by Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics — July 2018 – Martin in marketing wanted dual monitors for his graphics team. Susie in sales reluctantly gave up her assigned desk in exchange for a new laptop and smart phone. Now everyone wants in on the deal. Edwardo, the EVP, is camped out in the big conference room, again. Carlos in customer service wants sit/stand desks for his people. Fred in finance says “not until you can show me the return on investment for the ones we already have.” Zak wants to use his Mac, but security says “over their dead bodies.” Welcome to the wild wild west workplace. This is what you get when you let workplace change just happen.
That is why ad-hoc workplace programs are going the way of the wagon wheel. According to a just-released study titled, The Once Alternative Workplace Strategies (see sidebar: About the Report), the trend toward program formalization is clear. More than half (56%) of alternative workplace programs are now structured with policies and technology standards.
About The Once Alternative Workplace Strategies report
“The Once Alternative Workplace Strategies: Fifth Biennial Global Benchmarking Study (2018),” released in June of this year, summarizes the results of web-based surveys fielded between 2008 and 2017.
“Alternative workplace strategies” are defined as the combination of non-traditional work practices, settings, and locations that supplement or replace traditional offices. Some of what were once considered ’new’ or ‘alternative’ have since become mainstream.
The authors of the study included, Chris Hood (Director at Advanced Workplace Associates), Gabor Nagy, Ph.D. (Research Program Manager for Haworth Inc.), and Kate Lister (President of Global Workplace Analytics).
The full report 65 page report is available at: http://www.globalworkplaceanalytics.com/whitepapers.
“This is good to see,” said Chris Hood, one of the authors of the study. “It shows us that what were considered alternative workplace strategies, are now being codified and embraced as the new norm.”
In the 2009 study, 18% of programs were ad hoc. They grew steadily (to 38%) through the 2013 survey. By contrast, 63% of programs were formal in 2009. That number fell steadily (to 44%) by 2013. The most recent study evidenced a 180 degree turn in that trend (see Figure 1: Trend in Formalization of Alternative Workplace Programs).
As the Wild Wild Workplace scenario suggests, ad hoc programs can quickly result in big headaches for facilities managers and others. They can lead to:
- Accusations of favoritism
- Discrimination complaints
- Employee conflict and divisiveness
- Security risks
- Reduced productivity
- Communications issues
- Wage and hour, insurance, and tax violations
More critically, by letting change happen, rather than making it happen, organizations miss out on the many proven benefits of alternative workplace programs such as:
- Better employee performance and increased productivity
- Greater employee engagement
- Improved attraction and retention of talent
- Increased collaboration, creativity, and innovation
- Better goal alignment
- Increased health and wellness
- Greater business agility
- Better space optimization
- Lower costs
- Increased sustainability
Informal programs tend to be tactical solutions to the problem du jour.
- We need more space, let’s squeeze the desks together.
- We want people to collaborate, let’s put them in one big room and give them whiteboards.
- We want to help our people deal with stress, let’s add a meditation room.
These initiatives rarely involve cross-functional team or employee input. They are often the proverbial “finger in the dike.” Worse, however well-intentioned, they can backfire. It doesn’t take much of a loss in productivity (because the new environment is too noisy, for example) or increase in turnover to wipe out the intended savings from a poorly planned or executed strategy.
Formalizing your program doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, a simple Google search for “activity-based working policy” or “mobile work policy” or “telework policy” will yield oodles of well-thought-out examples. Below are some thought-starters.
How to Formalize
Formal workplace programs are governed by policies and procedures around eligibility, space usage, security, training, technology provisioning and more. They provide transparency, ensure equitable treatment, help shape behaviors, and of course, make the risk managers and lawyers happy. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Space Polices and Guidelines
Your employees should be familiar with how spaces are assigned and how they should be used from your change management process. But it’s important to document your space policies and guidelines to make them legal and transparent. Ideally, they should include:
- Standards for how space is assigned (e.g. by type of job, mobility, tenure, performance, etc.)
- Policies regarding storage and/or display of personal items
- Etiquette regarding strong smells, loud conversations, or distracting behaviors
- Procedures for reporting abuses of space
- Where seating is unassigned or spaces are shared, there should be guidelines about:
- How the spaces are to be used
- Etiquette around
- Space squatting (i.e. putting your stuff on a desk or in a conference room and then leaving for an extended period)
- Reporting problems (e.g. supplies needed, mechanical problems, empty trash, etc.)
- For conference, huddle, quiet rooms, or social spaces:
- Reservation requirements, rules, and technologies
- Intended use
- Etiquette regarding:
- Procedure for releasing space you no longer need
- Extending your stay
- Temperature and light settings
- Reporting problems
- Cleaning up after yourself (wiping the whiteboard clean, pushing chairs under the table, reporting supply refills needed)
Tools and Technology Policies and Guidelines
Your change management process should include technology training and guidelines and your written policies should formalize:
- Who gets what tools and technologies, why, and who pays for them and the associated service contracts (i.e. phone plan, WIFI)
- Off-premise use of employer-owned technology
- On-premise use of personally-owned technology
- Mandatory and recommended training
- Security protocols
- Software and app standards and rules
- Cloud storage and backup protocols
- Data ownership
- Remote wipe rights
- Technology support procedures
- Termination procedures vis a vis company or employee-owned equipment
Other Policies and Guidelines
Many of the policies and guidelines below should pertain to all your workers.
- After hours communication (expectations regarding after-hours or vacation emails, texts, etc.)
- Privacy issues (what can employers do, see, monitor and how can they use the data)
- Recycling and paper usage policies
- Ergonomic protocols
- Healthy habits (taking breaks, using the stairs, managing stress, etc.)
- Communications etiquette and good practices for use of text, email, phone, face to face
- Hybrid team etiquette (mix of onsite and remote) – some companies require video calls; some require if one person is virtual in a meeting, all must use virtual technology
Some employers restrict where remote employees can work
Some employers do not allow their employees to work in foreign countries due to tax, safety, security, legal, or regulatory reasons. Many even restrict working in other states due to complications with tax laws, workers compensation, department of labor laws, licensing requirements, and legal temperament. Even if work is only performed in another or country or state for a short period, it can trigger compliance and other headaches.
Special Policies and Practices for Remote or Mobile Workers
Remote or mobile work strategies require extra thought and documentation around:
- Who is eligible for remote work, how often, and why
- Working hours and expectations for availability
- Home office insurance requirements
- Expectations around when they are needed in the office (e.g. how much notice, who pays for travel during working hours or outside them, insurance issues)
- Daycare, eldercare, pet care issues (e.g. noise, interruptions)
- Geographic restrictions (see sidebar: Some employers restrict where remote employees can work)
- Agreed upon performance-based measures of success
- Who provides and pays for remote work technology, services (e.g. broadband, phone plan, etc.), supplies, furniture
- Ergonomics and safety standards
- Personal use of company equipment
- Privacy of personal information
- Disclosure of any employee monitoring
- Remote work as an ADA compliance measure
- Provisions for technology support
If you’re not already convinced of the need to formalize your workplace program, here’s another great reason. It will preserve brain cells and free you up to do more important things than wrangling with Martin, Susie, Edwardo, Carlos, Fred, and Zak.
Kate Lister is president of Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), a research-based consulting firm that helps organizations quantify the impact of workplace change on productivity, employee well-being, and other critical people and business metrics. She is an active member of IFMA’s Workplace Evolutionaries’ leadership and research teams. She resides in San Diego CA and charges clients extra if she has to travel anywhere that’s too cold, too hot, too humid, or too buggy.