Like all organizations addressing COVID-19, Haworth has been learning and adapting as we look to the future of work, one that incorporates a work-from-anywhere approach.
As populations began working from home during coronavirus lockdowns, we partnered with Leesman, a global workplace research firm, to learn how people adapted. Through surveys, we gained invaluable data in supporting our customer interactions and informing future home solutions in a work-from-anywhere ecosystem.
Spark: Could you share information about Leesman?
MW: Leesman is a global workplace research firm that measures employee experience and what drives it. They started their organization in 2010 with the objective to “measure employee experience across the environments they use.” Leesman doesn’t engage with consultancy or advisory services, so their benchmarking and insights are always wholly impartial. Their proprietary Leesman Index is one of the largest global employee workplace experience databases with a goal toward making workplaces better through established methodologies.
Spark: Why did we decide to work with Leesman?
MW: Given Leesman’s capabilities, we have always looked for ways to understand their methodologies and to learn how our customers benefit from them. And during the beginning of the pandemic, we were also very curious about how our employees were reacting to working from home. We worked with Leesman to look at our global workforce and compare it with their global database.
Leesman shared that they had just rolled out a new form of their study to understand remote work. This was right when we went into a stay-at-home order in Michigan. We were all curious about how we were going to handle working from home. This was a great opportunity to pivot quickly and learn. While Haworth conducts its own research, we also like to partner with others to learn on a global scale.
Spark: Who from Haworth participated in this study?
MW: Being a global organization, we were excited to make this an international study to include five of our major countries: Germany, France, India, China, and the United States. We studied a total of 10 locations, two in each of the countries. Our members working within each of these 10 locations were invited to participate. We worked closely with our HR teams and Haworth’s international team to make this happen. The study did reveal regional differences, which helped guide our leadership in understanding various workforce capabilities when working remotely.
Spark: What did we learn from this partnership?
MW: That our workforce was doing well working remotely from their homes. We scored similarly to the majority of the Leesman benchmarks. But more importantly, we were beginning to understand that roles, functions, activities, age, and home settings all had a big impact on how well our workforce could work from home. This, too, was similar to what Leesman was learning on a global scale.
Spark: Did the study reveal differences between what activities are supported best at home? And the office?
MW: Our study with Leesman pointed clearly to activities that were supported well at home and those that were not. Individual focus work, planned meetings, and video conferences were all going well at home. What suffered were the informal social interactions, learning from others, and, of course, hosting visitors, clients, and customers.
As Leesman has gathered more data, they have been able to compare their Office study to their Home study, further diving into understanding what works best at home and at the office.
Spark: Did our findings differ from Leesman’s larger study? How so?
MW: Our Work at Home study (completed in June 2020) is very similar to Leesman’s larger 125k study (based on a sample size of more than 125,000 workers), which was released in September 2020. Because our demographic questions were specific to our population—not something you can compare with the Leesman database—we were able to understand which job functions were supported better from home. We learned that our more creative functions (R&D and Marketing) need the office more than our supporting functions (Finance and HR). We also saw a larger difference in age than the Leesman study. Older workers had a better experience working from home than the younger workforce.
Both of the studies point to the home environment as critical to the experience of the worker. The setting, whether dedicated, in a shared space, or a non-specific work area (such as a table in a bedroom) has a large impact. A dedicated space is certainly preferred and best practice. Also, if you have others present in your home while you are working, this influenced the experience. Both isolation and children present had negative impacts on the scores.
Spark: What are some of the most interesting insights, from your perspective?
MW: I find the information around what spaces support which activities super interesting. In Leesman’s 125K report they shared that the amount of activities is also an indicator of how well an employee experiences their work from home. So, if your work requires a variety of activities, you will need both the home and the office to support you well. If you have less variety, the home may be a good alternative for your work experience. As we grow our understanding of all the different places work can happen, this will be exciting to explore.
This study supports our Work from Anywhere approach—an ecosystem to support the various ways we work. Because our work has not changed; where we work has changed. The use of the office still needs to support innovation, creativity, connection to virtual interactions through technology tools, and some heads-down, focus activities. It's all about supporting and extending your organizational culture virtually—which presents a challenge.
Going forward, finding the balance in supporting personal interaction and collaboration—both virtually and physically—will be vital for people to perform their best and remain engaged.