Architecture & Design and Manufacturing

But where can I put my picture of Fido?

Furniture makers design to balance nomadic workers, need for connection.

June 24, 2016
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Choice has become a buzzword in the office furniture industry.

Talk to any office furniture manufacturer and you will hear that it’s important to give employees a variety of work spaces within the office environment.

As floor plans are designed to increase choice, dedicated workstations are shrinking or even disappearing, leaving some workers wondering, “Where am I supposed to keep all of my stuff?”

In fact, one of Steelcase’s newest products — designed with the nomadic worker in mind — is a lockable personal console that allows an employee to store a laptop, headphones or other personal items at different workstations they might be at throughout the day or week.

While furniture manufacturers design products for a more transient office environment, companies also have to think about how to make sure employees still feel a sense of home and have a way to show off their individuality.

Sara Armbruster, vice president of strategy, research and new business innovation at Steelcase, said in office environments with less dedicated personal space there are options for engaging workers’ individuality and personality in their environment.

“We see a lot of people who are expressing themselves through technology choices,” she said. “More companies offer bring-your-own-device policies, allowing employees to make choices that reflect who they are to some degree.”

Armbruster said the choice factor can be an outlet for personal expression.

“Even though it’s different than having a picture of your kids or your dog on your office shelf, we have done research that has shown that for many people a new symbol of who they are is carried out by the choices they make in where they work and how they spend their day,” she said. “There are people who really like to hang out in the work café, for example.”

Armbruster noted dress codes have also changed at a lot of companies, another important avenue for self-expression.

At Steelcase, Armbruster said a company intranet originally was meant to connect employees working on company projects. It had the unintended consequence of allowing employees to express themselves and share aspects of who they are with their co-workers.

“It went from work-related groups to hobby and interest groups like a runners club and wine club and other groups.”

Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller, agrees that making sure employees feel a sense of home is important to worker retention and needs to be considered as employers design office spaces.

He said he thinks there are different ways to achieve that in the modern office environment.

“When I walk into Herman Miller, I see my bike hanging on the wall in the team room, and it’s really important to me. It gives me the feeling of ‘this is my space,’” Walker said.

He added, “I think for those mobile workers, if you really want to retain them in your culture, you have to find something that makes them know where home is.”

Walker said at Herman Miller the goal is to make sure employees feel as connected to the company as an individual as they feel as an employee.

In a global workforce where 37 percent of employees are disengaged, he said, it’s definitely important to figure out how to ensure employees feel like more than just a cog in the wheel.

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