Why Investing in Productivity, Beauty, and Connection Is The New Frontier In Workspaces

I am baffled by the push of certain leaders to try and force their employees back to the office. There are tons of research showing that employees are more productive when given the autonomy and flexibility with where they work but lately, one leader after another, all of them men by the way, have come out asking for their employees to go back to the office. I wouldn’t mind but some of these organisations like Google were the ones leading the charge about remote working during the pandemic. They even went to the trouble of remodelling their offices so one assumed they had reviewed the research on flexible working. So what changed?


I will tell you what happened. It must be galling to have all this office space you have already paid for but people not turning up to use it. It is not like you can recoup the cost. Some organisations are locked into long-term leases that they can’t get out of. So I get it, you have already paid for the space, the pandemic is no longer raging so why not indulge in your need of hovering over the shoulders of your employees to make sure they are really working rather than online shopping.


What makes me laugh is, people will shop online whether they are in the office or at home. The activity the employees engage in is not the issue, the motivation is. Engaged employees will work regardless of their location. They will produce the goods and then some, if they feel they belong and are contributing to something. No policing required. Surely it is better to invest in your workplace policies to ensure employees are engaged than to force them back into the office and annoy them to look for a better workplace where their output is respected rather than where they are producing the said output?


Also, if you are already in the tricky situation of having poured money into refurbishment and long leases that you can’t get out of, how is forcing employees back going to help with the cost exactly? Isn’t it simply churlish to think ‘I have committed the cost so you will come in damn you!’? Why would any organisation want to add high retention rates costs to their real estate costs?


I love it when clever people come up with research that helps me articulate what I have been thinking all along. Dr. Libby Sander, an assistant professor of organisational behaviour, and her research colleagues came out with one such study. They found a causal relationship between open-plan office noise and physiological stress. They found that experimentally controlled conditions using heart rate, skin conductivity, and AI facial emotion recognition showed that negative mood increased by 25 percent and physiological stress by 34 percent. 


Hmmm, the buzzing office environment that is supposed to spark all sorts of creativity increases stress instead. Dr. Sander continues to explain that her research shows that when people find it hard to focus in environments full of noise and distractions, they become withdrawn and are less likely to collaborate.


Certain emotional and work states enable us to perform at our best and that is where the emphasis should be rather on the workplace. Leaders have to understand that depending on the outcome sought, different states will be required which will translate into different locations.


According to Dr. Sander’s research, it turns out the important things we need to perform at our best are focus, a sense of beauty, and connectedness. So dragging employees through an hour and a half’s commute to a noisy office where you can’t hear yourself think is not what is going to think outside the box and spark your creative genius. It is going to contribute to your burnout instead.


Rather than forcing employees back to the office, how about leaving them where they are for now and when those leases come up for renewal, investing that money into fewer spaces that foster focus, a sense of beauty, and connectedness so that on the occasions that employees need to come to the office, it is a productive and uplifting experience.


If you’re a working mother and you think companies should invest more in productivity, beauty, and connection, grab a chat with me here. If you want to hear more from me, you might be interested in my FREE masterclass – register here to watch anytime.