Work needs to be more than just a job; it needs to be a refuge that helps its employees through the tough times – and gives them a sense of purpose and creativity as they do it.
After a few years out in the wilderness, working from kitchen tables and bedroom corners, it feels pretty good to be back in the office – at least for some of the time. Work communities have undoubtedly suffered during repeated lockdowns, and now is the time to rebuild.
Workforce anxiety levels have been rising for years, but the strangeness of lockdown working – when so many of us became little faces on computer screens – has added a new layer of worry. Add in rising living costs and offices that are often only half populated as staff continue to work from home, and it’s clear to see why so many people are feeling the stress.
A key part of the remedy appears to be offering a hybrid work system, with employees able to balance core hours at their company’s HQ with working from home or remote offices, giving more time for dealing with situations and stresses in our personal lives. But how do you maximise the office time that remains and create a workplace that feels like a refuge for you and your team at anxious times?
Share downtime together
If there is one stand-out lesson from the past few years, it’s that people give work its heartbeat. Creativity, fresh ideas and plain enjoyment typically come from collaboration. After so much time apart from colleagues over recent years, FT columnist Lucy Kellaway’s verdict resonates strongly: “Sitting around a real table with real people — and some decent biscuits […] seems pretty attractive from where I sit now”.
So, encourage team chats and enjoy each other’s company. When so many of us have embraced hybrid working and all of its many benefits, setting aside time to be in the same space at the same time is key to building a supportive work family.
A study by Cornell University suggests that sharing lunch can play an important part in boosting employee morale. “Eating together is a more intimate act than looking over an Excel spreadsheet together. That intimacy spills back over into work,” said the study’s author, Kevin Kniffin. Choose a day and a time to go to the work canteen with your team, or order a Deliveroo together, or crack open your lunch boxes – whatever satisfies the collective stomach. The point is, that sharing a meal will give staff the opportunity to be open about any worries, to talk about work in a relaxed environment, and ward off any feelings of isolation that may have arisen. And most simply of all, it might just make people feel happy about coming to work.
Talk about money
In the spirit of talking and being open, one of the most important things any employer can do is to provide meaningful financial wellbeing strategies. ONS data shows that 83% of adults reported an increase in their cost of living at the beginning of this year, and at the moment that could be rising by the week. This filters through to work in so many ways, from pay, to travel, to spiraling childcare fees, and just carrying the increasing burden of having to meet the monthly bills.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says that supporting financial well-being is an “integral part of creating a healthy workplace where people can flourish”. The crux of this lies in open and frank conversations about money, and ensuring that your employees are aware of all the benefits that are available to them (and how to make the most of them). Whether that is through increased communications from your company finance team or by pointing them in the direction of outside help, might depend on the size and scale of your business.
But it’s about honesty on both sides. Be transparent about salary decisions, promotion opportunities and the health of business, so employees know where they stand.
Understand the work-life juggle
Managing work with childcare, family, health and everything else can be one of the most stressful things in everyday life. It is an indisputable upside of the various lockdowns that most people now have a degree more flexibility in their lives, but maintaining that flexibility without emptying the office (and losing all of those valuable informal interactions) is a tricky balancing act. Data suggests that most hybrid workers choose to head into the office on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, so use those days as your guide. Being clear about when people are expected to be physically present can lend some important certainty.
Fitness is often one of the first things that gets dropped when workload is heavy, so you could also add in some extracurricular moments to the working day, such as lunchtime yoga or morning running clubs. It gives employees the opportunity to work up a sweat and the satisfaction that they are doing something important for themselves. The mental health benefits of exercise and being outside are well documented, so employers can also reap the rewards of a happier and more productive workforce.
Successful communities are often built on the most simple human needs – trust, openness, and the ability to find some balance in life. They allow people to thrive, and both individual and collective performance rises when there is a sense of harmony at work.
These are important factors in any organisation, but particularly to small businesses and startups, where every single member of staff plays a material role. With that in mind, having flexible, modern office space that provides room for conversations and a hybrid approach to working, is the perfect platform for a working community that is stable and committed.