Recently, I read an article about The Cube – one of Berlin’s latest smart offices. Built by Austrian real estate company, CA Immo, it will use sensors to measure lighting, humidity, temperature and CO2 in order to optimise how the building runs. For example, it can ensure the printers are never out of paper, switch off the lights in unused spaces and show employees the best workspace for them on a given day.
It’s clear this will improve productivity, but is this really the best way to engage employees and improve employer brand? Employees must use an app to get the building’s benefits, which could raise data privacy concerns since employers could track people’s movements. In addition to this, the building uses a ‘hotdesking’ model which means that employees will never have a dedicated space to sit. So, will having a smart office help your employer brand or would implementing a flexible working strategy be the preferable route to take?
The employee-first strategy
To be honest, you need to do both or at least, a bit of both. Having the flexibility to choose whether to work from home or at a ‘hot desk’ in the office will appeal to employees but if you can, you should give them the option of both so they can work where they feel best.
In large cities, such as London, real estate is expensive and limited, so having a smart office that’s appealing for people to be in and that allows for flexible schedules makes a lot of sense for businesses, both for spending and for employee happiness. It allows you to have hot desking spaces for when meetings or collaborative work are required, without paying for a space that fits all of your employees in unnecessarily. At the same time, employees have an office space they can enjoy when required and will feel more positively about their employer.
However, in workplaces where flexible working isn’t an option, such as retail or manufacturing, the office should be optimised as much as possible. Not just for health and safety reasons but for employee wellbeing and comfort. Good quality seats, nice breakout areas or fully stocked kitchens are a few examples of how companies can improve the office space to help with employee retention and employer brand.
With GDPR in place, organisations must be transparent when it comes to employee data. The data that smart offices collect can be very useful to determine the productivity and efficiency of a workplace, but there could be negative repercussions. Particularly if the company is seen to be tracking its employees every move.
To remain transparent, companies should keep their employees informed of the data they collect and how it is used — demonstrating the benefits of holding this data. For example, tracking when employees arrive at work and leave may not be a problem, as long as its only the security team that uses the information and not one’s manager.
Organisations need to show the ‘human side’ of human resources and show that the company respects its employees. If you have a noisy, dirty, unwelcoming workplace, then your employees won’t enjoy working for you and will try to leave – meaning you potentially lose great people and tarnish your employer brand.
Smart offices and flexible working both improve employee retention and positively impact your employer brand, and so they should be used in tandem. Remember, if a candidate has a choice between two identical jobs but one has an attractive workplace, then they’re going to go for the smart office.
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