The Workplace of the Future

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.

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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.

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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.

4 comments

  1. Nice summary. I confess that I – too – was impressed with what Steelcase is doing with respect to digital technologies. It’s nice to see companies that are forward thinking like this!

  2. Great summary and analysis! I also read this article and found the idea that digital tools are changing how work happens to be exciting, yet concerning if corporations do not adapt correctly. Like you mentioned, it is important for companies to choose the right technologies for their workplaces, and realize that simply having technology isn’t going to make business more effective. Organizations should consider human behavior and understand that even though the means to accomplish work are changing, the core behaviors of people at work (such as critical thinking, effective communication, collaboration, innovation, engagement) do not change.

    Our group thought the idea of a WorkCafe is really innovative and can successfully build employee culture in a company. At my internship last summer, every employee was allowed to order up to $15 on Seamless for lunch, and got to choose between a variety of places that changed each day. The food would arrive in the kitchen area and all employees would eat together, sometimes discussing work and coming up with ideas or solutions during this time. The creation of a space that blends the idea of work and social connection allows employees to be more productive.

  3. Great post, Christina! I totally agree that there’s a certain balance I look for in a company-I want the company to be innovative in regards to technology but not so far ahead that life at the office is completely digitized. Personally, I don’t think face-to-face interaction can be replaced by any sort of technology. I think the most productive meetings are when everyone is in the same conference room, can see each other’s expressions and feel the vibe in the room. It will be interesting to see how technology evolves in the workplace.

  4. Christina, you make a really good point about finding the balance between using the benefits of technology and maintaining in-person interactions (that said, technology makes it possible for us to have face-to-face conversations with people in other locations). I’ve always found a good rule of thumb for written communication to be that if the issue isn’t resolved or the message still isn’t clear after two replies, it may be time for a phone call, in-person meeting, or digital video-conference. I understand the “presence disparity”, but I think that issue is resolved when it’s a one vs. one conversation. It’s not a perfect solution, but with really good equipment I’ve had great experiences with video conferencing. I think the culture of the company, tone of the meeting, the leader of the meeting, and the number of people on each side of the screen play a huge role when it’s comes to video conferencing inclusion and success. I’m really interested to see how SPARK takes off. The company I interned for last summer had implemented the new tool; however, I wasn’t there to see it fully rolled out and to observe any best practices. I’m hoping that when I return this coming summer the company will have been able to transition users from other online platforms to SPARK with a specific set of standards for use. I agree with the article in the sense that the reason they have so many platforms for internal collaboration is because this particular company is a relationship based company and it very much reflects their culture. I think, as we discussed in class, that finding and sharing best practices and encouraging use is the best way to make SPARK and similar tools most effective.

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