Visiting a large, international exhibition is always an experience full of contrasts. On the one extreme are the companies making products that do not look much different from their range 20 years ago and on the other are the companies that have transformed their portfolio, even since the same exhibition last time.
There will always be a (surprisingly large) demand for cheap, unimaginative desks, chairs and associated furniture that add nothing to the job satisfaction, productivity or sense of worth of a worker.
There will also be a small but entertaining array of ‘designer’ products that seem to be a victory of style over substance. Perhaps it’s my age – or my aesthetic insentivity – but I always have a sense of ‘emperor’s new clothes’ about such highly priced, and often impractical, concepts.
Much more interesting to me are the designers and manufacturers whose products embrace all aspects of modern employment.
I have been involved in workplace ergonomics for over 20 years and there is no doubt that the pace of change has never been faster and the assault has never been more multi-faceted. Gone are the days of the first mesh-back chair or the first height-adjustable desk – or the first counter-balanced filing cabinet!
Today we must embrace agile working whilst considering wellbeing and engagement, accommodating BYOD, understanding the ‘always-on’ generation and not forgetting the ageing workforce and, for good measure, not being distracted by the news that ‘sitting kills us’!
What is most exciting is the evidence that many companies are producing products to address these demands. This does not, of course, mean that they necessarily understand them! Whilst some manufacturers innovate to create demand, most are happy to respond to a market need. For example, over 100 companies exhibited sit-stand desks at Orgatec but I suspect that only a handful have anything more than a primitive comprehension of the psycho-social and cultural impacts of introducing this type of working to an organisation.
On the other hand, some furniture manufacturers are introducing technologies to improve communication and collaboration, forging partnerships with software, hardware and telecoms companies to truly integrate our different ways of working.
This means that it is even more important for the consumer to understand the wide-ranging issues affecting today’s workplace by assembling a multi-disciplinary team to plan any move or reorganisation. The days of ‘how many desks do we need and what colour are the chairs?’ are long gone!
But watch out – because the Internet of Things is coming fast and that is changing the landscape once again!