Benefits and Wellness Superhero Podcast

Returning to the Office: Balancing the Needs of the Business and Employees - Part 1

October 21, 2021 The HR Gazette Season 2 Episode 1
Benefits and Wellness Superhero Podcast
Returning to the Office: Balancing the Needs of the Business and Employees - Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

The second season of the Benefits and Wellness Superhero Podcast kicks off with a two-part panel discussion led by Thorpe Benefits President, Roger Thorpe

Listen as Roger moderates a discussion with Mette Johansen Keating, Founder and Creative Director at mettespace, and Lisa Taylor,  President of the Challenge Factory, Inc. focused on how employers can support employees to readjust to working - at least part time - back at the office.

Questions in Part 1 Include:

  • Employees have got used to working from home. What are the benefits of returning to the office?
  • What are the issues around hybrid work schedules? Dedicated workstations? More collaborative workspaces? Staggered schedules?
  • How do we balance the needs of the business with the needs of employees?
  • How can employers prove the case to employees for the need to commute to work? How can we put the checks in place to ensure employees do not feel they are putting themselves at undue risk by hopping on the train, streetcar, or bus to the office?


About Our Guests

Mette Johansen Keating, Founder & Creative Director

Mette has carved out a leadership role in the Toronto office-space design community over the past 15 years upon arriving from her native Denmark. She founded Mettespace on human-centered and Scandinavian design principles when they were basically unheard of in North America and has since grown a dynamic and impressive tribe of clients and followers.

Fast-forward to 2021 and her soon-to-be-released book “Take Your Space” will share her insights into what she describes as “Scenography for life and work”, disintegrating borders between work and personal life accelerated by the pandemic and the critical contribution physical space can provide as we look to the future and a once-in-a-generation opportunity for people to find more balance

Lisa Taylor, President, Challenge Factory and the Centre for Career Innovation

Lisa Taylor is a sought-after expert, speaker, and columnist on today’s changing world of work.  As President of Challenge Factory and the Centre for Career Innovation, Lisa offers invaluable leadership and insights about the Future of Work—with a focus on how talent equity, demographics, the freelance economy, and new market dynamics present opportunities to gain strategic workforce and career advantage.


Speaker 1:

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's the benefits and wellness superhero podcast. This podcast is designed to help professionals develop the skills needed to get complete leadership. Buy-in on group benefits and shine, a light on what's changing in the wellness space. Listen to tips and strategies. That'll help you become a superhero in the eyes of employees and management.

Speaker 2:

Hey, everybody. Welcome. Uh , it's Roger Thorpe here from Thorpe benefits. I'm joined with my friends colleagues, Lisa Taylor, and meadow Johanson Keating. Uh , we're here to have a really thoughtful, very insightful discussion about the transition of going back into a trusted, safe, and productive workspace. Uh, I'm really excited about the points of view that Lisa and Metta bring to this conversation, because it's also from Lisa's point of view, a lot of research, a lot of discussions with companies about what they have done and how they feel about this and Metta looking at it truly from what it's going to look like inside the workspace and how people interact in that environment. Um, if you would like we can jump right in. And I think along the way , uh , people will get a flavor for the background and , and expertise of our guests here today. So , um, so I'll, I'll w we'll start with an open question for both of you and , um , jump in depending on who has the most urgent point to make, but , um, employees obviously have gotten used to working from their house from their homes. What really do you think is the benefit of returning to the office? Cause that's what we're moving towards and what is the net benefit to that?

Speaker 3:

Sure. I can, I can start. Sure. I , I think , um , for sure it's to actually be with other people , uh, I think we've been missing , uh, the sort of official , uh, connection with other people and people hungry to get back and just to get a feel for the culture to get me connected, to be face-to-face with people. Uh, but there's also obviously a lot of fear , um, uh, with going back to the office.

Speaker 4:

I think organizations that have been distributed before the pandemic had learned over time, right? The pandemic didn't create this as a new environment. There's lots of companies that have had remote employees for decades. Um, what they've known is that there are certain activities that are best done face to face . And then there are other activities where it's kind of employee choice. Do you prefer, are you more productive? Do you work better when you're in an office setting that gives you the cues and the rituals from the moment you get dressed in the morning to starting to leave your house, like the things that organize your day that help you to be productive during the day , uh , or are you more productive doing certain activities , uh, from a home office or from another location, a third space. So those are things and trends that we saw before the pandemic. And it really comes down to not so much a definition of where should I do my work all the time, full stop, but what kinds of work are we expecting people to do? And what's the right mode for them to accomplish that. And then how can we help to encourage people who might be a little hesitant to come back to the office to do so? Not only as Metta said, because we are all craving, you know, seeing each other and having a chance to grab a coffee with a colleague and to do all of those social things, but that there's actually a , almost a social responsibility of our institutions to help us move forward and get back out of our homes. We're not intended to just be in our homes all the time. And there's a role that the workplace plays in helping us move forward from this moment in time. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Good. That's a good , uh , overall observation of that. And I like how you answered it with a number of other questions that are going to come to bear. So , uh , we haven't figured it all out, which is , uh, this is good. This stirs the pot a little bit. Um, so Metta specifically, when we talk about hybrid, you know, work schedules , um, and having workstations dedicated workstations or more collaborative workstations and schedules , uh, what do you see in terms of issues around that changing towards that hybrid model?

Speaker 3:

So I like the , like you said, we haven't figured it all out because we will not figure it all out. And we have to kind of accept that this is going to be sort of a transition that we're going to go through for , for some time, but I've always believed that a con a company needs to be flexible. A company changes even during the regular years, like it's not a one fit all, and it's not a, now we moved in and now it's going to be like this forever. I always try to make really flexible spaces because people it's a dynamic place , uh , in a sort of an organization needs to move and change too , and be agile the whole way through , uh , with the physical space and how you set it all up. So it can, it can adjust to how, how , um, how it all works. And now we got totally blown away by this pandemic and it has made so many things way more clear with this . I'm actually very super excited about because now people actually kind of , instead of just doing the routine and they going to work and , or they're working from home or whatever, they're starting to think about this. They're starting to have more quality time of work , um, as opposed to just doing it because that's the routine that they're in. So , um, I think it's gonna require , um, a lot of just thinking about how do we like it it's how do we want to set it up? And how does this work for individual people and how does it work for the organization? Um, what I'm seeing is I think people are going to go back to work and the people that I'm working with right now are , um, doing the hybrid. They're trying to sort of figure out what is going to work for this particular person and company. And , um, and it requires definitely more planning. It requires more listening. It requires more just , uh , be aware of it and just kind of , uh, think about how, how does it work? Just, doesn't just accept that this is one that's going to work for. All

Speaker 2:

Right. And I like that planning to be flexible is sort of like the, the point, I guess, is we haven't figured it out. Therefore we have to be willing as we come in, as they come in to listen, look and see how people are , are doing and be willing to make some changes. Right. And ideally they've already built some sort of modular style of, of, of office then , um, you know, it's okay to move around, go to that desk, go to that office. Um, maybe we do have to move some things around, right. So , um, but not necessarily have to make the bet. We don't have to make the bet today, but we can make those changes sooner now .

Speaker 3:

And the teams that needs to meet at the, obviously you've made there , make sure that, that , that the people that you need to meet with , because you're going to the office when it's possible, obviously it needs to be there. So there's a lot of planning that needs to happen.

Speaker 2:

Right. And like the scheduling part of that is knowing, like you said, is my best friend, my colleague going to be there today, are you going in on Thursday? You know, there's going to be some of that technology will come in. Yeah.

Speaker 3:

But there's a total downside. So there's two , because you're not going to have those sort of impulsive meetings, those kind of , um, you need at the co like Uber getting a coffee with someone like, so it , you have to kind of give room for that too. You can't just only go into meet with part of that team. Like you need to also be able to see other people that you kind of run into. So there's some downside to being too planned. Like isn't , she used to be a little bit of a less like ,

Speaker 2:

Okay, that's good advice. Um, Lisa now , how do you think that we're going to balance the needs of both parties, the business versus the employee? Uh , or can we do both?

Speaker 4:

So hopefully those needs are aligned, right? But it's not a one side versus the other. And how do we accommodate one versus the other, but that, you know, employees work within the context of a business because there's shared values and shared goals and shared vision of the contribution of the work, the meaning of their work is tied up in the meaning of their company. Um, and I think keeping that in mind and keeping in mind that, you know, the culture of your organization is actually the single greatest determining factor on whether you're going to have this go smoothly or have this be difficult. It's , it's even more important than the footprint of your current real estate, the technology that you currently implement, because at the end of the day, people work with people that they like and trust. And so it's whole question about how do we plan for the, you know, the different needs that will happen, whether it's remote work or working at the office full-time or hybrid work , uh , really comes down to what's the culture and values of your organization. And when you run these decisions through that filter, what answer makes your company uniquely , uh , responsive to the work that you do? So, one company may have values and a culture that really focuses on individuality and individual results, and they may make different choices than a company that has a fostering community at the core of what it does as an organization. So we can't separate the values and the culture of the company from these, what feels like very practical, real estate and technology type of discussions. We're actually at a moment in time where it's a really good moment for every leadership team to have a little bit of trust and a lot of courage to say, you know, at this moment in time, as we're embarking into the future of work with all of the changes that are going to be coming in that context, who are we, and what values do we want to stand on? Because at the end of the day, if one employee has a question about why am I having to do this when this employee gets a different kind of treatment, if there's a core value that helps to explain why there's a difference, then you're on strong footing. If it's random and hard to explain, you're setting yourself up for issues.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I guess that's a principle of real brand employer branding is that consistency, isn't it , uh, people start hearing things that don't connect with that core. Then they're going to wonder what they're listening to. They might be suspicious of that. Just going into a bit more specifics of that. If we're trying to get people back to work, is there anything we can do as an employer to sort of prove to the employee that it is worth their time and effort to commute again, because you know that part of it and the safety or the risk of commuting through , uh, you know, subways and street cars and buses back to the office, what do you think the employer can do to sort of prove that case that it's worse having doing that?

Speaker 4:

So I think employers can do a couple of things. The first is they can recognize that the employees return to the office journey happens the moment they get up in the morning on a day when they're going to come back to the office, especially in this transition period where people are testing things out. So it is not a moment, a message or a , an opportunity to be really well-organized and welcoming when people walk through your door. But to recognize that, you know, a person's morning is set out by their commute. And so what are some of the things that you can be doing so that they remain connected and understanding why they're doing it while they're in the midst of their commute? What podcasts can you provide or message from your president, or what types of materials can you be providing so that they have something that connects them to why they're , uh , commuting when they're not used to doing it right from when they leave their house. The second thing that employers can do is make sure that you're sharing that information. I mean, the number of cases and the actual safety of public transit is something that we shouldn't just, you know , toss out as an issue. Is it actually an issue or is it safe? And if it's safe, we shouldn't , um, talk about it as if it's an unsafe environment. So with all of the things that are happening within , um, certainly within the jurisdiction in Ontario, where I happen to be sitting with mask mandates with vaccine mandates, with the way that things are , are moving through, you know, being a good provider of information that doesn't feed into fear that may not be justified, but actually highlighting where our systems actually are safe and what is there for support. So I think that's a second thing that employers can do. And then the third, the third actually comes to me from, I recently traveled. So I took my first plane ride, post pandemic. And one of the things that was remarkable to me was the stuff that were at Pearson airport, not a single person came up and asked, can I help you? They assumed that I was probably not going to remember exactly what the next step was. I was probably going to be a little bit nervous and a little bit embarrassed. And instead of asking, can I help you? What do you need go to the welcome desk, go to the information desk. There was just people everywhere that just oriented you to say, oh great, you have your boarding pass. The next step is to drop your bag. That's something I would have known, like without any doubt at all. But in that moment, super helpful just to orient myself, right? This is the next thing that I do when I come back. So employers can take that as a cue to and think about what are the cues, what are not the questions, but just the basic cues that you want to provide people with. So that they're reminded of the rituals. How does your office function? What happens when you first arrive in the office? All of the things that are happening and my very last suggestion, and then I'll , uh, I'll pause. But my very last suggestion on this is just to think about the things are no longer working things in the office that have batteries, right? Everyone's going to hit their desk and their mess is going to be dead. Everyone's going to hit their desk and they're not going to remember. They're like, what are the things that are probably not working? And how can you separate some of those activities so that it becomes an event to set yourself up instead of commuting for the first time and finally getting into the office and then not being able to be productive, how can getting the office be set up the way that I want it now be a productive first day? And I think that that's really important.

Speaker 2:

Hmm. Yeah, that's great. I never thought of that. And that we're kind of back to ground zero again, and like somebody coming back to, or to their first day of working , uh , you know,

Speaker 3:

So yeah, I would need to look at the Lisa's website and they have some great ideas for , um, for going back to work. Like just little things that you can think about both as an employer and an employee. Very,

Speaker 4:

Very good. Thanks for that.

Speaker 2:

I think, I mean, for some families, the commute has been a , uh, a buffer of, of quiet solace time of listening to a book, a podcast. Um, it doesn't have to be an anxious fear once they get past those first few days of being in with other people. Um, but you've, you've proven that there are safety precautions taken now. Hopefully people eventually can can say, oh, I really enjoy that commute. It's actually pretty restful going from the chaos of what might've been at home for the last year that might've been a very , might be a very , um, very nice place to be.

Speaker 4:

I think it also, I think it also contributes to our overall health and wellness. It gets us out of our homes. We have to walk, you know, it's not just a walk from the second floor to the kitchen and then back up again, like it's an actual walking through concourses or to get to the station or wherever you're heading. Like there's a lot of elements about that commute that if we highlight those positive elements on wellness, as opposed to the frustration and the traffic and the downsides , um , I think that that's important too .

Speaker 3:

Yeah. I think a lot of people are like, once they get back to it, like they, if they're commuting for an hour and they're taking the train, I know a lot of people are sitting there working. So if they are in fact working that should be accountable for part of your Workday , possibly if that's something that you can make with your employer. So that's part of your day . Yeah .

Speaker 2:

Um , well, I guess the term really is worked from anywhere. Not just work from home, so that could be from any, any environment. Right. So, okay. Good points. Um , well I think this has been a great conversation. Thank you so much for your time and your , uh , experience and insights on this. I think our audience will really appreciate what they're hearing today. So , um, be well, everybody.