From work schedules and childcare to meetings and schooling, the pandemic has upended just about every aspect of our work and home lives. And while it’s been a painful journey at times, when it comes to the workplace and employee experience, Melanie Lougee sees the opportunity for a fresh start.

"The big reset button on the workplace has been hit, but it’s going to take everyone collaborating across departments and a lot of trial and error to get it right," she said. "We now have a new way of operating, especially when it comes to the employee experience. Instead of over-analyzing, modeling and piloting, we’re now looking at iteration over perfection."

Lougee is head of Employee Workflow Strategy at ServiceNow, a digital workflow management platform provider based in Santa Clara, Calif. ServiceNow is a sponsor of Simpler Media Group's virtual Fall Digital Workplace Experience (DWX) Conference, happening Oct. 14 and Oct. 15. Lougee will present the session “Predicting and Preparing for the Future of Workplace Experiences.” We spoke with Lougee about what she’s seeing in the workplace landscape and what organizations need to do to ensure their employees are productive and thriving, no matter where they work.

Workplaces Are Changing, So Are Employee Expectations

Simpler Media Group: Take us back to your first job. Did you learn something then that carries through to your way of thinking today?

Melanie Lougee: I was an assistant dog groomer and helped with dog washing and nail clipping for dogs of all sizes — from big, scary ones to tiny teacup dogs. I learned that it’s the little ones you need to look out for. In my work today, that means understanding there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the employee experience. Across the board, regardless of who an employee is, you need to act with empathy — and you need to anticipate to avoid tangles.

SMG: Please describe what you see happening in the world of work and employee experience today.

Lougee: Most companies are over the immediate hurdle they faced at the beginning of the pandemic and are now focused on how they can prepare for the longer haul reality of hybrid work. They’re trying to determine how to ensure business continuity — whether they face another wave of the pandemic, or if they’re affected by issues related to climate change. At the same time, employee needs have changed. They’re expecting a lot more flexibility. They’re concerned about whether they'll be going back to the office, and if so, are they going to be safe?

Employers will need to balance out business continuity with the need for high-touch employee care. And the digital employee experience is a big part of that equation. You want to be sure that employees feel connected to each other and to their employer no matter where they are or what kind of situation they’re in.

SMG: What does a great workplace look like to today’s employees and how can it differentiate companies?

Lougee: A great workplace is really in the eye of the beholder, which leads to the need for personalization. For example, if I’m a single mother living in California with a desk job, my idea of a great workplace is going to be very different than someone who is an hourly worker in a hospital. Within those ends of the spectrum, you really need to understand employees at an individual level, as well as the different requirements around jobs, locations and roles.

What really works is when companies listen to what their employees need, balance that out with what the business needs, and look for ways forward together. You won’t get it right the first time. You’ll go through an iterative process as you figure out what employees need when they return to the office.

Overcoming the Top Workplace Challenges

SMG: What are some of the biggest challenges organizations are facing when it comes to finding the right mix of digital, physical and hybrid work environments?

Lougee: First, you can’t have a hybrid or an in-person workplace without digital. It’s the connective thread that pulls everything together. The other challenge is organizational. Historically, HR would solve for people problems, IT would solve for technical problems and so on. Today, departments need to collaborate to ensure employees have what they need, when they need it, regardless of where they’re working. And this spans beyond HR and IT into facilities, legal and procurement. Now that organizations are starting to understand that they’re going to have to manage people and places together, we’re seeing new titles emerge like head of people and places, or head of workplace experiences.

Another area challenging organizations is creating equity between different workforce populations, including remote, onsite, office and deskless workers. During the pandemic, deskless workers took a disproportionate hit and had more problems with childcare, homeschooling and health risks because they didn’t have the option to work remotely. Companies are looking for tools that can give them insights and help them understand all segments of their workforce, and how to care for them going forward.

SMG: Please talk about some of the inefficiencies in today’s physical offices that result in lost productivity, and how companies can overcome these.

Lougee: A lot of employers don’t really know how their workspaces are being used. They need insights to be able to plan a way forward, including how to organize their space. For example, if the office is open, you need to know who’s coming in when, and which departments tend to collaborate and work together in order to adapt and prepare space usage effectively.

Learning Opportunities

In addition, with the move toward hoteling or flexible workspaces, organizations need to make it easy for employees to book a workspace or know when their colleagues or boss will be in the office. If employees don’t have a regular workspace, you’ll need to help them find where they’re supposed to go so they can best connect with their colleagues. Ideally, employees will be able to do all of these things in one central place.

SMG: Can you give me some examples of how organizations are successfully supporting their workforce in a hybrid environment?

Lougee: In some ways, the public sector was on the front lines with the changes needed to bring in new workplace policies. For example, early in the pandemic, we had a customer — the Toronto School Board — who was able to use our Safe Workplace Suite to put in place the procedures they needed to bring back teachers and 70% of their student population, and keep them all safe.

Another example is Coca-Cola. They were an early adopter of workplace service solutions to bring people back into the office. We’re starting to see more adoption of these services as organizations are figuring out ways forward with their workspaces.

People and Places: Your Key to the Workplace of the Future

SMG: What are the top three workplace trends that organizations should pay attention to today and in the coming years?

Lougee: One of the biggest trends I see is this concept of people and places. If you care about the employee experience, you also have to care about their physical workspaces. Employers will need to answer questions like: Are workspaces safe? Are they usable? Are they conducive to the work that needs to be done?

We’re also seeing a move from employees thinking about perks and gyms to worrying about their health and safety, and job security. It's almost like Maslow's Hierarchy of Employee Needs went from the self-fulfillment level to basic survival. Now, organizations are looking at what investments really move the needle for quality of life such as childcare subsidies and flexible work schedules.

Finally, employees will be coming out of the pandemic with a lot more autonomy and choices. They have other places they can go, they have aspirations, and, in many cases, they know that they can work from anywhere. I expect we’ll see more self-driven careers and collaborative relationships between employees and employers. For example, managers are now expected to help grow careers and be the connection between employer and employee. With remote and hybrid work environments, that connection has become more important than ever.

SMG: What are you most excited about when it comes to the future of work?

Lougee: If I look back at what’s happened during the pandemic, I’m excited to see that we’ve all grown. Sometimes it was painful, but as a workforce, as organizations, employers and people, we’re far more resilient than we ever thought we could be. I’m really curious to see what our next generation is going to be like — these kids who have attended school remotely, who have seen parents struggle, and have looked at the world in a different way. I think they’re going to come out pretty strong, and with some very solid belief systems and convictions.

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