A case could be made that no prior moment in the long history of offices has been quite so uncertain as this one. No pundit can claim to know for sure how soon and how fully employees will return to their office workplaces. What’s more, there’s no certainty that when they do come back the office will be anything like those they left in March 2020.
Will office collaborations need to involve physical distancing? Will some semblance of traditional physical spacing once more be embraced? The answer is anyone’s guess.
Office furniture designers and manufacturers are betting the solutions will have to be agile, nimble and adaptable enough to fit all future scenarios, no matter how they play out. And many are engaged in unveiling new ideas on how to achieve that malleability.
For instance, Herman Miller has introduced Prospect Creative Spaces, a round structure housing a table and stools, as well as functional additions like coat hooks and marker cups. Featuring acoustic exterior pads that help reduce audio distractions, Prospect Creative Spaces facilitates visual thinking and teamwork among colleagues working within. Scribbling on a built-in whiteboard, or tacking up ideas on the pin-absorbing interior walls, colleagues can engage and problem solve collaboratively.
Meantime, Steelcase has unveiled Lite Scale, a 1/2-inch glass solution that can be used to slice and dice traditional corporate office settings. It can create an enclosed glassed-in area or can be used to erect a glass wall across an ordinary office space. Another Steelcase product, the Pod Tent, is a fabric enclosure that can be assembled quickly and can accommodate a small desk and chair to provide separation and privacy.
Also endeavoring to provide more flexible workspaces is Spacestor, whose tagline is “California Cool, London Design.” The company was launched in London 40 years ago, established a California office nine years ago and leveraged its work with Silicon Valley tech companies to better create original concepts reflecting the latest in forward-thinking workplace design.
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Two major shifts in the world of work helped create a demand for its products. The first was the increasingly competitive quest for talent that resulted when tech companies took on sectors like banking and finance in a hunt for the best and brightest young employees. The second was the ability of technology to untether workers from their fixed desks or even their fixed office workplaces, to roam anywhere.
Spacestor last month unveiled a new product called Verandas, designed with the recognition future offices will evolve and require flexible space solutions. It is a modular system that can adapt to the changing needs of employers, delivering a way to divide space to carve out social or collaborative areas. It features a scalable framework that can grow from an individual pod to a 12-person meeting room or larger.
“The time is right for Verandas because of the outstanding cry for flexibility in the workplace, so we can cope with further future change as necessary,” says Nic Baxter, Spacestor managing director, UK.
Verandas will be aimed at what Spacestor calls “the most environmentally conscious workforce ever.” The system is, the company reports, “inherently sustainable,” with reusable materials at its core. Finish options, accessories and add-on spaces, as well as an array of colors add functionality and form to the finished product. “The way we see the workspace evolving — and we’re already witnessing this being trialed and adopted by our most innovative clients – is [toward] future flexible zones and neighborhoods within one big floorplate,” Baxter says.
“There will be meeting rooms and even individual rooms, but these in their best form will also be flexible and adaptable as new ways of working continue to emerge . . . unlike any other moment in recent workspace history, everyone is reviewing how they use and deploy their space going forward. And we’re all more conscious now than ever that the only constant is change.”