An employee-centric workplace is an environment that encourages a free flow of communication, ideas, creativity, and innovation throughout the organization. With the pandemic leaving employees feeling more isolated than ever, companies are scrambling to redesign the workplace experience. One that can work for both remotely and in-person that puts the needs and wellbeing of their most important asset — their people — first. 

How to build an employee-centric workplace

The following are four areas company leaders and HR managers should focus on to create a more employee-centric and inclusive workplace.

1. Encourage flexibility and offer choices

As companies scramble to come up with new rules on remote working, one thing’s for sure — there’s no going back to the old ways. Having tasted the freedom of being able to work in their pajamas, employees now have different expectations when it comes to how, when, and where they can work. Companies should embrace this trend, not try to stifle it.

Working Families surveyed over a thousand working parents and discovered that 9 out of 10 wanted their workplace to be more flexible post-COVID-19.

An employee-centric workplace should be structured to encourage flexibility from the moment the employee steps into the office. This means making way for hot desks, private working booths, and open cafeteria-style workspaces that recreate more of the feeling of working at home, outside in a park, or at a coworking space than in a traditional office.

Square for example adopted a completely “task-based” layout in their San Francisco office that allows employees from different departments to sit or stand and mingle with one another freely. Even the CEO can be found working at one of the standing desks scattered around the space from time to time. The new layout creates a flexible work environment that can be as private or as open as each employee chooses, to great fanfare.

2. Create a more empathetic workspace

Very few people have emerged unscathed from the COVID-19 pandemic, making “empathy” in the workplace something workers value greatly. In fact, according to a Businessolver survey, one in three employees responded that they would jump ship to another company that is more empathetic, and 40% would be willing to work longer hours. That’s a powerful message company leaders need to pay attention to.

So how can a company become more empathetic? It all starts with training management and employees to be more willing to just “listen” to one another. Create a culture where everyone is encouraged to bring concerns — however big or small — to another person in the company, and more importantly, be heard.

To accomplish it, company leaders have to take charge and lead by example. When employees see that they can open up candidly with even the top brass, it creates a trickle-down effect that can permeate the entire organization. Employees should also feel safe to air grievances to the HR department, knowing that their conversations will always be kept private.

The most important component of effective listening is to ask the right questions. They convey to the speaker that you were not only listening attentively but care enough to want to help make things better.

Effective questions should be specific to show that you were paying attention, compassionate in tone, and constructive to offer insight and possible solutions. For example, if a coworker expresses to you that he feels stressed out at work, ask about the projects he’s working on, his relationships at work and at home, and how you’ve overcome similar challenges yourself in the past.

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3. Prioritize employee health and wellness

Now more than ever, employees value companies that care about their mental wellbeing and physical health. COVID-19 has reminded all of us that health matters more than anything else in life.

Mental health has emerged as a key area that companies should focus on improving in the workplace. Recent research shows a huge jump in the feeling of uncertainty, grief, and loneliness in the population.

To understand and tackle mental health head-on, PriMed Management Consulting for example surveyed all 480 of its employees to come up with a health risk assessment. It revealed that its employees were most at risk of stress. Using this data, the company quickly implemented a series of measures. This included an after-work exercise program, guided meditation sessions, and a logging system where employees can submit their stress logs.

Ergonomics is another area of employee wellbeing that companies should double down on. One of the biggest complaints from employees working from home is the lack of a proper workstation set up. The NYT reports that COVID-19 has created a huge surge in the number of injuries from WFH workers complaining of back and neck pain, among other musculoskeletal issues.

Revamping an office for better ergonomics not only addresses this pain point but is a great way to cajole employees to come back to the office when many people are hesitant to return.

An ergonomic office may include designated standing desks for people to periodically work at, more comfortable ergonomic chairs, laptop stands, and a workspace properly configured for ergonomics that reduce the chance of repetitive strain injuries at work.

4. Foster a culture of continuous learning

Each year, millions of students choose to enroll in college in the US for good reason- the desire to learn new skills and improve their employability. People are even willing to take on debt for this privilege. An important component of an employee-centric workplace is to foster a culture of learning at work so employees feel they aren’t becoming stagnant by going to work every day. It’s one of the most powerful ways to retain workers and keep them happy.

HR usually would play the lead role in setting up an education assistance program. Depending on the nature of the company, continuous learning can be in the form of helping employees work towards a professional certificate, undergraduate or graduate degree, or even in-house mentorship. A student loan repayment program can also be part of the plan.

The benefits of an employee-centric workplace

Here are some of the benefits of implementing an employee-centric workplace:

  • Improved motivation and productivity in employees.
  • Reduced turnover rates
  • A happier and more harmonious workforce
  • Greater chance of attracting and retaining top talent in a cost-effective manner

Never has the definition of a workplace been more fluid, and the expectations from employees higher than now. The key for company leaders to rise up to this challenge is to focus squarely on the wellbeing of their employees that make up the heart and soul of the company.

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AvatarJon Muller

Jon Muller is the founder of Ergonomic Trends where he writes about ergonomics, office productivity, and ways to stay healthy at the office. During his spare time, he loves walking his dog and hiking with his friends and family.