Purposeful presence:
understanding the choices employees face

Get used to this phrase. The concept of ‘purposeful presence’ will start to appear in every corner of the Hybrid Working debate. Knowing what it means and understanding how it changes the way employees engage in your workplaces will be critical.

Around the topic you will hear talk of ‘hotelification’. This is not about turning your office in to more hospitable workplace by raiding the leisure industry for your front-of-house teams.

Hotelification isn’t about making your offices feel like a hotel, it’s about the way your employees engage with your offices.

In an ‘age of experience’, employees have choices. They were dispatched home in March 2020, and they made do with dining tables doubling as desks and spare bedrooms as crisis management HQ’s. In the time since they’ve gone further. Garages have been converted, pods built in gardens and background bookcases carefully curated to give the best impression of our real selves.

This personalisation is critical. Employees have invested money they’ve saved commuting in the homes they have suddenly found themselves spending considerably more time in. This is significant. 52.1% of employees questioned pre-pandemic, stated that personalisation of their workstation was important to them. Just 46.1% were satisfied with the level of personalisation they were afforded. (Respondents who participated in the Leesman office Survey on 2019 only, N=235,644).

Suddenly, in March 2020, employees found themselves beyond the reach of your design standards and facilities management rule book and were decorating their desks with the paraphernalia of their choice. And, as it became clear they were going to be home-based for a while, they started to look enviously at their teenager’s widescreen gaming monitor and decided to get one for themselves. This could sit on top of a pile of books, and no one commented. Photographs of kids, pen pots, elastic band balls, coffee cups in the form of favourite Star Wars characters were no longer considered anti brand.

And remember, the stark reality from a data perspective is that the average home supports the average employee better than the average office (Lmi 64.2, N=931,152 vs H-Lmi 74.3, N= 293,865 as at Q2 2022).

The genie may be out of the lamp on hybrid working, but the cat is also out of the bag when it comes to the effectiveness of the offices that employees were expected to use pre-pandemic.

Of course, averages mask highs and lows. There are some great workplaces that have maintained their gravitational pull. Employees want to be back in these spaces because they brilliantly support them in their roles. Not five days a week, but enough that their value in organisational performance terms is clear. But there are also low-performing workspaces. These are littered with features that the employee has better provided for themselves at home. These spaces are liabilities for employee and employer. These spaces serve little organisational purpose.

This is the crux of the concept of hotelification. It is not about office receptions suddenly looking like hotel lobbies. It is about understanding that a hotel experience is benchmarked by the visitor against the experience they have at home. Is the bed linen thicker than at home and so crisply pressed it crackles when your head hits the pillow? Is the shower more powerful? Are the towels fluffier and whiter? The breakfast spread more mouth-watering.

This is part of how you judge a hotel experience. And how you benchmark the value for money for what you have paid for that experience. Employees are now doing the same.

Why? Because another monumental shift has happened through the pandemic.

Employees who pre-pandemic saw the expense of commuting to work as a ‘cost of living’ have reclassified that spend. They now see it as a cost of working.

The financial sacrifice to attend work. Most have shown that they can fulfil many of their responsibilities without incurring the costs of visiting your workplace. And most organisations have done a poor job of explaining what value there is in them being back together in one corporate space.

Our latest research report highlights the importance for organisations to understand how the purpose of an office has changed in the eyes of an employee.

This is the hotelification effect. If my night’s sleep in a hotel is worse than the one I would have in my own bed and the shower is a dribble, or the kitchen staff are emptying the empty bottles from the hotel bar into dumpsters under your window at 4am, you question why you bothered to stay there. Employees are doing the same. If the WIFI is weaker in the office than at home, if the milks in the fridge aren’t what they like, if the bathrooms are grubby, or the meeting room is untidy and the video conference cameras and mics inadequate for the size of the room, why bother being there? Why pay to commute to a space which is less good than their own home is at supporting what they are employed to do?

This presents an amazing opportunity to experiment.

Hotels have ‘workified’ their experience over the last fifteen years, so why can’t offices do the same?

Hotels used to offer “business lounges” to their weekday visitors. These typically consisted of a windowless room with some cheap branded hotel stationary and a fax machine.

But they quickly recognised that weekday business visitors wanted something better. And they adapted. Restaurants that were rammed 7-9.30am but empty for the rest of the day were transformed into spaces that set the tone for many a co-worker space to mimic. Hotels looked at their utilisation and started to adapt their offer so that they would appeal to both the business traveller weekday and the tourist at the weekend.

What does this mean for the future of the office?

First, we must recognise the failings of the past. Poor acoustics, poor air quality, and poor temperature control have been talked about for too long. A slight change in the use of corporate workplaces does not suddenly irradicate these failings.

Then we need a deeper understanding for what employees are going to those offices for. We call this “the workplace why”. Our latest data and research show that employees are not coming there to be productive – the majority can achieve this at home. They are coming there to connect. To be around others. To socialise. To engage. To recharge their connection or loyalty to a common purpose – this is especially evident in the public sector.

So, let’s get over the knee-jerk iteration of the future workplace simply as some sort of creative and collaborative playground. Those employees willingly returning to workplaces are seeking something else. Connection. The enjoyment of being with others. But they also need it to be a worthwhile experience. To support their sense of purpose. They want it to support the things they go there to do that their homes cannot do as well. And employees are becoming much clearer on which work activities these are.

This is where ‘purposeful presence’ comes into play. Visits to the office become way more intentional, considered and planned around those activities. Employees will be present there for a particular purpose. They will likely have had to spend more time planning that visit than they would have ever considered necessary before. They will want to know the facilities they need are available. They will want to know that the colleagues they want to be around will be present. Two days in the office starts to bring with it the same logistical burden as a long weekend away in a hotel with multiple friends also planning to stay in the same hotel over the same weekend.

This is also where indexing takes on a new role.

Organisations wishing to proactively support their employees’ intentional use of their space will need to find ways of going beyond simply knowing what those employees do, to deeply understand where those employees can do their best work.

Successfully indexing of hybrid or location independent work will show where investments will deliver maximum return, will show how much less real estate the organisation will need, and ultimately will build a closer relationship between employer and employee and between the employees themselves.

In a period where neighbours at home have rallied around each other to create stronger communities, it’s time to think about how the workplace can be used to build stronger and more resilient communities at work.

Read our latest report
Read our latest report