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Will health demands prompt a shake-up of old office hierarchy?

Our latest WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at a new Californian study which signals a shift in the power balance in the workplace as employees demand healthier and greener environments

Is the power balance in the workplace between executives and employees set to change in the wake of the global pandemic? Will the traditional office hierarchy – where power rests with the C-suite of senior decision-makers – be shaken up? Can employees exercise more control and agency over their environment?

According to a new report from Next Energy Technologies, a California-based solar energy innovation firm, there are signs that employees will have more of a voice in shaping new workspaces after Covid-19. Not only will they insist that their demands for a healthier and more sustainable work environment be taken seriously, but they’re also drawing a stronger connection between the two than ever before.

The report, entitled ‘The Case For Office Space: How Buildings Need to Change to Suit a Climate-Conscious, Covid-Weary Workforce’, argues that if businesses want to attract workers back to the office in the hastily rebounding US economy, they must adapt by giving their employees a stronger say in how the office is managed.

‘They want the sustainable office of the future; if they don’t get it, they’re willing to change jobs…’

‘Employees will not settle for the offices they once had,’ says the report. ‘They want healthier work environments that better account for their personal health and overall sustainability. They want spaces with natural light and renewable energy sources…They want the sustainable office of the future, and if they don’t get it, they’re willing to change jobs. Employers are having an understandably hard time meeting these new employee expectations but are left with no choice but to catch up – and keep up.’

To better understand how companies are managing the post-pandemic workplace, Next Energy Technologies surveyed more than 450 remote employees and more than 150 senior managers and C-suite decision-makers across several business sectors in the US.

Decision-makers accepted that productivity has remained the same or improved since remote working became the norm, but 32 per cent now want employees back in the office full time, compared with 15 per cent of employees. A third of decision-makers are requiring employees to return on a hybrid schedule.

Well over half of employees feel their old office had a negative impact on their personal health, with 47 per cent saying their old office impacted their mental health, and 37 per cent complaining that their workplace lacked natural light and adversely affected their health.

‘Employees’ wishes to influence their company’s wellness measures are falling on deaf ears…’

Employees’ wishes to influence their company’s health and wellness measures in future appear to be falling on deaf ears, too. While 82 per cent of employees believe they should have an influence,  42 per cent of decision-makers say their employees hold no influence over their company’s wellness environment.

The report finds an inextricable link between climate and health. Many workers are focusing on how external factors beyond their control impact their physical wellbeing. Eighty-three per cent of employees believe the climate plays a direct role in their individual health, while 77 per cent of decision-makers believe the climate crisis has a direct tie to their employees’ health.

But while decision-makers are willing to make changes in regard to sustainability, that willingness does not always translate into direct action; close to a third (32 per cent) of companies are not actively taking steps to address the climate crisis.

The most important factors employees want addressed are renewable energy (66 per cent) and reduced reliance on single-use materials (51 per cent). But business leaders don’t share this view – they say they’re willing to address energy consumption but they’re more concerned with water waste, and they don’t see single-use materials as a big issue.

This disconnect between executives and employees on the environment is likely to test workforce loyalties. The report suggest that those companies that get the message on health and sustainability will be best placed to compete in the future.

Festival of future work

This summer, WORKTECH Events is hosting a month-long festival during the month of August which comprises of some of the best speakers across the WORKTECH network. The event is comprised of a carefully curated line-up of more than 30 keynote speaker presentations from around the world.

Launching on 2 August with a live two-hour session introducing the event and key workplace trends, the festival will focus on topics such as: the future of corporate real estate, technology, workplace design and innovation. Headliners include: Gillian Tett of The Financial Times, former US General Stanley McCrystal, Dr Douglas Terrier of NASA, and many more.

As more organisations seek to break down siloes and build equitable workspaces as we return to the office, Gillian Tett will put forward her argument for how we can use hierarchies and siloes to our benefit while designing a workplace that is inclusive and fair.

Book your ticket to WORKTECH Festival here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 14 July 2021.
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