A reset moment: the confluence of ESG, Culture and Workplace Design

A reset moment: the confluence of ESG, Culture and Workplace Design

To attract, retain and get the best out of talent, organisations must reshape the workplace so that it is fit for purpose in an era defined by the intersection of some major trends. By Adam Gates, Partner and Head of the Insurance Practice and Becky Mackarel, Principal, Financial and Professional Services.

It’s been a brutal few years. Businesses have faced the challenges of Brexit, the pandemic and tough macroeconomic conditions while buffeted by crosswinds carrying major trends that, if underestimated, may damage an organisation or knock it off course.

ESG, Diversity & Inclusion, Hybrid Working, Culture, the Employee Value Proposition, Workplace Design. All have shot up the corporate agenda in recent years, emblematic of the changing world of work in this enormously demanding era.

Yet while each is a distinct trend or focus of action, increasingly they meet and overlap. And the power of this confluence has brought about a reset moment. So as not to fall prey to the Great Resignation, organisations need to understand what motivates and makes their people happy in the context of these major trends. And how to get the most out of them.  

“It is only now in the last six to 12 months that organisations are realising that they have to start luring people in,” says Tracey Groves, CEO of Intelligent Ethics and Partner at global advisory firm StoneTurn. “There has to be an attraction in the workplace which they have never had to contemplate or consider before.”

Organisations have come to fear that an imbalance towards too much remote working diminishes engagement, creativity and the boost to corporate culture that comes from their people interacting face-to-face. Yet with employees showing they can be productive when working from home and enjoying the flexibility it gives them in terms of family commitments such as children, elderly relatives and pets, it begs the question: why should they swap that for a slog into the office?

“The challenge is to motivate people to come to the office of their own accord because if you mandate staff to do so you will end up losing out,” says Marlies Hoogeboom, an expert in making workplaces work. “It’s the carrot and stick thing, you want people to want to come into the space. That is where workplace design and the Employee Value Proposition really come into it because the office allows for collaboration, it’s a social community. It should be designed for the tasks you are coming in for, like team and project meetings. What you don’t want is everyone sitting at a desk on Teams calls all day, interrupting each other because the acoustics are so bad. They might as well be at home.” 

So why exactly is this a reset moment? For a start, because organisations need to define the purpose of going into the workplace and take a more imaginative approach to creating multifunctional space that fosters collaboration and the kind of rapport that is unachievable using technology. Something more fun than sitting in front of a screen.

There should be, Tracey asserts, collective ownership for creating a workplace where everyone feels valued. And getting it right needs to be seen as a business transformational platform for growth, to attract and keep talent.

Yet a nuanced approach is called for. How, for instance, does encouraging people to commute into the office more frequently sit with an organisational sustainability goal of cutting carbon emissions? To avoid accusations of greenwashing, organisations should think in terms of ‘purposeful travel’ rather than people coming into the office for the sake of it, or because the boss demands it. “Leaders need to start asking uncomfortable questions and be open minded and listen to what is coming back,” says Tracey. “They should be having adult-to-adult conversations as opposed to forcing a mandate.”

Anecdotally, we have heard of employees going into work for the air conditioning on hot summer days and – more pertinently at this time of year and in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis – to avoid the expense of putting on the heating at home. Whether this becomes a significant trend remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that organisations and individual employees alike need a strong grasp of the value and purpose of coming in to work.

We would love to hear your thoughts on whether this really is a reset moment and what organisations should do to ensure they emerge from it better and stronger.

  • Tracey Groves and Marlies Hoogeboom will be speaking at an Odgers Interim event on this Reset Moment early in the New Year. Contact us for further information.


Ed Holloway at 25/11/2022 09:10 said:

Thanks for sharing this, it's a fascinating debate. Seems clear that only employers who engage with this in a meaningful, adult way are going to succeed. No one-size-fits all simple solution

Andy Fenton at 28/11/2022 10:11 said:

I see an increasing need for leaders in HR, facilities, and technology to proactively come together to take the lead on the new workplace design. It takes thought and planning to ensure staff are effectively supported whilst moving between homeworking, the office, and elsewhere – and it will vary within an organisation according to department, team, and individual need. I think there is some way to go before we understand the fundamental shift we’ve experienced in how work is done, in the UK and across the world.

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