The Right Way to Do “Office Peacocking”

Office peacocking is the attempt to create an office work environment employees are motivated to return to post-pandemic.

Going back to the office, even just part-time, is a hard sell for employees who are used to having a five-step commute to the desk in their bedroom or another place that doesn’t require a car, bus, or train ride.

According to a recent article by Bryan Robinson in Forbes, based on Owl Labs’ 2023 State of Hybrid Workreport, “office peacocking” is the attempt to create a work environment employees are motivated to return to. Peacocking could include adding fancy décor; generously stocked kitchens; or new, more comfortable furniture, according to Robinson.

But Robinson quotes Owl Labs CEO Frank Weishaupt as noting that, as nice as those things are, they are not necessarily what draws employees back.

“Companies paying for commuting costs (38 percent) is at the top of the list, followed by greater privacy at the office [e.g., dedicated offices, more phone booths] (34 percent), and having a way to know when people they want to see will be in the office (33 percent),” he points out to Robinson as genuine pluses. “We also found that it might be a good time to kill the dress code, as 1 in 4 employees (24 percent) said they would be enticed to go to the office if they were able to wear whatever they wanted,” Weishaupt told Robinson.

What Not to Do

Office peacocking can all too easily be botched. For example, you partially reimburse commuting costs, but before asking employees to go back to the office, you move to a location that is less convenient for nearly all your employees. Covering some of the commuting costs is nice, but the opportunity to work from home or the former office location was much nicer.

Or you provide phone “booths,” but they have no soundproofing, so everyone can hear everything you’re saying, even with the door pulled shut. Even worse, the conference rooms are the same—no soundproofing.

Then there is the workstation situation. Most offices have fewer people in them now than they did before the pandemic, even if everyone was asked to return. Yet that doesn’t mean the workstation accommodations are going to be enhanced. You’ll probably find your workstation is no larger (and may even be smaller) than what you had before.

Make Genuine Improvements

The best peacocking is when it isn’t just colorful feathers outspread, but genuine improvements, such as the greater privacy Weishaupt says employees crave. Sometimes there are easy solutions to make that possible.

For example, it doesn’t take extra space to create higher barriers between desks. If two people sit next to each other but are not on the same work team and rarely directly collaborate, why not give them the option of a high barrier that would allow them to sit next to each other without seeing one another? It may sound unfriendly, but it would be wonderful for those craving privacy.

If there is no place to have a private conversation, invest in soundproofing. There may be cost-effective solutions that can quickly and easily be put up in the phone booths at the very least.

If employees are asked to return to the office two to three days per week, be sure all members of the work group who live an equal distance from the office are all held to that requirement. A newly inconvenient commute feels even more inconvenient when a manager or other senior employee is exempt from the in-office rule.

It also could be required that if the majority of a work group is not available to be in the office on a certain day or week, then no one from that work group is required to go in at that time. How aggravating is it, after all, to make the journey to the office only to discover it’s just one or two of you there, so you left home to sit alone at your desk all day?

On days when employees are in the office, feed them lunch to off-set the commuting cost. In the New York City area, individual lunches cost as much as $15.

You don’t want employees to feel you are putting window dressing on an office environment that is no better—and may even be worse—than what they had before the pandemic.

Is your organization guilty of office peacocking?