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Going back to the office? Watch out for these workplace blunders that threaten your productivity

Some employers haven't given enough forethought to improving the experience of their workers as they return to the office. They could be in for a nasty shock.
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Written by Owen Hughes, Senior Editor on
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Image: Getty/Cecilie_Arcurs

The shift towards hybrid working has seen many employers introduce greater flexibility for their staff, giving workers freedom to work from home or come into the office as they please.

But not all companies have been receptive to the lessons of the past two years around new workplace practices and employee expectations, spelling a potentially bumpy return to the office as WFH allowances are phased out.

That means employers could be in for a rough ride if they don't take the time to sort out some common workplace grievances,  according to a report by analytics SaaS platform, Time Is Ltd and market research firm, Ascend2.

SEE: How to talk about tech: Five ways to get people interested in your new project

The study involving 255 HR leaders at US companies pointed to a number of "red flags" that threatened to hamper employee productivity, engagement and collaboration in the workplace – which could wreak havoc on company performance and hiring efforts.

Among these was the persistence of meeting culture, with 41% of respondents citing this as a top challenge to improving the employee experience. The report's authors said too many meetings were "too long, poorly timed and lacking focus", squashing productivity as a result.

"The core issues behind meeting culture are clear: Quantity, length, and focus all need to be improved — and employees need to be empowered to make every meeting count. One sure-fire way to improve things is to give people more autonomy over the meetings they attend," said the report, titled The Evolving Workforce and HR's Identity Crisis.

Two-thirds (67%) of survey respondents strongly agreed that allowing employees to choose which meetings they attended would improve productivity, compared with 26% who moderately agreed and 7% who either moderately or strongly disagreed.

Making meetings more efficient is a challenge – 38% of HR leaders said measuring meeting efficiency was very difficult, but a good place to start is by looking at the frequency and length of meetings. Can an hour-long meeting be reduced to 30 minutes, for example? Likewise, can a daily meeting be cut to twice a week?

SEE: Want to keep developers happy and productive? One change to their working day could be the key

Researchers also suggested that "redundant and inefficient meetings" could be made into 1:1s to help ensure feedback is targeted and help build internal relationships. After-hours meetings also lead to disengagement and burnout, the authors noted: again, reducing the number of meetings is key here, as the more meetings that are held during the day, the more likely others will be pushed outside of normal working hours.

Workplaces are also beset with collaboration headaches, largely due to messy implementation and inconsistent use of email, instant messaging and video-meeting tools.

According to Time Is Ltd's report, technology used for collaboration was the top employee experience challenge in the early months of the pandemic, and this only became more complicated as the pandemic progressed and employees continued working from home.

Not only has workplace collaboration software become central to the average workday, but organizations have also adopted new collaboration and productivity tools that are overwhelming workers and having the opposite intended effect.

More than 8 in 10 respondents (84%) said they were receiving more emails than ever, and there was a similar response when respondents were asked about their use of instant messaging (80%) video communication (83%) and file-sharing tools (77%).

SEE: Best video conferencing 2022: Virtual meeting apps

Email and instant-messaging use need to be taken under control, the report said, while video calls should be treated similarly to in-person meetings in that employers should focus on length, frequency and whether they're completely necessary.

Another major red flag for workers to consider is how much their company is focused on their employee experience.

Time Is Ltd's report suggested that this is an area employers are struggling to apply significant effort and forethought – which could lead to hiring and retention difficulties in a tight labour market.

For example, only 32% of HR leaders said they were focused on recruitment and onboarding processes, while less than one-quarter (24%) said improving employee engagement was a priority for the year ahead.

While 58% of respondents said improving employee satisfaction was a top objective, the report said employees would "expect more concrete solutions" that directly impacted their experience with work by improving wellbeing, productivity, and engagement.

High turnover, poor onboarding processes, and a lack of focus on retention are just a few areas of opportunity for HR leaders the report said.

"Right now, companies are ill-equipped to handle what's next, and they underestimate the need to get it right."

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