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Face time (not FaceTime) is key to career advancement

Jun 21, 2023

Guest Post by Ryan Caffyn-Parsons, CEO, Americas, Unispace 

Some organizations have tried dangling carrots to tempt employees back to the shared workplace; others have laid out mandates requiring it — but somewhere in between these black-and-white approaches lurks another tactic: Reason with them.

So, what happens if employees don’t come back to the office? They’ll lose out on career advancement opportunities, say a vast majority of employers, according to a new Unispace study, Returning for Good, a Unispace Global Workplace Insights report. The survey included 9,500 employees and 6,650 business leaders from across 17 countries worldwide – including 1,500 US employees in companies with 50+ employees and 1,500 senior decision makers in companies with 50+ employees in the US.

Consider the following cases in point:

  • 88% of employers in the U.S. say employees’ career advancement prospects will be in question if they don’t return to the office.
  • 79% of these U.S. leaders say they have communicated exactly that to employees, explicitly noting that the opportunity for promotions, pay raises and bonuses will be limited for people who do not come into the office.
  • 83% of U.S. leaders say that those who attend meetings virtually will have a lower share of voice in the conversation than those in the office.

And employees are increasingly getting the memo. Right now, 60% of employees in the U.S. expect limited career prospects for people who work from home, while more than one-third of U.S. respondents foresee negative repercussions to pay raises (33%), promotions (38%) and bonuses (34%).

These insights highlight a growing emphasis on the role the physical workplace plays in business performance. But there’s a major disconnect between how employers and employees perceive their current workplace.

Productivity haven vs. concentration blocker

Most of the employees we surveyed say their current offices do not enable them to do their best work — putting them at odds with their employers.

While 89% of U.S. employers are confident that their current offices are set up to empower productivity, 52% of U.S. employees believe the opposite: they say it’s a struggle to perform their core work in the office environment as it is.

Appealing to reason to bring employees back to the office is therefore only a temporary salve. It may prompt more employees to return in the short term, but it won’t be enough to spark their best work — let alone stick around amid the Great Resignation and subtler waves of quiet quitting.

For staying power, employers need to rethink where the office fits in today’s more flexible work world. To give employees purposeful environments where they feel supported and inspired to return — whether it’s mandated or not.

How, you ask?

Step 1: Listen to what employees value in the workplace

The top two workplace ‘likes’ cited by U.S. employees were the social interaction in the office (33%), and the opportunity to collaborate (29%). What’s more, liking one’s peers emerged as the biggest influencer of employee brand loyalty.

Yes, you read that right: 34% of U.S. employees listed liking their colleagues as the main reason they stay with a company — ahead of higher pay (29%), enjoying the work they do (31%) and even work-life balance (27%). This alone should be a wake-up call to employers, who listed work-life balance as the number one driver.

So, put that knowledge to work. Give employees inviting space where they can experience what they like most about their jobs: each other.

After all, Zoom and FaceTime may be perfectly acceptable for some conversations, but for many people, a video-chat could never fully replace the value of quality, in-person face time.

Step 2: Design accordingly for more collaborative, purpose-built space

There’s no one path forward, but a future-friendly workplace should offer places where people can reconnect with each other, with the office and, in turn, with the company.

To ‘earn the return’ as well as longer-term engagement, businesses need to encourage in-person collaboration across teams, with a mix of spaces to support productivity, focused work, and learning and development, as well as more casual interaction.

For example, the survey found that employees are currently interested in the following workplace amenities:

  • A place for “productive socialization.” A third of U.S. employees (33%) say they enjoy the social aspects of the office, while 29% of U.S. employees say they enjoy the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues when in the office.
  • Dedicated workspace: Employees expressed concern for lack of privacy in the workplace, with 28% of employees in the U.S. reporting that they enjoy the privacy of working from home. Offering assigned desk space would help inspire a full 86% of U.S. employees to want to spend more time in the workplace. 
  • Reimbursement for office-related costs: Free lunch anyone? A large percentage of the U.S. workforce indicated that free lunch options (83%) and paid travel (81%) would encourage them into the office.

Unleash the power of purpose-built space

Innovation can’t thrive in a video-chat vacuum — spontaneous in-person engagement is critical to sparking creative mind-melds, fresh idea-storms, and diverse perspectives.

By offering distinct spaces that facilitate learning, collaboration, and socialization, employers create a clear purpose for the office that engages employee connection, creativity, and loyalty, and in turn, fuels not just their chances for career advancement, but overall business performance, too. The future of work is up to today’s employers — and the employees who bring brand purpose to life by showing up, and shining on.

Banner image: Arup’s breakout space fosters employee connection in the workplace. Photo: Lawrence Anderson

Ryan Caffyn-Parsons is CEO, Americas, at Unispace

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