Furnishing the Future Office
Finding the perfect piece of furniture for your home can be a challenging and rewarding experience that carries plenty of importance into your everyday life. Now imagine having to make a decision of that magnitude for a sprawling workplace with hundreds of employees, each with different aesthetic tastes and functionality preferences.
Adrian Welch, Regional Manager covering the U.S. Western Region for Orangebox, helps facility managers and their organizations with this issue. In the rapidly-changing office furniture industry, Orangebox has stayed ahead of the pack with its innovative designs that each serve a specific purpose while also catching the eye.
Could you start by telling us a little bit about your professional background and how you started working with furniture in workplaces?
Welch: I’ve always had a theory that you’re either born into the furniture industry or you fall into it. I don’t think many people actually seek it out from the start of their careers — I certainly fell into it.
I studied business at university in the U.K. I always wanted to travel the world so I ended up going to Australia for a couple years after I graduated, where I got a real passion for sales through learning to offer and sell various unique solutions. When I returned to the U.K., I joined the furniture industry with Barry Foley at Techo, bringing furniture products into the UK from the Czech Republic. I started there as one of the first members of the sales team and loved it from day one. I worked at Techo for 13 years, becoming Sales Director.
It was 2001 when I first started in the industry and Orangebox started around the same time. I was aware of Orangebox as they had created a strong brand buzz around them right from the beginning. Very innovative, very different, fantastic brand and culture.
In 2014, I found out Orangebox was planning to open in the U.S. My wife and I had always said if an opportunity came up to live and work in the U.S., we’d love to do it and Orangebox was a business I always admired so the stars aligned. I joined Orangebox over three years ago and spent six months travelling between the U.K. and the Middle East where we were restructuring the office. I moved to San Francisco in early 2015 to become Orangebox’s Regional Manager covering the U.S. Western Region.
“Smart-working and task seating define and differentiate [Orangebox] from other organizations in the same space.” Could you tell us a little more about this claim?
Welch: One of our co-founders, Mino Vernaschi, is a designer by background. At the very beginning of Orangebox, even in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, he saw the trend towards more open, fluid and collaborative workspaces.
Task seating and smart-working are at the core of what we do and it influences everything else. You see that in some of our latest products, the Away from the Desk range for example, takes the ergonomics of task seating and applies it to the importance of sitting and working in effective positions in lounge and collaborative work settings.
What are some of the keys to building a collection of office furniture that combines design aesthetics and functionality to create a piece of furniture that is both efficient and visually appealing?
Welch: Part of that is doing it over a long period of time. We’ve got a design, research and development team that’s 40-plus people strong and that’s all they do — they’re always looking at where to take the product next, but at the same time learn from what we’ve done in the past.
The latest versions of our products have been influenced by our end-users, the designers we’ve worked with and the partners we supply all over the world. I think a lot of it is that knowledge sharing, that understanding of what works and what doesn’t and you feed that back into the design, research and development and it just keeps moving everything forward. That’s why the really broad product platform today has evolved from learning every step of the way.
Which one of the office collections Orangebox offers have you found most successful and have you found that particular industries lean towards a certain style for their workplace?
Welch: In terms of the type of furniture that different industries are using, there’s definitely way more crossover than there was 5-10 years ago. I think that’s a trend that’s only going to continue.
I read recently that one of the biggest employers of tech employees is Domino’s Pizza. If you think about it, every company is a tech firm to some degree now. Technology is so prevalent in every industry and everybody is fighting over the same kind of employee type because it’s relevant to every industry in a way it hasn’t been in the past.
A law firm’s office might look very different to an ad agency or bank, but that’s definitely changing. We try not to predict too much what a particular client might want, because we can’t be surprised by which industries are really innovating and totally changing the way they’re working quite rapidly.
What a lot of employers are looking to do is to create more flexibility, future-proofing and really give their employees choice of how and where they work within the workplace. One of our products that has captured the imagination of many organizations here in the U.S. is the Air3 pod, it has a totally unique and innovative roof system. The Away from the Desk product is a component-based system that you can create thousands of different work settings with. Because it’s so diverse, you can create so many looks for different industries that you wouldn’t know it’s created by the same product.
What are some of the most important things for FMs to keep in mind when deciding on what kind of furniture they want to implement in their workplace?
Welch: I think one of the big challenges is what are they going to face in the future, beyond the initial installation? Trying to balance their decisions around the product choice and product type, not just based on that day-one decision but trying to understand how that decision will influence the pressures on those FMs further down the line.
I know from talking to FMs recently on some of our projects, it’s a hard thing because we’re a project-oriented industry. The decisions are usually based on best cost, the right solution and a particular snapshot in time. As FMs, you have to deal with the fallout of all that. There’s money to be saved further down the line, it can be a challenge for them to win the argument and to make a decision that’s going to be the right one as the business develops in the coming months and years ahead.
Some of our research highlights the importance of balancing the “3 P’s” of proximity, privacy and permission when planning or reconfiguring furniture — many FMs have found this a useful tool when deciding what kind of furniture to implement.
What do you think the workplace will look like with respect to office furniture within the next 5-10 years?
Welch: I think the blurring of boundaries will carry on. You walk into a hotel lobby — are you in a hotel? Are you in a coworking space? Are you in an office? The blurring of those boundaries is happening more and more. I think that’ll happen even more in the indoor and outdoor space, commercial and residential.
We’re already seeing all sorts of mixed-use buildings and with some of the projects that we’re looking at going into the future where it’s that idea of a real merging of work and leisure. If there’s one key trend I see carrying on it’s that blurring of boundaries.