Looking Back at NeoCon 2017 Workstation Trends & Themes

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Our key takeaways from NeoCon 2017 center around three themes: a lack of sophisticated technology enablement in collaborative workspaces, a growing acceptance of compressed polyester products, and a striking emergence of thought leadership from niche manufacturers in the workstation category. In this article, we will outline how specifiers, interior designers, architects, and operations and technology professionals can apply these insights to their workstation strategy. We’ll also give practical examples of ways to do so.

NeoCon 2017 Trend #1: Technology Enabled Collaboration Areas Drive Higher Productivity

For years, we’ve seen the gradual shift to office workspaces designed for higher collaboration. NeoCon 2017 brought a new twist to this trend, leading us to question what elements are essential in these shared spaces to truly inspire people to work together. Furniture products designed for teaming or even ad-hoc collaboration have been the hot product category for the past 3 years. 

Much of what we saw, however, did not support or coexist with the collaboration technologies that the most innovative companies in the world use. The problem is bigger than it may seem: according to Forrester research, employees avoid 29% of meeting spaces due to insufficient collaboration tools (Forrester, 2016). This provokes thought as to how much technology is needed, what kinds of technologies are necessary vs. nice to have, what is the cost, and what return on investment should companies expect to see for this outlay?  

The idea of “huddling” is universally understood as bringing people together to solve problems and foster innovation. These “huddle spaces” - communal areas designed for meetings of up to six people - are served by many manufacturers with lounge-like products peppered with whiteboards and the occasional auxiliary display. Marked by good styling and attractive materials, little if any of the products we saw were sensitive to making good use of collaboration technology. The fastest growing companies achieve their innovation goals when employees can quickly and effectively share their information. This requires easy access to collaborative technologies within huddle spaces. When designing a workplace to maximize huddle space usage, consider the following technologies:

  • Robust Wireless Networks: Employees are relying on both their own wireless devices and the supplied hardwired collaboration technology. Wireless networks should be designed to avoid limitations or dead zones where mobile devices won’t be able to function properly. If not, meetings can become delayed or canceled altogether due to the challenge of finding a way to get everyone connected. Design the huddle spot with the roaming wireless user in mind. Device charging stations don’t hurt either. 
  • Virtual whiteboards: Going beyond the traditional flat screen display can be a very powerful tool for sharing ideas among a team, working both within a huddle space and remotely. Choose whiteboard applications that operate in real time, store information in the cloud so that valuable information is not lost, and can be accessed by teammates offsite.
  • Video conferencing: To encourage adoption of video conferencing, huddle spaces must first make it easy and foolproof to initiate and connect the conference without delay. Not so obvious, the participants of the conference must also be visible and audible. Collaboration and video conference technologies deliver this, but if the environment or furniture is not adequately supportive, critical collaboration tools are rendered useless.
  • Office Information Security: Remember the WannaCry virus? The threats are real and ever-present. Including a guest network will help prevent network password misappropriations when visitors join a huddle area meeting. While it’s important to ensure proper network security, remember that employees are typically the largest source of security breaches. To help employees feel at ease with huddle spaces nearby, consider privacy screens for workstations near communal areas that are highly trafficked. Many of our clients restrict any kind of network access in areas where guests visit frequently, such as lobbies and cafeterias.

Clients and employees alike will thank you for better collaborative technologies. According to Forrester Research, 51% of business leaders report higher employee satisfaction, with a little over one-third seeing higher employee retention rates (Forrester, 2016).

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Read here to learn about the latest solutions that will help you integrate collaborative technology and cabling into conference room environments.

NeoCon 2017 Trend #2: Compressed Polyester Offers Higher Acoustic Controls for Workstations

Polyester, particularly compressed polyester, has followed the resurgence of felt and felt-like materials, appearing within the workplace in a variety of forms. NeoCon 2017 proved that polyester is making its mark in workstation design, of all places. Compressed polyester is a felt-like substrate - not a fabric - that is easy on the wallet and has terrific sound absorption potential. We’re seeing it on privacy panels, vertical faces of storage, and any other areas that blend acoustics and aesthetics.

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Innovant’s own workstations seamlessly integrate polyester cladding. The multi-functional panels divide workspaces, conceal cabling and serve as desktop storage, providing solutions that are both environmentally friendly and acoustically beneficial. At NeoCon, we were impressed by Silver Award winner Aura™ by Sis Ergo. These wraparound privacy panels, mostly made from recycled polyester felt, snap on to divide adjacent stations on a workbench.

NeoCon 2017 Trend #3: Niche Players Steal the Spotlight for Workstation Design

At NeoCon 2017, niche manufacturers stepped up to the plate, demonstrating thought leadership in the workstation design and development segment. According to industry experts, new products from big fish Herman Miller and Teknion failed to make a splash this year, and word on the street is that Haworth, Steelcase, and Herman Miller will “continue to be pushed by outsiders” (Monday Morning Quarterback, 2017). NeoCon 2017 showcased far more new product selections from smaller companies, signaling a higher degree of competition. At the end of the day, this works in favor of the end user. For the intermediaries who select designs on their behalf, the takeaway is this: there are great rewards to be reaped from looking further than the usual suspects when seeking the latest and greatest in workstation design.

Innovant’s latest integrated adjustable height bench was on display at our North Wells showroom this year. REX™ was developed as a base benching product upon which Innovant could deliver advanced tailoring capabilities. Nonetheless, in it’s out of the box format, REX has redefined the adjustable height benching category by delivering (finally) a product that perfectly conceals and manages cabling and technology to deliver a beautiful product without the mess usually revealed by work surfaces at standing height.

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Check out more of our thought leadership in the workstation category here

NeoCon 2017 & Beyond

Putting it all together, NeoCon 2017 showed us that the office design and furnishings market is at an evolutionary inflection point. The paradigm is shifting with greater thought leadership coming from less expected places. These innovations are expected to deepen already existing trends and introduce an environmentally friendly twist where possible.

Architects, designers, specifiers, operations and technology professionals, please weigh in here by commenting below. What is your view on NeoCon and beyond?

Sources:

Forrester Research. (2016, August). Digital Transformation: Achieve Agility and Innovation Through Collaboration Technology. Retrieved from http://compass.microsoft.com/assets/9d/ad/9dad58e1-e430-4f1e-bb3e-effa22c9c5d6.pdf?n=Digital%20Transformation%20_%20Achieve%20Agility%20And%20Innovation%20Through%20Collaboration%20Technology_Final.pdf [PDF file].

The Monday Morning Quarterback. (19 June, 2017). NeoCon 2017 Wrap-Up. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B6RxwwvbBCpHR0p1NDdyRGdZSDQ/view.