CHANGE OF DIRECTION

17 November, 2014

THE CHANGING WORLD OF OFFICE FURNITURE

GRAND RAPIDS--According to industry analysts, the office furniture industry has been shrinking over the last 10 years, resulting in it being about 25% smaller. One of the hardest hit areas is Michigan, where many of the industry leaders have been reducing manufacturing jobs and facilities.  

What is really driving this downturn?

Sure, it’s easy to point the finger at “economic conditions.” We haven’t seen the growth of jobs in the commercial sector that historically meant 'butts in seats,' the lifeblood of our industry.

But would you believe that a larger impact has actually been the shrinking workstation? In the 1970s, the average workspace was 12 feet by 12 feet. By 1995, it had shrunk to 10 feet by 10 feet. Today? A worker’s space averages a mere 6 feet by 8 feet… And it is shrinking rapidly.

As square footage of stations is reduced, traditional office cubicle panels are also getting lower. In many cases today, panels are even being eliminated completely and replaced by more open “benching” type solutions. Case in point, all major manufacturers are introducing a new workstation product line this year that contains no panels, but instead uses storage components to create a low visual separation between each station.

Why are workstations shrinking? What has changed?

Technology. Thanks to a wide array of work alternatives like e-mail, wireless Internet, and flex time, employees are working fewer and fewer hours at their desks. In turn, companies are investing less space and money into stations that just don’t get used. For example, whereas 10 years ago 90% of major company headquarter space was designated for workstations, today only about 60% of the space in new headquarters is assigned to these individualized spaces. Now more area is used for collaborative areas like coffee bars, lounges and touchdown spaces.

Collaboration. E-mail, web conferencing and other technological advancements provide easy, inexpensive means to communicate without face-to-face collaboration. However, companies recognize the importance and value of bringing people together. Social interaction is enhanced when people can see each other, hence tighter quarters and lower or no dividers.

For the first time ever, we have four generations in the workplace at once. Kids Today. You might not catch a Baby Boomer at Starbucks studying for exams with ear buds in their ears, but the Millennial Generation prefers an open, less formal work environment. As the Millennial become the majority of workers over the next few years, this preference for more open flexible work styles and environments will continue to increase and offices will change to meet their needs.

So what's the office furniture industry doing to grow and keep up with the ever-changing workspace?

At Tigetek Associates Incorporated or better known as 2nd Avenue Interiors, we are no longer focusing solely on commercial environments. As more of the workforce transitions to healthcare, education, and hospitality, with a large number of companies allowing employees to work from home, we have diversified our product offerings and expertise to serve these relatively new or changed markets.

With change happening faster than ever, we have also focused on finding ways to help companies navigate their way through this new landscape. We are no longer in a world where you build a new facility and then dump furniture into it. The best facilities today are designed around the people that will occupy the space. 2nd Avenue Interiors and AIS offer organizations a deep knowledge of how people work and combine that with great design for value far beyond just selling furniture. We bring more science and facility knowledge to the equation than ever before.

The office furniture industry must focus on addressing the organizational, human, and facility needs of a broad, diversified client base, and we must not forget the "Used" market as these changes will greatly the effect of Used in the future. More than ever, customers seek partners that support the triple-bottom-line goals of people, planet, and profitability. For those who deliver this value, the future is bright!

Robert (Bj) Hicks is President and CEO of Tigetek Associates Incorporated, the exclusive Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) for the Western Half of the U.S.  In the furniture business for 35+ years, Hicks was one of the first office furniture dealers with Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) accreditation. Further information can be found at www.tigetek.com  or by calling (916) 721-3220.

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