Study reveals changing workforce desires

New Steelcase report reveals employees value choice, control, belonging in post-pandemic workplace.
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One of the appealing attributes of home for 70% of employees is they have a dedicated space for work, but in the office, over 50% have desks in open areas, with less access to privacy. Courtesy Steelcase.

Steelcase recently released a new global research report that shows employees’ values have shifted to greater control, comfort and privacy in the workplace since the onset of COVID-19.

The Steelcase report “The New Era of Hybrid Work” surveyed nearly 5,000 workers in 11 countries in late 2021 and the research was published this year. Many of those surveyed have returned to the office after working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The findings reveal 87% of people will spend at least some of their time working from the office, but 45% prefer working from home. One of the appealing attributes of home for 70% of employees is they have a dedicated space for work, but in the office, over 50% have desks in open areas, with less access to privacy. As employers encourage people to work in the office, the office must work harder to meet these new needs, researchers concluded.

The study also found people who like working from the office are more engaged, productive, connected to their organization’s culture and less likely to leave their jobs.

“It’s not enough to simply reopen the office doors and offer a hybrid work policy,” said Chris Congdon, director of global research communications for Steelcase. “Today’s office needs to earn the commute of employees. We’ve learned from those who have returned that their wants and needs have fundamentally shifted.

“The office needs to support the new ways people work, while helping to create a sense of community where people belong and feel valued.”

Research highlights

Key finding No. 1: When people like their office, they are more engaged, productive and connected to the organization’s culture and likely to stay.

Steelcase researchers analyzed a wide range of factors that influence positive employee sentiments, such as engagement, productivity, connection to culture and retention. They looked at considerations like commute time, income and tenure with the company. The factor that most impacted engagement, productivity and feeling connected to the culture is when people like working from the office. (Employee retention is most impacted by tenure with the organization.) Satisfaction with the office leads workers to feel 33% more engaged, 30% more connected to culture, 9% more productive and 20% less likely to leave, the report found.

Key finding 2: People are willing to trade remote workdays for their own workspace at the office.

Research suggests more people want a home at the office. At home, 70% of surveyed workers have dedicated spaces — either a private office or dedicated work zone. Employees spend more than half their time doing focused work (51%) compared to less than a third of leaders’ time (31%). Yet most workers sit in an open plan workspace (51%) while their senior leaders have private offices (49%). Given this traditional hierarchy in many offices, researchers said it’s not surprising people say they prefer to work from home where — even if they have to work on the sofa — they are more likely to have a greater sense of control over their work experience and more privacy. People surveyed voiced a willingness to trade remote workdays for more privacy, comfort and control within the office. When asked to choose, more people said they would prefer to have an assigned desk in the office and work fewer days from home.

Key finding 3: Access to private spaces increasingly is important, as more work happens on video.

When asked what they value most in the office, 64% of those surveyed reported spaces for collaborating with in-person and remote employees, 62% said single-person enclaves for video call, and 61% said access to private spaces.

People want the office to help them collaborate and focus and take a video call without disrupting others, the report said. Because weeks are not neatly divided into collaboration days and focus days, it’s unlikely many organizations would suggest workers stay home to focus on their work and come into the office for collaboration only, Steelcase said, noting it believes highly effective collaboration requires an ebb and flow of working together and alone.

“Some have suggested the office should become a ‘clubhouse’ and, while opportunities to collaborate and see colleagues might draw people to the office, if they can’t do individual focus work there as well, they will struggle to feel productive after they’ve made the commute,” Congdon said. 

“The data in this report reveal what people really want in their workplaces: a place that supports different types of work and helps them feel purpose and a sense of belonging to the organization.”

The complete report is available to download at steelcase.com/globalreport2022.

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