Anglia Ruskin University
Wakelin_2023.pdf (2.5 MB)

Employee engagement in the post-Covid workplace

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posted on 2023-08-30, 20:31 authored by Daniel Wakelin
Covid-19 has accelerated the trend towards hybrid working, and consequently to the increased prevalence of activity-based workspaces (ABW) as companies seek the best value-for-money from their real estate. Given that employees now spend significant parts of their working week elsewhere, it is timely to ask the question: what is the role of the workplace in these new circumstances? This research explores what role ABW can play in the engagement of employees, drawing upon literature from both human resources and organisational space. This research accepts Bakker et al’s (2008) view that engagement is made up of the characteristics of expending high levels of energy (vigour), enthusiasm and pride (dedication) and being engrossed in work (absorption). These antecedents are coupled with Lefebvre’s (1991) seminal conceptualisation of space as being physical, social and mental, to consider the intentions behind ABW (conceived space), employees’ daily spatial routines (perceived space), and the feelings of users (lived space). Using a case study approach, this research explores two institutions where activity-based working has been introduced; the Weston Favell Institute (WFI), a biomedical research facility, and the Faculty of Business & Law at Herne Hill University (HHU). ABW was introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic at the WFI for administrative staff, and at HHU for both academic and administrative staff. Sources of data were semi-structured interviews with designers and users of the two workspaces; documentary sources such as floorplans and organisational communications; and observations. This research highlights the significant changes to behaviour brought about by the rise of hybrid working following Covid-19. Hybrid working fundamentally changes what it means to be activity-based working – thinly populated offices reduce the need for switching behaviour and mobility, both previous mainstays of ABW environments. Our expectations of what engagement behaviours look like also need to shift in a hybrid world – much collaboration now happens through a screen resulting in more ‘hiding’ either physically or metaphorically with headphones, and a sense that ‘getting in the zone’ is now easier to achieve at home. This research concludes with a recommendation for those responsible for designing workplaces to consider a workplace strategy congruent with their way of working; this means providing a mix of settings that are aligned with both the strategic narrative and the needs of staff (or alignment between the conceived, perceived and lived spaces), rather than adopting the universal plan.



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