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No Commute, but a Worsening Sense of Isolation – New Data From Steelcase Shares the Highs and Lows of Working From Home and Its Impact on the Future Workplace

95% expected to return to the office in some capacity as engagement, productivity and innovation suffer when workers unsatisfied at home

New data released from Steelcase on the status quo work experience of 2020—which featured the majority of office employees working from home for most of the year—shows just how much it’s costing some businesses in terms of lost productivity, engagement and innovation. According to the report, 41% of workers who work from home frequently are dissatisfied with their work-from-home experience while only 19% are fully satisfied. Experiences and affordances at home vary greatly from worker to worker, which may explain why the data finds 95% of workers expect to return to the office in some capacity. As many companies begin to plan their future work experience, this data can be used to design the future.

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The research from Steelcase includes findings collected throughout the pandemic in as many as 10 countries with more than 32,000 participants, including business leaders and real estate decision makers who represent millions of workers. The findings show when people are dissatisfied with their work-from-home experience, it results in a 14% reduction in engagement, 12% drop in productivity and 6% decline in innovation—factors that can hurt a company’s bottom line. Many workers also reported a drop in quantity, quality and consistency of work. These impacts could equate to a 5% average reduction in profits for large companies.

“The pandemic has reshaped many aspects of our lives, including where and how people want to work,” said Gale Moutrey, vice president of workplace innovation, Steelcase. “Their experiences working from home, and what they face when they return to the office, have influenced what they want and expect to see in the workplace going forward. Our data shows the majority of workers want to return to the office and their experiences during the pandemic will provide the guidance for a new, better work experience.”

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Steelcase’s research uncovered several benefits and challenges among people currently working full time from home, including the following in the U.S.:

  • 37% report a worsening sense of isolation
  • 20% report a drop in their productivity
  • 20% report a drop in their engagement
  • 35% enjoyed not commuting
  • 25.7% liked the ability to focus
  • 20% are experiencing a worsening speed of decision making
  • 16.5% have worsening work-life balance

Poor work-from-home setups are among the many factors contributing to unsatisfactory work-from-home experiences. For example, 36% of workers lack a place free from distraction and 28% do not have a physically comfortable workspace—instead toiling from their bed or couch. Nine percent of workers consistently work from their beds. All workers are not facing the same challenges, however: 75% of directors or above always or almost always work at a desk and 46% have an ergonomic chair. Among individual contributors, however, just 48% work at desks and 24% have ergonomic chairs.

“Our research shows that people want and expect to go back to the office, but they want a space that is safe, comfortable, inspiring and productive. They also want more control over where and how they work,” said Moutrey. “This data will help leaders design workspaces that are flexible, resilient and support the new ways people want to work.”

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