People are having vastly different experiences while working from home — experiences that are shaping their expectations for what they want work to be like in the future.
The pandemic has reshaped many aspects of our lives, including where and how people want to work. Their experiences working from home, and what they face when they return to the office, have influenced what they want and expect to see in the workplace going forward. The things they liked about their office before the crisis have become even more important, while the things that frustrated them will become an even bigger barrier if not addressed.
People and organizations have had to think about our shared humanity and what we want to achieve together
What People Need and Expect
To understand the impact the pandemic has had on what people need and expect in the office, Steelcase conducted research in 10 countries and engaged over 32,000 people in multiple studies. Synthesizing these studies uncovered five overarching needs that will drive macro shifts in the overall work experience and lead to new ways of planning and designing offices.
- To be safe and feel safe: Offices never had to help mitigate the spread of disease, but people are now pandemic-aware. They will make decisions about where to work based on a new set of safety standards to help prevent transmission in the office, just as they expect safety standards for things like fires or tripping hazards.
- A deeper sense of belonging: Feeling isolated while working from home is the biggest concern people identified in every country and their top reason to return to the office is to connect with co-workers. That sense of belonging at work also helps business results: feeling a strong sense of community is the top indicator of people’s productivity, engagement, innovation, and commitment to the organization.
- To be productive: People’s desire to accomplish something meaningful has only heightened during the crisis. While some experienced “panic productivity” in the early pandemic days, most simply want to be of value and feel their work has purpose. The most important things people want their workplace to support are very pragmatic.
- Holistic comfort: During stay-at-home orders, many people have had to improvise and work from sofas, kitchen tables and even beds. Discomfort, pain, distractions, and stress have caused people to yearn for a broad interpretation of comfort: the ability to work in a range of postures, change settings and move throughout their day, in a quiet, distraction-free environment.
- Greater control: People want options so they can choose where to work or to adapt spaces based on the task they’re doing or how they like to work personally. Nine of 10 countries ranked a “quiet, professional environment” in their top five reasons for wanting to return to the workplace, suggesting that home is not always ideal for focus. Teams also need control over the level of privacy and the flexibility to move things around to best suit their work.
While living through a crisis has not been easy on anyone, it has caused people and organizations to think about our shared humanity and what we want to achieve together. We can use this moment as a catalyst for reinventing an office that is not just a container for work, but a place that creates a community where people can feel a renewed sense of belonging, resilience and purpose.