Attracting and retaining talent with employee-driven working environments: A conversation with Microsoft and Leesman

The global shift to hybrid working has prioritized employee needs both in and out of the workplace. We spoke to Marlene De Koning (Microsoft) and Tim Oldman (Leesman), to understand what needs organizations need to meet in order to attract and retain talent in a hybrid workplace.

As more and more people return to the office—with two in five companies set to embrace hybrid working by 2023—organizations are being forced to re-evaluate the modern working environment. Creating a space designed to overcome future challenges is critical, especially regarding employee attraction and retention. The great resignation, in which record numbers of people left their jobs post-pandemic, has only emphasized the importance of the workplace in the hiring and retention process.

Studies show that over 94% of employees would like to work in the office at least once a week. With a range of reasons why full-time home working may not be ideal, people are actively seeking comfortable spaces that support their needs and reflect how they prefer to work.

To understand how businesses can approach this issue, we spoke to Marlene De Koning, Director of Employee Experience Consultancy at Microsoft, and Tim Oldman, Founder & CEO of Leesman at our latest Mapiq Talks session. Our discussion centered around the three key pillars of employee wellbeing: concrete needs, basic needs that employees require to feel protected and healthy at work; belonging needs, which involve how people relate to their spaces and to one another; and actualization needs which give employees the autonomy they need to self-actualize

Introducing the experts

Our Mapiq Talks series is dedicated to bringing together experts in the field of work experiences so that we can better understand what it takes for organizations to thrive in an ever-changing market. For this edition, we were lucky enough to sit down with Marlene De Koning and Tim Oldman as they shared their insights into the process of meeting employee needs. 

At Microsoft, Marlene De Koning has enhanced their workplace analytics solution, transforming it into Microsoft’s new employee experience Platform, Viva. Currently, she is the Director of Employee Experience Consultancy and creates compelling employee experience visions for the C-suite while bringing Microsoft’s technology solutions to business stakeholders.

Tim Oldman is the Founder and CEO of Leesman. Industry thought leaders worldwide use the Leesman Index to measure and improve employee experiences. In March 2020, Leesman launched new tools to evaluate the experiences of employees working from home, providing valuable insights into the future of hybrid working. 

Here we’ve outlined the key takeaways from our conversation, focused on the ways organizations can meet employee needs through data, workplace optimization, community building, and a transparent recruitment process.

Use data to identify employee needs

From understanding office preferences to assessing inter-department collaboration, data collection is critical in bridging gaps and providing a complete picture. But identifying how employees truly feel about their work can be difficult. Collecting this data means a lot of active listening: running surveys, polling, and conducting other forms of analysis that don’t rely on employees' self-reporting. But through responsive feedback loops and a top-down approach, organizations can get the data they need to meet and respond to employee preferences. 

As Marlene puts it, one method of gathering this information includes looking at “how information flows through an organization and how networks are working.” As one of the three critical areas of employee needs, excellent communication and collaboration are huge indicators of satisfaction within an organization. 

When it comes to collecting data on employee needs, a significant factor is management's willingness to self-reflect and to ask the right questions. 

“The best organizations are doing what they need to do, which is seriously hard work, serious reflection, and serious understanding of the roles that employees have,” Tim noted. “From that, environments, infrastructures, and systems can be created to allow employees to be the best versions of themselves in a role.” 

Optimizing hybrid working environments

The rise of hybrid working has presented several challenges to employers and employees alike. Maintaining employee satisfaction and happiness levels in a disconnected working environment can be challenging, not to mention the similarly positioned recruitment challenges. But by understanding what employees need from their offices, organizations can create spaces designed to overcome hybrid working challenges. 

“Not everyone goes into the office for the same reason,” Marlene explained. “Some go in for focus work and others for collaborative work.’” 

For this reason, organizations must create an office space that appeals to as many of their employees as possible. For situations in which most employees prefer being in the office, organizations should look to optimize their spaces through layout and capacity planning. This will allow a large number of employees to visit and enjoy their workspaces without any risk of overcrowding.

Keep in mind that this optimization process means finding the balance between harnessing the benefits of both in-person and remote working. For many, returning to the office every day doesn’t make much sense. This is especially true for those who require accessibility adjustments. 

As Tim points out, “The reality is that returning to the office is a logistical imposition for some people. As we return to offices, we’ll likely see fewer physically impaired people returning.” 

It’s crucial to accommodate team members who may see office life as inaccessible. It’s up to teams and managers to experiment with creating an optimal balance of in-person and remote work that benefits both individuals and whole organizations.

Keep the community spirit alive 

A sense of belonging is integral to employee satisfaction, but remote and hybrid working models can often make this connection difficult. Full-time remote working has been shown to increase loneliness by 67% 

As processes and conversations move online, interpersonal and inter-departmental relationships are at risk of being lost. As Marlene put it, “How do you build social capital if you’re in a digital-first world?”  

During the pandemic, Marlene’s teams at Microsoft saw the length of their meetings decrease while productivity increased. However, the organic relationship building that happens during in-person meetings was lost. To reclaim these relationships, organizations have to prioritize community spaces, both online and in person. 

But this shouldn’t be forced: it’s essential to create an environment where connections can be formed naturally. For instance, Tim notes that even simple interactions like grabbing a coffee should be encouraged: “Things like getting a coffee help build an atmosphere that’s more productive when building relationships.” 

Fostering moments of connection in the workplace requires proactive initiations. For instance, this might include team days in the office, community building sessions, or an inter-departmental buddy system. “We need to create a culture that gives employees a sense that they’re in [an organization] for more than just a paycheck at the end of the month,” Tim says.

Marlene and Tim both agreed that aside from just meeting in person, teams should stay connected through a set of shared corporate values. 

Marlene says, “Research shows that younger generations are resigning their jobs or looking for volunteering opportunities so that they can feel like they have a community and a sense of purpose. Employees are looking for a company that has impact, and when organizations have a clear purpose, then all employees feel like they’re working towards a united goal.”

Managers should work to create a strong company culture built around a united purpose and vision s as a way to align employees, no matter if they’re in the office or working remotes. 

Streamline the recruitment process

Hybrid working has also presented new questions and challenges regarding recruitment processes. Employees are looking for more remote working opportunities, and they expect their employee needs to be met both in the office and in an online setting. 

Tim describes the balance between the wants of employees and the requirements of teams as “me privileges” that need to be exercised within “we boundaries”: “If individuals want all the ‘me privileges’ that come from always working, how, when, and where they want, they can do that: it’s called freelance.”

However, suppose employees want the security and benefits of being a fixed employee. In that case, certain organizational boundaries need to be observed and made clear during the early stages of the recruitment process. Employees want a way of working that meets their individual needs, but organizations still need to create a system that protects all interests. 

Transparent communication is also key in understanding and reflecting the needs of potential employees within your organization. 

“When you're interviewing potential candidates, companies should be very transparent about what the organizational values are, and the expectations should be,” Marlene says, “For instance, 28% of people leave a job within the first three months because of a disconnect within the hiring process: there is often a difference between what was promised and what was delivered in a workplace.”

Early on in the recruitment process, organizations need to outline the best practices of communication and collaboration to set correct expectations and meet the needs of potential employees.

How to maintain employee-focused working environments

Never before has the importance of employee happiness been more evident. To attract people back into the office, employers have a seemingly endless range of requirements that need to be met in order to attract talent and retain their current workers. But there’s good news: by understanding what employees need from a work environment, organizations can easily enact custom, unique optimizations that match the preferences of their employees.

As Marlene and Tim made clear, smart, future-proof changes require a focus on data and not just guesswork. For this, responsive feedback loops are essential. By gathering data on what employees are looking for and then reevaluating any further changes, companies can better grasp whether or not they satisfy their workforce. 

“Organizations should constantly ask ‘what are we doing right and what we are doing wrong’. No matter what survey mechanism you use to collect this information, it’s about being an active listener and taking the data into account,” says Tim. 

As for the actual changes that can be made within an organization, there are many. 

Whether it’s optimizing office spaces, prioritizing communities, or streamlining the recruitment process, there are several physical and cultural changes that companies can- and should- implement.

With Mapiq, you can gather detailed insights into how your spaces are used while giving employees an easy-to-use app designed to help them connect with their colleagues. With capacity management, workplace occupancy, hybrid meetings, and more, your whole team can access everything they need for a more meaningful day at work. Book a free demo to learn more.

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