Cristina Banks, PhD University of California, Berkeley; Sally Augustin, PhD University of California, Berkeley

COVID-19 has taught us a great deal about employees’ basic needs and the importance of addressing these needs during and after COVID. COVID-19 has also opened the door to new ways of working and places to work in order to maintain productivity during these extraordinary times and to attract and retain new talent. Both of these changes were necessary to ensure business continuity. Because of the need to protect employees during COVID, the vast majority of non-essential employees began working from home. Now that the virus has abated to a tolerable level, businesses are bringing employees back to the workplace, but doing so across a range of work arrangements as a function of the implementation of infection control measures and more importantly, changing employee expectations of the quality of their work life (Steemers, et al., 2021; Pfeffer, 2021). This study was conducted to examine the challenges employees face with different work arrangements and how employee health and well-being can be increased under these new forms. Specifically, this study examines which workplace designs support employee health and well-being in concrete and impactful ways in hybrid work arrangements?

Employee surveys conducted throughout the pandemic generally indicate that employees are reluctant to return to the workplace full-time and to “business as usual” (e.g., Gallup, 2021, SHRM, 2021). In short, employees are demanding better care of their health and well-being, and more attention to their psychological needs. The majority of employees are also choosing to work a “hybrid” work schedule: a combination of working remotely and on-site each week with the number of days worked on-site varying across survey respondents.

The “hybrid workforce” that results will be difficult to manage and logistically problematic, as will the personal arrangements under a hybrid work schedule. Many practical concerns arise under such arrangements, both for the employee and for the employer. Additionally, the physical space on-site has been changed to address the need for social distancing and lower space occupancies to lower COVID transmission. As a result, subsets of employees will be present in the workplace each day (with some exceptions) and the remaining subsets will be working remotely, but the number coming to work each day is likely to vary by days of the week and by work group.

With respect to the business workplace, the physical infrastructure needed to support highly variable numbers and types of employees present in the workplace on any given day has not been studied to determine what is needed to support employee health, well-being and productivity. We do know, however, that because of the implementation of virus control measures, workplaces will look and feel different: most amenities will be unavailable (e.g., cafeterias, gyms, snack bars, break rooms, coffee/beverage bars), most desks will be empty, communications with coworkers and managers will continue to be virtual and some in-person-sometimes simultaneously, and demand for social and official meeting spaces will be high but the supply of those spaces will be low with current configurations of office space. We anticipate that these changes will change fundamentally how employees experience the workplace and are likely to present challenges that affect employee health, well-being and productivity. The question is, are there workplace designs that can support employee health, well-being, and productivity through this transitional state?

To evaluate the potential for certain types of workplace designs for promoting health, well-being and productivity, we developed a set of criteria based on scientific studies across multiple literatures (e.g., clinical psychology, environmental psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, human factors, and occupational health) and linking physical and psychosocial factors to health, well-being, and productivity (e.g., Maslach & Banks, 2017; Deci & Ryan, 2000; Ayoko & Ashkanasy, 2020; Augustin, 2009). Studies within these literatures explicitly or implicitly point to a common framework underlying the connection between these factors and satisfaction of basic human needs. When basic needs are satisfied, health and well-being is supported, productivity is improved through greater focus, intrinsic motivation, and physical capability, and the underlying causes of dissatisfaction are suppressed. Six work-related needs guided identification of evaluation criteria: (1) autonomy; (2) social belonging; (3) competence; (4) physical and psychological safety; (5) meaning and purpose; and (6) positive emotions (Maslach and Banks, 2017). We also identified seven “drivers” of need satisfaction through workplace design: (1) connection (2) equity; (3) flexibility; (4) predictability; (5) comfort; (6) privacy; and (7) security.

We constructed evaluation criteria based on a general consideration of whether a workplace feature is designed to increase satisfaction of a basic need and further, whether it was easily accessible anytime and by anyone at work in the organization, could be integrated seamlessly into employees’ work routine, and is helpful to employees in a meaningful way. These considerations were necessary to ensure that the design was linked in some way to basic needs and affected the vast majority if not all employees. The evaluation criteria given these considerations were the following:
– Supports employees doing their work well
– Provides opportunities for cognitive refreshment
– Provides comfortable amounts of environmental control
– Supports bonding among employees
– Protects employee safety and security
– Provides choice in place and timing of activities
– Provides opportunities to bond with the organization
– Sends positive non-verbal messages

The evaluation is complete with results available.

Given these criteria, we evaluated the on-site workplace as currently configured (assuming typical adjustments for infection control) and home offices (assuming segregated work space). The results of our analysis show that the on-site workplace has the potential to provide basic need satisfaction several ways through workplace design, particularly in the areas of belonging, meaning & purpose, fairness, competence, safety, and positive emotions, but also misses a very important need area-autonomy. This is because of the employer’s control over when and where employees work as well as their movement within physical space. Alternatively, the home workplace offers maximum autonomy, allowing employees to determine to a larger extent when, where, and with whom they work. The home workplace also supports privacy, security, and comfort as it is under their control. At home, employees miss belonging, meaning & purpose and fairness by being separated from the “mothership” and being connected though a “tether.” Specific design details which support need satisfaction will be provided.

Study implications include: (1) ensuring that as many needs can be satisfied through workplace design in each workplace; and (2) using the “drivers” of need satisfaction to generate ideas for workplace design features that will meet the criteria set above.

This study showed that there are potentially multiple instances where employees’ needs can be satisfied through careful construction of workplace design features. Future studies can examine empirical linkages between the presence/absence of specific design features and employee perceptions of need satisfaction, health, well-being, and productivity. Further research can also engage in the development of inventories of workplace design features based on ?drivers? of need satisfaction that can be implemented on-site and in homes to provide a wide range of options for health, well-being, and productivity support.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Applied research, Best Practices in Creating Healthy Workplaces, Comprehensive Approaches to Healthy Work Design and Well-Being, COVID-19, Fit; Balance; Conflict; Spillover; and Enrichment, Interventions in the Workplace, Practitioner report or field study, Research-to-practice, Theoretical exposition or development, Total Worker Health, Work - Life - Family