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Desk engagement: What is it, and how can you create workspaces to overcome it?

In 2020, with soaring COVID rates, we had to work from home. Our new workstation became that barely used desk in the bedroom, the dining table, or even the garden occasionally. It was us and our laptops against the world.

Now, in 2024, we’re all likely to be back in the office a few times a week. We go to talk to a colleague, without the barrier of Microsoft Teams, Slack, or another instant messaging platform. We call their name. No response. We call their name again. And again (a little louder, and a little more irritated), before realizing that they’re not ignoring us, they’re just wearing headphones.

Although not entirely new (headphones have been around for years!), the post-pandemic return to the office has given rise to a new phenomenon: desk engagement, and people wearing headphones at their desk.

What is desk engagement?

Desk engagement is when an employee is content sitting at their desk focusing on tasks, without engaging in wider company activities.

Sonarworks, award-winning audio technology innovator, outlined in their recent survey that many respondents wear headphones multiple times throughout the day. Busy offices can generate a lot of noise, which might prove distracting and generate frustration. Headphones help block these disruptions out, improve focus, reduce stress, boost mood, and increase productivity.

Desk engagement is becoming increasingly common. According to Smart Company, a publication from Australia, research suggests that 28% of workers now prefer emailing their peers. They choose this method over speaking to them face-to-face, raising questions about employee engagement and experience, especially given the role of the office in day-to-day work is generally considered to be changing.

It is important for employees to be focused when at their desks. However, it is also crucial for them to be involved in wider company activities, to foster collaboration and business connection.

Why is employee engagement important?

Employee engagement is vital for any company that wants to thrive. A positive company culture can increase employee satisfaction and engagement, improve productivity, boost customer satisfaction, and reduce turnover. Providing learning opportunities and career growth can also help retain talented employees.

While desk engagement isn’t completely negative, it’s essential to balance it with the employee’s association with wider company activities to avoid disassociation with the business.

What can I do with my office space to improve employee engagement?

Encouraging teamwork is important, but it’s also crucial to support employees who need to concentrate on their work. Thinking about how you can change the physical work environment is key. Make sure your workspace is suitable for your needs, with designated areas for collaboration and individual work. This will accommodate both those who prefer to work with others and those who prefer to work alone.

Whether you require small adjustments to your workspace and meeting rooms, or you have a substantial office interior design and refurbishment project, Crown Workspace provides an extensive range of high-quality solutions to create workplaces that inspire and excite whilst delivering increased well-being and sustainability.

We’ve outlined several things a business can do to adopt an effective employee engagement strategy:

Booths, Workstations & Communal Areas

Hybrid working means most employees now attend the office for social interaction or collaboration. Remove any physical barriers, such as screens or dividers that were put in place during the pandemic to enable fluid and natural conversation. Booths, workstations, and shared spaces are great for group discussions, while hybrid meeting rooms offer flexibility for teams with variable office attendance.

There’s also the rising popularity of hospitality-style communal areas, such as barista-style spaces or areas fitted with a bar, which offer the potential to help develop workplace relationships… and get staff away from their desks.

Quiet Zones

Providing ‘quiet zones’ for employees who wish to focus can reduce the need for those noise-canceling headphones, enabling conversations with peers. Yet, it also symbolically signposts concentration, demonstrating that staff in these areas may not be available for frequent casual chit-chat.

Natural lighting and plants

Incorporating natural features into the office enhances several employee benefits, including well-being and engagement.

Plants can decrease stress levels, improve air quality, and reduce non-attendance due to sickness. Plants also have the power to boost cognition and productivity, as well as absorb noise to help concentration, enabling the possibility of open-plan spaces. Exposure to natural lighting can enhance sleep patterns and mood, as well as reduce eye strain and fatigue.

Recognition, Fundraisers, and Charity Events

The office brings team members together, making it a perfect location for employee recognition awards, fundraisers, or charity events. These activities can start to increase motivation and productivity, facilitate office conversations, and bring staff together.

This also helps teams feel a sense of pride as they raise money for a good cause or celebrate their achievements. Yet, it’s key that there is sufficient space for teams to gather. So, explore the idea of open spaces, such as mini auditoriums, keeping space optimization efforts into account.

Feedback

Listening to the workforce is essential. No one team is the same, so business leaders should look to accommodate the needs of all staff. If creating highly engaged staff is a priority, explore what your workplace can offer.

If getting staff to engage is what you want, conduct a staff survey asking what would increase participation, keeping in mind the theme of physical space. Remember, you’re looking for any actions you can implement that will make attending the office a more enjoyable experience. Keep an eye out for any quick fixes (e.g., a good coffee machine, ergonomic chairs, better facilities in communal areas). A cross-departmental pulse survey establishes the foundations of any engagement strategy and ensures that everyone can be heard.

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However big or small the space, Crown Workspace can work with you to provide a personalized solution that works for your business.

Crown Workspace offers customized solutions for offices and workplaces, including Office Moving, Project Move Management, IT Services, and Storage. Our objective has stayed the same since we launched globally in 2018 – providing clients with stress-free workplace change projects.

Ready to get started? Get in touch with us now. 

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