By Joseph S. Pete
Could your office use some freshening up to make employees more creative and productive?
Open-office designs, lounge settings and sit-stand desks were among some of the trends on display this week at the NeoCon design exposition in the Merchandise Mart.
More than 50,000 design professionals attended the premier expo of office and commercial design in downtown Chicago.
About 500 companies threw up showrooms in nearly 1 million square feet of exhibition space to show off chairs, desks, markerboards and other furniture for offices, universities and health care settings.
Visitors could see the latest office furniture products, prototypes and avant-garde designs, including the Belgium-based BuzziSpace's BuzziJungle, a playground-like work-lounge space that workers could clamber up to find somewhere to chat or catch a quick catnap.
The open-office design, popularized by tech companies like Google, remains in vogue, said Leo Welter, vice president of product marketing at Green Bay-based KI Furniture, one of the sponsors and largest exhibitors.
But that's also created the need for “third-space” modular, adjustable lounge areas that offer some degree of privacy, Welter said.
“Open-plan isn't going away - it's probably getting stronger,” he said.
“But at the same time, we still need to provide some private spaces, because workers need to retreat periodically. It's not meant to be an eight-hour space. It's meant to be a temporary space for focus.”
Neck-high wraparound walls around chairs in common areas offer workers some measure of visual and audio protection so they can take phone calls, have private meetings, or just concentrate on important tasks, Welter said.
“The problem with open-plan settings is noisiness,” he said.
KI Furniture also focused its Chicago exhibit on its Doni stack chairs, which features flexible backs for comfort and two-tone shells for corporate branding.
The corporate customers who buy such chairs have been looking to liven up their workplace with bright colors, partly to appeal to millennial workers, Welter said.