• 4 min read

Helping People Do Their Best (Hybrid) Work

An interview with Henning Figge

by Alex Przybyla

Bio:  Henning Figge is the President of Haworth International [Commercial Interiors].

The interview referenced in this article took place in November 2022.
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Helping people do their best work – wherever they choose to do it

‘There is nothing new under the sun,’ wrote Kohelet some twenty-three centuries ago. In a world of workplace that has been throttled by the rapid embrace of hybrid work models, does Kohelet’s analysis hold true?

It seems fair to say that hybrid working has broadly redefined the where of work, which is no longer centred around the workstation. Hybrid working may not be entirely new, but it is now normal. For most people – 80%, according to Leesman – hybrid models that split time between work from home (WFH) and a traditional workplace is the norm.

The rapid embrace of hybrid working by employees is a global phenomenon:

For most people, the increase of hybrid work models means an increase in WFH. At Haworth, we live and breathe workplace. Has the changing environment and the growth in WFH models affected our aims – is this a ‘something new under the sun’ moment?

To Henning Figge, President of Haworth International [Commercial Interiors], the global shift has not fundamentally changed Haworth’s approach. ‘In the past, before COVID, we talked about activity-based working – you need different settings for different work activities. In the end, working from home is just adding another setting.’

In its deepest essence, Haworth’s goal has remained the same for 75 years – we want to help people do their best work, wherever they choose to do it.

Our job, as the experts of the workplace, is to always think ahead, and to do research on what is coming next.

Henning Figge

The rise of the humble home office

Our futures, it seems, don’t always unfold in the ways that we expect,’ Haruki Murakami wrote in his recent book, Novelist as a Vocation. If the home office could speak, it would emphatically agree.

The humble home office probably never expected to get this much attention. For most professionals, the centre of work was always the desk. Even as work became more activity-based in the last decade and a half, the workstation jealously guarded its role as work’s unchanging anchor in a rapidly changing world. The home office was rarely a load-bearing column in the edifice of ‘serious’ work. It was most often used for a bit of touch-up work on the weekends.

The season of lockdowns forced a change. ‘We all started more or less forced to be at the home office,’ Henning says. Technology made the transition relatively easy. Teams rapidly adapted. Online meetings became the norm. (‘You’re on mute!’ probably still holds the title for most-repeated phrase in workplaces.)

Like any setting, the home office presents its own opportunities and challenges. Henning notes that it is the best place to tackle some tasks. ‘There are certain things that you can do at home better – concentrated work, for example,’ Henning explains. ‘Or when I have a day that is full of calls and I cannot really interact with anybody physically. Then it doesn’t make sense for me to go to the office – like today, actually! Therefore, it’s an augmentation of the way to do work.’

At the same time, as places to do one’s best work, home offices can often leave something to be desired. The home office ‘needs the right equipment, both technology wise and furniture wise,’ Henning says. ‘Otherwise, it can be a burden and not a relief.’ Most people can share stories of less-than-ideal WFH experiences:  a neighbour drilling all day as they renovate their apartment; backs aching after seemingly endless calls taken from a rigid chair at the kitchen table; the din of the rest of the family – undeniably beloved but also undeniably noisy – making focussed work or virtual calls impossible.

So what’s the best way to get the most out of the home office, and how can we help people work at their best in this setting?

Hybrid dreams - reimagining office, home and third space environments in the work from anywhere era

Work from Anywhere

Optimisation of the home office as a work setting

Finding the right balance between working locations is the first place to start. ‘It’s important to have the right choice and the right balance,’ Henning says. Haworth’s policy is to split time roughly evenly between home and the office. That 50% in the workplace is important; ‘otherwise you lose connection,’ Henning explains. A sense of belonging is ‘something that we believe is very important – and most of our customers do as well.’

When it comes to the physical setup of the space, consider ergonomics first. These 4 Basic Ergonomic Tips are a good place to start. Adding an ergonomic task chair is an easy way to level up a home office, and good-looking options like Fern fit well in a residential environment. (Here’s a link to our WFH e-shop, if you’re curious.) All the well-documented benefits of biophilia in the workplace apply to home offices as well. Even acoustic solutions designed to solve the thorny issue of workplace distractions appear to be on the cusp of finding new life in home offices.

What’s next – perch-style chairs, table nooks, optimised task lighting for homes? ‘That is something that we are continuously working on, to develop the right concepts for home office workplaces – and also physical downtown office workplaces, or even third places – so that people can do their work at their best,’ Henning says. ‘Our job, as we are the experts of the workplace, is to always think ahead, and to do research on what is coming next.’

While surface appearances shift, deeper essences remain steady; in that sense, it holds true that ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’ For Haworth, the rapid global embrace of hybrid work models has brought new ways to pursue an old mission – a mission that has sustained us for 75 years. We help people do their best work, wherever they choose to do it.

Most of us do not have ergonomic work from home setups. Learn how to make WFH work with a professional ergonomist.