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'Listen to employee needs in post-pandemic workplace'

04 August 2022 - 09:33 By Lettie-Basani Phume and TIMESLIVE
Physical work spaces should be redesigned to become more conducive for employees to collaborate, but also equipping them with the technology and resources to interact with those working remotely.
Physical work spaces should be redesigned to become more conducive for employees to collaborate, but also equipping them with the technology and resources to interact with those working remotely.
Image: 123rf

Many employers are eager to bring their staff back to the office on a permanent basis but that eagerness isn’t matched by employees.

Reasons for return-to-work stress include the loss of work flexibility, the return to long commutes and a need for childcare, according to recent research, says Lettie-Basani Phume, group human capital executive at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings.

More than half of employees — 55% — said at the beginning of 2022 they would consider quitting before returning to the office. SA bucks the trend somewhat: with the country’s unemployment rate at 34.5%, employees are less likely to simply quit rather than return to their offices.

“However, there has been an increase in resignations in specific skilled industries, indicating that SA is not immune to the changing nature of the world of work.

“These findings show that employers need to be understanding, empathetic and avoid pressuring employees into returning to a work environment they may no longer be comfortable with.

“This could negatively impact individual performance, productivity and wellbeing, but will also have an effect on the overall company culture.”

Lettie-Basani Phume, group human capital executive at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings.
Lettie-Basani Phume, group human capital executive at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings.
Image: Supplied

Phume proposes that employers shift to promoting the value of purposeful face-to-face reconnection and collaboration.

The best of both: redesigning physical spaces to facilitate in-person and remote work

It is critical for employers to engage with and work alongside their employees to create an enabling environment that considers the operational requirements of the business. This includes making room for different working styles like early birds or night owls, and then being flexible enough to accommodate these ways of working. 

“We have seen great first-hand examples of people who work from anywhere that has driven levels of productivity, better work/life integration, and a sense of trust between team members and their managers. Some of our parents particularly appreciate the flexibility to plan their commitments around important time and milestones with their children.

“And although there is a sense of connection and togetherness that can only be generated by in-person interaction, this new hybrid reality has illustrated that there are opportunities to create connection and collaboration even as some people choose to work remotely.”

A key aspect of this is redesigning physical spaces to facilitate collaboration and stimulation — wherever people are, said Phume. This means making working spaces more conducive for employees to collaborate, but also equipping them with the technology and resources to interact with those working remotely.

Already, two-thirds of business decisionmakers globally are considering redesigning office spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments. A Harvard Business Review case study found that a space that caters to various modes of working is highly effective. This includes desks for focused individual work, flexible seating for desk breaks, collaborative spaces that encourage focused team interaction and dedicated spaces for socialising.

“It is important for modern companies and business leaders to listen to employee needs, and then co-create a working environment that meets their needs, and the productivity needs of the business,” Phume said.

“In a world of work that continues to evolve, change is the biggest constant. Businesses that want to remain relevant and competitive will need to heed this and work with their employees to create an environment that works best for everyone.”

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