How Steelcase is Rethinking the Workplace

Issue 62

Steelcase 360

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Check out the latest information on workplace research, insights and trends that will help you understand how people really work and how creating great space can make a difference.

The Steelcase headquarters building opened in 1983, when an office meant bulky computers, high panels, and long rows of lateral files. Digital storage, cell phones, and the mobile workforce were a long way off.

The building’s five floors and 360,000 square feet were selectively reconfigured, renovated, and repurposed over the years, but now the company’s Connect 12 project (named for the year the building renovation is complete, and how the building reconnects previously scattered departments) has provoked a careful reexamination of Steelcase’s global headquarters and the company’s overall workplace strategy.

The company applied the same tools and methods it uses with clients and design professionals, meaning a focus that is first and foremost about the user. The Steelcase Applied Research & Consulting group engaged its user-centered consulting methodology to help develop the strategy. Steelcase Workplace Surveys and sensor studies assessed needs for collaboration and concentration, mobility, privacy, adjacencies, storage, etc. The consultants analyzed workers’ informal networks, gauged worker satisfaction with their current work environment, and sought input on the types of workspaces needed now and in the future.

“We always work with clients to determine the specific behaviors that support the company’s unique culture,” says John Hughes, leader of the ARC engagement with Steelcase. “Steelcase is a collaborative, collegial organization, and it’s increasingly global and mobile. How can space best support local and distributed collaboration? How do you nurture communication, idea sharing, and other behaviors that foster innovation? For starters, you give people an environment that’s open and inviting, where discussion is encouraged, where random encounters lead to more idea sharing, and spaces where people can easily work together.”

ARC consultants led workshops designed to engage users in various experiences, such as mapping current situations to visualize the future. Users helped develop solutions through co-design exercises and evaluation of new work concepts and approaches. “Not only do you get better insights and ideas this way, but you get better organizational buy-in,” says Hughes. The result was workplace design strategies that reflect the ways people really work today and how they need to work in the future.

“When this building was designed, business was quite different, our company was different,” says Nancy Hickey, senior vice president and chief administrative officer for Steelcase. “We’re no longer a 9-to-5 organization. We have a new generation in the workplace, new attitudes and workstyles, new technology, new furniture and applications. This is a new interconnected workplace for a new interconnected world.”

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