The Next Generation of Office Design

Twelve years ago, the office furniture industry was enjoying a golden age. United States companies shipped over $13 billion worth of product in the year 2000, following a boom of rising demand, and it seemed as if the sky was the limit to our success. But the next decade was not as kind: the industry saw steady declines of production throughout the first three years, enjoyed a slight reversal of that trend between 2004 and 2007, and then suffered its worst blow ever as the economic downturn hit in 2008. U.S. office furniture production shipments fell a staggering 29% in 2009 – bringing the market value to roughly 60% of what it was at the beginning of the decade – and sent companies running for the hills.

But what would a fall be without a rise? The industry has begun a slow and steady climb back to prominence, recouping roughly half of the lost production market throughout the last three years, and moving towards exciting and innovative frontiers.

How does an office furniture dealer thrive in a world where the idea of an "office" is not a cubicle in some city high-rise, but a kitchen counter, a bedroom desk, or a table at a wi-fi cafe? What function do the old ideas and ways of doing things have to a generation of kids destined to make their living from a wide range of talents and opportunities rather than a single focused skill set and a steady 9-5 job?

It turns out that the old ideas still do have a place, but only when paired with innovation, flexibility, and increased customer appreciation. Interphase Interiors has recognized all aspects of this shift, and we have seen that awareness reflected in a steady market share growth – even as the rest of the industry has declined around us. 2012 is set to be another record-breaking sales year for us, and that success has come largely from understanding the generational and technological shift in the workplace and recognizing that each customer has a different idea of what a workstation should be.

For a lot of young people, the idea of an office is almost obsolete. The need for a permanent workstation (or for commuting to a central location) is becoming less and less common. Privacy is not the requisite factor it once was. Younger generations prefer working in a more collaborative environment, with activity and noise all around them. If they need a moment to themselves, they generate one by listening to music through earbuds and using it as a conduit for personal productivity.

But beyond a youthful and boisterous atmosphere, the most important aspect of workplace design has become the incorporation of technology. Slick, fast and easy communication is an absolute staple, whether through WebEx, teleconference, or simultaneously sharing multiple computer desktops on a single large screen. Files can be made available, by one click of a mouse, on office-wide servers, and conference calls can be executed through the web or over video chat clients like Skype and Google chat. And employees can work almost anywhere, with office computers entirely accessible from an iPad, a Kindle, or a remote laptop.

All of this was almost unthinkable a decade ago. Even as recently as the 2008 recession, the office furniture and design industry had a completely different face. But with technological advancement moving at a rapid pace, and with more young people joining the workforce than ever before, adaptability, innovation, and advancement have become pivotal keys to success. Our world is changing rapidly, but the office furniture companies that can help lead their customers through that maze of change will be the leaders of tomorrow!

Keely Eagle is manager of Interphase Interiors, the exclusive Haworth dealer in West and Northern Michigan for more than 30 years. Interphase is a 2012 Best in Class Haworth Dealer. Further information can be found at or by calling (231) 941-4454.