03/20/2023 • 11 min read

The Future of Work: What People Want from the Office

Insights on the future of the office from our podcast with Kurt Vander Schuur and Marta Wassenaar

by Haworth, Inc.

We all know the world has changed drastically in the past few years. But, what does that mean for the future of the office and all the ways we work? Remote and hybrid opportunities have become far more prevalent than ever. In fact, having the ability to work from anywhere—home, office, and/or third places—has become an expectation of the global workforce.

In this Work from Anywhere podcast conversation, Haworth’s Global Brand Director Kurt Vander Schuur and Advanced Research and Insights Manager Marta Wassenaar discuss the future of the workplace and how the role of the office has changed. Find out what our research shows people really need, want, and expect from the workplace as we head into the future.

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Podcast Transcript

Kurt: Hello. My name is Kurt Vander Schuur, Haworth Global Brand Director. And I'm here today with Marta Wassenaar from our research department. We're going to have a little discussion about what's going on with the future of work and research.

Marta, I know we do research all over the world. Tell us a little bit about what some current trends are.

Marta: Yeah. Thanks Kurt.

First, Haworth is unique in the sense that our research team lives within our design studio. We help bring those evidence-based insights about the workplace, about the worker, and about the user experience into our team. We translate those insights into frameworks, and strategies, and different experiences. Then, we get to walk customers [through] those experiences and share our findings and what we're learning. So, that's a really fun part of my team.

We're informed by trends, but we're not led by trends. We're based in the foundation of understanding the performances around how human [beings, facilities], and organizations perform effectively.

Kurt: We've heard about the “great resignation” and this demand for talent. And we talk about business-land attraction and retention. Give me some insights on what you see going on in that world today.

Marta: Yeah. One fun study that we participated in, in the past few years, is understanding the human being and the resilience that they have. This has been a new time for us, and we've had added stressors to us. Now, we understand how the built environment helps support people when they're stressed and what to infuse into your work environments.

Some of that is about ambient quality control. It's about the legibility of the space, and it's also about the culture. Making our spaces more effective in addressing those needs helps individuals navigate—especially when they have increased stress.

Increased stress happens in the work environment, [and we understand that from our studies]. It's a body of work I think we can rely on for years to come.

Kurt: So, does that mean if I'm super stressed and maybe I need to go take a nap, you might provide a place for that?

Marta: Yeah. You could provide a place for that. Usually, people can do a recovery in less than 5 minutes. We don't necessarily need a large space for a nap, per se, but maybe a glance out the window or a minute to take a mental fatigue recovery. Just connecting to nature really supports us in our restorative needs in those spaces.

Kurt: What about culture has an impact on attraction and retention? As we look at organizational cultures, individuals are looking to match their value sets with the organizations that they work with. Being connected to that culture and having that culture supported in the workplace is really meaningful.

For an example, some organizations are very reliant on meeting start times and norms—and what they're doing when they enter into a meeting. [Meanwhile,] there's other cultures that support meetings [that are] more ad hoc, and you're going to design the space very differently. So, navigating culture and how culture gets relayed into the space is imperative.

Kurt: I'm thinking back about attraction and retention. We have all these Boomers retiring everywhere. And then, we have this new generation. Help me understand what your research says about this new up-and-coming generation—or the next generation?

Marta: There's a lot of young [people] entering into the workforce on a yearly basis. This generation—this new Generation Z—that's coming on board is going to be about 25% of our workforce in 2025. So, we really have to understand what their values are. We've been doing a longitudinal study on what their expectations are of the workplace, as well as what they value [and] what they're looking for from an organization.

This generation is looking for an organization that complements versus compromises who they are, who their identity is. They still really value working in an office because they want the ability to connect. Those social connections are so important for them, their ability to mentor, [and] their ability to learn.

Being part of that overall office environment is really important, but they want flexibility. They don't want to lose [their] identity, in that [they can say], “I need to leave the office at 3 p.m. to go join my—I don't know—yoga class or surfing or whatever that might be.” Right? They [want to] have the opportunity [for] that flexibility—to balance their interests in life, as well as their interest in work.

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Kurt: Now, I think about myself and others who also want some of this flexibility, and I'm hearing all this murmuring about hybrid work. What does your research say about that?

Marta: Yeah. Hybrid is really this balance of using this whole ecosystem to help support us, [through] our Work from Anywhere philosophy of using the home, as well as third places and the office to make that happen.

Earlier this year, [we embarked] on a large work-from-home study to try and understand how well people were being supported in their home offices—knowing that [the] majority of our workforce is now going to have that opportunity to flex [their work location]. Now, not all can [flex], but many of our office workforce is going [to] blend the utilization [of different] spaces. What we've learned from that [study] is that working from home helps balance life.

It helps balance what you do in your life. However, there's pain points. You can't collaborate as well. Sometimes the video conferences are happening, with the cat in the background, or…

Kurt: The dog’s barking.

Marta: Yes! The dog’s barking or the mailman coming. There's all these distractions that we have at home too.

But, what [being at home really does]—what is really important for these users—is the ability to do individual focus work. We're seeing individuals really gravitate towards this.

What we found really interesting, though, is that 50% of people who work from home have a private, dedicated office space in their home landscape. We didn't think it would be that large. That was an interesting finding for us. It’s no wonder then, if they have that capability of having a closed-door, private office in their home, it's more enjoyable. It's less distracting.

Another thing that we learned through that study is that many of the individuals [working at home] are still looking for a good ergonomic chair. They're still sitting on kitchen chairs or folding chairs. That evidence also is helping us look at how our B2C business is supporting [people] with really good ergonomic chairs.

Kurt: I feel like I've been working hybrid for a long time because of my travel. So many times, I work out of a hotel, or I work at a client's office, or I work at a subsidiary office. What does that really mean back at the mothership—or the corporate office—for your assigned original spaces? What implications do you see happening based on your research?

Marta: There [are] some big changes happening in the office landscape. We're seeing a lot more collaboration being addressed and also a shift into more hospitality—more features that help welcome individuals back into the office.

We're seeing, as an example, lobbies shift and take on different functions. It might be a coffee shop that also invites [people in other] demographics to come into that space—whether it’s neighboring companies or different suppliers. We're also seeing those become community spaces or connection hubs. [We’re] really seeing organizations utilize their space more effectively around that collaboration and community, and bringing that in. It's really softening the office landscape in that way.

Kurt: It makes sense because most of us like going out to restaurants. Or on the weekends, we go to our favorite hotel because there's a great restaurant or a bar or just a lobby that's amazing. Do you feel like there's going to be this mixing of what's hospitality versus a workplace versus a third place?

Marta: Yes. You certainly see that. And we're going to be able to take advantage of that. We've got the technology now. Three years ago, we weren't able to do all the work we’re now agile enough to make happen throughout this landscape. We're certainly seeing people move [around].

Kurt: A lot of people say, “I don't want to go to the office as much.” But we're going back to restaurants, right? We're going back to the social connections. We're going back to the musical concerts. We're participating in society more. The more that we can help the office with blending those connections that people are craving, I think that will help all of us want to participate in the overall landscape in a better way.

It sounds like [the office is] more like someplace I want to go versus somewhere I have to go. Would that be accurate?

Marta: That would be accurate, Kurt.

Kurt: As your team works with clients—global clients—do you see differences in the way people are looking at things when they view this, whether it's from Europe or Asia or North America?

Marta: Yeah, certainly. Some countries are slower in the process. Some are faster in the process. But we're seeing global customers really taking a very methodical approach—especially some larger global customers, who are just thinking about it more strategically.

[The] complexity of how they address their workforce has even increased more because where you're located, demographically, also has an impact on how you're going to address your hybrid workforce. There [are] different regulations that happen within each country, too.

But when we look back at North America's large customers, we're seeing them look to the tools—new tools, new technology tools—that help with understanding occupancy rates [and] understanding utilization. [They’re] using immersive technology to support how they're moving forward, because it's new real estate portfolio management that has to happen. It's new workplace strategies that are happening. And then, they've got this workforce that really wants more flexibility. There’s just a lot of layering of needs, now, that we haven't had to address. [It’s] more complex for us.

Kurt: Well, I hope, Marta, you're not going to start tracking me because there are certain times I like to escape, and I really don't want to be found. I hope it's not too much tracking.

Marta: No Kurt. We wouldn't do that to you, of course.

Kurt: All right. Let's wrap it up with [what] we talked about earlier: If you're working other places, the chair seems to be a big deal because if you're sitting, it affects how you feel and your overall health. What are your thoughts on that?

Marta: We spend a lot of time on the science of seating and really understanding the relationship of the human to a chair and the postures that it has to support.

Recently, we dove into a strong primary research effort around understanding what we are calling “dual posture.” That means you're in a seated position or you're in a standing position, but there's a posture in between that we want to address. We know from our primary research that this in-between posture helps support more movement in the space. 11% of people that participated in this study moved more often. 43% said this put them in a better posture when they're doing their work.

The activities that we found this [dual posture] really supported was working on your computer because it elevates you and puts you more into an active position. It also helps when you're collaborating with others because you're not hunkered down or in a lower position, but you're in a more active position.

That's what we want for our employees: to be engaged and more alert. This posture really helps them do that. So, we're really excited. We've launched a new product—Zody II—that will help us do that more. And I think you'll see more from us in that area.

Kurt: That's cool, Marta. Thanks so much today for sharing your insights and Haworth research. It's exciting to learn about our world of work and our work from anywhere ideas. Please join us again.

Marta: Thank you, Kurt. Always good to talk to you.


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