How Herman Miller Is Helping People During the Coronavirus Crisis

From manufacturing PPE to funding charities worldwide, we’re committed to serving our communities during the global pandemic.

Interview by: Elise Waugh, Corporate Communications Manager, Herman Miller

Insights from: Linda Brand, Director of Herman Miller Cares, and Ben Watson, Chief Creative Officer, Herman Miller

A Herman Miller employee sewing a face mask in a manufacturing space.

Unprecedented. Overwhelming. Life altering. These are just a few of the words and phrases used to describe the COVID-19 crisis. But given the realities of the situation—realities we’re all coping with on a daily basis—these expressions feel like understatements.

Hospitals around the world are overrun with cases and short on personal protective equipment (PPE). People are unsure about when they will see their next paycheck. We’re all grappling with the effects of social distancing. Nevertheless, there’s one bright spot. At a time when fear and uncertainty could easily flourish, we’re seeing individuals and companies step up and use their expertise to help however they can. Herman Miller is no different. As a company founded on human-centered design, we always put people first. That’s exactly why we are helping during the coronavirus crisis.

Herman Miller Stays Agile to Support Healthcare Providers

One week after shutting down manufacturing in the wake of Governor Whitmer’s initial “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, Herman Miller welcomed back nearly 30 percent of its manufacturing workforce on a volunteer basis to help support customers who are considered critical infrastructure. These include our customers in the healthcare industry, as well as federal, state, and local governments.

In the healthcare industry, as hospitals and healthcare facilities face the surge of patients, they struggle to get the supplies they need to outfit fully functional patient care spaces. For example, a university hospital in the western part of the United States constructed drive-up COVID-19 testing tents in front of their main entrance to keep both patients and providers as safe as possible. During the rush to set up these testing tents, the hospital realized they had overlooked a critical element: places where the staff could sit and rest in between patients.

“With stress and potential burnout at an all-time high, every bit of respite we can offer healthcare providers on the frontlines is essential,” says Herman Miller’s Chief Creative Officer, Ben Watson. That’s why, when the hospital’s representatives reached out to a local Herman Miller dealer to inquire about lead times on an order for Aeron stools, the dealer thought of a quicker solution. Within 90 minutes of the initial request, the dealer found suitable stools from its inventory and delivered them personally to the hospital. This is just one example of how Herman Miller has been able to swiftly adapt to support people during this challenging time.

Putting Our Products to Work for COVID-19 Patients

We’ve also been able to quickly adapt our products to serve new and unique needs presented by the coronavirus crisis. For instance, we created a portable remote viewing station using a Herman Miller cart with an attached monitor arm. This scrappy invention serves an important purpose.

The device, said Watson, allows quarantined patients who are sick or dying to see and communicate with their loved ones over video. “We are seeing heart-wrenching scenarios where patients are in their final hours without the comfort of their loved ones,” said Watson. “Many of these people are too weak to hold tablets, phones, or laptops to video chat with their families, so these carts allow them a unique opportunity to engage with their loved ones. Plus, with physical space being extra tight these days, these carts provide a space-saving solution that a standard video cart just can’t,” said Watson.

Sharing Design Templates for Critical PPE

Beyond inventive product solutions, Herman Miller is stepping up to help in other ways. Locally, Holland Hospital came to us because they were running dangerously low on their supply of face masks. Herman Miller worked directly with the hospital to design and engineer disposable 3-ply, water-repellent masks to use in their non-procedural areas.

During the design process, engineers at Herman Miller used 3D printing to create a fixture that, when mounted on a sewing machine, folds and holds in place the pleats for face masks, reducing the amount of time it takes to make them. We shared the design online with a global audience. Now both companies and individuals around the world are utilizing the fixture to maximize the number of masks they can make for their local communities’ frontline healthcare providers.

“We’re thrilled the pleating fixture has taken off in popularity,” said Watson. “I’m really proud of our team for using their ingenuity to develop something that makes creating PPE a much faster process.”

Herman Miller and its partner brands are currently manufacturing 1,500 face masks per day to provide both our team members and healthcare partners with critical PPE to keep them safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A close-up image of a Herman Miller employee holding a face mask.

Acting Locally and Globally to Fight COVID-19

Our philanthropic arm, Herman Miller Cares, allows us to act locally to fulfill urgent needs in individual communities.

“We were founded on the principle that we have a responsibility to our communities,” explains Herman Miller Cares Director Linda Brand. “I’m proud to see how we’ve been able to have such a positive impact in the communities where our global teams work and live.”

West Michigan: Herman Miller Cares has invested over $100,000 in West Michigan programs helping to ease the stress on local resources caused by COVID-19. These include the Emergency Human Needs Fund at the Holland/Zeeland Community Foundation, Hand2Hand, and Kids Food Basket.

China: In Dongguan, our Asia-Pacific team is supporting Chuang Yi, an international charity that serves weak and disabled people in their communities. Our support will go toward distributing vital face masks to vulnerable individuals in their community.

United Kingdom: In Melksham, our Europe, Middle East, and Africa team is supporting the Trussell Trust Food Bank, a nationwide network of foodbanks that provides emergency food and help to people in vulnerable circumstances. The team has also dedicated funds to create visors with the 3D printers at our Portal Mill facility. They now have enough material to make approximately 100 visors per day, which they will donate to the local Royal United Hospital.

Mexico: In Mexico City, our Latin America and Caribbean team is supporting Sociedad Mexicana, an international charity providing continual medical education for respiratory healthcare workers. Our support will help provide diagnostic tests, laboratory equipment, and supplies for COVID-19 tests, as well as urgently needed PPE for healthcare workers.

Shining a Light on the Heart of Herman Miller

There have been moments in our own history, starting with D.J. De Pree’s decision to invest in “modern” furniture, where we’ve taken bold action in response to social change. While this crisis has affected us all in different ways, Watson and Brand agree that it has also shone a light on the hearts of Herman Miller’s people. The challenges posed by COVID-19 have brought out the best in our teams. The stories shared here are only a handful of examples of our team members using problem-solving design for the good of humankind.

Brand summed it up best: “Our mission of ‘inspiring designs to help people do great things’ goes so far beyond just creating products. It’s about using our talents to be a force for good in this world.”