Work from Home (WFH) experiences change office expectations

As a Principle Dealer for Steelcase (a global leader in office furniture, interior architecture and space solutions), we’ve been analysing their recent research of 32 000 people in 10 countries (USA, UK, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Canada, China, India, Australia) to understand what’s next and sharing what we’ve learnt with our customers.

People have had vastly different experiences during mandatory work from home. We can learn from those experiences to understand what their expectations will be when they return to the workplace and how to improve the workplace and work going forward.

The 5 work-from-home archetypes

The research identified 5 work-from-home archetypes. It’s important to note that these are extremes and therefore likely that people will associate themselves with more than one of the following:

  1. Isolated Zoomer: Home office is a lonely cage

    This person lives alone and doesn’t have a self-imposed structure or boundaries to keep them to a healthy work schedule. They want to return to the office when they can trust that their employer has taken the necessary precautions. They value the office because it offers a structure and a way to separate work and life – the daily routine of ‘going to and from work’ acts as a transition period between their personal and professional lives. They spend their day on back-to-back Zoom calls and despite constant interaction, they feel disconnected. They miss the personal and professional daily social interactions with their colleagues – a major reason why they come into the office. The relationships they have with their colleagues and their support system at work make it easier to navigate challenges.

  2. Autonomy Seeker: Home office is freedom

    Thrilled to work at their own rhythm, without someone constantly looking over their shoulder, this person feels just as productive at home as before, if not more. They feel a great sense of wellbeing at home, where they can look out the window, sit in different postures, cook healthy meals and weave in activities that help them recharge and relax, such as hanging out with their pet. They especially enjoy the level of control they have in designing their own work experience to curate a schedule that braids together life events and work events.

  3. Frustrated Creative Networker: Home office is a suspension from normal life and work

    These individuals are conflicted with returning to the office. They desire the benefits of the office but believe it is not safe to return. They have quickly adapted the use of digital tools, but crave more – virtual meeting technology is still too limited for creative collaboration and informal, spontaneous connections across silos. COVID has been a huge challenge when they suddenly found themselves cut off from in-person interactions that drive their work. With limited tools and a lack of experience in making them work, they have shifted focus to more individual tasks that can be done more easily from home.

  4. Overworked Caretaker: Home office is a non-stop flow of competing demands

    This person is torn between meeting work responsibilities and managing family needs. Their long, jam packed day is chopped between meetings, focus work, homeschooling and domestic tasks, and they often have to manage their parenting responsibilities in shifts with their partner, so the other can work. Exhaustion and guilt are piling up. On the upside, they take comfort in allowing their colleagues to see them in their natural habitat and don’t worry so much anymore if their colleagues can hear the kids on a call. They miss the office for the opportunity to leave home responsibilities behind and have control over their attention, but they appreciate the flexibility to work from home as needed to more easily manage their family and work responsibilities.

  5. Relieved Self-Preservationist: Home office is the only place I am safe

    This person’s main concern is COVID, it’s their psychological safety. They feel their company culture is creating a hostile work environment and working from home during quarantine has been a blessing and a welcome respite from an organisation that doesn’t appreciate them as human beings. They feel less anxious and more productive, able to focus on getting the work done, rather than managing relationships. Working from home has give them a more humanised experience that allows them to work in a space that is their own.

What we’ve also gleaned from this research, are the common positives and negatives of working from home. Across the board (in each of the 10 countries surveyed), people felt more isolated, but it’s interesting to note that productivity landed on both sides of the fence.

People liked

  • No commute
  • Ability to focus & be productive
  • No distractions
  • Range of settings

People didn’t like

  • Isolation
  • Gradually less productive
  • Slower decision making
  • Reduced engagement

So how will these work-from-home experiences change office expectations?

In September 2020, Steelcase asked leaders from around the world (US, UK, Germany, France, China, India) what their expectations are for work post-COVID (no restrictions), and the majority see three main approaches, with many, unsurprisingly, considering a hybrid – divided between the office, home and a third place.

These are the UK averages with 20% seeing a heavy in-office approach and only 3%, a heavy work-from-home scenario.

Global numbers were almost the same as the UK average: 23% In-Office, 72% hybrid, and 5% WFH

In conclusion: major events have a way of allowing human beings to put the status quo behind them and move forward in new ways. This is the time.​

​The following quote from McKinsey and Company resonates with us:

“Organisations must use this moment to break from the inertia of the past….A well-planned return to offices can use this moment to reinvent their role and create a better experience.”

McKinsey and Company

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