Workplace Live
Episode 2: HNI

Workplace Live
Episode 2: HNI

Workplace Live
Episode 2: HNI

Updates from China - Pam Keefe of HNI

What are the effects of COVID-19 on global manufacturing and procurement? We sat down with Pam Keefe, vice president of sales for HNI Asia Pacific, to talk about what is going on in the hub of furniture manufacturing and the current and future global impacts.

HNI is a leading global office furniture company, carrying some of the most widely known and respected brands in the industry, such as Allsteel, Gunlocke and HON. Pam Keefe leads HNI’s development and organizational business strategy. Her work touches upon sales leadership, global contract negotiation, workplace strategy and distribution.


The Opportunity

While China has been at the forefront of the COVID epidemic, it has also taken some of the strictest measures to ensure containment. Driven by government mandates and recommendations, the HNI factory in Singapore was closed for 5 weeks. The closure created an opportunity to challenge cultural norms around remote work and to solve for how to continue to meet client needs and project schedules. A shift in mindset was developed as well as a fluid redirect of manufacturing and office work.

The Solutions: Leveraged Manufacturing & Resources

Redirecting focus on projects that could continue moving forward and honing in on available resources was one way that HNI was able to balance safety and productivity. With several HNI locations closed beginning in February, the company leveraged the various resources around the globe that were still in operation. Using factories in India and the US as back-up, orders outside of China were prioritized, and quick shop options, such as air and full container loads were also utilized.

Remote Work

While working from home is not a new concept in the US, it is for China, where the shift in was both logistical and cultural. Companies, teams and managers are accustomed to collaborating in person and take-home work laptops are not a norm. Most households in Asia typically include multiple generations of the family, posing a challenge for employees to equip themselves with a functional and quiet work area. For the first time, HNI provided work laptops, or VPN set-ups on personal devices for all employees. These measures were taken quickly, allowing for HNI’s teams to continue moving forward with projects.

Workplace Health and Safety

A temporary “gate” was created at the entry of all HNI facilities. The procedure is still in place, whereby employees fill out a sign-in form listing any areas they recently travelled to, and whether they have experienced symptoms or possible exposure. Each employee’s temperature is taken and logged for records. Masks, hand cleaning and sanitation mats (floor mats soaked in disinfectant) located at the entry of each building continue to be mandatory. A spray-sanitization process is implemented inside and outside of all HNI facilities daily.

HNI took several measures to adhere to the 6’ social distancing rules. Elevators were closed for use, makeshift dividers were placed on cafeteria tables to be replaced by permanent fixtures, and 6’ markers were adhered to the floors to ensure social distancing in lunchtime lines. Sanitization areas were placed at the entry of each area.

The 6’ Ring of Reality


HNI Products

HNI has an extensive line of glass paneling that comes in a variety of colors, along with an array of screens and room and desk dividers. It carries a line of anti-microbial fabrics, which are often used in labs and are already being sourced for clients preparing for the re-opening of workplaces.

The Takeaways

HNI’s quick response and strict adherence to government mandates were key in keeping employees safe and continuing a steady flow of productivity. The Singapore factory of 300 employees has not yet seen one case of COVID.

While not only social distancing has deeply impacted company culture, also it has had the effect of bringing people closer together. Teams who had never worked from home quickly adapted to keeping frequent and clear lines of communication open, often with the popular app WeChat. Even with the stress and challenges that came with adjusting to new working styles, teams continue to feel a sense of community and solidarity with one another.

Pam Keefe noted that while open-office setups have become standard in workplaces around the globe, we are likely to see a shift back to more space division. Clients have already started requesting floor to ceiling panels, private cubicles, and products with antimicrobial surfaces and fabrics. After decades of evolution from cubicles to open-office space planning, we may end up coming full circle, returning to workplace design built around privacy and separation in order to ensure the health and safety of employees.

About HNI

HNI is a leading global office furniture company. It’s brands are among the most widely known and respected in the industry and include Allsteel, Gunlocke and HON.