Companies Need to Invest in Hybrid Workplace Design

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky spoke with Bob King, the Founder and CEO of Humanscale, about the transformations sweeping workplace design as the industry shifts to the hybrid work model. 

In an enlightening discussion with Bob King, we delved into pandemic-induced shift to hybrid work models. Humanscale, a pioneer in creating ergonomic products, is at the forefront of reimagining how workspace environments can enhance health and comfort as simply and sustainably as possible.

King began by emphasizing the company’s dedication to developing products that not only foster a healthier workspace but also ensure a profound impact on users’ well-being and positive impact on the planet.

We’re truly obsessed with making things great

King said as he reflected on the company’s array of products, from task chairs to adjustable desking solutions that cater to the evolving needs of modern workspaces. Humanscale, a pioneer in creating ergonomic products, is at the forefront of reimagining how workspace environments can enhance health and comfort as simply and sustainably as possible.

The Shift to Hybrid Work

The advent of hybrid work arrangements marks a seismic shift in the landscape of workplace design, a change that King identifies as the most profound his industry has ever seen. In fact, 53% of organizations plan to make remote working permanently available to all employees by 2025. As the number of days employees spend in the office decreases, there’s been a rapid evolution away from the traditional, densely-packed desk arrays to layouts that prioritize flexibility and collaboration.

“Offices are getting better for folks to just spend time in,” King said, pointing out the growing prevalence of casual meeting spaces that replace rows of tightly packed desks. This reimagining of office space does more than just alter the visual and physical layout — it enhances the quality of interactions and the productivity of teams, crucial for the limited in-office days that define hybrid work.

This transformation is deeply aligned with modern work dynamics. It supports the natural human tendency towards collaboration by increasing the number and variety of meeting spaces while decreasing the footprint of individual workstations. These changes reflect a broader understanding that workspaces need to be more than just functional; they should also foster an environment conducive to spontaneous collaboration and flexible enough to accommodate various working styles and needs.

Addressing Home Office Challenges

Beyond the confines of traditional office spaces, the shift towards hybrid work also casts a spotlight on the home office environment. Previously an afterthought for many employers, the home office setup has now become a critical element of the overall work experience. King highlighted a significant gap in the ergonomic quality of home setups compared to traditional offices.

“We’ve seen nightmares of how people are working at home,” he said, emphasizing the urgent need for home office furnishings that provide the same level of ergonomic support as those found in well-outfitted office environments. According to a recent study by Humanscale, 89% of respondents work from home, yet only half of remote workers work in a dedicated home office.

While it’s increasingly common for companies to discuss offering stipends for home office improvements, King revealed a gap between discussion and action, with many companies hesitating to commit financially to these supports. Instead, they often opt to provide employees with access to corporate discounts on ergonomic products. This approach allows employees to acquire high-quality equipment at a more affordable price point, which is a step in the right direction. However, it may not completely meet the need for a properly equipped home office.

The Rise of Hoteling and Its Impact on Furniture Design

The practice of hoteling—where shared office spaces are utilized on a rotating basis—has surged in popularity as companies adopt more flexible, hybrid work models. According to a survey by JLL, 73% of companies have planned or are planning to make all office spaces open and collaborative, with no dedicated desk spaces. This approach to office space utilization, while efficient, presents unique challenges for furniture design, particularly in terms of adaptability and ease of use. “Chairs are famously hard to adjust,” King said.

Responding to this challenge, Humanscale has innovated with the design of chairs that automatically adjust to the user’s weight. This technology ensures that each chair dynamically conforms to the user, providing optimal support without the need for manual adjustments. “So you’re perfectly in balance with the back of the chair,” King said. This kind of adaptability is crucial in a hoteling context, where employees might use different workstations each day, necessitating furniture that adjusts quickly and effortlessly to each new user. The concept of adaptable furnishings and solutions also plays a role in third place work environments, with an overwhelming amount of U.S. workers working from cafés, hotels, co-working spaces and more.

This focus on automatic adjustability not only enhances comfort but also increases efficiency by eliminating the time and distraction of manual configuration. The simplicity of the design encourages correct ergonomic posture, which is essential for preventing the strain and injury that can occur with poorly adjusted chairs.

Envisioning the Future of Workplace Design

Looking ahead, King shared his outlook for the future of workplace design, a future where furniture not only meets ergonomic standards but anticipates and reacts to the user’s needs. He envisions environments where the necessity for manual adjustments is completely eradicated, allowing furniture to intuitively adjust to individual users. This would create workspaces that are more responsive and tailored to the physical requirements of each employee, enhancing comfort and productivity across both office and remote settings.

Such a user-centric approach in furniture design could revolutionize the concept of workplace ergonomics, ensuring that furniture not only serves its functional purpose but also actively contributes to the well-being and health of employees. This proactive stance on ergonomic design is reflective of a broader shift towards workplaces that prioritize employee comfort, which is increasingly recognized as integral to productivity and overall job satisfaction.

As businesses continue to navigate the complexities of hybrid work, the lessons from Humanscale’s approach to ergonomics and adaptability will play a crucial role in shaping environments that promote well-being, collaboration, and productivity.

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