Employees want a more human workplace experience. Here’s how employers can deliver it.

As hybrid work models become the norm, the employer-employee relationship must continue to evolve.

ARTICLE | 5m read
July 21, 2021

Today’s workers know a paradox when they see one. On one hand, they’re happier and more productive by some measures than ever before. They’re also — having watched traditional work-life boundaries erode amid a global pandemic — battling depression and burnout. Now, as organizations hammer out their  hybrid work strategies, employees are demanding more. They expect their employers to be more responsive to their needs, more empathetic, more accommodating — in a word, more human.

The key challenge for today’s business leaders is to put forward a vision not just for hybrid work, but for a more human way of working.

“Humanizing the workplace” might sound a little vague, but it’s a key concept that Fieldwork by Citrix was exploring even before lockdowns took hold in early 2020. The good news is that strategies for creating deeply empathic hybrid workplaces are emerging, with tactics and actions that can help you meet employees’ evolving expectations.

These expectations are in full view in Gartner’s 2021 Digital Worker Experience Survey. After canvassing employees nationwide, Gartner identified three top factors for building a successful hybrid workplace strategy. Of course, honoring them is easier said than done. So, drawing on research published by our internal teams over the course of 2021, Fieldwork by Citrix identified clear actions you can take to address these emerging employee needs with empathy and understanding — in short, with humanity.

Humanize the workplace through flexible hours

Remote work has given employees more control over their hours, and where they fill them. Perhaps to nobody’s surprise, that has been an overwhelmingly good thing. Gartner’s survey found that six in ten workers are more productive in a hybrid work model—and the number-one reason for that increase is flexible hours. Clearly, workers and business leaders alike stand to gain from flexible hours; being home to share dinner with their families is a novelty everyone can get behind. But as they implement their hybrid work models, leadership must implement policies carefully and thoughtfully to ensure individuals who keep non-traditional hours don’t hinder — or don’t miss out on — collaboration, productivity, and progress.

Fieldwork by Citrix has compiled some key actions that can help you operationalize flexible hours at your organization, as discussed in Fieldwork by Citrix’s “A roadmap to unlocking employee experience”:

  • Set clear expectations around work schedules, job sharing, and collaboration methods. This will not only ensure that employees can do their jobs, but that they can make meaningful progress in their work — a key determinant of employee engagement.
  • Have managers check in early and often with team members. Frequent check-ins can help managers understand how work schedules are impacting collaboration and progress. With this knowledge, they can take action before issues escalate.
  • Train managers to become more attuned to employee needs. Employers should block off time on managers’ calendars to train them on these skills. Make sure you get strong executive sponsorship for this, and do it with sensitivity to managers’ workloads, too.

Humanize the workplace through location

For workers, it’s not just about having the flexibility to choose when they’ll be at their best, but also where. According to Gartner, seven in ten workers would only consider a new role that allows them to work from a location of their choice. This is a defining feature of a hybrid work model, and one that organizations must get right.

Driving this trend is the newfound sense of well-being that employees have found in a work from anywhere world. Stories abound of office introverts suddenly finding their voice on a client video call, or of frantic commuters reclaiming hours of their day. But location flexibility has also blurred traditional boundaries that workers might have taken for granted until they dissolved. When your office is your home and your home is your office, it can be difficult to be fully present in either realm.

 This fact, combined with stress from the pandemic itself, has led to high levels of burnout. Indeed found that more than two-thirds of US employees reported increased burnout during the pandemic, with remote workers hit harder than those on-site. In the face of surging burnout, many of today’s employees want their leaders to do more than give them the tools to do their jobs — they want them to consider their lives in full.

Fieldwork by Citrix compiled some key actions that can help you implement a successful and supportive “work from anywhere” culture, sourced from Gartner’s report as well as from Fieldwork by Citrix’s “Born digital: Lessons for the C-Suite from the next generation of leaders”:

  • Set clear expectations around remote work best practices. Again, expectation-setting is key. Organizations should ensure policies are communicated clearly to employees at every level.
  • Equip employees with the tools they need to work comfortably from anywhere. For example, employers might offer a stipend for ergonomic home workstations, or upgraded Wi-Fi. Start by asking your employees what they need to be at their best.
  • Prioritize mental health and work-life balance. Getting employee input here is crucial as well. Possible actions include blocking off time on employee calendars for lunch breaks, encouraging employees to take mental health days, and offering remote counseling programs.
  • Make the office a space that fosters collaboration, innovation, and wellness. Many employees will be spending less time in their formal office going forward, and when they do come in, they’ll want the office to enhance their ability to work well. Spaces that prioritize community-building and collaboration, as well as those that promote relaxation wellness (think gardens or meditation rooms), can go a long way.

Humanize the workplace through digital empowerment

If digital collaboration technologies were valued before the pandemic, they’re invaluable now. Among workers surveyed by Gartner, eight in ten said they rely on technology for their job, and that they think it’s important to develop their digital skills. But here’s the more revelatory finding: Workers who are satisfied with their digital tools are two times more likely to stay with their current employer than those who are dissatisfied with their digital tools.

Tech should supercharge workers, not short circuit them. But as revealed in “Work Your Way,” a survey of 1,000 IT decision makers and 2,000 workers across the US commissioned by Citrix, employees feel like they’re drowning in apps. The constant context-shifting is complicating productivity and workers’ ability to progress in their careers. With the trend toward hybrid work showing no signs of slowing, employers should focus on implementing digital tools that empower employees rather than overwhelm them.

Fieldwork by Citrix has identified key actions that can help you build a digitally empowered workforce —as explored in our “A roadmap to unlocking employee experience”:

  • Invest in secure, collaborative, and intuitive technology. Some essential tools include:
    • Unified digital workspaces that give employees reliable access to the applications they need to work and collaborate from any device, anywhere  
    • Cloud-based project management software that streamlines workflows and gives managers full visibility
    • A suite of tools for all types of communication — synchronous and asynchronous, complex and simple —including instant messaging and video chat platforms
  • Actively encourage employee feedback to improve the digital experience. Work isn’t static, and neither is a good digital experience. Instead, it evolves with employee needs. By gathering feedback from your workforce, you can personalize the digital experience for specific roles and make everyday tasks simpler.
  • Set a technology vision. A technology vision is a framework for implementing and evaluating digital tools. Work with a coalition of leaders from across your organization to define and implement this vision.

Becoming more human

Yes, humanizing the workplace requires time and effort, but the return on investment  can be measured in a happier, more engaged, more productive workforce.

The upfront investment also has direct bearing on your bottom line. Consider this finding from Gartner: Employers who provide more holistic support to employees enjoy a 21% increase in high performers.

In an era defined by rapid change, it can be difficult to filter out the noise, but employee calls to humanize the workplace are no passing trend. Given the profound social and economic shifts that will shape the experience of work in coming years, building empathy into the workplace — wherever it may be —  requires more than good listening skills. It requires a plan.