This week, my group read an article called, “The Workplace of the Future,” summarizing an interview conducted by our very own Professor Kane with Sara Armbruster, the Vice President of Steelcase, an office furniture company. With the rapid change in technology and work space in recent years, Steelcase has been doing its best to adapt its products and services to such advancements that have dramatically changed and will continue to change office culture. At the core of Steelcase’s business is the need to have a comprehensive understanding of employee needs (both personal and professional) and the elements of a productive work environment. Steelcase has spent a lot of time determining issues that have arisen and will continue to arise as a result of technology changes in the workplace, as it wants to provide solutions that minimize these implications and instead capitalize on new technology innovations. Armbruster also highlighted that technology and office culture go hand-in-hand, and when technology does not properly align with a corporation’s culture, productivity decreases and issues occur. As a result, both Armbruster and Steelcase pay close attention to the culture of a company before making changes to the workspace, and actively anticipate the way employee behavior will change prior to any adjustments.
My group enjoyed reading this interview and we all found ourselves wishing that this article had been able to include more specific details regarding many of the products and services that Steelcase is developing. We were particularly interested in learning more about Spark, the internal social media tool that Steelcase uses, as a few of my group members noted the ineffectiveness of internal social media platforms at corporations that they have previously interned. We discussed how it is often very difficult for such social networks to be successful when employees see no real benefit to adopting the platform. We noted that the majority of top management in corporations with internal social networks are unaware that such a platform exists in their companies. The interview helped us to recognize that these internal social media platforms are likely unsuccessful because they are incompatible to the culture of said corporations.
We also briefly shared our opinions on video conferencing based upon our personal experiences with it. As a group we agreed with Armbruster’s comments about the “presence disparity,” or the idea that those physically attending a conference have a much more substantial presence than those who are video-conferenced in. We could all speak to having felt like an outsider when virtually separated from others. Additionally, one of my group members mentioned that she once attended an intern lunch where interns in other offices were video-conferenced in, and she commented on how awkward this experience was for all parties involved.
Personally, I really liked this article because it seems that Steelcase is making huge strides in the right direction in regards to increasing the efficiency of technology use in the workplace. More often than not, I feel as though the introduction of new technology has made corporations more inefficient. Although technology allows for easier access to one’s colleague’s, it makes it dangerously easy to avoid in-person interaction and discussion — thus, increasing time wasted attempting to communicate via other, less productive communication methods. I also firmly believe that many companies are quick to adopt the “latest and greatest” digital media tool without considering whether it is needed or will be helpful within their corporation. While I do hope to work for a company that is digitally up to speed, I have often worried about working for a company that is too digitally mature, or one that encourages the majority of collaboration and idea-sharing to occur over technology platforms. As a result, it is reassuring for me to hear about companies like Steelcase that are careful to make deliberate decisions regarding implementation of technology depending on the structure and culture of differing corporations.