Architecture & Design, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

Steelcase looks to introverts for latest designs

June 6, 2014
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The Susan Cain Quiet Spaces designs include workspaces like Flow, which encourage productivity for an individual or collaboration in a small group. Courtesy Steelcase

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) In her 2012 TEDx talk, Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking,” noted how today’s offices and classrooms have been designed for extroverts, with a focus on stimulation, leaving introverts at a disadvantage.

A lot of attention in the office furniture world has been paid to creating collaborative environments and spaces that optimize opportunities for interaction between co-workers. While this is all well and good, Cain noted focusing so fully on these types of environments means employers might be missing out on unleashing the full talents of one-third to one-half of their workforce — the introverts.

“Solitude is often a crucial ingredient to creativity,” Cain said.

Steelcase heard Cain’s call for more private spaces and settings that allow for autonomous work loud and clear, and the company teamed up with her to create a series of products it will be introducing at NeoCon this week.

“We started having these conversations with Susan a couple of years ago and it led to a natural collaboration,” said Chris Congdon, global director of research communications at Steelcase. “This year we are introducing some spaces that we’ve designed leveraging Susan’s knowledge as well as our own research about privacy.”

The spaces have been branded Susan Cain Quiet Spaces and include a variety of options.

The Be Me, Studio and Green Room spaces were each designed for rejuvenation.

For example, the Be Me space “allows introverts to be free from the gaze and interruption of others, encouraging vitality throughout a day by lounging, working or even closing their eyes for a few moments.”

It was designed as a warm and receptive space that gives people permission to be alone while at work.

Of the Green Room space, which mimics a living room, Cain said, “The furniture was designed to provide an intimate space to curl up and have conversations with colleagues. We want to create spaces that are private and social at the same time.”

Focus spaces include the Mind Share and Flow workspaces and encourage productivity for an individual or in collaboration with a small group of two or three colleagues.

“It was very important to me to have a space with bookshelves on the walls because they have symbolic as well as practical value,” said Cain of the Flow workspace. “They signal that here is a place of peace, quiet and deep thought.”

The Susan Cain Quiet Spaces include a feature that Congdon said is particularly unique.

“Probably the most important one is a product we previewed last year and is just coming onto the market now, which is VIA, which stands for vertical intelligent architecture,” she said. “This is a wall. It’s capable of a lot more than being a wall, but one of the most important things that it can do that is very unusual for a lot of wall products you would see from our industry is it has the ability to really eliminate sound in a way that moveable walls just haven’t been able to do. The way VIA is constructed, it basically seals up those gaps where sound can sneak through.”

Introverts aren’t the only ones craving privacy in the office either.

Congdon said Steelcase’s research has revealed many people have privacy needs in the office and have been dissatisfied at different points with office spaces that don’t balance collaborative and autonomous needs.

“The volume has really intensified as people have gotten more and more frustrated with the inability to control a couple of major things they are dealing with,” she said.

She said people want to be able to control both their level of information privacy and their level of noise and visual stimulation while working.

“There is so much coming at us in the workplace today,” Congdon said. “It’s coming to us in terms of disruptions we have electronically, our phones going off constantly or the barrage of emails that we are dealing with. It’s also coming to us in our physical environments. We have disruptions from unwanted noise, conversations that are taking place in the area, well meaning individuals who happen to see you and want to stop by and have a quick chat.

“Every time you are disrupted it takes time for you to get back into flow of what you are working on. So those are important aspects of privacy, being able to control your information and stimulation.”

Along with the Susan Cain Quiet Spaces, Steelcase has designed a variety of elements to help control visual and acoustical stimulation in more open environments, too.

“Privacy doesn’t always require that you go into a room with four walls and a door; sometimes you just need to be shielded where you can have some space division that can separate you visually,” Congdon said.

“We are also introducing a product called Elected Elements. That is really premium, quality places to be able to create. Workspaces that could be either for enclosed or open spaces; the focus there is on having a more calming experience.”

Congdon said the bottom line about Steelcase’s products at NeoCon this year is they are about giving people choice and control over their work experience and promoting overall wellbeing of individuals.

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