The office has or will be changing forever. The office furniture industry has a history of chasing one size fits all solutions. Cubicles lasted for several decades, benching and hot desking came and Resimercial, making the office look like home or a student union building. The newer trends were largely designed to reduce real estate costs while selling it as the new collaboration environment. COVID has forced the industry to change and it wants a new one size fits all solution that every manufacturer that serves this industry can chase and do their version of! In my opinion that’s fool’s gold as every company does different types of work, has a different culture, different facilities, different community environment and they all have different financial means to make change.
I recently sat on a CES, Consumer Electronics Panel discussing this topic. The panels take-aways about where we are headed were:
1. More flexibility and accommodation on where we work
· More flexible schedules, more willingness to allow folks to work remotely, work from home multiple days a week but come in for meetings
· Some jobs may be able to be permanent WFH
2. The anticipated explosion of technology advancement that will improve remote work
· Challenges create innovation and COVID was the ultimate test from necessity for nearly every company to find new and potentially better ways of working remotely. New technology will soon advance this even further
3. More compassion and humanity to personal life challenges
· COVID has made company’s more employee centric, compassionate, and accepting of work life challenges. WFH will help employees, especially women better balance career and family as an example.
4. The shift of the company office becoming a cultural and community foundation but not mission critical for task work
· With more remote work, concerns for group safety, the high cost of living and real estate in many areas, etc. companies will have to get creative to not lose their culture or create a new one. Part of many companies is being a community. Silicon Valley is the best example of this with all the enticements…day care, free food, free social events, on campus housing, etc. Where do we go from here
1. Some corporate offices and campuses will shrink and have less task space. Task safe = private offices, cubicle, etc.…a desk to do work. Much of this work can be done where its less expensive and more convenient. Why should a company spend money on an expensive office building when COVID proved that many jobs could be done outside of the office?
2. The office and new technology will shift the office away from the place where all work gets done to a place to create the new culture and community of the company in a post-COVID era.
What does this mean for the Office Furniture Industry?
1. If I was a CEO of one of the Big furniture mega brands, I would be very concerned!
· There will be fewer mega projects of new office or remodeled offices that include many floors of ceilings, flooring, lighting, walls, desks and all the project management and installation work. These mega projects were what sustained these companies and industry for decades!
2. This shift will create opportunities for industry specialists!
· WFH, Remote work, task work specialists (desks, chairs, etc. for individual spaces).
· New distribution models and less dependence or need for dealers, designers, project managers and installers. Speed ease of doing business and cost will be the keys to success.
· Community, training and meeting space specialist (conference rooms, meeting rooms, large group spaces, technology infused spaces)
The office, commercial real estate and the office furniture industry have been permanently changed by COVID. The days of a one size fits all solution in what we used to call the office and how it gets done has changed. Flexibility and a willingness to embrace these changes will be critical for the suppliers to the industry. As customers and users of office furniture manufacturers are different than tech companies and they are different than service companies and they are different than medical products companies and the list goes. Even inside one of these companies engineers, accountants, sales, marketing, supply chain and customer service people all work differently shouldn’t the place and tools they have match the work rather than us modifying how we work to the office space we used to work in?
COVID was no fun but maybe as is often the case it has changed us all and forced us to really think differently. I believe that’s a very good thing for an industry that generally is slow to change and likes the comfort of constancy and sameness.