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Roundtable Roundup

IIDA’s 15th annual Industry Roundtable explored the intersection of culture, the workplace and social media. Here’s a sampling of what the experts had to say.

By Peter Conant

IIDA’s 15th annual Industry Roundtable explored the intersection of culture, the workplace and social media. Here’s a sampling of what the experts had to say.

Social media and the mobility of the office have revolutionized the way we work. In just a few short years, technology has made the business world smaller by connecting brands and people together on a personal level, from anywhere in the world. It has changed our work processes and the way consumers interact, perceive and learn about brands and companies.

With this in mind, the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) recently brought together key manufacturers and designers in the industry to discuss the impact of social media in the workplace at its 15th annual Industry Roundtable, entitled “Work: Who, Where and How: The Intersection of Culture, Workplace, and Social Media.” The discussion, led by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, focused on the new office environment, and the effective use of social media in communications and as a branding tool.

For starters, the younger generation has formed a powerful online community, and that is what they are now looking for in a work environment. They want to be able to engage with coworkers in a team atmosphere and on a more personal level, driving the change from fewer private offices to more group areas that enable collaboration.

And that isn’t the only change—the ability to work from anywhere, at any time is becoming more and more the norm. The idea of the virtual workstation is in full swing, and now includes coffee shops, hotel lobbies and home. This dovetails with a recent study by Haworth which showed that 58 percent of Generation Y (15-29 year olds) prefer to have a certain degree of flexibility in their work. Employees now have the ability to read Facebook updates before starting their day and check tweets on their phone while riding the bus. Communication between team members can occur through several different mediums—instant messaging, voice calls, web conferences or video conferences—allowing everyone to participate, regardless of their location.

This instant access to social networks makes it even more essential for companies to be thinking of the best approaches for connecting with their central audience. While the design firms and manufacturers at the Industry Roundtable may have different social media strategies, everyone assembled had one goal in common—to increase brand awareness, and reach their customers in a more authentic and effective way.

A panel of social media experts shared the newest trends and benefits of social media, and included Chris Bates, president of the Office Furniture Dealers Alliance (OFDA); Melanie Kahl, knowledge manager with Perkins + Will; Lira Luis, AIA with atelier lira luis, LLC (ALLL); Claire Monette with NELSON; and Jessica Statz, IIDA with Gensler.

The panel agreed that the core of social media is user engagement that delivers thought-provoking content that also forms and fosters relationships between the brand and its audience. Social media has taken on a variety of roles today including sharing knowledge, expertise and inspiration, along with supporting ongoing collaboration with clients, colleagues and the online community. It can also be used to tap into trends and cultures, promote events and products, recruit employees, and serve as an informal customer service agent.

Of course, interacting and responding to a large social media network can be a full-time job. For example, here at IIDA, we have grown our social media network to nearly 45,000 followers across all social media channels. We have two Twitter accounts, two Facebook pages, two blogs, a LinkedIn, Pinterest and YouTube account. A recent article in Perspective encouraged designers to take advantage of this vast social media network, even if it means hiring someone to do it. The payoff is worth it—with more than 800 million active users on Facebook and more than 200 million users on Twitter, the idea of not taking advantage of a free marketing technique seems out of the question.

Social media is an extension of a brand. It is a living, breathing, acting advocate, more so than anything else. Every friend and follower of a brand knows that there is an actual person on the other side of that screen who can respond in real time to questions, ideas and complaints. They know that someone is reading their comments and listening to what they have to say, which is an invaluable position to be in as a brand. Having a strong following on social media is like having an army behind you. They are your brand advocates and best marketers. People take recommendations from friends and make decisions based on what they say—whether it’s a restaurant suggestion or a product they are curious about, they will always ask the people they know first. That is why developing a social media branding strategy is so vital; it acts as a word-of-mouth referral service in the online world.

“At Perkins + Will, social media is shrinking the size of our global firm by making it easier to share news and information across sectors, individuals and locations,” says Kahl. “Amongst the marketing team, following other offices on Twitter has increased inter- and intra-office collaboration. Twitter has also allowed our local offices to deepen their presence in the design world of their own cities. As design professionals, we use social media to keep the pulse of design trends, meet design influencers, and contribute to and instigate design dialogues.”

The key is creating and cultivating a valuable relationship between your company and your followers. In order for your brand to have a strong following of users, it needs to generate interesting and unique content while maintaining conversations with those users. Social media allows brands to have a voice that shapes their image. The content, photos and links posted say something about the brand and what it values; this is what users look at. If they find value in what the brand finds value in, the relationship will grow.

The way we communicate and relate with each other in the business world has been greatly influenced by technology. The dynamics in the office have evolved to where collaboration is the norm, enhancing work relationships. The youngest generation in the workplace is coming to work to see the people they want to see—their team, their coworkers and their friends. It seems that, interestingly enough, work has become the new social network.


IIDA President Peter Conant, IIDA, AIA, LEED AP is the founder of Conant Architects in New York. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at