Hayes is the co-founder and CEO of Branch, a direct-to-consumer office furniture company that sells “exceptional office furniture, half the price.” And like many people around the world, he’s adapting to the new reality of balancing life and work at home.
“We're in a one bedroom apartment,” Hayes told me during a recent conversation. “My wife is in sales, so she's on calls all day. It's kind of battling phone calls, and no place to just relax and do something other than working.”
Transitioning to working and living in the same space is a difficult one. But for Hayes, it’s not only his work routines that have had to shift dramatically — due to COVID-19, his company also had to do a complete 180.
Making high quality office furniture accessible to all
Branch was founded in 2018 with a goal to make high quality office furniture accessible to everyone. Before Branch, Hayes explained that “historically you've had two choices — either high-quality furniture at exorbitant prices, or cheaply made office furniture at really low cost. There was really no in between.”
And for the first few years of its existence, it was fully focused on outfitting commercial offices for businesses like Breather, Baron Fig and Tumblr.
But when COVID-19 shut down the economy, the company had to make changes. “Our pipeline just literally went to zero,” said Hayes, reflecting on how Branch was impacted when offices across the United States closed down in March. “We had to pivot pretty quickly.”
Helping to kit out home offices for those forced into remote work was the obvious choice for Branch: “Luckily for us, there was not only like a huge swing towards people needing furniture for their home offices. But there was this evolving market for exactly what we were offering.”
“Luckily for us, there was not only like a huge swing towards people needing furniture for their home offices. But there was this evolving market for exactly what we were offering”
People who were working on commercial grade furniture every day in their offices, were not interested in working from home from cheap products. “They wanted something more in line with the quality of the furniture that they were used to, not products from Ikea, Amazon or places like that,” said Hayes.
It’s going to be a new world
Whilst Hayes expects that the corporate side of Branch will bounce back eventually as offices reopen and the economy recovers, he’s not sure things will ever quite go back to the way they were.
“It’s going to be a whole new world,” he told me. “It will be perfectly acceptable to work from home for two or three days per week.”
And to prepare for the new realities of work and home life, people have already started to adapt their spending habits. “In some cases, that actually means moving out to the suburbs. But for many people that just means making their homes more comfortable,” says Hayes.
“There's this crazy demand for high-quality home goods, office furniture, sofas, even hardwood flooring, and refrigerators”
“There's this crazy demand for high-quality home goods, office furniture, sofas, even hardwood flooring, and refrigerators,” explains Hayes — who found this out first hand when he recently tried to purchase a new refrigerator only to discover that most were back-ordered for months.
“You’re seeing demand for these things skyrocket, and there really is no sign of it slowing down,” he says.
And Branch has seen this demand first-hand. Over recent months it has transitioned from a world where individual consumers made up less than 1% of its sales, to now making up the majority of its sales.
This shift has meant changing some of the ways in which Branch operates and ships its furniture. “We've started pre-assembling more and more parts of our products, so that when they arrive, some of the more difficult things to put together have already been pre-assembled at the factory,” said Hayes.
And now, Hayes said a typical product from Branch would take anywhere from 10-15 minutes to assemble on average. “You don't need anything more than a screwdriver. And even then, we actually include the tools required.”
The WFH essentials
After furnishing dozens of offices Hayes has learned what it takes to create a productive workspace.
And if you’re looking to upgrade your existing home setup from your dining room table and an old chair to something that resembles an actual workspace, here are a few tips to help you.
“So first of all, the obvious one is having an ergonomically correct setup,” explained Hayes. “At the very least, that means having an ergonomically correct chair. We hear from customers every day that they feel back problems over the last few months, sitting in low quality chairs.”
Then beyond the ergonomic chair, Hayes recommends a computer screen, keyboard, and mouse make a big difference so you're not just hunched over your laptop all day. And if space and budget permits, “we would definitely recommend a standing desk for ergonomics.”
"Access to natural light, huge just for mental wellbeing. If you can add some plants even better. It's not natural for us to stare at four white walls all day"
And away from furniture and hardware, “access to natural light, huge just for mental wellbeing. If you can add some plants even better. It's not natural for us to stare at four white walls all day,” Hayes said.
“The final thing is a bit of a luxury,” Hayes Said. “But if you're able to separate your workspace from your living space, that can really have an impact on your ability to focus.”