The pandemic shift to work from home is likely here to stay. These furniture companies are ready with what the consumer needs for home offices.
The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has catapulted an entire segment of the workforce into work-from-home situations whether they wanted it or not. What may not be as well known a statistic, however, is that prior to the pandemic, 5 million people were already working from home at least half of the time, approximately 3.6 percent of the U.S. workforce.
While 2020 certainly elevated that percentage along with the need for home office furniture and accessories, it had been an area ripe for growth pre-pandemic, with telecommuting quietly growing on its own prior to COVID-19.
As with consumer adoption of technology, 2020 simply pushed the home office further into the family domain more quickly. The number of telecommuting employees had grown 173 percent since 2005. Even so, only 7 percent of employers throughout the U.S. had offered work-from-home flexibility. By 2028, however, one study estimates that 73 percent of departments will offer some type of work-from-home option.
The ability to work from home saves more than time for most employees. With commutes gone, there is more leisure time available, but for many, working from home also means less expense. It’s estimated that as employers continue to offer at least part-time work-from-home options, it can generate savings of approximately $44 billion a year for employees who benefit from saving on costs associated with commuting and even eating lunch at home.
Where will that money go? For many, some of it could be invested into better home office configurations.
In addition to elevating the importance of furnishings for employees working from home in 2020, there have been other considerations with the sudden need for us all to spend more time in our houses, from carving out a space for that home office to creating an environment conducive to virtual learning for school-age children when the dining room table just isn’t cutting it anymore.
While home furnishings companies have been involved in this category for years in some cases, 2020 was a year to get creative in home office, introducing desks in myriad sizes, storage options, unique ergonomic seating and accessories that could create an office space in any room of the home, be tucked away if needed and/or be used for different purposes.
“Fairfield Chair has always been represented in this category because of the commercial side of our business,” says Dixon Mitchell, CEO. “Integrating it into the home was just a natural extension. We don’t see that changing. This is a category that will continue to evolve as people demand to work from home more and more to create a better work/life balance.”
In response to the need for office furnishings that now needed to be designed for residential spaces, Fairfield introduced new desk configurations, including writing/laptop desk styles with a smaller footprint, along with four major collections coming in spring that will address storage. The company had already launched a new office chair collection — WorkReady — earlier in 2020, a decision that had been made pre-pandemic. The executive desk chairs have been designed with high-end leathers and feature more fashion-forward designs, but come with the ergonomic structure and mobility associated with desk chairs. “The styling is softer traditional and transitional,” says Mitchell. “These are not the stuffy executive chairs you’ve seen in the past.” The chairs, along with new desks and other office furnishings, which have been brought to market quickly, have been well-received by retailers, designers and consumers. Styles range from distressed wood with hand-forged iron accents to more transitional pearl finishes with gold accents, displaying a wide range of styling designed to complement different home interiors.
Hooker Furniture, which has had an executive office collection for years, has also pivoted to meet the work-from-home demand with more office furniture styles that can be integrated into home spaces that otherwise might not have been traditional “office” space.
“How do we take a category that has been historically super significant at Hooker and translate that for today’s crazy times?” asks Alexandra O’Hare, Vice President of Marketing and Strategic Initiatives at the company. “The strategy is being fresh but familiar.” Hooker has added new pieces to home office that afford the user more flexibility and functionality. The company has also ideated new pieces and design styles that weren’t there before.
Home office from Hooker — the new program is dubbed Work Your Way — is also familiar in that some of the new pieces are built off of existing collection finishes and can be integrated into what a customer already has at home from a design perspective.
Hooker, too, has taken into consideration consumers needs that have changed in this past year, with children learning virtually from home as well. “Children’s lives have changed,” says O’Hare. “We’re accommodating smaller footprints and the needs for flexibility by working to understand and anticipate those trends as well.”
According to Neil MacKenzie, Director of Marketing at Universal Furniture, which launched its Work from Home collection at this fall’s High Point Market, the company has taken into consideration the challenges that today’s consumers are facing as well, working from home and having children learning virtually from home. For Universal, it makes sense to have a bigger footprint in this category — complete with innovative options — as once the pandemic ends, it is likely that more people will continue to work from home, at least part of the time. “Just more than 40 percent of people are expected to continue working from home once this ends,” MacKenzie notes. “There’s a lot to be said for giving people that flexibility and taking away the commute. As that continues, there will need to be some type of workspace in the home, and consumers are recognizing that.” Anticipating this need, Universal introduced 10 new home office collections at October’s High Point Market, featuring smaller footprint desks among the standard-sized offerings, desks with movable storage, and a range of finishes and styles that complement varied residential interiors. Universal has bundled fashion-forward desk options, storage pieces and etageres, for example, in a wide range of styles — some new and some that complement existing furniture collections — on its website under Work from Home to make it easy for consumers, retailers and designers to see how these pieces connect and how, in some cases, they can be repurposed as other furniture when not in use in an office setting. “We’ve introduced pieces that can blend well and are flexible enough for what consumers might want to throw at them,” MacKenzie says. One new desk is small enough, 58 inches wide by 22 inches deep, that it could be used as a hallway console when not in use as a desk.
These and other suppliers have also given consideration to how technology comes into play with these office pieces at home, incorporating charging functionality and wire management solutions to keep the spaces neat and easily functional. The new Celine desk from Universal, for example, has a Mid-Century feel and incorporates wire management in keeping with its minimalist design.
Suppliers expect there will be more technology incorporated into next rounds of office furniture as well. As we see how work from home changes this coming year as vaccines become available and the pandemic wanes, home furnishings companies are evolving their collections to continue to meet the needs of consumers at all levels.
“Work from home is likely here to stay and will continue to improve,” predicts Fairfield’s Mitchell. “It’s about the work/life balance. Consumers will demand to work from home more and more.”
When that happens, the home furnishings industry will be ready with options designed for everyone’s needs.