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By: Shelby Reno Company Jun, 16 2015

Office Furniture and the New Work Model

Growth trends in the expanding office furniture sector are no secret. MiBiz recently reported the uptick is significant, with a growth rate that’s doubled early 2015 projections. While this year’s revenue won’t break the $14.9 billion grossed in 2000—the industry’s best year on record—it’s still good to see the current trend line positive after a 30% drop in 2009.

Since the end of the Great Recession, X Ventures has seen this enthusiastic trend play out with tenants seeking larger space in order to make room for more team members. We’re also noticing a need for spaces to be more than just collaborative. Contrary to popular belief, the evolution of cubicle-style workspaces to collaborative environments doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of private spaces, which was an unintended consequence of many open floor plans over recent years by several manufacturers.

We’ve also been growing at X Ventures over the past several months, so now we’re experiencing first-hand the process of choosing the right space and the optimal furniture to ensure we’re making the most of our new digs.

I recently sat down with office furniture industry maven Mike Dunlap of Michael A. Dunlap & Associates. He and his partners at RDG Product Strategies Group have designed a host of new furniture products aimed squarely at creating solutions in office furniture that address technology, adjustability, collaboration, and singularity.

Dunlap agrees with the industry’s 2015 projections and believes we’ll see healthy growth continue into next year. “I’m on-record declaring the fourth quarter will show one of the best growth periods in a few years. Further, 2016 appears to be another solid year, with a forecast of $11.0 billion in USA production and $14.8 billion in consumption. These figures represent improvements of 11.1% and 22.3% over 2014.”

So, the data show the needs of the workforce continue to evolve based on smarter office layouts and technology, allowing for increased portability. Dunlap and his team have been working on several designs which harness the idea of flexibility and tech utility to a new level.

I was able to see first-hand several prototypes designed by Mike and his team spanning four specialty product lines. Each line features desks and tables where space utilization is central. Small item storage and connectable, mobile tables epitomize the kind of shape-shifting space attractive to businesses looking to get the most out of their people and their offices. The result? Tech-friendly, fluid, and efficient products offering elements of privacy, plus an optimization of tight space.

All of RDG’s products have a common theme: to support the user, technology, and how we work. “Smaller spaces don’t necessarily mean the loss of either productivity or privacy,” said Bob Russell, RDG’s Creative Director. “People are mobile by nature. We move to different places in our working environments, not out of personal preference, but out of necessity to meet, collaborate, and still have space to think without distraction.”

Crossover furniture, a term coined by Mike Dunlap in 2007, will soon become a commonality in any office setting. It derives from the auto industry’s idea of crossover vehicles, which were part sedan, SUV, minivan, and sports vehicle. “Crossover furniture is a blend. A decade or more ago, one could easily distinguish between a piece of furniture destined for the office, a school, a hospital, a hotel room, or our living room.” He adds, “That’s not always true anymore as each of these environments cross over one another.”

As new office spaces enter the market, it is imperative architects and designers recognize that today’s workers have far different needs than those of previous workforce generations. As an example, Dunlap points out, “It’s rare to see anyone younger than mid-30s show up at a meeting with a pad of paper to take notes. They bring their laptop, tablet, or other personal device. They aren’t being rude; they are being productive!”

After I wrapped up my long lunch with Mike, I had time to reflect on our discussion. Several things stood out. Of course laptops, smart phones, e-docs, Wi-Fi, and “the cloud” enable us to conduct our work from nearly any place at any time. We take these for granted.

Today’s best-designed office furniture should enable us to stay productive while in new office environments. We still need to collaborate to exchange thoughts and ideas, whether it’s face-to-face or on a flat-screen in a private pod, like RDG suggests we might use in the near future. We need to be connected!

It is clear to me that the “office of tomorrow” is really the office of today. Some might argue that it’s a perfect storm of the 21st century. The entry of millennials into the workforce accelerated by the fuel of ever-changing technology, plus the challenges from an aging Baby Boomer (1946- 1964) generation are spawning radical changes in how we need to develop workspaces for the next 10 to 20 years.

Hold on to your hat, fasten your seatbelt, and don’t get too comfortable. It’s going to be quite a ride!

RDG products
Photo Caption: RDG’s products are designed to be built with low capital investment and low tooling cost. One of the company’s ideas for a circular-shaped systems product uses just 50 components to make thousands of possible iterations.
RDG Product Strategies Group
Photo Caption: Mike Dunlap, along with Bob Russell and a third partner, started a new product development company, RDG Product Strategies Group, with the promise of providing cool new products at a fraction of the development time.

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