Back in June, M Moser Associates ran a study on COVID-19’s impact on views toward remote versus in-office work. At the time, the research found that 61 percent of workers wanted to return to the office, but not without retaining some of the flexibility that working from home offers. Losing freedom and flexibility was the second most cited concern (22 percent) after fears about health and safety (42 percent).
What’s more, the survey shed light on an important aspect missing from the standard home office: easy sourcing of ergonomic furniture and enterprise-level technology hookups. After all, a home office with an IKEA desk and a chair from Amazon works well when you’re taking an evening conference call or perhaps working from home when your child has a sick day, but it certainly can’t replace commercial-grade equipment when your home office transitions to become your everyday office.
In fact, the M Moser Associates study, “Re-entering the Workplace: COVID-19 Survey Results,” found that 47 percent of respondents experienced “significant” challenges while working remotely. The study also suggested that, in order to make working from home a permanent solution, companies will need to consider providing equipment and financial allowances for the improvement of home workspaces.
Flash forward to the end of 2020, and we’re not only still working remotely, but we’re also faced with the likelihood of some form of remote work remaining a permanent feature in our future workforce. Companies have learned more about the good, the bad, and the ugly of remote working, and they are beginning to set plans to incorporate many of those lessons into future hybrid models. And as Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, notes, “We've acknowledged that remote work will be part of our future and, after recognizing that 2020 may not have the best financial numbers, some companies have consciously decided to absorb the up-front spend for proper, commercial-grade home office setups in the 2020 fiscal year. After all, you can purchase something like 300 ergonomic chairs for the price of one workers’ comp claim. It’s really a no-brainer when you think about it.”
So what are companies doing to support employee home office setups? “The solutions are still evolving,” says Lister, “but they are beginning to coalesce.”
What will remote work look like, post-COVID-19?
According to Owl Labs’ “State of Remote Work 2020” report, one in two employees say they won’t return to a job that doesn’t offer remote work. That’s a massive percentage of the workforce that major corporations must be consider in their future plans. Yet, according to the research, nearly 75 percent of companies don’t yet have a formal remote work policy in place.
Those that do have a plan are considering the three-tiered approach where a portion of the office works most of their time in the office, a second portion works most of their time remotely, and the third is a hybrid role. She adds, “In these situations, companies usually draw the line on when you get a dedicated desk versus a hoteling situation. Many times, the line is drawn at three days a week, with a shared desk arrangement layering in for employees in the office less than three days a week.”
Furthermore, when asked if employers should consider a shared situation versus hoteling to avoid the spread of germs, Lister advises, “We are still learning about COVID-19 and how it spreads, it’s wise for us to plan for a bit further down the road than the next few months.”
How are companies ensuring their employees have a proper home setup?
Owl Labs’ “State of Remote Work 2020” report suggests only 20–25 percent of companies pay for or share the cost of home office equipment, including furniture, cables, and chairs. Equally interesting, the report also indicates that 44 percent of respondents would now expect a pay increase if they are expected to work exclusively in the office.
If nothing else, COVID-19 has shown us that future attraction and retention policies must now incorporate details surrounding home office stipends and the quantification of remote work. But for the more immediate future, we know that policies that help employees source appropriate home office equipment are needed—now.
As Lister shares, “Early on in COVID-19, the focus was on getting people the technology and connectivity they needed to be productive. Now, with no real end in sight for a return to the office and many companies planning to permanently allow full- or part-time remote work, organizational leaders are turning their attention to the importance of ergonomics.”
Lister and home office furniture provider Design Public Group recently fielded a survey to better understand employers’ attitudes about who should pay for home office furniture. The results, which are shared in a white paper, “The Future of Home Office Cost Sharing,” show a linear relationship between the frequency of remote work and employers’ openness to shouldering the costs. While eight in ten respondents indicated the employer should absorb the majority or all of the cost of a home office setup for fully remote employees, only 23 percent feel obligated to do the same for someone who works from home just one day a week.
The white paper reports five primary mechanisms for how employers are approaching home office provisioning. Forty-five percent have provided, or plan to provide, employees a discount purchase option through their furniture vendors, and 38 percent have provided, or plan to provide, a one-time stipend.
“The problem with stipends,” says Lister, “is that there’s rarely any accountability. What employers really want is to ensure employee comfort and safety, but unless stipends are managed properly, they really don’t know if the money went toward an ergonomic chair or a new dining room table.”
A better approach, suggests Lister, is to require that employees apply their stipend on an approved list of contract-grade ergonomic offerings with shipping matched to the employee’s address. “How else can an employer defend a workers’ compensation claim for damages due to poor working conditions?” asks Lister.
While no one holds a crystal ball showing the future of remote work, most experts agree more people will be working remotely all or some of the time when the pandemic ends than did so before.
What’s more, research shows that, for every employee who works remotely two to three days a week, a typical employer can save nearly $11K per year—the result of increased productivity and reduced turnover, real estate costs, absenteeism, and productivity losses due to business interruptions.
“For me,” says Lister, “if employers really want to emerge from this crisis better prepared for the future, they need to invest some of their remote work savings in the tools, technologies, and environments their people need to make the next normal of work a significant step forward.”
Featured image: As more people become accustomed to the work-from-home reality, how will we source for the home office setups they need to be productive? Image credit: Bench Accounting on Unsplash.
Amanda Schneider is President of ThinkLab, the research division of SANDOW. At ThinkLab, we combine SANDOW Media’s incredible reach to the architecture and design community through brands like Interior Design Media, Metropolis, Luxe, and Material Bank with proven market research techniques to uncover relevant trends and opportunities for the design industry. Join in to explore what’s next at thinklab.design/join-in.