Why is employee experience important?

Consider buying a new car. It’s an experience that’s notoriously frustrating — one most people dread. They hate pestering salespeople, haggling over price and interest rates, and signing dozens of documents. By the time they drive off the lot, most people are too exhausted to enjoy their purchase. The overall experience was simply draining. It’s the same concept for an employee’s experience in the workplace. 

A good employee experience improves the productivity, comfort, and cohesiveness of a workplace.

Unlike the experience of buying a car, you want employees to feel good coming to work! Many employees today work hybrid, and it’s your job to ensure they enjoy coming to the office as much as they enjoy remote work. They shouldn’t dread walking up to the building or feeling tension when sitting at a desk. Employees should leave feeling fulfilled at the end of the day. Research shows a good employee experience can improve the productivity, comfort, and cohesiveness of an excellent workplace experience. 

What is employee experience? 

Employee experience is a self-explanatory term. It’s how your employees feel about their employment. Only recently has employee experience become quantified as the sum of culture, technology, and workplace — though it’s most often correlated with the workplace since that’s where all these variables come together. 

In a genuine sense, employee experience is about making employees excited, proud, happy, and confident in their work. Companies capable of doing this create a positive employee experience; companies that fall short may deliver a negative or unexciting experience to workers, leading to employee burnout. It’s an outcome dictated mainly by the willingness and ability to meet and exceed employee needs, expectations, and standards.

Every company wants happy employees but employee experience goes far beyond making people happy. It’s about attaining the benefits of happy, engaged, and productive employees. Here are 10 reasons employee experience is important and why it pays to create a positive one: 

  1. Attract and retain talent. Skilled employees want to work in a place that embraces and supports them. From the interview to the onboarding process through all stages of the employee, a good experience provides top talent with a sense of purpose and work-life balance. 
  2. Create camaraderie. A company’s workforce needs to function as a team. Bad employee experience can push people apart; good, shared experiences bring them together.  
  3. Enable work support. A good experience empowers employees to try their best. This way, employees feel confident about their work and less afraid of failure if their workplace projects an air of support. 
  4. Improve engagement. Employees with a positive view of their workplace enjoy a certain level of excitement about their job. They’re attentive, engaged, and ready to do their best. 
  5. Foster collaboration. Given a positive experience collaborating with their peers, employees won’t be afraid to ask for help, provide guidance, or work together—especially in an environment that supports them. 
  6. Inspire creativity. The ability to think clearly and creatively benefits businesses and employees alike. That creativity fosters innovation, which leads to growth. 
  7. Prioritize well-being. If a workplace weighs heavily on an employee, they’ll suffer at work and home. Promoting a positive employee experience encourages higher engagement, which can improve mental health. 
  8. Feed the bottom line. An excellent employee experience boosts the bottom line through everything from better efficiency to a higher caliber of work done. Happy employees drive revenue growth. 
  9. Bolster company image. People talk. When the topic of work arises and employees say only good things, that word of mouth becomes part of the company’s ethos, and perception is often reality. 
  10. Grow professionally. Employees who feel good about where they work grow in their professional endeavors. They do more, learn more, and feel comfortable taking on responsibility. 

Remember, these benefits are contingent on a positive experience and can be erased by a negative one. Let’s return to the car analogy from above. If you have a wonderful experience at the dealership, you might be more willing to recommend them to a friend or pay a little extra for features you might not have otherwise.

A bad experience may make you leave the lot without even buying a car! From the moment of arrival to the moment of departure, experience means everything — especially to attract and retain top talent. 

Reap the benefits of a positive employee experience 

At the end of the workday, positive employee experiences directly correlate to business success. Employees who feel welcomed, accommodated, and empowered bring that positive energy to their work, the interactions they share, and the company culture. These factors contribute to a business’s bottom line and competitive advantage. 

Your employee experiences directly correlate to your business success

Pay close attention to employee experience in the workplace. Do they show up and leave in a good mood? Can they work efficiently and productively? Do they immerse themselves in the workplace? Look for the hallmarks of a good experience and address facets of the workplace where friction, tension, and other negative sentiments are an opportunity to improve the employee experience.   

Keep in mind people will never be happy all the time. But an employee’s workplace experience should never be the reason why they’re unhappy. If it is, it’s time to reshape your workplace and employee experience. 

Alternative workplaces: Then versus now

In 1998, the Harvard Business Review published a futuristic article, The Alternative Workplace: Changing Where and How People Work. While it was a new and exciting concept back then, in 2023, it isn’t too groundbreaking. If anything, it’s the new normal.

It describes remote work and a growing detachment from the traditional workplace. That said, it’s a prophetic-sounding piece from more than 20 years ago that predicted the alternative workplace we’re seeing today. 

Indeed, we have moved from an era in which people actively seek connections with one another to an era in which people decide when and where to disconnect — electronically and socially. Current organizations pursuing alternative workplace initiatives — particularly those with home office arrangements — must be mindful of that paradox. 

The rise of the alternative workplace has been a long time coming, as evidenced by the above passage. The global pandemic was just the latest catalyst driving alternative solutions into the spotlight. Today, alternative workplace strategies have taken center stage and are fulfilling the vision first adopted in 1998.

Alternative workplace definition 

What is an alternative workplace? It’s a fair question and readily answered by many of the work trends we’re familiar with today. Telecommuting and remote work. Coworking. These paint a picture of the alternative workplace. 

Alternative workplaces refer to where employees work that is not in an office, and how that environment supports their productivity.

In 1998, “alternative workplace” focused more specifically on alternatives to working in an office. Today, the definition focuses more on where employees work and how that environment supports them — from a well-furnished coworking space to the free Wi-Fi at a local coffee shop.  

Key elements of the alternative workplace 

Alternative workplaces are highly diverse because they can encompass just about any environment that supports work. So long as it supports your ability to work and it’s outside of the “home base” workplace, it falls under the guise of an alternative workplace. 

A coworking space might have an office feel and all the amenities of a traditional workplace. Still, it’s an alternative workplace because professionals from other companies and career paths surround you. Your home office is an alternative workplace. Even an airport lounge is an alternative workplace — even if you only work there for 45 minutes before a flight. 

Are you sitting in an alternative workspace right now? Take stock of the environment and see if it offers these essential elements: 

  • Are you using your own technology? 
  • Do you have control over your seating? 
  • Do you have control over your work habits? 
  • Is the environment conducive to your work? 
  • Are there people other than coworkers around you? 

Examples of alternative workplace

Most coffee shops, coworking spaces, home offices, breakout spaces, airport terminals, public libraries, and similar facilities fit the bill. But the alternative workplace isn’t only shaped by physical surroundings — more important is how it empowers employees.

Emphasize the worker instead of the workplace 

Alternative workspaces are defined by the freedoms they afford workers. These workplaces sever the tie between work and any one single place, which also means they give employees the power to self-govern. When allowed to choose their own venue and work in their own way, many workers seize the opportunity to do their best work in their best manner. 

It’s not surprising that many companies invested in alternative workplace strategies over the past two decades — even pre-pandemic. Unlinking work from the workplace and instead hitching work to the worker brings untold flexibility to the concept of what a workplace is. Hence, the current rise in alternative workplaces.

If an employee can produce 100% regardless of whether they work at a desk, in an office, or an easy chair at home, does it matter where they work? Most likely not. What if they could accomplish 120% from their easy chair? It’s a very real driver behind the hype in alternative workplaces. 

Alternative workplace concepts come down to an investment in work and the worker, instead of the workplace. So long as they can do the job, who’s to stop employees from doing it in a place that’s comfortable, familiar, and supportive of their personal work habits? It’s a trade many employers willingly make for bolstered productivity, improved culture, and employee satisfaction.

Alternatives are part of today’s modern workplace 

This is not a fad” is a simple but striking sentence in the groundbreaking 1998 Harvard Business Review article. Indeed, it’s not, especially to have survived over 20 years and become the foundation for the adaptive workplace solutions we see today. 

The rise of the internet, cloud applications, and better computing technology have all made alternative workplaces viable solutions as companies navigate the modern workplace.

Remote work, flex scheduling, hoteling, experiential workspaces, and coworking are all alternative forms of work, but they’re only part of the greater alternative workplace employees rely on today. 

What data reveals about workplace freedom and workforce connection

As day-to-day work models have dramatically shifted, what kind of workplace experience are most employees having in 2023? We are examining this very closely.

For the first time, we’re offering insight into macro trends using our proprietary global data. With 16.3M users spanning 16,000+ customers, we’re able to pinpoint how the physical workspace operates end to end via data analysis. We can see information from asset maintenance and site inspections, to visitor management, and office floorplans for space planning across building and real estate portfolios.

Based on our research, we’ve identified a set of benchmark patterns. These patterns are organized around four consistently recurring workplace tensions observed within our customer base. But our insights are also qualitatively based on thousands of customer and industry conversations with facility managers and operations leaders, including those from our two podcasts – Workplace Innovator and Asset Champion.

One of the most pressing tensions for facilities managers to understand from our research is freedom vs. connection. What do we mean? It’s the tension between an individual employee’s desire to work how they want and the need for human connection with other employees.

Get the entire 2023 Workplace Index: Q1 report now.

Why does this matter to a facility manager or workplace strategist? Because it’s a challenge to plan, maintain, and optimize your buildings without accurate utilization metrics. Utilization means behavior. Behavior means people. And workplace behavior today has undergone huge social shifts – which now require more nuanced evaluation and collaboration between many different teams – HR, IT, maintenance teams, others – who are all dependent on reliable and accurate building and facility data.

Plus, 1-to-many space planning models, including the many flavors of hybrid work – have a different set of costs and benefits. And these relatively new, post-pandemic models are having a major effect on building and office moves, vendor management and contracts, ESG standards, regulatory compliance, and inventory management.

When these new models are managed well, they can save time and energy, and boost employee morale and productivity. If they are done poorly, they can shrink a department’s budget and leave an incomplete picture of the workplace.

Employee freedom of choice and the physical workspace

Today’s workplace experience is dynamic – and changing rapidly. The idea of employee freedom is not a brand-new concept, but it has experienced a rapid rate of adoption over the last few years as working from home became a necessity.

Today, business leaders and employees are testing the boundaries of workplace freedom. Leaders need and want engaged and productive employees. Autonomy with accountability deepens employee trust, finds Gallup researchers. Gallup tracks and publishes findings on the top workplaces as measured by employee engagement. The top companies have 18 engaged employees for every one actively disengaged employee.

Depending on what region of the world you work in, the experience of who is in the office and for how many days a week is wholly unique today. Per our research, all regions spanning Asia Pacific (APAC), Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) and Americas saw year over year increases in desk bookings from all of 2022 through the first quarter of 2023:

Year over year desk booking statistics

All regions, however, are not responding the same. Global desk booking data show office returns starting in APAC, then moving around the world. Customers in APAC countries are pushing to collaborate and drive innovation with in-office team cultures. European regions are fast followers with in-office attendance rising across multiple industries. And in the Americas, larger cities are leading the charge of in-office occupancy.

In similar vein, our year over year data shows a consistent rise in desk bookings by days of week – especially during the midweek days of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Also, there’s been strong year over year expansion in meeting room bookings where we analyzed over 10 million individual meeting rooms in our platform:

  • APAC: 50%
  • EMEA: 84%
  • Americas: 46%

See all of the data charted in the full report.

The human need for social connection

Having a close teammate or friend at work is very important to team success, accountability, loyalty, and ultimately, profitability and employee retention. Gallup research has consistently shown since 2018 and through the pandemic that having a best friend at work increases all of these important productivity metrics.

Once meetings happen in person, our data shows increasingly greater populations of the workforce get back into the rhythm and ritual of going into the office. The effect? It attracts others into the office.

The Americas may appear to be trailing behind other regions with in-office attendance. But when the workforce is in, they are much more likely to be collaborating and booking meeting rooms rather than individual desks alone. This reinforces the mantra in the US that being on-site is the new off-site experience. It means team members are coming together to meet in the office to hold in-depth collaborative sessions.

From a vertical industry perspective, the software and technology industry experienced the biggest growth in collaborative room bookings, up 495% since January 2022 through Q1 2023 – with a large increase of over 100,000 bookings more between from February to March 2023.

The human need for social connection at work is vital to an organization’s culture. And the office provides a way to help us boost productivity – especially when systems in the office work well. Eptura survey research featured in our 2023 Predictions Report reinforces the value of being in an office a few days a week in the US:

  • 45% see the improved ability to meet with colleagues, clients, vendors
  • 36% believe coming into the office helps improves company culture
  • 35% say they look to the office for a productive, well-equipped environment
  • 32% feel coming to the office helps with work/life balance

Other data sources reinforce the value and desire for human connection at work. Microsoft’s “2022 Work Trend Index” report found strong interest for social connection:

  • 84% of employees would be motivated by the promise of socializing with co-workers
  • 85% would be motivated by rebuilding team bonds
  • 73% of employees would go to the office more frequently if they knew their direct team members would be there
  • 74% would go in if their work friends were there

The bottom line: We want to work and socialize together in person.

How to balance workplace freedom and social connection

How can workplace and facility leaders balance the freedom vs. connection tension? By creating a culture of transparency, trust, and accountability to individual and team performance.

Establish the value of being together in-person

There are many reasons people need and want to work together. A team is a diverse mix of personalities and work styles, so the best way to understand where everyone is at is to ask.

Use employee surveys to establish where your culture is at – and where it wants to be. So first, find out what your teams need when working together in person. And publish the data and responses on a regular cadence. The surveys will reveal what direction your policies should head.

Create flexible hybrid work policies with clarity and buy-in

One of the best ways to establish buy-in is to have department managers work with their teams to create the policies together. The goal is to encourage participation. This way, it’s clear because the team had input. Then, work with other departments on scheduling days.

To help balance out shared workspace and avoid every team being during the midweek mountain, some of our customers are using Mondays and Fridays as alternate days. Often, they are adding in a social component – an end of the week happy hour or early week team brainstorming session – so there’s emphasis on bonding.

Leverage worktech that reinforces freedom and connection to others

After establishing surveys and buy-in to policies, you will have agreement. But we all know that policies are not necessarily going to be strictly followed every week. Each employee will have specific needs, and as long as there is fairness in the approach and employees are performing well in their roles, flexibility and connection will become respected and balanced.

But to take transparency to the next level, it helps to make it easy to know each other’s plans.

With presence awareness –  you can leverage simple, easy to view and share scheduling and location data which will help all teams be able to plan and track how workspaces are being used. With this weekly data, you can optimize the short term and inform the future.

Stay tuned. We’re doing a series of blogs on all the tensions our research discovered, including workplace flexibility vs. certainty, value add vs. cost center, and C02 targets vs. costs.

Download the 2023 Workplace Index: Q1 report now.