Inspiration Office: How Steelcase Is Bringing Employees Back To The Office
Organisations are making choices about the speed at which they can bring people back to the workplace – and they’re doing this with a much greater emphasis on employee wellbeing and safety. Steelcase is deploying a user-centered design approach to address the problem.
“We believe it’s critical to get employees back to the workplace – work is a social activity and the office is where employees have access to the people and tools they need to collaborate most effectively and to generate new ideas that lead to innovation.” says Sara Armbruster, vice president, strategy.
“So, we are actively preparing ourselves and helping our clients prepare for the return to the office. We’re thoughtfully considering all the components of the situation and the needs of all stakeholders before we develop a point of view,” she says.
For weeks, her team has been meeting daily to work through issues as they arise. Time horizons have been dramatically shortened. “We no longer see things in sprints of weeks or even days,” says Armbruster. “We quickly realized there are decisions we need to align around as a cross-functional team every single day. The decisions we’re trying to make, the speed at which we’re trying to move, and the global scope of how we’re trying to communicate and make choices has required us to work differently.”
The Steelcase COVID-19 team has devoted much of its time and energy staying abreast of the latest information from health experts and organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States and World Health Organization (WHO) to better understand how the disease is transmitted and how to make the workplace as safe as possible at a time when there are many unknowns. “Our goal has been to develop a science-based response whenever possible,” says Armbruster. “This helped us guide the Steelcase strategy using global principles that can be customized at local levels, where laws and policies differ.”
How Employees Feel
In preparation for the return of our people, Steelcase conducted surveys, as well as employee round tables, to get a pulse on employee sentiment. “Our employees have never experienced a global crisis of this magnitude, and we didn’t know how people are feeling,” says Jill Dark, director, leadership & talent transformation. “It’s important that we understand people’s concerns and their motivations for returning to the office. We needed to make decisions that impact our employees and we wanted them to have an opportunity to provide input into those.”
According to Dark, in crisis, people are hardwired to make decisions that minimize threats. This can lead to decisions based more on emotion than logic. We wanted data to drive our decisions. The surveys measured employees’ readiness and speed to return to the office. We saw a high response rate (almost 67%) for a non-mandatory survey,” says Dark. Employees really care about this issue and we learned it’s a polarizing topic.”
Readiness To Return
The results at Steelcase break down into roughly thirds: one third of employees are eager to return to work the first week they can. Another third is uncertain about when they might return and one-third is hesitant to return, often due to underlying health concerns for themselves or a family member. Those eager to return were craving social connections and the tools that an office gives people, such as ergonomic office seating, height-adjustable desks, large-scale collaboration technology, whiteboards and printers.
According to Dark, the workplace that people return to will have to be a “very different and changed place. One thing that won’t change is the need for people to connect to the organization’s purpose and to feel a sense of belonging that may have been strained while working remotely,” she says. “Being in the office is a tangible way to meet that need; so, we strive to find ways to do so safely because employees told us they need more certainty before they return. Organizations will need to create a workplace where people feel safe.”
- Furniture: Office