Office furniture is no longer just a dull desk and color-matching chair. We’re finally breaking free from the cubicle and starting to understand that the right furniture can not only be an excellent aesthetic trigger, but may serve as something that boosts productivity, as well as our potential at work.
The times have changed and so has work environment. An attractive salary package is not the only thing that a modern employee is looking for. Flexibility, recognition and an office designed to stir the senses are usually just as important.
So what role does furniture play while thinking of the environment that inspires and attracts people to work at the office instead of that good old coffee shop around the corner? What’s trending in the industry and how to find just the right fit for your business? We gathered 4 architecture and design industry gurus to share their valuable insights:
Matt Driscoll, a founding Director of Threefold Architects Threefold Architects is an an award winning Architecture and Design practice based in London. They work on a range of project types and sizes and have recently completed the London HQ of Airbnb creating a truly agile workspace with no fixed desks.
Essi Kantonen, an Interior Architect currently working at a large Finland-based interior architecture agency dSign Vertti Kivi & Co dSign Vertti Kivi & Co is an interior design company that manages the whole design process from ideas to cost-effective project implementation. Their design projects vary from full concept planning projects to lighter facelift-type renovations. dSign is known for strong inspirational and flexible designs.
David Howell, a President of an architecture and interior design company David Howell Design (DHD) David Howell Design (DHD) is an architecture and interior design company of 22 people located in Union Square Manhattan. Most of their commercial projects are for companies in other creative sectors. They also design homes and new buildings in NYC.
Sarah A. Abdallah, a native New York City Interior Designer who recently started Functional Creative Design Functional Creative Design has an integrate approach utilizing and working closely with local artists and artisans. They work with clients through all phases of the project to ensure a client’s programmatic requirements seamlessly integrated into the space.
What role does furniture play in the process of designing a new office space?
Matt Driscoll: Furniture is central to the design of any workspace, almost all office based activities involve engagement with one kind of furniture or another. When approaching to design a workspace, the furniture has to be considered a part of the architecture as it is such a dominant spatial element. We tend, therefore, to design bespoke furniture as much as possible, in order that it may be a coherent element within the design and where the particular function or arrangement we look for cannot be achieved, with an off the shelf item. Essi Kantonen:
A good office design consists of careful layout and space planning which is based on client’s needs and ideas they wish to include in it. Furniture plays the role of the visual side with forms and materials but most importantly as part of a safe and ergonomic working interior.
It’s critical because it defines how the spaces will function from an efficient work perspective, but also socially – as work spaces are social spaces.
Furniture plays a large role in designing new office space. Though space planning is essential part of the design process and needs to happen first, understanding what the client’s goals are, how many occupants they want to have in their space along with all the programming is just as important. Once this information is reviewed in detail and test fit layout have been tested, furniture plays a large part of the design of an office space.
Sarah A. Abdallah:
Understanding and knowing scale of furniture can make or break a space ability to be functional and comfortable for the user; and it’s ability to foster collaboration between users.
How can office furniture choice enhance or hinder productivity, collaboration and engagement in the workplace?
For us, the furniture is fundamental to productivity, collaboration and engagement. In the workspaces we design, we seek to catalyze crossover and collaboration in a number of ways, through the creation of a variety of spatial environments suited to different types of working and by carefully orchestrating movement between and around different nodal and activity points.
There is a wide range of office furniture from more affordable pieces with less adjustability to more expensive ones which incorporate latest trends and knowledge of ergonomics and working habits. A decision which level of quality to choose is based on the client’s budget.
I always recommend to invest in quality office furniture whenever it’s possible – even if it would mean loosing part of the budget from “the nice decorative things”. Based on various different studies and practical experience, well optimized, supportive office furniture will eventually pay for itself in a form of productivity. It not only positively affects and enhances the physical environment in which an employee works, but also communicates of the caring and appreciative employer who is ready to invest in the well-being of the employee.
The choice of furniture is central to the concept of collaboration, or privacy, or at times learning by osmosis. Close proximity to your work team is at times very beneficial.
Sarah A. Abdallah:
Well, in co-working spaces furniture plays a big role. It dictates how people work and do business with both their own team and clients. Over the past five years we have seen large movement to combine hospitality, residential and co-working. This conceptual approach has led to open and flexible layouts that foster collaboration not only between ones own team but other members of the co-working space.
When working on Neuehouse New York which, I can say, was the first of it’s kind to explore how to fuse private membership, co-working space for the creative entrepreneurs with layer of F&B, hospitality with residential overlay; with an extremely detailed day and evening programs for networking and learning for members. Because of this extremely layered approach; having light, and loose furniture that was easy to move and having the option for that furniture to be easily rearranged in the front of the house was important to the clients needs. Additionally, because many entrepreneurs were working from home and because the creative industry was changing to more collaborative effort, we wanted to insure that having shareable spaces that psychologically reminds the user a feeling like your home away from home, we had several lounge groupings that you would see in your living room or at a hotel lobby.
Do you feel like office ergonomics is something that more and more businesses prioritize? What are some of the ways to ergonomically optimize your workplace?
We have found that businesses are increasingly interested in office design and the positive way in which it can enhance the productivity and efficiency of their workforce. They recognize that technology has allowed for working practices to change significantly. It has taken longer for workspace design to catch up and the shift has been lead by tech companies in creating looser flexible working environments.
As a practice, our interest is in moving this conversation forward and enabling companies to realize greater productivity form and happiness across their team. We started this with our Bridgeworkspace project for Bathroom Brands and most recently have completed Airbnb‘s new London headquarters which has no fixed desk locations for any employee.
In my opinion, more and more companies are willing to invest in ergonomic working environments. However, into what sort of great innovations employers would love to invest in is one thing, the cost is another. Here a furniture company as well as the designer are actually taking partial roles of a salesmen: how to convince with solid proof that ergonomics and such is a great investment? So solid research must be conducted beforehand.
Basic ways to ergonomically optimize the workplace would be (electrically) adjustable tables and chairs, different options to work: sitting, standing, even walking or laying down. Also creating an office interior which is optimized for current needs and adaptive for the future is just as important.
During that busy workday of a modern employee, it only makes sense to make our human body perform at its optimum potential.
Sarah A. Abdallah:
I do think that office ergonomics is getting more attention as the combination of work/play has become a lifestyle choice as we spend 50% or more of our time working. The challenges that I see with ergonomic office furniture is there is not a wide range on the market that is both esthetically pleasing and fits the branding already created for the client and also meets the clients budget.
When approaching you, what are your clients asking for in terms of office furniture? What are some of the major trends in corporate office furniture space?
Whilst the desk and task chair has a place in every workspace, their dominance as the primary element in the office has receded, mobile technology permits a whole range of seating and furniture options. For us, the focus is on unshackling people from the sedentary tradition of desk based work and encouraging nomadic working via a range of ergonomic conditions. Additionally, the boundaries between professional and personal space are becoming blurred with the work and homelife crossing over more in that environment.
Basically offices are still mainly asking for electrically adjustable tables of traditional sizes. But I also start to notice a need for different size desks, smaller than before as offices are trying to become more and more paperless. also desks, room dividers and other furniture that can be easily re-arranged are hot.
I think our clients are looking for a variety of experiences for their employees in the office environment: standing desks, lounge conference rooms, cafe style board rooms are just a few options.
What’s the process that your company follows when choosing office furniture to incorporate into your designs?
We first develop a central strategy based upon the clients brief and an in-depth understanding of how their business works, what their workforce does, and most importantly how that can change and how the design of the space can facilitate that. The furniture which is then chosen or designed must meet the functional requirements that we seek to achieve as well as be coherent with the overall approach in terms of design and materiality.
Mainly we use our reliable partners who we have experienced delivering products that always meet our quality standards. If new products arrive, we often want to try the product sample in our office before specifying a product for our client. We always try to keep up with latest products, trends and such to ensure the best possible service for our clients.
Does it fit the overall concept we have created for our client? Does it fit function and budget? Does it work with other selections and custom furniture we have designed? These are some of the questions we ask.
Sarah A. Abdallah:
It’s integrated into the overall architecture of the space.
Traditional, modern, funky, tech-enabled, ergonomic etc. With so many types of office furniture out there, how would you know what’s the right fit for your business?
We always try to understand and design what’s right for the business and then seek out the furniture to suit this.
An ideal office design project would start with a workspace consultant and workshops with the client and the employees to investigate and figure out the actual needs and wishes as well as getting a deeper understanding of the way the company works and their office culture. Through that a designer gathers valuable information to be used in the design process to achieve the best possible outcome. That is also one of the best ways to ensure better change management which often is challenging.
Sarah A. Abdallah:
Working with different types of clients the majority want things custom made for them and their brand. Customization at the very least what they need from purchasable products on the market.
What do you predict for the foreseeable future of office furniture and how will it be adapting to the changing workspace?
I think furniture design needs to continue to change and develop as working practices shift and change, I think modular systems with greater flexibility built in for solo and collaborative working will become more dominant.
Essi Kantonen: I can see more and more office furniture becoming modular systems for the need of transformable spaces. I see more furniture families which work together seamlessly and support the user at their work.
Furniture that supports a health and mobility + options for employees. Not everyone wants the same chair anymore!
Sarah A. Abdallah:
Flexibility, space saving and transformable furniture are key things for the foreseeable future… They also must be cost effect and have options for branding to exciting livable brand.
Office Furniture Is No Longer What It Used to Be…
What might have seemed ridiculous some time ago is now becoming the norm as business owners and facility managers are continuously bringing creative and funky furniture designs into their corporate offices. It’s no longer something special to see those lounge chairs or work tables with built-in USB ports and outlets so that you could recharge your smartphone while you work.
The Atlantic suggests that in the near future every office desk will automatically reconfigure itself throughout the day to adapt to the changing needs of workers. So be prepared to welcome more and more gadgets that are part furniture, part machine into your office. In the meantime, take a holistic view of your work environment when deciding what furniture elements can take your workplace to the next level.