Furniture Trends: Productive Provisions

Combining different seating options helps to meet the needs of occupants in certain settings. At Boston College Law School, this room is configured to facilitate conversation and study. (Photo: Creative Office Pavilion)

By Greg Nemchick and Cheryl O’Neil
From the May 2013 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Choosing office furniture has never been a one-size-fits-all endeavor, but the forces at work in today’s information intensive environment make the need for spaces that support different work styles and different applications more important than ever. And the task of creating those spaces becomes even more complex when facility managers (fms) take into account overall organizational priorities relative to real estate allocation and budgetary concerns.

Reflecting on current industry trends, there are several key change drivers fms should keep in mind, if they’re not already taking these into account for furniture procurement.

Individual workspace reduction. The size of workstations has been on a steady downward slope—from 10′ x 10′ to 8′ x 10′ to 6′ x 8′ to 6′ x 6′. Meanwhile, panel heights have been dropping—from 82″ and 74″ down to 54″ and lower. In many cases, the panels are gone entirely, and a benching solution is the preferred choice.

Greater emphasis on collaboration. Along with the trend towards reduced individual space, many organizations have cut back on the use of traditional workstations and private offices and are replacing them with more collaborative meeting spaces.

Photo: Creative Office Pavilion
Collaborative spaces come in many different shapes and sizes, but the goal is the same—to provide employees with comfortable and convenient areas to work together. Meanwhile, creating facility spaces that feature natural light is another trend being used in many office settings. (Photo: Creative Office Pavilion.)

There has also been a move away from larger conference rooms to smaller huddle spaces or quiet rooms that support up to four people, along with deployment of more informal meeting spaces, lounge seating in the open plan, and coffee bars. The goal is often to create a neighborhood where team members can be more collaborative, creative, and comfortable—an approach that aims to boost productivity and employee retention and ultimately drive return on investment and increase the bottom line.

Increase in green office policies and practices. Research has shown that associates are happier and more productive when natural light is available in a workplace. With the increased use of lower panels, light is flooding into the facilities, and moods are elevating. In addition, the move toward locating private offices at the center of floor plans and placing associates out on the perimeter and near windows represents an exciting change from past thinking. This promises major benefits for productivity and morale. Also being observed in the industry is greater use of glass fronts in private offices to foster transparency and create a connection with upper management.

Greater emphasis on flexibility and variety in work environments. Today’s workforce is one of the most diverse ever, not just in terms of work styles and activities but also in terms of the different cultures and values each of the four different generations at work brings to the table. Creating a space which responds to all of these occupants is no easy task, and it is putting a premium on solutions that offer a high level of flexibility and adaptability.

Addressing the needs of mobile workers. Mobile workers represent another key constituency whose needs must be addressed. How often should they be brought into the office? Where will they work while they’re there? How do they need to be connected to the permanent internal team, and how should the floor plan and furniture support all that and a host of other needs?

A mobile worker is defined as an associate who works part-time from home or a remote office. It has been stated that 34.9% of the global workforce would be mobile in 2013 and that the United States and Japan have, by far, the highest percentage of mobile workers in their workforce (Source: IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Worker Population 2009-2013 Forecast).

These workers come into the office to collaborate with their teams, so connection is mission critical here. It is imperative that they are located adjacent to or within their respective teams.

Increased use of architectural walls and raised floors. More and more organizations are taking advantage of the flexibility and financial advantages that come from the use of walls that can be assembled, disassembled, and reconfigured more easily and efficiently than traditional drywall. There are also significant environment benefits to be gained from this approach relative to keeping product out of the landfill.

In addition, the ability to reconfigure wiring and cabling without core drilling makes reconfiguring a snap.

Emphasis on one-stop sourcing. As part of an overall effort to reduce soft costs, an increasing number of purchasers and influencers are making a conscious effort to generate new efficiencies by reducing the number of suppliers they work with. As a result, some furniture dealers whose offerings once might have been limited to a traditional mix of workstations, casegoods, filing, and seating have been adding products such as sound masking, audiovisual equipment, mailroom furnishings, specialized filing, demountable walls, and raised floors to be a one-stop shop for a range of workspace needs.

To maximize this scenario, fms will want to communicate with all of their prospective suppliers (dealerships), disclose all needs early, and examine those firms’ capabilities, references, and potential to handle as many of the aspects of a project as possible. Many contract dealerships are prepared to outfit interior spaces with more than the furniture, and fms can find the savings to be substantial as they narrow down the participants and write less purchase orders. (To read about the recently completed global headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline in Philadelphia, PA, which puts many of these trends in practice, see the accompanying stories below.)

This highly dynamic environment is challenging virtually all the stakeholders working in the office furniture industry—fms, manufacturers, architects and designers, and dealers—to create new and innovative products and use them in new and innovative ways. This underscores the wisdom of what a great quote about the office furniture industry and what its stakeholders do. Sadly, its author is unknown, but that does not make the insight any less meaningful: “We provide solutions. Furniture and the rest of the products are what we leave behind.”


Nemchick is president and CEO of WorkPlace Furnishings, an association for office furniture dealers in North America. Before joining WorkPlace Furnishings, he served as vice president of sales for Chasen’s Business Interiors in Richmond, VA, one of the largest Herman Miller dealerships in the United States.


O’Neil is vice president, workplace strategy at Creative Office Pavilion, a contract dealership based in Boston, MA. She has 25 years of interior design experience.



  1. Businesses spend countless hours reviewing CVs, interviewing candidates, and agonizing over each new addition to the team, yet the SPACE where employees will spend the bulk of their time is never thought about and often not designed at all! Your article is great as it address the needs of employees and the importance in addressing those needs can have in terms of increasing productivity and profitability.

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