Start in the “Maker Commons,” where you can hang out on slim sofa-type benches and manipulate white board sketches on a large screen. Then, when it’s time to hunker down and work on your own, head for “the Brody” — a self-contained pod that looks similar to what you might get in first class on a modern airline. If you need to check in with coworkers, they’re probably nearby in the “Duo Studio.”
These names may not be familiar in most organizations, but they’re three of five different environments that have been designed by Steelcase, a maker of modern office furniture, and set up in its Toronto-based WorkLife Center, which has been souped up with hardware and software from Microsoft. The two firms are trying to convince businesses they’ll get more from their employees — including not only productivity but better ideas — if they can surround them with spaces that stimulate creativity and collaboration.
In a research survey conducted by Ipsos Reid Canada on behalf of the two firms and released on Thursday, one in four executives said motivating and empowering employees to be their most creative selves is a big challenge. Eighty eight per cent said it was an important factor in creating a workspace.
According to Gale Moutrey, vice-president of communications at Steelcase, the company’s partnership with Microsoft started after both firms’ CEOs met and recognized similar interests: creating a connection between technology and a sense of place to foster better work in the enterprise.
“Traditionally when you’re setting up an office environment you’re working with real estate, HR, and the technology is discussed after the fact,” she said, adding that in other cases technology needs are determined first without thought to the furniture that will surround it. “We pride ourselves that we make furniture, but we also want to make great environments for people.”
Jordon Sheridan, general manager of the Modern Workplace team at Microsoft Canada, said the company’s research findings show that some companies might have up to five different generations working together at once, which means a range of ethnographic needs have to be factored into the design of an office.
“It sounds like something you inherently understand, but the ability to create a space that enables creativity is challenging,” he said. “We’ve always set up workplaces, but now it’s also that notion of adding work spaces within those work places.”
Besides the tours of the Steelcase Worklife Center, Microsoft is extending its Modern Workspaces campaign with a series of videos that include executives from LinkedIn and designers such as Canada’s Bruce Mau talking about the changing world of work.