Employers may be stipulating that their employees have to return to the office, even if just for a number of days. But amid low employee engagement and rampant presenteeism, that’s not to say the standard physical office set up will function any better than before unless change is made. Here, Sue Coulson, workplace consultant at Rhino Interiors Group, explains why businesses should use the impetus of the Great Return to stamp out presenteeism by creating a workplace which motivates and inspires employees to do their best work.

The Great Resignation. Quiet Quitting. Quiet Hiring. Productivity Paranoia. The Great Retention. And more recently the Great Return. It would seem that every other month there is a newly coined term to describe the latest workplace trend.

But while it may appear that today’s working world is in a perpetual cycle of change; one entrenched feature of business culture remains fully intact – presenteeism.

Before the pandemic, presenteeism – the concept of workers being physically present at work, often working around the clock, even when unwell or unproductive – has been a blight faced by many businesses. Studies show this issue is most predominant in high-stake industries where attendance can influence other people such as finance, tech and consultancy, despite the fact that this does not have higher productivity and can have a detrimental effect on employees work-life balance.

Of course, you might assume that the remote working shift has solved this by liberating employees to work when and how they want to. But it can actually have the opposite effect. Because remote workers are out of sight from their boss and colleagues, they can feel the need to prove their presence by always being available online. Adding to the compulsion is rising job insecurity amid an uncertain economic climate.

Tackling this is becoming a priority, with declining employee engagement and growing employee-employer tension. Thus, as more employers reinstate office working in the ‘Great Return’, it’s important that they seize the opportunity to reimagine the workplace and rebuild a company culture which is better for everyone before the dust settles. But how?

While there are other methods of tackling presenteeism and promoting productivity and efficiency, you can also help to achieve this by crafting a workplace environment which is inspiring and motivating and brings your company culture to life. Here’s how:


Reimagine and reconfigure

With the post-pandemic working world having placed even more onus on engagement and interaction, your first priority should be to create a collaborative environment in the workplace.

In some cases, this may require going back to the drawing board. After all, while the once traditional cubicle layout offers space-saving benefits, it’s not only hugely limiting in terms of collaboration but it can make it difficult for employers to keep a track on morale and maintain eyes on productivity. Equally, the more recent shift to open-plan design, while much better suited to teamwork, has been found to result in lower performance, especially for tasks which require individual focus and memory.

Taking all this into account, the most important first step is to gauge a clear understanding of how your employees operate on an individual basis, as part of their team or division, and as a collective whole. From this, you will be able to ascertain how the workplace can support these different interactions. This could cover everything from providing a variety of collaboration spaces designed to deliberately encourage teamwork such as open plan office spaces or creative hubs for smaller team huddles or small informal one-to-ones. Equally, quiet zones or pods should be considered to enable privacy and an area for individual focus as needs dictate.


Brand identity

Even for today’s biggest brand-driven businesses, it can be surprising to see how many overlook the importance of office interior branding.

This really is a major missed opportunity. By adding branding throughout your workplace, you can not only give your office a unique identity but ensure your values and organisational goals remain front of mind for employees and that they feel part of them.

This can be reflected by including branded signage and artwork throughout, as well as selecting a colour palette that reflects your brand. Purposefully chosen artwork and visuals that encapsulate your brand’s personality and tone can also add to the overall appeal and feel.

Also, it goes without saying that every business should be treated on a case-by-case basis. For example, office slides and climbing walls may have helped to perpetuate the high-innovative stakes Google is so well known for but it’s unlikely that they would be as well received in a prestigious law firm. Equally, bland décor and overly safe colour schemes may underwhelm those working in highly creative industries, such as a marketing firm.


Employee engagement

If you really want to be seen as an employer that values your employees and listens, then you should engage your team in the entire process. Facilitate an open dialogue and do it early doors. Ask employees for their input. What do they think currently works and what doesn’t? What would help them in their day-to-day life?

This could involve impromptu chats around the water cooler or a general office meeting. Another idea is to send out a survey, so employees have time to consider their responses and feel comfortable making their recommendations anonymously.

Of course, it may be that some ideas are better than others, and some simply aren’t feasible. What’s important is taking your employees on the journey and keeping them informed each step of the way. The likelihood being that they’ll be more engaged and feel they have played a key role in the creation of their new workplace.


A Workplace that Works

With the office historically seen as simply ‘a place to get the job done’ usually on the same patch of carpet for eight hours a day or so, it’s easy to see why presenteeism originated in the traditional 9-5. But this is changing and must continue to do so. Amid record low employee engagement and productivity, the Great Return brings with it a new and exciting opportunity for employees to design out presenteeism by creating a workplace which is inclusive, exciting, motivates, inspires and encourages employees to work to their best abilities.


Workplace Consultant at Rhino Interiors Group | Website | + posts

Bringing with her over 30 years' experience in a variety of B2B roles looking at high level appointment setting, Sue, in her position of workplace consultant at Rhino Interiors, has a proven track record in helping businesses create dynamic, effective workplaces which empower and inspire.

About Rhino Interiors: Birmingham-based Rhino Interiors is one of the UKs leading office interior and workplace specialists committed to creating inspirational workspaces across the UK. Key clients include The Mailbox, Barcode Warehouse, Gousto, Domino’s, James & James and many more.