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The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on People’s Needs, Expectations in the Office

The ongoing pandemic has changed fundamental patterns in our lives, accelerating existing trends and revealing new unmet needs. Since the onset of COVID, Steelcase has conducted ongoing research to help organizations understand its impact on their people and business.

One of nine organizations selected as part of Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition Program, Steelcase is being recognized for its research to understand the impact the pandemic has had on what people need and expect in the office, uncovering the macro shifts driving new ways of planning and designing the workplace.

Mary Ellen Mika, Director of Sustainability for Steelcase, recently shared new workplace research the company has conducted about changing needs and demands of employees given the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Steelcase has long had a focus on people and the planet, and consumer health has been a top priority for your customers for some time. What changes did you see in 2020? And how did you respond?

MEM: Consumer health has always been a top priority for Steelcase and core to our sustainability strategy. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of this issue; and in 2020, it rose to the top of our materiality assessment results, reinforcing the emphasis our customers continue to place here.

The rise in home office solutions prompted individual consumers to ask more questions about our products and how they're designed to protect human health and the environment. Prior to COVID, these questions were typically only asked by corporate designers or facilities representatives — not end users. However, because the answers to these questions are just as important to our largest corporate customers as to individual residential customers, we've shifted our communications approach to increase transparency and make sure we're reaching all audiences with relevant consumer health information.

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We've additionally committed to research projects that address consumer concerns about the spread of pathogens and the specific types of surface materials that may mitigate transmission. Our design teams continue to respond to customer requests to help companies increase space, provide greater separation between individuals and suggest other measures to address COVID-related consumer health concerns.

At Steelcase, we keep people at the heart of all we do — and that starts by protecting human health and promoting wellbeing in the places we work, learn and heal.

What led to your research and the report, Changing Expectations and the Future of Work?

MEM: The extended duration and reach of the global pandemic has changed fundamental patterns in our lives, accelerating existing trends and revealing new unmet needs. Since the onset of the pandemic, Steelcase has conducted ongoing research to help organizations understand its impact on their people and business.

As the pandemic stretched on, it became apparent that working from home is not a one-size-fits-all experience for people, nor is there a single ideal solution for each organization. There are, however, key themes and patterns that have emerged from which organizations can learn and develop new workplace strategies that meet the changing needs and demands of their employees.

Our report shares the synthesis of eight primary studies conducted between April and September 2020, and was designed to measure how the COVID-19 pandemic will change the future of work. The quantitative and qualitative studies deployed methodologies based in the social sciences and were conducted in multiple countries, including over 32,000 cumulative participants.

Steelcase is committed to continuing research to understand what’s next and share what we’re learning to help make work better.

What were some of the most surprising findings?

MEM: While we anticipated isolation being one of the top challenges — isolation ranks the highest among participants in all 10 countries as the leading factor that worsened during mandatory work-from-home orders — we didn’t expect the lack of a commute to be as high of a benefit as it was. Not commuting to the office is almost universally the main thing people like about working from home. Eight out of 10 countries rank the lack of a commute as the top benefit to working from home.

How do you expect the research and what you learned to impact your business in the coming year as people return to a ‘new normal’ — and what’s here for the long term?

MEM: People’s experiences during the pandemic have caused new and heightened expectations that organizations will need to understand and address when their employees return to the workplace. Prior to the pandemic, expectations had already begun to change, and the crisis has accelerated the need to create better workplaces. The synthesis of Steelcase research identified the macro shifts leaders will need to embrace to create safe and compelling places where people can be engaged and productive.


This article is one in a series of articles recognizing the second slate of organizations to be honored by Shaw’s sustain[HUMAN]ability® Leadership Recognition Program. The nine organizations selected for this year’s recognition program have displayed tremendous effort and progress to support the wellbeing of people and the planet amid the unprecedented challenges of 2020. To read more about the other organizations recognized by Shaw, visit the landing page for this blog series.

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