Jun 07, 2022
By Kate Camerlin

Why Organizations Need to Adopt a Human-Centric Approach to the Workplace

Over the last few years, our definition of the workplace has rapidly evolved. Driven by changing expectations in the COVID era, employees are rethinking what is important to them—and they’re demanding more flexibility in where and how they work.

Is your business prepared to meet these new challenges?

As Dr. Marie Puybaraud, Global Head of Research at JLL, stated in a recent article, “There’s no going back to the old ways of working. Those who are courageous and proactive in reimagining their workplace to address changing workforce preferences will be the future leaders of business in a post-pandemic world.”

However, re-evaluating an organization’s workplace strategy is complex and involves many moving parts. Companies must put an emphasis on discovering their workers’ needs; they must take a flexible, empathetic approach when redefining the workplace, using different tools and strategies to adopt a more human-centric model.

What Is a Human-Centric Approach?

Let’s define what we mean when we say “human-centric.”

Employers need to make sure they’re thinking about their employees’ needs and tailoring the workspaces around those requirements. This includes checking directly with workers—running surveys and soliciting feedback to gauge what employees want from their work environment.

Results from this kind of feedback can help leadership teams make decisions—including finding the right balance of hybrid, in-person, and remote work that meets organizational goals and employee expectations.

Gartner notes that taking a human-centric approach means employers shouldn’t just try to copy an office-like setup virtually (i.e., scheduling check-in meetings or setting up tracking systems to keep an eye on how employees are meeting their goals), as this can lead to an “always-on” mentality that increases burnout.

Instead, they need to find ways to evaluate the current state, assess how and where employees are working, and then build processes and strategies to support them.

Enabling Collaboration and Creating Shared Goals 

Because the office is no longer the central hub that dictates where work gets done, it’s essential that organizations meet employees where they are and foster an environment of open communication and shared objectives.

According to JLL, employers should shape their people and workforce strategy by “reconnecting experiences to deliver memorable moments at work and home—wherever work happens.”

In part, this means making sure everyone is working toward shared goals and has a sense of purpose and connection. To that end, outcome-driven management and performance are increasingly important; instead of focusing on how tasks get done and how many hours were worked, it’s crucial to focus on the outputs, results, and what that work achieves.

Additionally, Gartner notes an increasing emphasis on intentional collaboration—where organizations help employees collaborate more purposefully, rather than waiting for “watercooler moments,” which are rarer in a hybrid working environment.

Management can directly enable this through better coaching and leadership, empowering teams to collaborate in new ways.

Vik Bangia, CEO of Verum Consulting and OutsourceUSA, recently joined Nuvolo Connected Conversations to discuss the importance of coaching in the new workplace.

“What you want to measure is performance by the team,” Bangia explained. “That encourages people to collaborate and work together because everyone has to be successful, or no one is successful. Leaders, going forward, have to be coaches. They need to be compassionate, empathetic, and flexible. They have to look at what they’re doing as being inspirational, and the teams have to look at what they’re doing as being more aspirational. As long as they do that, the workplace will be successful, wherever that work comes together, which can happen in cyberspace, or it can happen in a physical environment.”

By creating intentional, thoughtful means of goal-setting and collaboration, teams share a sense of purpose no matter where they work—whether in the office or off-site.

Fostering a Sense of Wellbeing and Psychological Safety 

Given the circumstances of the past several years, when teams work together in person, employers need to foster an environment of wellness, so employees feel a sense of psychological safety.

“You have to have an environment that gives people a voice to talk about things that might be important to them—whether it is the need for flexibility, whether it’s their concern for COVID,” says Bangia. “We do know that we need to be flexible in reacting to those types of issues. As long as we have given people the ability to voice those concerns and have them heard and be addressed, that’s really what goes into psychological safety.”

Management must also highlight any health and well-being programs, so employees know they’re available. One Gartner study showed that 96% of organizations say they offer well-being benefits—however, only 42% of employees thought their company provided them. In order to address this knowledge gap, organizations need to actively discuss these kinds of programs so that employees know to take advantage of them.

Additionally, organizations can use asset, space, and maintenance management tech solutions to examine how their facilities are organized (and what their working spaces look like), what kinds of air filtration and monitoring systems they have, and what updates they might need to make.

These kinds of facilities-related improvements are especially important, as studies have shown a connection between healthier buildings and improved employee performance and productivity.

Focusing on wellness is an increasingly important component of the workplace. Companies need to reassure employees that they can adapt to current challenges and any future issues that might arise.

Redefining and Rethinking Physical Office Spaces

Lastly, with a more flexible, hybrid workforce comes the opportunity to redefine the purpose and goals of physical office spaces and company headquarters. Organizations should begin optimizing their real estate footprint by evaluating the spaces they need and using data and analytics to inform their strategy.

For example, employers can begin intentionally planning working environments that support the interactions that only happen in person—reframing the office as a collaboration space, not an individual working space.

McKinsey poses the following questions for companies to consider: “If the primary purpose of an organization’s space is to accommodate specific moments of collaboration rather than individual work, for example, should 80 percent of the office be devoted to collaboration rooms?”

With those questions, employers can assess what spaces they need, how they should be used, and even where they should be located.

Organizations can use sensors and other tools to evaluate how spaces are utilized. However, Vik Bangia notes that it’s important not to rely solely on tools like sensors—employers also need to observe and ask employees how they use the spaces:

“See how people interact in your space…watch how they collaborate…see what is underutilized. Turn around and ask why certain spaces aren’t being used…You have to use observational metrics to determine what the design needs to be…and then even when you’re observing that, ask where gaps are and enhance those spaces, as well.”

In that way, employers get a clearer picture of how and why certain rooms or areas are used, enabling them to either create or improve those spaces.

Additionally, managers need to make sure the spaces they provide employees in-office are just as productive as their home offices. This means making sure they have effective collaboration zones, and that they also have fully functional individual working stations for those moments they’re not working together.

Companies also need to ensure they’re providing ways for workers to reserve working spaces remotely so that they know ahead of time that they have the setups and spaces they need to get work done.

Facilitating a More Connected Workplace 

The traditional workplace has undergone a radical transformation over the past several years, and executive teams are trying to catch up. Employees are embracing flexibility in how and where they work, and employers need to think carefully about the strategies and tech solutions they employ to facilitate these changes.

Employers can start this process by getting feedback from their employees about what is working and what is not. Then, technology solutions can help organizations begin to put these into practice. For example, integrated workplace management systems like Nuvolo Connected Workplace enable teams to track space utilization metrics, IT and facilities assets, and real estate leases and portfolios all in one place. This provides a holistic look at what’s happening across an organization so that leaders can make more informed, strategic decisions for the future.

Interested in learning more? Watch our podcast series, Connected Conversations, for insights and inspiration from industry experts. Or read about what Connected Workplace is and how it can help facilitate workplace transitions in a variety of ways.