet space for those that need to do some focus work or have private conversations while in the office with their teams. And if you’re lucky enough to have any outdoor space, convert those to collaborative works zones.
The office moving forward is another tool to help teams accomplish their work. They won’t always need it, but there for when they do. Focusing less on schedules and more on team needs will organically create interaction and promote culture that leaves employees and leaders happy.
Want to know what other issues were top of mind for leaders? Download our State of the Workplace Survey.
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