Reimagining the Workplace

The smart workplace will appeal across the generations employed in today’s workforce and will require more flexibility, adjustability and choice than ever before.

by Robert Nieminen

As much of the design community gears up for the annual NeoCon World’s Trade Fair, there’s a sense of anticipation building. What will North America’s largest contract furnishings tradeshow have to offer this year that will inspire designers to push the boundaries of existing models of workplace design? Which new product offerings and trends will rise above the rest and capture the imaginations of the more than 40,000 attendees that will soon converge on the Merchandise Mart in search of the next big idea?

To whet your appetite, we’ve compiled a special preview of the events and showrooms you won’t want to miss while you’re visiting Chicago this June. The show’s organizers are known for tapping the brightest minds in the industry for its keynote and educational sessions, so be sure to turn to check out this month's Happenings department, where you will find a listing of a few events and exhibitions you’ll want to make note of.

We’ve also compiled our annual NeoCon Product Preview to give you a glimpse into the vast array of new products that you’ll find throughout the permanent and temporary showroom floors. And if you missed the Interiors & Sources Materials Pavilion last year, make sure you get yourself to the 8th floor (8-2130) to explore the newest, most innovative materials and finishes on the market, curated by designer and materials historian Grace Jeffers in partnership with the experts at Material Intelligence. Check out the Materials Pavilion sources page for a glimpse of what you’ll find in this hands-on, one-stop shop of decorative products from the industry’s leading suppliers.

As anyone who’s been to NeoCon knows, however, it’s more than just a tradeshow; it’s a three-day conversation about how the corporate office as we know it is being reimagined.

Manufacturers and designers spend countless hours conducting research into the way people work, how new technologies enable them to do so more effectively, and how well-designed environments can support new modes of conducting business. Even while new questions are arising about how mobile our workforce really needs to be, and companies like Yahoo! are herding their employees back into the office from the teleworking pasture, so to speak, what is certain is that rigidity is an obstruction to the design of effective corporate environments.

IIDA International President James Williamson muses on these challenges in this month’s IIDA column. “So what will the workplace of the future invite for those who inhabit it? If collaboration is the key to innovation—as Yahoo! asserts it is—and productivity is also a major concern, there’s no way we can simply return to previous office models,” he suggests. “New work environments will have to integrate aspects found in the traditional workplace with decidedly new sensibilities that take into account the altered needs of workers who have become used to working in less formal and structured surroundings.”

The smart workplace will appeal across the generations employed in today’s workforce and will require more flexibility, adjustability and choice than ever before, notes Amanda Carroll, senior associate and workplace practice area leader in Gensler’s New York City office, in our special State of the Industry report. “The old model of designing workplaces that establish boundaries and limitations through architecture, infrastructure and organization of resources (or lack thereof) is something of the past. Users now have control and choice, and the smarter workplace enables this,” she writes.

This issue includes several prominent examples of workplaces that have been reimagined to adapt to the evolving needs and styles of today’s workforce. Learn how HDR Inc. designed its Kingston offices to create a modern, collaborative-friendly space while being respectful of both its local and historic roots, or discover how by questioning everything, Rapt Studio was able to create a dynamic corporate environment for Adobe’s new Utah campus. And don’t miss our feature story on the new headquarters for online image management company, who enlisted Studio O+A to design a bustling new headquarters inspired by Thomas Edison’s original Menlo Park lab.

Wherever you turn in this issue, we hope you encounter something fresh that will challenge, inspire or help you question the status quo. And we hope to see you in Chicago!