Data Drop: Touchless Greetings, the Death of the Open Office and the Impact of C…

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Returning to work was always going to churn up a mixed bag of feelings among employees and HR vendors are looking to get a sense of what those feelings are. Combine it with the ongoing wave of resignations, increased automation in the workplace and what you’ve got is a recipe for data telling you the story of how people are reacting to it.

As usual, my inbox is full of the latest studies and surveys being conducted by HR vendors, researchers and employers of all sizes. In today’s data drop, we’re going to take a closer look at how employees are coping with all these factors and what they aren’t looking forward to about going back to work.

No Touching

Remember the days of handshakes? Well your memory might be the only place they exist moving forward. After COVID-19, it’s only natural that a heightened awareness of contamination and swapping germs will be more commonplace. As employees return to work, employers are finding ways to give people more distance from each other or more opportunities to sanitize themselves and their environment.

When it comes to greeting each other, a Qualtrics study reveals that more than a third of employees say they’ll be using touchless greetings with colleagues, such as a wave or a friendly nod.

You might be tempted to think: what’s the big deal? It is after all, it’s just a greeting among people you already know. But the fact is, many employees have anxiety about the awkwardness of social situations and following proper etiquette when returning to the office. And for many of these people, this will be the first time they have met colleagues face-to-face. Around 57% of people surveyed said they would be meeting some colleagues for the first time when returning to the office.

While it may seem a small thing, this might be a good time to establish some norms around social etiquette, at least in the short term future while so much uncertainty swirls around COVID variants and how to ensure people are vaccinated.

Give Me My Space

As long as we’re talking about vaccinations, the folks over at interior design and architecture blog Homedit conducted a survey that revealed some concerns people have about the new workspaces they’ll be coming back to.

There were two really notable points to come out of it though. The first, was that 72% of employees feel that their employer should require some kind of proof of vaccination in order for someone to return to work. The data illustrates what many an HR professional knows to be true; the level of anxiety around COVID-19 has only eased somewhat following vaccine rollouts.

READ: Employee Experience Remains a Priority as Work Models Shift Post Pandemic 

The second only illustrates their anxiety about being around each other further, with 83% of respondents saying they would prefer any other office layout than an open one. And science may have finally given us more of an understanding as to why that is.

A study released in June from the Journal of Management & Organization show that open office plans have a negative impact on employees. Specifically, it studied the impact of open office noise on cognitive performance, physiological stress and mood, monitoring things like heart rate, facial expressions and skin conductivity. The findings show a causal relationship between open office noise and physiological stress. People tended to sweat more and facial expressions show signs of tension.

After a year of people finding new levels of productivity and comfort working at home, plunging them back into any office environment could have negative impacts. If you’re absolutely certain returning employees to an office is what you want to do, you might want to consider ways to help them find spaces that ease stress levels. If you don’t, keep in mind that more than half of employees around the world are willing to find a new job if their employer eliminates the option to work from home at least part of the time.

Class Collaborators

Collaboration is a key component of a dynamic workplace these days and something that you find everyone from floor manager to C-suite executives talking about. It’s a skill that pops up in just about every job description these days and employers spend a great deal of time figuring out ways to facilitate and encourage collaboration.

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that what drives someone to collaborate may not simply be their personality type, but their life experience, particularly as it relates to class. The study looked at groups of people from varying classes performing interdependent team work. What they discovered is that groups from lower social class backgrounds had conversations that were more wide ranging, active and balanced than their middle and upper class counterparts, something key to high team performance.

As the study notes, these people often fail to stand out as individual star performers in a divide and conquer approach to work, but when working as part of a collective are extremely effective.

Previous studies have revealed that in most collaborative environments, 3-5% of the employees involved were contributing 20-35% of the value add. Perhaps future research will draw a link between the two, but in any case, when looking at building teams that diverse in both culture and style, class may play a bigger part than you ever imagined.

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