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Office Furniture Enhances Collaboration with Relaxed Styles

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — In the 1999 film “Office Space,” Peter Gibbons rails against the stale corporate culture where he works, especially the “cube farms” he perceives as a kind of prison. “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth! We weren’t meant to spend it this way!” he rants. “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles.”

While he played the line for laughs, professionals concerned with interior design and creating healthful and functional offices took the much-lampooned office culture of cubicles and sterile furniture to heart. Today, the interior design in many office environments would stun the workers of three decades ago.

It’s all part of a steady shift toward encouraging collaborative workspaces, say three design professionals, Chris Plichta, Joe Sylvester and Paul Hagman.

“For as much time as we spend at work, we don’t it want it be formal or unlivable,” says Plichta, account manager for Ohio Desk in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. “We want it be more relaxed.”

No one could mistake Ohio Desk’s showroom in Boardman for a scene from “Office Space” or the comic strip “Dilbert.” It resembles a lounge or coffeehouse more than the traditional office. “From a trend standpoint, we are seeing much more influence from the millennials coming into the workforce,” Plichta says. “So many are used to working in more of a collaborative environment, and they don’t want the structure we’ve had in the past.”

Ohio Desk features a space where employees can work together in a relaxed environment in one corner of the office, or where they can get away and contemplate during the workday. “It’s a more casual type of spot,” Plichta says.

Employee engagement and wellness have become two of the more important considerations for upper management and senior executives, Plichta says, and collaborative spots or coffeehouse style “getaway” areas reflect that.

More traditional employee work areas are shrinking in size, Plichta says. Where employees at Ohio Desk once had a 12-by-12-foot space with lateral files and a large workstation, they now have a 6-by-6-foot space with one lateral file drawer. Electronic files and the ubiquity of laptops and monitor arms have led to smaller desks.

Employees can adjust the heights of the desks and the positions of their seats – or stand before their desks, if they choose, the last option becoming increasingly popular, Plichta says.

“Research is showing that next to smoking, sitting at your office is probably the worst thing you can do from a health standpoint,” he says. For those who would rather sit, the funiture maker Steelcase has developed the “gesture chair,” which can be adjusted to allow nine postures. “The whole point is to reduce any type of pain points or any type of ergonomic issues,” Plichta says.

For when the visual distractions of an open office become too much, Ohio Desk features another Steelcase product, the Brody WorkLounge modular workstation. “It gives you a cocoon effect,” Plichta says. The chair has an enclosed design to allow privacy and features a work surface on a swiveling arm, storage space, an armrest and an LED light.

The trend toward open offices is one that JS Interior Innovations also is seeing, says Joe Sylvester, CEO of parent company Joseph Sylvester Construction Co. “It’s still the open office area that’s popular, but you also need some flexibility and privacy,” he says.

Both openness and privacy are evident when Sylvester explains the glass conference room in his company showroom in Boardman. Its visibility sets it apart from a traditional conference room, Sylvester says, but privacy, when desired, is easily achieved. Acoustic panels, which can easily be attached to a wall, absorb sound and keep conservations from being overheard. To keep presentations on monitors and electronic devices private, a transparent window film can be switched inside the glass – rendering all monitors invisible to those outside the room.

“The glass conference rooms are popular,” Sylvester says, “but even more popular are the movable walls.” The walls of the conference room itself can be moved and reconfigured at will. “In a matter of hours, I could take this apart and move it across the room or change it to something else,” he says. “It’s considered furniture.”

Some furniture at the JS Interior showroom, much as with Ohio Desk, looks more like a coffee shop or college campus than a traditional office. Made of flexible polyurethane foam, “Feek” seating typifies the more relaxed style of today’s office spaces, Sylvester says. “This just isn’t for daycare anymore,” he says of the brightly colored pieces. Feek can be ordered in customizable designs and colors, and it emphasizes the casual and creative, says manufacturer Trendway.

The Feek seating is complemented by low tables called “Coffee House tables. Your thighs are at the same height as the table,” Sylvester says. “So if you’re working on a laptop – which is very big these days – you could slide your laptop or iPad directly on the tabletop in front of you,” he says.

“It’s almost like going back to college campus days where everybody hung out at the rec center or hung out together.”

Helping to create functional and more pleasant spaces is an aspect of space planning or architectural programming, as it’s sometimes called, says Paul Hagman, president of RBF CoLab Architecture and Design, Youngstown.

“I always insist that clients go through a process called programming, which is predesign,” he says. Clients need to think about the kind of spaces they need and how they’ll use them. Offices, conferences room and related space should be designed with traffic flow patterns and the size and positions of the furniture in mind, Hagman says. He recommends that clients write a checklist before he begins to design.

“When it comes to office planning, you have to spend the time defining the needs,” he says.

Besides the practical considerations, design itself influences how people interact with and emotionally respond to spaces, Hagman says. “There’s no doubt that design, whether it’s office space or residential, can have a big impact on well-being.”

Pictured above: Chris Plichta says workspace trends are influenced by millennials coming into workforce.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.