As technology plays an ever-growing part in our daily lives it is also becoming more prominent in the workspace; new tech-based products, systems and uses are regularly presented to modern workers and processes are constantly advancing. Meanwhile, commercial spaces have become more agile and the flexible office trend has topped the office furniture industry in recent years. Hence, the incorporation of technology within a workspace now often legitimises a business or brand, as well as creating a more flexible and collaborative environment for staff.
Focus is also placed, more than ever, on wellness and ergonomics within the work environment. Industry professionals are likely to have encountered white papers that analyse the negative effects of a poorly designed chair or of remaining seated for too long. To be successful in the world of work, staff should enjoy connecting with new technologies that, when incorporated cleverly into spaces, can create new opportunities, increase productivity and improve communication between workers.
Desk and seating areas should be simple, interactive and intuitive and no doubt many members of staff will expect their technology to be as seamless as those that they use outside work. It is often the small details in workplace furniture that can make a big difference to an office’s functionality and help its staff on a daily basis – cable management solutions, monitor arms and multi-functional desks or seating.
With all these factors in mind, it’s an exciting time for office furniture. Leading product designers are creating a whole host of deskspace additions and accessories that are teaming technology and connection with clean aesthetics and organisation, flexible use and ergonomics.
“Technology has created working trends,” says product designer Jonathan Prestwich, who has created several such products for the likes of Arco, Allermuir and OPM. “Firstly it tied people to a desk, then it gave the freedom to work from home and now it’s bringing people together to collaborate.
“As working trends change with technology, the furniture needs to support this and make sure that it doesn’t become complicated to use. In fact, we are working on the opposite at all times, making sure that the less technically minded people can use their working environment with confidence.”
Prestwich has addressed an increasing demand for technology in office furniture, using it as another opportunity to add style and aesthetic to workspace interiors as well as function. His Arco cable socks can be used to refresh the design of a table or desk as well as managing lengths of cables. And his Engage Table for OPM was designed to hide large amounts of cable – but within a triangular section of the legs, which gives the table its unique appearance.
Claremont is a leading provider of commercial interior design, fit-out, furniture and technology. When it comes to the role of detailing such as cable management, power sources and storage in its office designs, they “might seem like the small details but they can determine how well a space really performs”, says Ann Clarke, joint managing director.
“What use is a highly creative breakout space meant for impromptu team meetings if there’s no power to charge devices? And how can you maintain a sleek, clutter-free office without adequate provision to store work and personal items? It’s vital to consider every aspect of how a space is used at the outset of a project otherwise these seemingly small details can overshadow the efficacy of the finished workspace.”
For Claremont, creating office fit-outs that incorporate function and style is a balancing act. “It’s our job as workplace designers to create concepts that reflect our client’s priorities and that’s as much about getting the aesthetic right as it is the function and form of the space… Interior design is all about balance – balancing the client’s wants and needs and creating a space that fulfils every part of the brief. Aesthetics will always be a
Humanscale is a brand that continues to create new products that promote ease of use and flexibility of the desk space. Their monitor arms, task lighting and standing desk solutions move seamlessly and effortlessly. They also share an incredibly sleek aesthetic appeal.
Recent addition to its product range, M/Connect, is a USB 3.0, dual-video docking station that can be added to the base of any Humanscale monitor arm. The universal connectivity hub splits the dock into two parts: a USB hub on the desk surface makes the USB ports and an audio jack easily accessible, and the dock itself stays under the surface. More permanent connections and cables are hidden under the desk, saving valuable workspace.
Humanscale’s QuickStand Lite solution can be used to transform any fixed-height desk into an active one. An adjustable keyboard and monitor arm platform maintains stability while the user types and an intelligent counterbalance mechanism enables the user to transition from sitting to standing position with ease.
“When you arrive at your desk, the last thing you want to be thinking about is setting up your workstation and getting connected. You want it all to work in unison and to start working without any stress,” says Kirsty Angerer, associate ergonomist at Humanscale. “With M/Connect, instant accessibility to high-speed charging points allows us to be so much more productive. QuickStand encourages movement throughout the day, which is something many of us lack when we come into the office.”
Humanscale argues that the agile workspace might be shaping the future of office furniture but it is the responsibility of designers to incorporate ergonomics within designs. “Essentially the agile way of working focuses more on the fact that working is an activity rather than a place and shouldn’t necessarily be defined or restricted by the location of the task… We need to start thinking about these other spaces in an office environment and making sure they are fit for purpose for the users,” says Angerer. “Product interventions combined with our commitment to work safely are needed to ensure long-term musculoskeletal health.”
The rise of soft seating integration is providing alternative style options and challenging notions that tech-centric furniture is rigid and industrial in its design. Matrix 6 saw collaboration between Frem Group, psychologist Dr Craig Knight and designer Rock Galpin. The flexible collection of soft seating features embedded technology, including multi-touch, personalisation, meeting duration monitoring and space utilisation.
The collection is all about providing employees with improved concentration and personal connection by combining acoustic/visual controls, style and integrated technological connectivity through wi-fi and Bluetooth. Technology is at the centre of the design as is the comfortable, informal soft seating.
“The design typology I use stems from a very carefully considered balance between the semiotic definition of hard and soft,” says Galpin. “The ‘hard’ attributed to focus, efficiency and accuracy, and the ‘soft’ to friendship, exchange and warmth. The aim was to combine the right balance of both hard and soft expressed through style, form, colour and materiality to create the most compelling product and enable the best output or result.”
Allermuir, which is known for its original, design-led products, has also explored the “soft” office detail. Named after the Baudot code, the predecessor to Morse, the company’s new Baudot series of acoustic sculptures help staff maintain focus within the open-plan or industrial-style office. The sculptures combine striking design with a practical function.
They come in a variety of playful forms and can be used to divide or define spaces, while the acoustic absorbent materials effectively diffuse sound. Once again, the design aims to ensure that the changing workspace environment still allows for the greatest productivity and wellness of staff.
In the future, Prestwich suggests that we will probably see “technology merge with furniture to the point where we won’t know it is there”. These various additions to office furniture will be “designed more and more with stimulation, comfort and wellbeing in mind and the [integrated] technology performing without us needing to give it thought”.
New technologies are being integrated into office products that can help to resolve those day-to-day issues that make a big difference to productivity