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Would ‘hotelification’ attract more employees back to the office?

John Nicklin, MD - Juggl Desks

With the rise of hybrid working comes new challenges for HR and business leaders, such as tackling low office attendance. Are hybrid employees who rarely attend the office even a problem, and how can you positively entice workers back? Maybe now is the time to reinvent the office so that it becomes a magnet for hybrid employees, and how the “hotelification” of offices fits into this vision.

The office is still relevant
Research tells us that employees moving to hybrid working continues to increase. More than 8 in 10 workers who had to work from home during the coronavirus pandemic said they planned to hybrid work (when questioned in February 2022). Plus, the proportion of workers moving to a combination of home and office-based working has risen from 13 percent in early February 2022 to 24 percent in May 2022 (Office for National Statistics, 23 May 2022).

However there is a growing concern that some hybrid workers are spending very little time in the office, which can be detrimental to both employee and employer. When workers spend less time together, their social ties weaken, as does their attachment to their employer. Poor connections to colleagues, leaders and the organisation dilute corporate culture, weaken employee loyalty and will more likely to lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

With the Global Culture Report from O.C. Tanner asserting that offices remain the centre of collaboration, innovation and connection – which are fundamental to the development of workplace culture – how can employers encourage hybrid workers to spend more time in the office?

How do you draw hybrid workers back to the office?
Legally speaking, unless the original contract between employer and employee stipulates a hybrid or remote working arrangement, an employer has the right to determine where employees must perform their work. Therefore they’re within their rights to ask employees to return to the office either permanently or for a set number of days each week/month. However, just because an employer has the legal power to force an office return, it doesn’t mean it’s the smartest decision.

Employees have higher expectations than ever before, and expect a certain amount of flexibility in where and when they work. And so employers who give a Jacob Rees-Mogg style mandate forcing hybrid workers to return to the office, will only increase employee discontent and fracture the ties between employer and employee. Instead, employers must entice their people back by creating a first-rate office-based experience. A stark space with four walls, rows of desks and an uninspiring meeting room, will do little to attract an office return.

The starting point for creating an appealing office is to be clear about its purpose. For instance, should it be primarily for collaboration? And what about socialising? Employers must realise this purpose while elevating the employee experience so that the office adds real value and becomes an enticing ‘destination’ that supports the hybrid worker’s flexible lifestyle.

The ‘hotelification’ of the office
One such vision for the office is “hotelification”, which CBRE’s Global Outlook 2030 describes as a reinvention of the workspace based on inspiration from the hospitality industry. This requires the creation of a flexible and high quality working environment, that is akin to a boutique hotel in which the design is creative and inspirational, the services on offer are high end and expertly delivered, and the setting is warm and welcoming.

The idea of hotelification is that instead of the office being simply a building to facilitate working and networking, it becomes an inviting destination in which employees consciously ‘book’ themselves in for a stay. This could be for an hour or a full day, and during this time, they can pre-book the facilities they require and use the services on offer, which might range from a high tech conference room and 3D printer through to childcare, yoga sessions and a hair salon. So, offices can bring together working, relaxing and even shopping in an appealing setting to create the ultimate in-person employee experience.

The hotelification of offices will see the growth of independently owned co-working spaces in which office workers can reserve a space at an ‘office’ of their choosing. But there will also be growing hotelification of employer-owned offices as businesses compete to attract and retain talent, while encouraging more face-to-face working.

According to the CBRE, by 2030, the “hotelification” trend will be cemented among larger global players offering branded and bespoke spaces for an increasingly mobile population of international knowledge workers.

Taking steps towards hotelification
At a basic level, hotelification means ensuring hybrid workers have the flexibility to pre-book facilities quickly and easily from their mobile phones, such as desks, printers and car parking spaces. Plus, they need to be given the option to book a working space and facilities for the length of time that suits them, so this could be anything from an hour upwards, with the booking technologies working effortlessly 24 hours a day and from any location, to ensure maximum flexibility.

In the future, we could well see workers pre-booking a range of other facilities and services from their mobile devices to support the hybrid worker’s flexible lifestyle, all of which must be part of a streamlined experience. From onsite childcare and a lunch delivery service through to an appointment with a mental health practitioner, a superior office-based experience that adds real value and reflects boutique hotel service levels, will be key to encouraging greater office attendance.

The design of the office must also be given utmost consideration, and created with the office’s purpose in mind. So as well as bookable hot desks, businesses may introduce areas for collaboration, spaces for socialising and rooms for delivering a range of value-adding services. Plus, the environment and décor should be high end and welcoming, and the service levels both nurturing and personalised. All crafted with a hotelier’s mentality.

Road to success
So what does success look like? When employees willingly choose to leave the comfort of their own homes to travel to the office once or more times each week, this will be a clear indication that the office is drawing employees back. And the consequences of this shouldn’t be underestimated – with O.C. Tanner research highlighting that in-person office experiences improve employees’ engagement with company culture by 52 percent, and employee productivity by 35 per cent – it’s time to invest in a new type of workplace that effectively supports and complements today’s flexible worker.

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