The COVID-19 pandemic completely disrupted the way we live and work. To keep their employees safe, some organizations forced everyone that could to work from home, leading to early speculation that the physical office was a thing of the past.
But, this simply isn't true. As the pandemic wore on, it became obvious that working from home wasn't a one-size-fits-all experience for every organization. While some businesses prospered, others struggled to generate new ideas and propel organizational growth from a distance.
However, there are key themes and patterns that emerged from the pandemic. If you're starting to think about your employees returning to work in a post-COVID world, you may want to reconsider your physical workspace (and work-from-home strategy).
Here at Egyptian Workspace Partners, we do not believe working from home is a good fit for every organization. That being said, if that's the route you want to go, we can still help you create an agile (and flexible) work experience that integrates people, place and technology, both in the office and at home.
In this article, we'll present you with powerful insights that explain why working from home isn't always as great as it sounds. Then, we'll share some tips for creating a meaningful work-from-home experience, as well as the role of the office going forward.
Work From Home: Does it WOrk for Everyone?
While working from home during a global pandemic has been undeniably tough on everyone, a Steelcase study from December 2020 shows that some people carry a heavier burden than others.
In this study, researchers analyzed the demographic patterns, quality of the working conditions and affordances like high-speed WiFi, ergonomic chairs and secondary monitors. Then, they examined how these factors impact people's wellbeing, stress and key performance metrics like engagement and productivity.
The results: there's a direct correlation between people's home working conditions and their wellbeing and stress levels, thus impacting their performance. The better the conditions, the lower the stress and the better the outcome.
Unfortunately, these benefits are not evenly distributed among workers. Some employees may be set up for greater success, but others will struggle to be as successful.
Who Benefits the Most?
People with dedicated offices fare the best while working from home. Their productivity hasn't returned to pre-pandemic levels, but it's still higher than people with other types of workspaces. Plus, their engagement levels have actually grown stronger.
These employees have better working conditions, the necessary resources to do their jobs, more visual and acoustic privacy and the right technology for collaboration. They're also more likely to have an ergonomic desk and chair, leading to lower stress levels, higher wellbeing and a boost in performance.
Who Benefits the Least?
Meanwhile, the situation is extremely different for people who work in multi-purpose or temporary spaces within their homes. Due to the shared nature of these types of spaces, workers have less control over their visual and acoustic privacy, experience more interruptions and have more difficulty focusing.
These employees are also less likely to have an ergonomic chair and desk, or amenities like a second monitor. This lack of control and physical discomfort hurts their wellbeing and leads to higher levels of stress, creating a heavier burden.
How to design a home office that works for you
1. Offer Solutions that Support Employee Wellbeing
Organizations are now turning their attention to employee wellbeing as a way to gain financial and competitive advantage. If they want to attract and retain talent, they need a physical workspace and home offices that support their people's physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing, as well as home offices.
Of course, this is easier said than done. No two living situations (or home office setups) are exactly the same, and working conditions within an employee's home are not entirely within an organization's control either.
However, what business leaders can do is help shape a better work-from-home experience for all employees. How so? They can start by giving everyone access to amenities that give them more choice and control over how they work at home.
While it's nearly impossible to create an ecosystem of zones within every employee's home, you could supply everyone with boundary screens or panels so they can control their level of privacy, which is especially beneficial if they have a spouse or roommate who also works from home.
In addition, one of the main risks of working from home is becoming more sedentary. To avoid this, you can give every employee an ergonomic office chair and sit-stand desk to support all-day movement, posture change and the work they need to do.
2. Provide consistent tools and technology for collaboration
Innovation is hard for any business, even when people are in the same room. After all, it requires teammates to be actively engaged with one another in a rapid exchange of ideas, which can be extremely difficult for distributed teams to accomplish from a distance.
Nothing can replace the experience of being together in person, but that's not always an option for employees who need to work from home. Fortunately, integrated technology solutions can go a long way toward bringing distributed teams closer.
Going forward, business leaders must think about both sides of the work experience. If possible, they should strive to provide similar tools and technology controls in the office and at home, so people who work away from the larger team have the same level of experience.
For example, many organizations are incorporating large-scale, high-definition videoconferencing devices into their physical workspaces. This way, teams can easily collaborate, see one another, share content in real-time and be inspired to create, even when they're apart.
The Future of Work from Home: A Hybrid Approach
While some headlines suggest the office will go away as people embrace working from home exclusively, this isn't entirely true. Most people still plan to work in the office, but they also expect greater flexibility. In fact, 73 percent of the workforce believes their company should embrace some level of working from home.
The fact is, the office isn't going anywhere. It simply has a new purpose. Now, the purpose of the office is to provide inspiring destinations that strengthen cultural connections, learning and development opportunities and bonding with colleagues.
This hybrid approach to work may be more flexible, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's the right option for your business. If you're considering it, you'll want to carefully consider your culture, processes, technology, real estate strategies and, most importantly, what your employees need to be successful at work.