The future of work will be shaped by the needs of workers

The future of work and lifeAs the UK government has withdrawn its advice for employees to work from home, more organisations than ever will be instituting what have become known as hybrid working models: 68 percent globally, according to research from  Steelcase. Definitions of “hybrid work”, however, are often contradicting and unclear – leaving business leaders without definitive guidance about how to approach the future of work. To provide businesses with a more concrete view of what hybrid working looks like in reality, and provide tangible actions to help streamline productivity and collaboration, Steelcase have researched the experiences and needs of workers worldwide in their report: Changing Expectations and the Future of Work.

Crucially, workers need to feel safe and comfortable returning to the office near-term, and businesses need to understand what they will want from their office going forward. It is clear that this isn’t solely home working – just 5 percent of organisations expect to work from home full time – but instead a combination of remote and office-based. The number of businesses planning to offer their employees flexibility around how, when and where they work has more than doubled over the past year, rising from 38 percent in April 2020 to 87 percent now.

Aside from concerns around productivity and engagement, this will also have major implications for office space, with 86 percent of businesses planning to shift their long-term real estate strategy. As business leaders navigate these changes, the Steelcase report showcases how organisations can design their workplaces to best support individuals in this new world of work.

To understand what people need and expect in the office, how the pandemic has changed this, and what it means for the future of work Steelcase researchers engaged over 32,000 people in 10 countries through multiple studies. From the results, they uncovered five overarching needs that will drive new ways of planning and designing offices:

  • Being and feeling safe
  • A sense of belonging
  • The ability to be productive
  • Comfort: physical, cognitive and emotional
  • Control over where and how they work

“Organisations must prepare for a significant increase in hybrid collaboration,” said Hania Arafat, Applied Research Consultant at Steelcase. “Leaders and teams want to harness the energy, innovation and growth that returning to the office brings, but old offices won’t work for the new reality of hybrid working – employees need to return to something better. Now is the moment for companies to reinvent the work experience and the workplace – it’s the perfect time to test new types of spaces that braid together the physical and the digital.”


Four Design Strategies for a Hybrid Workplace

The report highlights four design concepts to support new employee expectations in a hybrid workplace:

  • Balancing “We” and “Me”: Common narratives suggest people want to work in the office primarily for group or social activities, but Steelcase data shows employees also want the ability to focus in a quiet professional environment. Leaders and employees listed both collaboration and focus in their top reasons for returning to the office, so offices must facilite shifts between working together and alone, between more structured work and informal interactions.
  • Shift from Fixed-to-FluidPeople in every country reported improved autonomy and work-life balance while working from home, but struggled with productivity. Leaders can support employees in the office by creating workspaces that are designed for greater flexibility, giving workers control over their environment by providing mobile furniture, power, technology, and space division.
  • Flip Enclosed + Open SpacesOne of the largest changes happening in the office is a shift from mostly enclosed collaborative spaces, such as conference rooms, to more open and flexible team spaces. Meanwhile, spaces for individual, focused work will shift from dense, open spaces to more enclosed places for privacy, offering teams a sense of safety and the flexibility to resize their space based on activities.
  • Braid the Physical and the Digital ExperienceAs individuals and teams continue to live and work on video, employees will need places to join video conferences without disturbing others in the office.?Teams will need to integrate space and technology to create inclusive experiences for those in the office and remote team members.

“Inviting employees to participate in any pilot is essential,” continued Arafat. “Encouraging participation and honest, open feedback is essential, as well as being able to pivot strategies. As we become more familiar with hybrid workplaces, people will make adjustments and improvements, so a flexible workplace designed to evolve as people’s needs change is a vital asset for every business.”