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Furniture Trends: Productive Provisions

Written by Trends Contributor. Posted in Construction & Renovation, Environment, Featured Post, In-Depth Articles, Interiors, Magazine, Safety, Sustainability, Topics, Trends

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Published on May 28, 2013 with 1 Comment

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.)

Ergonomics For The “Unassigned” Workspace


During the furniture pilot program, employees who work in various departments throughout GSK participated and provided feedback to the project team. Sit-to-stand workstations were a significant focus during testing, and this type of workstation is included in the facility’s final design. (Photo: Francis Cauffman.)

During the furniture pilot program, employees who work in various departments throughout GSK participated and provided feedback to the project team. Sit-to-stand workstations were a significant focus during testing, and this type of workstation is included in the facility’s final design. (Photo: Francis Cauffman.)

Good ergonomics is an essential part of great workplace design. The rapidly changing workplace environment and the increase in mobile working—including workspace strategies that employ unassigned seating, known as “hoteling”—call for a broader approach to good ergonomics. To date, the focus has been primarily on the assigned office/workstation, where the ergonomic tools were set up correctly when the employee moved in and then remained static. With unassigned seating, different people can sit at the same desk at different times, so the focus of the ergonomist needs to shift to ease of adjustability. Otherwise, employees cannot easily make adjustments, and the benefits of providing good ergonomic tools are lost.

My firm recently had the opportunity to explore this question for the new U.S. headquarters facility of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia, PA. This project provided an opportunity to pilot and prototype furniture solutions that actively address these challenges. More than 1,300 employees would be working in the new facility.

Ergonomic education and training work well on day one when people move into their new offices, but these efforts only go so far. Intuitive ease of use is critical by day two. A case in point is task chairs. There are plenty of good ergonomic task chairs in the market—many of which have seven or more adjustments. In the last few years, the market has seen the introduction of a number of good ergonomic task chairs with only four adjustments: seat height, seat pan depth, arm adjustment, and tilt preference. The advances in mesh technology in these chairs provide dynamic lumbar support and proactive ergonomics. The result is a task chair that can be adjusted quickly and easily; this makes it much more likely that employees will actually make the adjustments.

GSK’s facility is based on an “activity based workplace” with no assigned seating, and desks are provided on a 1:1.2 person ratio. To ensure these goals were met, we implemented a prototype and pilot program with the company’s employees to develop the custom furniture. From an early stage, height adjustable bench style desks were chosen to promote movement in the workplace by provide both seated and standing working options. By collaborating with product engineers at three different furniture vendors, we developed prototypes to test options for electronics cable management, location of power and data outlets, adjustable monitor arms, and worktops with ergonomic friendly front edge details. Options were installed and tested by a group of 60 employees in a “Smart Working” pilot area over a period of several months. Based on user feedback and a thorough ergonomic evaluation, a number of items in the prototypes were modified.

GSK has placed a strong emphasis on promoting movement and avoiding a sedentary work position. With unassigned seating it is important that when an employee arrives at a desk, he or she can quickly make the necessary ergonomic adjustments and get to work.

The final desking solution is a custom modular benching system with full sit-to-stand height adjustability—10% of which are electronically adjusted, with the other 90% crank adjustable. While many people make use of the standing option by raising the desktop, others lower it below the typical industry standard desktop height. In addition to simple and intuitive adjustments to the task chair and desk height, we provided a fully adaptable monitor arm, which can be readily moved or tilted to suit individual preferences.

Movement and customization are promoted in several other ways at the GSK headquarters. Trash bins and pull printers, for example, are centrally located, and require employees to walk to them for use. Each employee is provided his or her own keyboard which, when not in use, is kept in a personal locker. Finally, lighting is an important factor in good ergonomics. As the primary task is computer work, the general lighting level has been reduced to 25 footcandles. When a higher lighting level in required (such as when reading paper documents), individual LED task lights can be used.

GSK at the Navy Yard provided an opportunity to explore ergonomic principles within a non-traditional workplace. The comprehensive design process and evaluation of furniture were acknowledged by the achievement of an Innovation Credit for Ergonomics under a pilot credit for LEED for Commercial Interiors (CI). Through pilot prototyping and collaboration with vendors and GSK employees, valuable insight was gained and lessons learned in meeting the challenges of this dynamic work environment.



Campbell is principal and director of workplace strategies with Francis Cauffman, a firm providing architecture, interior design, and planning services. He has more than 30 years of experience as an architect with a focus in workplace design. Campbell is also a Certified Office Ergonomics Evaluator.

Beyond Ergonomics

By Anne Vazquez

In February 2013, 1,300+ GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) employees moved into the company’s newly constructed U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia, PA. The 208,000 square foot building delivers on a concept that the company has been focusing on for at least a decade—implementing smarter ways to work. To that end, this four story structure was designed with no private offices, affords outside views to 90% of interior spaces, and is equipped throughout with wireless connectivity.

GSK has been located in Philadelphia since 1830, but that didn’t mean management wanted to keep the status quo. In the new space, employees are not assigned workstations; rather, they have the opportunity to work in different areas each day. Individual, adjustable height desks make up about 70% of workstations, while 30% comprise team tables.

Donna Bruno, site director and Ray Milora, project executive for GSK’s Navy Yard headquarters facility. (Photo: GlaxoSmithKline.)

Donna Bruno, site director and Ray Milora, project executive for GSK’s Navy Yard headquarters facility. (Photo: GlaxoSmithKline.)

From the time the move was announced in early 2011, Donna Bruno, site director, real estate & facilities for GSK, was busy decommissioning the company’s 800,000 square feet in Center City Philadelphia while preparing occupants for their new working environment.

To make the “office free” concept work, the GSK facilities team implemented several crucial measures. These include a “lighten up” program that called for: reducing paper use by 90%; giving every employee just one file drawer (upon request); removing personal printers; and discontinuing the use of landline phones.

Meanwhile, Ray Milora, project executive for the facility, was involved in the design, construction, and move management. Noting the pilot projects conducted with employees, he says involving occupants throughout was key to success. “We really amped up employee engagement. For instance, the decision to buy the chairs we did was heavily influenced by employee input. We brought the pilot data back to the core team, and it was a point right alongside price and availability considerations.”

Having worked in GSK’s IT department for the past 10 years, Milora also took the lead in many of those areas. “This wasn’t just about facilities solutions, but also technology solutions,” he says. “We’ve done a lot in the past few years to enable what we have now, including standardizing certain video technologies and moving all functions to laptops, including phones.

The facility has been certified LEED Platinum for both Core & Shell and Commercial Interiors from the U.S. Green Building Council, making it the first double LEED Platinum building in Philadelphia.

Reflecting on the project, Bruno agrees with Milora that engaging employees early in the process, and frequently, enhanced the success of their relocation. “The first move was 900 people, and they were set up and working by noon that day. The second move two weeks later was the same way. All of the preparing and the engagement paid off in the end.”

Vazquez is editor-in-chief of TFM.

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.

About Trends Contributor

Trends features take a detailed look at some of the significant product related news that will be shaping the selection process for facility managers in the future. To read more Trends articles, visit this link.

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  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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