Steelcase Encourages Connections And Collaboration

June 6, 2008
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CHICAGO — "When you think about it, we're in a much more networked world than we've ever been, where social networks and technology networks are very intertwined," said Diane Ishmael, marketing director for Steelcase.

Steelcase has designed a group of products to meet the needs that come with such a network-oriented world.

Ishmael went on to note the changes in the way people work today, stating that in many cases, it is a much more collaborative process.

The overall theme Ishmael pointed to was "connections."

"We are developing solutions to help people connect," she said. "People connect to other people, to technology and information, to their tools around them that help them solve these problems, and also to the culture of their organization."

One way Steelcase has attempted to make those connections happen is through its new c:scape furniture line. Ishmael said one of its most noticeable features has been the removal of "actual physical barriers." Instead of traditional cubicle walls, spaces are divided in two ways. The first is by using partitions that can be changed depending on the level of privacy an employee needs and wants. There are also extendable screens that can fold out like an accordion to create a large or small private space.

Ishmael commented on how employees are bringing more technology with them to work.

"You think about 15 years ago: The technology people came to work and the technology they were going to work on was already there. Today, they're not only bringing in their work tools, but they're bringing in phones, and they're bringing in iPods, and all of that kind of stuff."

In order to accommodate the new technology of the work place, Ishmael pointed out a long beam that runs along the side of each cubicle and carries power and data. The beam is used instead of the traditional panel for "plugging in." The difference, Ishmael said, is that the beam allows more options through "flexible receptacles."

The flexible receptacles (which are somewhat like extension cords) are hidden in a storage unit within the desk. The storage unit opens at the top of the desk and allows employees to plug in their equipment.

Once plugged in, the storage unit closes to be flush with the rest of the desk to create a flat surface.

"The desk is actually just holding the things you need to work on and not all your cords and your little transformers and everything," said Ishmael.

Behind the desk are a series of drawers shaped for storing different tools. The top drawer has a soft padding on the inside to accommodate iPods, BlackBerrys and other small electronics.

Working alongside the c:scape line is media:scape.

"What media:scape is about is small groups coming together to collaborate," said Ishmael.

Media:scape is a conference table with infused technology. Ishmael shows an oval-shaped table that seats eight as an example. At both ends of the table are large flat-screen televisions used to project information from a person's laptop. Laptops connect to the screens through cables that are stored in "media wells," small storage spaces toward the two ends of the table. The two wells each contain four cables; each cable has a "puck." When a person presses the puck, that person's information is displayed on the screen and the puck shows a blue light to signal whose information is being shown.

"All eight people can have their computers and be plugged in at the same time," said Ishmael. "This is just much more seamless, and therefore more likely to happen — where those good ideas are more likely to be shared and talked about."

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