Now that we’ve passed the year mark of the pandemic, most of us have settled into new routines. While vaccines hold the promise of a return to normalcy, not all employees want to go back to the way things were. Employers now face a unique challenge as they build the workplace of the future, says Mary Bilbrey, global chief human resources officer at the professional services firm JLL.
“During the pandemic, companies were focusing on employee well-being and putting programs and resources in place for talent,” she says. “We had to rethink how to engage employees when we couldn’t physically be together. Now that we’re bringing teams back, we need to be flexible about physical workspace as part of the employee value proposition. We need unique office environments that are more conducive to collaboration for a hybrid workforce.”
One tool that managers can use to create new arrangements is considering the work personas that have come out of the pandemic. Bilbrey identifies four distinct groups of workers that may dictate how space and technology should design the workplace going forward.
1. The traditional office worker
This person is ready to get back to the office. They probably didn’t work from home prior to the pandemic and will want to be in the office most of the time going forward.
“They are not as attracted to flexibility or rotating schedules as other employees will be,” Bilbrey says. “The challenge for companies is if a traditional office worker manages other teams. This person will need to take extra effort to recognize that their team members may be across other personas.”
2. The experience lover
Experience lovers had high aspirations for flexibility prior to the pandemic. While this persona values their work community, they find that time away from the office also enhances their feelings of engagement, fulfillment, and empowerment.
“This worker will likely want to spend two to three days in the office with the flexibility to work outside the office too,” Bilbrey says. “The challenge for leaders is understanding how to manage someone who is sometimes at home in a way that isn’t disruptive to other team members. It needs to be organized and may involve scheduling days when it makes sense to collaborate with other team members.”
3. The wellness addict
Wellness addicts value their work-life balance and health. Pre-pandemic, this type of employee embraced remote work and shorter commutes, allowing for a good balance between their private and professional priorities. While the experience lover prefers more days in the office, the wellness addict wants more days at home.
“This employee wants to come to the office just one or two days a week,” Bilbrey says. “They need a company that will allow them to create a good balance. You see a lot of wellness addicts in digital and tech industries.”
4. The free spirit
This employee wants to work remotely full time. Time with family is a main priority. “They might come in for a special meeting or engagement but prefer to work at home full time,” Bilbrey says. “They don’t want to be put on a regular schedule. In fact, they may live outside of the office area. The challenge for managers is to make sure those workers continue to feel connected and included.”
How to Use Work Personas
From an HR perspective, it’s important to keep employees engaged and connected, and the office plays a role in reestablishing culture and driving collaboration and innovation, Bilbrey says.
The first step is getting the right equipment. The experience lover, wellness addict, and free spirit will rely on technology that allows them to collaborate with coworkers who are in the office or also working remotely. Having the right tools in place, such as video conferencing and project management platforms, will be key in making hybrid arrangements work.
Leaders also need to be cognizant of their individual team members’ preferences and able to deliver what they need to support them. “Provide leaders with training and intake tools to understand the personas they have on their teams,” Bilbrey recommends. “Be sensitive to an employee’s needs. How flexible you can be will depend on the type of work the employee does.”
And if the job doesn’t require an employee to be back, start the conversation about expectations early.
“If you don’t offer flexibility, you risk losing employees to companies that do,” Bilbrey says. “Employees want to align with companies that share their values. They want an employer who shows that they care for their well-being. This will necessitate flexibility in order to be an attractive employer.”
Finally, Bilbrey advises, listen to the questions employees are asking. “Come up with strategies and think about how you can extend your workspaces to be part of those strategies. The best way to know what employees want is to ask.”