Furniture Trends: Setting The Stage

By John Michael
From the May 2014 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

alternative officing

When thinking about the workplace of the future, what comes to mind? Are there cubicle farms as far as the eye can see? Rows and rows of treadmill desks? Or no physical corporate office whatsoever because everyone will be telecommuting?

The workplace is transforming at a rapid pace. Many of the discussions about the “future workplace” have been about technology, the millennial workforce (those born in the 1980s and 90s), concerns around telecommuting, and catering to different personalities. But one element missing from many of these discussions is how these changes will affect facility managers (fms)—namely, how they can ensure the furniture and interiors in their buildings are conducive to tomorrow’s workforce and be equipped to address the accompanying challenges while still meeting the needs of today’s employees.

After all, fms are responsible for coordinating the space, infrastructure, operation, and design of workplaces. They work with stakeholders to understand the best ways to strategize around impending workplace changes in order to meet shifting demands. There are several broad issues fms should note when considering not only the trends that are driving change, but also what can be done now in order to accommodate what is on the horizon for the workplace of the future.

Rethink Space And Furniture

As the workplace continues to evolve, one of the major challenges for fms will be using space and furniture in new ways to meet demands of the future workforce. For example, as more employees telecommute the already shrinking physical space offices will shrink even further.

Flex space
As workers become more mobile, both within and outside their organizations’ facilities, having flexible furnishings helps to facilitate productivity—for both the worker and the facility manager.

To ensure space for everyone, fms will need to understand these changes in the workplace in order to accommodate everyone—and when more space becomes available, they may need to create multifunctional arrangements to put newly available spaces into use. By planning open space strategically, fms play a crucial role in creating a variety of environments from large, open work areas that encourage brainstorming and interaction, to more private spaces for individuals who prefer that work style.

Not only is rethinking the use of space key to the workplace of the future, but rethinking traditional office furniture itself is an important consideration for fms. With the continued proliferation of mobile technology, it is critical to have furniture that further facilitates this mobility. Employees are no longer tethered to their desks; so, for the workplace of the future, furniture would be lightweight, mobile, and reconfigurable to meet employee needs. What’s more, some studies indicate that standing options promote overall wellness and make for happier, more productive employees.

Another critical way to use space effectively is to create breakrooms that promote overall employee wellness.

For organizations focused on keeping employee productivity high, it’s important to emphasize taking breaks. By outfitting an area of the office specifically for downtime, including providing comfortable furniture, fms can help encourage employee well-being.

Furniture is an important consideration for the overall comfort and appeal of the breakroom. Many facilities do not have a properly furnished breakroom to allow for relaxation. Employers can provide furniture that allows employees to unwind with their snacks and beverages and socialize with colleagues.

Consider Generational Differences

By 2025, millennials will make up about 75% of the workforce. As such, fms need to plan now for this and other significant shifts in occupant demographics. When it comes to keeping millennials engaged and happy in the workplace, a major area of consideration for fms is incorporating sustainability best practices.

Millennials in the current workforce are already demanding eco-friendly workplaces and are holding their employers accountable for sustainability. Not only will companies need to be transparent with employees on how sustainability programs will be implemented, but they need to show real results. Eco-friendly design elements, from furniture to lighting and flooring, exist now and are perhaps the easiest to implement to attract this growing workforce.

Fms can also make existing spaces more sustainable by using natural principles of heat, light, and temperature within the confines of the workplace. Not only will these elements help attract and retain the next generation of workers, but they will also improve the overall workplace environment for Baby Boomers and Gen X.

Employee-Centric Design

Another important aspect of the workplace of the future is an employee-centric strategy for design. A “one-size-fits-all” approach will no longer cut it, so fms need to consider how to cater to varying preferences and work styles of the employees in their organizations.

Allsteel alternative office
Photo: Allsteel

Many of the current workplace debates explore open versus private offices, but fms will need to start thinking in terms of how to incorporate both these elements under one roof. For instance, many extroverts prefer the open office environment that allows for serendipitous interactions and brainstorming, while introverts lean toward private spaces that allow for concentration and focus.

In order to maximize productivity in the workplace, the furnishings and design elements need to strike a balance. With pop-up individual pods, collaborative meeting areas, and a variety of furniture/layout options all in one workplace, organizations will be able to satisfy different preferences and meet the needs of individual employees.

In exploring trends affecting the workplace of today and tomorrow, it is clear that the traditional office environment is undergoing major changes. From the physical space itself, to advancements in technology, furniture, and generational considerations, fms need to be on top of current and future trends to ensure they provide a fitting workplace.


Fms have the distinct advantage of being positioned between business leaders and end users, and they have the power to maximize employee productivity, satisfaction, and overall wellness while also positively impacting business bottom lines. By recognizing the trends and learning to implement solutions into their furniture decisions and space planning layouts, fms can ensure their success in the workplace of the future.

With more than 25 years of experience in the contract furniture industry, Michael is vice president of furniture and general manager of furniture for Business Interiors by Staples.