The Natural Solution to Improving Employee Performance

Reduce Stress and Absences

Does a connection to nature in the workplace affect your bottom line? 

The University of Oregon discovered that 10% of employee absences could be attributed to architectural elements that did not connect with nature, and that a person’s view was the primary predictor of absenteeism. They tracked employees with like responsibilities and workload and compared their attendance over time to find that the employees with no views to nature took more sick days. How crazy is that?

Beyond attendance, something as simple as access to light makes employees happier. Research shows that happy employees feel more valued. And employees who feel valued are more likely to stay with their current employer, which makes the business case for decreased employee retention costs. Often just 13-15 minutes of exposure to natural light is enough to trigger the release of endorphins or "happy hormones”—an effect that can counter the consequences of Seasonal Affective Disorder.


Turning our attention to stress, we know that exposure to nature is beneficial as well. Swedish scientists introduced study participants to a demanding math task to stress them out. When participants were finished, they asked them to sit in a 3D virtual reality room designed with nature scenes and birdsongs. What they found was that the heart rates of the participants in the nature room returned to normal more quickly than those who were asked to sit in a plain room.

“Harvard physician Eva M. Selhub, co-author of Your Brain on Nature, offers an antidote for the technology-addicted,” said John Scott, Haworth Senior Workplace Design Strategist. “Spending time outdoors is like turning off the stress responses in your brain (and switching on the reward neurons that allow the higher brain centers to be accessed), resulting in increased concentration, improved memory, greater creativity and productivity, and reduced mental fatigue.”

Views to the outdoors can also nudge employees to take a visual break from close work at hand, giving their eyes a moment to refocus. In fact, research shows that, oftentimes, a “lightbulb” moment in the thinking process occurs when we allow our minds to wander a bit while looking off into the distance. So maybe, the next time you think your colleague is just daydreaming, cut them some slack—they could be on the verge of the next big idea.


But what if your workplace doesn’t have access to outdoor workspaces? You can bring the outdoors in. Simply providing access to natural light, views of the outdoors, and fresh air offer profound improvements.

“Birds in the background, soft winds, or a hum of general outdoor activity can provide non-distracting background noise to help you concentrate and focus— known as convergent thinking,” said Lynn Metz, Haworth Vice President, Architecture and Design. “When you need to strategize and imagine solutions, an outside view—particularly one with a horizon line—can allow your eyes and mind to rest, enabling you to do divergent thinking. These views can relieve strain and provide brief, pleasurable moments to gather thoughts or noodle on ideas. You can recharge, stave off burnout, and return to high-performance tasks much more prepared.”

Haworth recently collaborated with real estate development firm Coretrust Capital Partners on their LA space, which includes a fresh-air terrace to bring the outdoors into their space. At their headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles—known for its appearance in the 1980s television drama series “LA Law”—the firm’s leadership decided to transform their space for the benefit of their customers. Their new Workplace Innovation Labs (one in LA and another in Philadelphia) offer a showcase of work environments to demonstrate ideas that would resonate with customers and their people, both now and into the future.

Explore Coretrust Capital Partners’ Workplace Innovation Lab in LA through a virtual tour.

Future Leadership Offices

Designed to be Transparent, Accessible, and Versatile

Picture a corporate leader’s office. Does an image of a corner room come to mind? One that is spacious with a huge desk, a few chairs, and an impressive view?

As rising real estate costs are shrinking workspaces, there has been a push to make leadership spaces less status-driven and more productive.

“Leaders are telling us that it’s more about functionality and what the needs are.”

- Jackie Neerken, Senior Workplace Design Consultant, Haworth

Conveying Openness

To see the future of leadership offices, you need only walk through Haworth world headquarters in Holland, Michigan. A working showroom, our space illustrates this shift in thinking about executive suites. Instead of status and hierarchy, leaders’ offices convey openness and collaboration.

Members, our term for employees, can borrow Chairman Matthew Haworth’s or Chairman Emeritus Dick Haworth’s offices for meetings when the two are away. “We really do encourage people to think of them as small conference rooms, especially because Dick is here only three days a week and Matthew is frequently traveling. It makes sense,” says Virginia Conklin, Executive Administrative Assistant to Dick and Matthew.

Another unusual element about the executive offices at Haworth are the glass walls. Their purpose is twofold: draw in natural light and reflect the company’s commitment to transparency and accessibility between management and staff.


Ensuring Privacy and Focus

In open-office designs, sharing space is embraced for its benefits in collaboration and communication. However, closed environments are required for certain tasks. “Visual privacy is still important,” explains Neerken. “People don’t want to feel like they are in a fishbowl.” Measures should be taken to ensure needed privacy and focus.

Glass walls in our leaders’ offices at Haworth are double-paned for confidentiality. When the door closes, very little sound escapes from inside. The auditory privacy feature often gets tested when client groups come through on tours. One of three glass walls enclosing Matthew’s office is frosted because it faces a hallway. This way, when people walk down the corridor, they aren’t a visual distraction to anyone working inside—whether it be Matthew himself or the members temporarily using his office.


Supportive Tools and Flexibility

In Matthew’s office, there are two distinct work areas. One is a desk surrounded by three Poltrona Frau Downtown chairs for task-focused work, while the other is a trio of Poltrona Frau Archibald lounge chairs, creating a setting for conversation. If there are more than three people, chairs from both arrangements can be pulled in to provide additional seating. The space also features Bluescape technology and large-scale, high-definition, multi-touch screens, which make it conducive to group brainstorming or planning sessions.


Leaders’ Values

Those who come into the executive spaces at Haworth get a sense of our company’s leaders and their values. Dick’s office, for example, is accented with his awards, family photos, and collectibles. On the wall across from his desk is a painting by his daughter titled “Prayer at Sunrise.” These personal touches create a feeling of warmth and human connection.

Guests can (and often do) leave messages on Dick’s desk, which—like the office walls—is made of glass. “When he came in yesterday, there were seven notes handwritten on his worksurface,” says Conklin. “He always enjoys reading them.”

See more ways the leadership offices at Haworth address the changing nature of work.

Can’t Focus at Work?

How to Help Employees Focus

Your deadline is approaching, and you’re engrossed in your work. Suddenly, a colleague stops by to ask a quick question. While that interaction may be helpful to your colleague, your work has been derailed. You might be able to get back to your work relatively quickly, but your frustration grows because you can’t tolerate many more disruptions. Far too often this scenario plays out in our work lives. Not surprisingly, inability to complete focus work continues to be a top employee complaint. Why can’t we solve this problem?

Focus work, it turns out, is difficult to define. It’s more than just doing work by yourself. Lucky for us, science is hard at work pulling apart how we all do our best work. To better understand how focus work gets done in the workplace and what can sabotage it, we conducted a series of experiments in Haworth’s Human Performance Lab. Here’s what we’ve learned.

The Download
Depending on the specific task and the level of expertise the person has at it, visual and auditory distractions—combined—can create drops in performance anywhere between three and 23 percent, on average. Wowzers! Why such a large range?

Our results and existing research tell us that successfully completing focus work depends on the person and the task, in addition to the environment. How so? Our brains are like prediction engines. Newer research is providing evidence that our brains continuously gather and assess information about ourselves, our world, and our place in it via our senses—much of it under awareness. It is hypothesized that, when what our senses are gathering easily fits with what we already know, our brains predict what is about to happen. When we get better at predicting what is about to occur, we need to pay attention to less and less outside information to achieve our goals—eventually allowing us to move through our world with relative ease.


The Upside of Your Prediction Engine for Focus Work: Efficiency
How does that translate to focusing at work? Well, the more you know about a task, the easier it is for you to accomplish it. Take reading in your native language, for example. You can zip through a two-paragraph email quickly. (Sometimes we read so quickly, we may skip over details and end up misreading it. Still, reading a two-paragraph email well can be done easily.) On the other hand, pretend you’re planning a vacation abroad and you’re learning that language. If that same email was in that “new-to-you” language, it would take much more time and effort to accurately understand its meaning. You’d have to pay attention to how characters form words, recall meaning for those words, then place that meaning in the right order to fully comprehend it.

This illustrates the difference between working from a place of learning versus working from a place of expertise. What may take an intern one hour may take a more seasoned employee 15 minutes. Both can complete the task well and with similar results, but one has more experience, so the task is more predictable, automated, and expedient. Now, layer in the appropriate amount of time a specific task requires, or how long you need to sustain attention to the task. This also varies. One person may plod along to prepare a report well before its due date—working on it in chunks and taking natural breaks in that work—while another may have a looming deadline for that report and needs to complete it all in one sitting. Each of our “prediction engines” function differently, but as long as those predictions are good, it’s smooth sailing. It’s when our prediction engine detects an error that things go awry.

The Downside of Your Prediction Engine for Focus Work: Distractions
When something unpredicted occurs, our brains are designed to bring that unpredicted event to our awareness—our attention is captured. For example, sirens and alarms keep us safe because they are designed to capture our attention. However, not everything that captures our attention is necessary (e.g., when a coworker sneezes). Anything that captures our attention is a “distraction” from our task and will reduce task performance. Not only that, distractions can come from both our internal and external worlds. We have our own internal chatter and states like stress, fatigue, or hunger to contend with.

Managing Distractions for Better Performance
Leaders have the power to help us manage distractions. While we are best at managing our own internal distractions and can control some external distractions, we do better when we have autonomy, freedom to choose where to work, and some control over features of our workspaces. Creating appropriate barriers, work zoning, and neighborhoods, and providing cultural approval for using tools to manage personal distractions can go a long way to assist with our efforts to focus. When these are available, we can choose the right things that best suit our personal and task needs.

“Leaders have the power to help us manage distractions … we do better when we have autonomy, freedom to choose where to work, and some control over features of our workspaces.”

—Rebecca Johnson, Senior Research Specialist at Haworth


Maximizing Focus Work Efforts
For internal distractions:

  1. Learn how you work best and be intentional about setting yourself up for success. What time of day do you seem to sail through difficult tasks? Right away in the morning, just before lunch, or later in the evening? Do you manage better when working off lists? What type of distraction is most problematic for you?

  2. Take care of yourself. Rest or take a break when needed. We all perform well when we have more resources. Often, choosing to skip a brief break at work in favor of “pushing through” will result in lower quality work and increased stress. Also, when we have internal chatter, it’s best to acknowledge it, take note of how you’d like to deal with it, and then set the task aside for a time that you can devote to it. Other useful tactics are mindfulness, briefly engaging in an activity you enjoy, and acceptance.

For external distractions, interference, and interruptions:

  1. Utilize boundaries: Select workspaces that have physical boundaries such as walls or partitions, or choose zones that are meant for focus work. (These spaces present fewer unexpected events.) Orient yourself or use tools (such as headphones) that prevent unwanted visual and auditory distractions.

  2. Create boundaries: Block off time in your calendar to complete your work the ways you do it best—this prevents others from scheduling events that could disrupt that work. Accept calendar appointments that clearly define why your presence is being requested. That idea is gaining traction, according to one LinkedIn article that touted this mantra: No agenda, no attenda.

  3. Set clear boundaries: Those who aren’t efficient while at work can feel the need to take tasks home at night to complete them. This kind of “work creep” is an issue and can contribute to burnout. Some companies find reducing the work week increases productivity because it motivates workers to find ways to be more efficient with their time.

  4. Last but not least, have conversations with colleagues about how each of you works best. When we know and understand each other, we’re better at managing our expectations.


Different work activities often compete with one another, focus work tasks themselves can differ, and people's abilities differ. There are lots of these little things we can do to stay focused. It gets back to my philosophy that the person doing the work is best at deciding what kind of work environment they need to perform well. So, we need to know how we best work, and organizations need to honor that we’re all not the same and will have varying needs. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Knowing the ways that focus work is task- and person-specific can help organizations create a workplace—its culture, policies, and workspaces—to meet employees’ focus work needs.

Dive deeper into the research by reading our white paper "Why We Can't Focus at Work".

Future Leadership Offices

Designed to be Transparent, Accessible, and Versatile

Picture a corporate leader’s office. Does an image of a corner room come to mind? One that is spacious with a huge desk, a few chairs, and an impressive view?

As rising real estate costs are shrinking workspaces, there has been a push to make leadership spaces less status-driven and more productive.

“Leaders are telling us that it’s more about functionality and what the needs are.”

- Jackie Neerken, Senior Workplace Design Consultant, Haworth

Conveying Openness

To see the future of leadership offices, you need only walk through Haworth world headquarters in Holland, Michigan. A working showroom, our space illustrates this shift in thinking about executive suites. Instead of status and hierarchy, leaders’ offices convey openness and collaboration.

Members, our term for employees, can borrow Chairman Matthew Haworth’s or Chairman Emeritus Dick Haworth’s offices for meetings when the two are away. “We really do encourage people to think of them as small conference rooms, especially because Dick is here only three days a week and Matthew is frequently traveling. It makes sense,” says Virginia Conklin, Executive Administrative Assistant to Dick and Matthew.

Another unusual element about the executive offices at Haworth are the glass walls. Their purpose is twofold: draw in natural light and reflect the company’s commitment to transparency and accessibility between management and staff.


Ensuring Privacy and Focus

In open-office designs, sharing space is embraced for its benefits in collaboration and communication. However, closed environments are required for certain tasks. “Visual privacy is still important,” explains Neerken. “People don’t want to feel like they are in a fishbowl.” Measures should be taken to ensure needed privacy and focus.

Glass walls in our leaders’ offices at Haworth are double-paned for confidentiality. When the door closes, very little sound escapes from inside. The auditory privacy feature often gets tested when client groups come through on tours. One of three glass walls enclosing Matthew’s office is frosted because it faces a hallway. This way, when people walk down the corridor, they aren’t a visual distraction to anyone working inside—whether it be Matthew himself or the members temporarily using his office.


Supportive Tools and Flexibility

In Matthew’s office, there are two distinct work areas. One is a desk surrounded by three Poltrona Frau Downtown chairs for task-focused work, while the other is a trio of Poltrona Frau Archibald lounge chairs, creating a setting for conversation. If there are more than three people, chairs from both arrangements can be pulled in to provide additional seating. The space also features Bluescape technology and large-scale, high-definition, multi-touch screens, which make it conducive to group brainstorming or planning sessions.


Leaders’ Values

Those who come into the executive spaces at Haworth get a sense of our company’s leaders and their values. Dick’s office, for example, is accented with his awards, family photos, and collectibles. On the wall across from his desk is a painting by his daughter titled “Prayer at Sunrise.” These personal touches create a feeling of warmth and human connection.

Guests can (and often do) leave messages on Dick’s desk, which—like the office walls—is made of glass. “When he came in yesterday, there were seven notes handwritten on his worksurface,” says Conklin. “He always enjoys reading them.”

See more ways the leadership offices at Haworth address the changing nature of work.

7 Spaces for the New Ways We Work

Evolving Workplace Design for the Future

Thanks to the internet, any place can now be a workspace—our homes, a coffee shop, the airport, a kids’ baseball game. Really, anywhere. We can even work a whole world away from the office and our cohorts. But there’s often a price that comes with this ability to integrate work with life 24/7.

While mobile technology offers connected convenience, it makes it harder for companies to ensure their people receive the support they need from their remote working environments. For employees, working off-site long-term can create feelings of alienation and loneliness. It also separates them from the company’s community and culture.

Bring ’Em Back In

Many businesses are calling for a return to the office—for at least part of their employees’ working time. However, plopping people down in the traditional workspaces we used just a few years ago won’t do. The ways we work have changed—and they are constantly changing. If spaces don’t serve the current needs of your employees and their new workstyles, asking them to report to an office just trades one problem for another. People won’t do their best work in spaces that don’t work for them. And sometimes, people won’t work at all—choosing to leave in favor of a more supportive, flexible environment.

The challenge for businesses, then, becomes multi-dimensional:

How do you evolve the office environment to 1) bring people together, 2) support them in their work, and 3) keep the flexibility they desire?

Offer Choice

Not everyone needs the same type of workspace. Preference sets are unique to individuals and groups. Work itself varies from task to task. Innovation requires a combination of focus and collaborative activities. It’s important to create varied spaces within the work environment, so people can choose which best accommodates their needs. This includes times when they need to take a break, shift focus away from work for a moment, rest, or recharge.

Here are 7 types of spaces your company can use to support the new ways people are working:


1. Gig/Coworking Spaces

Good for: Community and Innovation
For maximum flexibility and work/life integration, many members of today’s workforce choose to earn their income through freelance and contract work. This has led to the rise of coworking spaces, which offer an office environment for people doing a variety of unrelated work for different companies. These spaces create a community atmosphere and the human connection people crave. Coworkers meet people and form relationships they wouldn’t normally. This diverse and vast range of knowledge provides a rich source for expert opinions and insights, which can help in generating creative ideas and innovative solutions.

The benefits of coworking aren’t limited to gig work. You can reap the benefits of in-house coworking. To create an internal corporate coworking environment, encourage members of different teams to work side-by-side using assigned or unassigned workspaces that accommodate different functions. You can also facilitate mixing and mingling by adding social spaces and communal café or refreshment areas.


2. Activity-Based Spaces

Good for: Focused Tasks
People work on a variety of tasks throughout the day. Activity-based spaces are designed legibly around individual tasks to create efficiencies that more general workspaces may not. Think of it like a type of circuit training, where you move from station to station doing different targeted exercises using varied fitness equipment at each station. All the tools you need for a given activity are ready and waiting for you to work in each space. In the end, it makes for a better holistic outcome.

As some tasks require heavy focus, workstations for these activities would offer more individual privacy with moveable walls, panels, partitions, or booths. Group workspaces can be more open and include whiteboards, digital displays, and collaboration tools.


3. Multi-Use Spaces

Good for: Flexibility
Providing maximum flexibility and convenience of place, multi-use spaces support a variety of activities. On a large scale, entire communities are being developed within a single location. In fact, Gensler reported that communal environments that support a mix of interests—such as work, play, shopping, dining, and entertainment—are shaping our future. Some of these mixed-use communities even include living space.

Within the workplace, multi-use spaces can be executed on a smaller level. Flexible furniture, durable kit-of-parts workstations, and moveable walls allow for growth and changes in space needs. On a daily basis, elements like modular lounge pieces, lightweight tables, freestanding screens, wheeled carts, and portable display tools help people easily rearrange any space to meet their present needs.


4. Social Spaces

Good for: Community, Connection, and Collaboration
Why is it that so many people like to work in coffee shops and cafés? Yes, they serve coffee and food, but that’s not the only reason people are drawn to these social spaces. Human beings have an inherent need to be a part of a community. When we’re not performing work that requires intense focus, we tend to enjoy activity around us, even when we’re alone. We like having the option to join in casual conversations, meet up with colleagues, or draw inspiration from a different locale.

Within office environments, social spaces empower people to choose destinations to work, gather, socialize, or just recharge. Create your own in-house café setting with lounge furniture and tables that double as worksurfaces. Or, bring in some comfy sofas and warm, residential décor to turn open spaces into collaboration points. Consider outdoor patios and terraces too. People love nature, and research has shown that just being outside offers a whole host of well-being benefits and promotes creativity.


5. Well-Being Spaces

Good for: Overall Employee Well-Being
Once available as perks of select employers, well-being spaces are becoming increasingly mainstream. Businesses now understand the importance of a happy, healthy workforce and creating a culture of well-being. Companies are adding new cafeterias (or revamping old ones) to offer healthier food and snack choices, as well as various types of casual and lounge seating. On-site fitness centers offer state-of-the art equipment, locker rooms, showers, and more, while outdoor walking/biking/running trails and sports courts make exercise convenient and fun. And mothers’ rooms provide nursing moms with clean, comfortable, dedicated spaces that help them balance their career and family passions.


6. Mobile/Agile Spaces

Good for: Small Spaces and Employee Agility
Let’s face it, this is the digital age. People will continue to work on the go, at least part of the time. Make it easy for people to touch down and plug in wherever they want or need to work. Create unassigned workstations in semi-private carrels or minimalistic spine-based workspaces with power and data connectivity. Add a few phone booth spaces with controlled acoustics to offer spots for privacy and focus work. You can also score bonus points with employees by adding height-adjustable tables to agile spaces or deploying wi-fi in an outdoor space.


7. Virtual Spaces

Good for: Multi-Site Collaboration and Connection
What if having everyone in one office at the same time is simply not feasible for your business? Maybe you have a buyer in Malaysia this week or a customer service representative without a car for the day. Or, maybe your office is simply challenged by small square footage as your business grows. There are still going to be times when your best people are working on the other side of the globe, or just the other side of town. This is where staying connected is vital for communication, collaboration, and creating a sense of belonging.

For situations when remote connection is needed, you can create virtual communities and workspace destinations. Choose from any number of online platforms, such as Skype, Slack, and Bitrix24, for team and group real-time interaction through instant messaging, file sharing, and/or video. For remote collaboration, there’s Bluescape, a digital tool that enables people to securely share presentations, ideas, and even brainstorm together on a near-infinite visual canvas.

Workplace design is in a constant state of flux. The work we do and the ways we do it will always be evolving. The most important thing to remember is simply to keep your eyes and ears open. Seek out new trends in workstyles and spaces, solicit ongoing feedback from your employees to determine what they need from you and their environment, and be flexible and ready to change.

Improve Focus Without an Office Redesign

Curated Pieces Solve Open Plan Design Challenges

Amanda Schneider is President of ThinkLab, the research division of Interior Design magazine. ThinkLab combines Interior Design magazine’s incredible reach within the architecture and design community with proven market research techniques to uncover relevant trends and opportunities that connect back to brand and business goals in a thought-provoking, creative, and actionable way.

In what has been dubbed “the privacy backlash” many workers are finding themselves less productive in open-office floorplans. Designed to increase collaboration and spur innovation, open-concept spaces have their place in the office, but so do quiet, stimuli-managed areas to focus on heads-down work. The sweet spot lies in the ability to offer choices to employees who spend the day working on a variety of tasks and therefore require their environment to mirror their working needs.

Today, we’re seeing a drive to design legible spaces and territories or zones that offer visual and acoustical privacy and perceived barriers from the open office. And, we’re beginning to see more flexible solutions than the traditional drywalled office setting pop up in response. Specifically, we’re looking at furniture that addresses architectural needs, including pieces that are moveable, affordable, and less-time-consuming to create. These alternatives address the needs of visual and acoustical privacy in a fresh new way while simultaneously evoking the principles of human-centered design.

As we look at these examples of workplace shifts, we begin to realize that this need is relevant today more than ever. Here’s the research as to why this trend is here to stay, and some practical, curated solutions to address the need.


Open-Concept Floorplans Leave Us Craving Privacy

As remote work rose in popularity—some studies suggest as much as 70 percent of professionals work remotely, at least in part—we recognized that time spent in the office needed to provide the opportunity for face-to-face collaboration. But in the effort to drive collaboration, the entirely-open floorplan, many now suggest, went too far and is, in fact, counterproductive. A Harvard Business study states that overall, face-to-face time decreased by around 70 percent across the participating employees, on average, with email use increasing by between 22 percent and 50 percent.

In the same breath, the backlash to individual office dividers swung to the minimalistic office floorplans featuring collaborative benching solutions and even more common spaces. This led to the shrinking of individual space in an office: an average of 151 square feet of dedicated office space per worker in 2017, down from 176 square feet in 2012 and 225 square feet in 2010.

Together, these factors created the perfect storm for a privacy drought. Workers need opportunities to take a personal phone call, prepare for that upcoming presentation, and even conduct team meetings without the distractions of colleagues. The entirely-open-concept workspace, as the primary solution for work time, simply doesn’t meet these needs.

Curated Solution: Living walls are becoming a popular example of furniture addressing the needs of architecture—but with some added benefits. Infused with biophilia, these walls dampen noise between dedicated workspaces, while offering a moveable solution that’s as visually pleasing as it is soothing. In fact, research suggests that biophilic design elements, such as living walls, can increase productivity by 8 percent, rates of well-being by 13 percent, and increase creativity while reducing absenteeism and presenteeism.


Leases are Becoming Shorter

In 1965, the average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 was 33 years. By 1990, it was 20 years. It’s forecast to shrink to 14 years by 2026. Today, the only constant is change, and the most robust businesses are structuring everything from their business models to their leases to accommodate it. And, with these shortened leases comes the need to be creative with long-term spatial planning versus short-term. Companies think not only in terms of physical space—i.e., Do I want to invest in architectural design for space I may occupy for only one year?—but also in terms of furniture: i.e., How much time, money, and effort do I want to invest in planning for the furniture needs of THIS short-term space?

The EPA estimated that there were 12.1 million tons of furniture in landfills in 2015—much of which was undoubtedly created as the result of cheap furniture solutions discarded after a short-term lease. The same agency said that 548 million tons of construction and demolition (C&D) debris were generated in the United States in 2015, with demolition representing 90 percent of that. Between furniture and architectural waste (including millwork, drywall, and other architectural features), it is becoming more crucial to design long-lasting, quality pieces that can move from one location to another, providing an environmentally friendly solution to address these concerns. In terms of time and effort to design a functional office space, furniture designed to address architectural needs limits the amount of time (and money) spent on fixed millwork that cannot be transferred to the next location. And it does this while addressing two needs: the need for functional furniture as well as the need for dedicated work zones.

What’s more, using furniture designed as architecture over millwork can have considerable tax implications. Items that are considered personal property—furniture designed as architecture and other moveable items included—can be depreciated over 5 to 7 years, as opposed to realty, or permanent items like brick and mortar, which are depreciated over 39 years. In terms of the time value of money, the savings for furniture designed for architectural needs is dramatic.

Curated Solution: Need to create niche spaces within an office but only planning on staying a year or two and don’t want to invest in architectural solutions or millwork? There are many beautiful furniture pieces that address the needs for privacy without calling on an architect. Think in terms of privacy booths for private phone calls, or storage solutions that offer visual privacy. These options address the functional needs of an office, while their non-permanent nature make them an easy move after a short-term lease concludes.


The Specification Process Needs Simplification

As previously mentioned, limiting millwork on a project can reduce the budget and timeline—specifically valuable in a short-term lease situation. For companies that want to replicate a job for multiple locations, this involves hiring multiple millworkers/A&D firms as opposed to ordering through one centralized source. By limiting the number of touchpoints throughout the specification process—think more items ordered through one purchase order—the entire process is streamlined.

We Need Spaces that Inspire Us

If you ask an HR department what its biggest challenge is today, more often than not, the answer would be attracting and retaining top talent. As Millennials and GenZers continue to flood the workforce, they bring with them a unique set of workplace expectations that vary from their predecessors’. As a result, a workplace that offers a calming space for inspiration and that “wow” factor has made its way to the top of the list.

Furniture designed for architectural needs fosters this atmosphere by metaphorically (and perhaps literally) tearing down the walls of hierarchy and creating an atmosphere where everyone feels relaxed and like equals. For environments that strive to even the playing field, this is a cultural win. But for companies that still prefer the traditional hierarchy of staffing, there’s still value in curating spaces designed for individualized tasks, and the office atmosphere can respond to the design as it sees fit.  Furniture designed for architectural needs shapes not only the environment surrounding us but also the mood we feel while we are in it.

Curated Solution: Another way to foster an inspiring environment is by creating spaces that are inspired by human-centered design. In addition to the health benefits of biophilia addressed earlier, research shows that exposure to natural light can support productivity and overall well-being, with naturally lit offices reporting a 51 percent decrease in eyestrain, a 63 percent decrease in headaches, and a 56 percent reduction in drowsiness. And when designing with natural light isn’t an option, there are now products that mimic the natural look of light coming in through a window, and great task light options that replace overhead lighting.

In a day and age where business moves fast and people move faster, creating signature pieces we can take with us and flex up and down depending on our needs allows us to leverage our resources wisely. We’re seeing spaces that mimic the unique attributes of our brands and the humans that occupy each building, while simultaneously offering an intriguing element of excitement to the next generation of workers.

Discover how Haworth provides curated furniture as architecture solutions to enable privacy and reduce distractions in open office workspaces.

Digital Knitting: Bringing Fashion to Furniture

Creating Endless Design Possibilities For the Future

Most people think of cozy sweaters and bulky scarves when it comes knitting, but the craft’s rich history dates back to 11th-century Egypt. The technique of making fabric from a strand of yarn and two thin sticks has undergone a high-tech transformation in recent years. Shoe brands like Nike, for its Flyknit shoes, and fashion labels such as Eileen Fisher, Rothy’s, and Ministry of Supply are all using digital knitting technology to create high-end, high-performance, comfortable, and breathable knit designs.

“Haworth is bringing knits from fashion to furniture by exploring their use in a variety of products and interior design applications.”

– Jeff Reuschel, Global Director of Design and Innovation, Haworth

Technical knitting, while dominating consumer goods, is new to contract office furniture markets. “What Nike and Adidas did to the tennis shoe can be done for office furniture and interior design,” says Liz Johnson, Principal Designer in Haworth’s Industrial Design Studio. “A desk chair can offer an experience similar to that of a favorite running shoe, with beautiful knit patterns, high-performance fibers, and supportive structures designed in just the right places to benefit the user.”


“Knitting has a high level of flexibility as far as making a textile,” says Reuschel. “We are able to place fibers next to each other all in one piece with no secondary processing. We’re able to target specific zones of a chair to increase comfort, density, and breathability. We believe this exploration, as well as future product applications, really push boundaries.”

With speed and efficiency, a designer’s sketch can be quickly translated into knitted material applied to seating, lounge furniture, panels, and more. In the future, it will be impossible to imagine life without this technology. That’s why Haworth is continuing to innovate and find ways to use the technology to enhance comfort, performance, and aesthetics across a variety of products.

Innovative Solutions
Haworth is debuting flat-bed weft knit technology on three desk chairs. This digital weft knitting technique is a precise process that can isolate knit structures to designated areas of a chair or product. These targeted zones can also allow for support and airflow in new and unexpected ways.

Similar to woven fabrics, knit combinations are endless, especially with the advancements in yarn and fiber technology. Haworth, for example, works with partner Camira to develop specialized yarns based on desired performance attributes. “With knitting, we are talking about lots of little loops. There are 600 tiny needles on the front and the back of the machine, and each one of those needles can do something different. Haworth is using the material to build lumbar support into a chair instead of relying on a mechanical device,” says Darren Hill, Operations and Development Manager at Camira Technical Knitting.

Digital-Knitting-Blog-Banner (2).jpg

Haworth Digital Knits are designed and shaped to fit the exact curves and contours of the individual furniture form. Additional benefits include targeted strength and stretch only where they are needed. For example, Haworth designed tighter knit structures in the pelvic and lumbar regions of knit back task chairs, while using more open and flexible stitches in the thoracic region of the back. Therefore, perfect pattern alignment, passive ergonomic support, and breathability can be achieved without the use of additional textiles, fill, or foam. The result is a product that conforms to any user’s body, providing ultimate comfort.

Zero Waste
Sustainable practices within the state-of-the-art digital knitting technology drive three basic inputs: yarn, electricity, and a gentle steam finish. The knit is designed, produced, and tensioned to precise specifications, giving it a consistent look and fit every time. For Haworth task chairs that are knit-to-fit, there is no waste of materials using digital knitting. Overhead is reduced, as well as the time and manufacturing complexity compared to the traditional methods of upholstering products.  

“This whole ‘knit-to-fit’ term is really centered around making one piece. No cutting or waste. This fits with our commitment to sustainability and how we see moving forward in the future with furniture.”

– Alexis Troxell, Color, Materials, & Finishes Designer, Haworth

Knits are embedded in our lives, and all that we touch and wear. At the same time, Haworth continues to build engaging and people-centric workspaces and social spaces, focusing on well-being, environmental, and sustainable standards for all materials to ensure the protection of our Earth and human health.

To hear more of Haworth’s knitting story, listen to the SPARK podcast with Alexis Troxell, or read more about digital knitting innovation at Haworth.

Business Goals Drive Successful Design

Q+A with Lead Designer Kamran Riazi on AARP’s HQ Renovation

Kamran Riazi is a Design Consultant and Principal at OPX, a Washington, DC based design consultancy where he has worked for over 20 years. He recently completed the renovation of AARP’s headquarters in Washington DC.

SPARK had an opportunity to sit down with Kamran to learn more about the project and gain insight to his design thinking.


SPARK: Tell us about yourself.

KR: In my career I have dabbled in various aspects of design: graphic design, art installation, painting, interior design, architecture, fashion, product design, digital space and gaming design. I see all that I do as an art project in some way. The exposure to such diverse aspects of the professional world has given me an insight into the most critical point in approaching any project: A successful engagement must begin with a full understanding of the client’s business and organizational goals. This knowledge will guide the design effort and involvement with the client’s organization. Without this knowledge, design decisions can only be evaluated against the default position of, “Do I like it or not?” or, “Does it meet the budget and schedule?” Neither of which is a strategic decision criterion.

It is my responsibility to understand and document the organization’s strategic imperatives, which establish criteria for all project decisions.

SPARK: Tell us about your role with the AARP renovation project and how it started.

KR: Our relationship with AARP started back in 1995, and over the years, I have been involved in all their projects. The most significant one, which began the rethinking of how the AARP organization of the future can work, was the AARP Foundation project. Then, we worked on the Innovation Center, better known as the Hatchery, a name I proposed based on the idea of a place to “hatch” new and innovative ideas, and give a nod of recognition to the inception of AARP and the coop.

Both projects were crucial in developing the full picture of how AARP can best work as we launched the three-year HQ renovation project. My role as the Lead Designer and Principal in Charge brought me into the center of this very large and complex project, which required a full understanding of the client’s enterprise goals, as well as specific project requirements, which also meant coordinating the work of a large group of skilled designers and consultants, in-house and otherwise.

SPARK: What were the goals or objectives you were trying to achieve with the design of the space?

KR: The top five objectives were:

1. Encourage collaboration, interaction, and communication
2. Create flexibility to adapt to change
3. Encourage and accommodate innovation
4. Create a more effective workplace
5. Maintain focus and commitment to the AARP mission


SPARK: What were the primary needs of the people you were designing the space for?

KR: The primary needs of an organization and the needs of its employees must to work in concert. AARP was a great case-in-point of a successful solution. Staff’s work and life had to be addressed by providing a variety of spaces where one could work, in addition to one’s own space. We achieved a nearly 1:1.5 ratio of owned vs. shared spaces. We also provided spaces and amenities that address health, fitness, education, and technical support in a friendly, open, inviting, and inspiring environment to address the staff’s non-task-oriented requirements.

SPARK: Was this project different than other projects you’ve worked on and why?

KR: We approach all our projects with the same process, and since the needs of organizations differ, the solutions are always unique in that sense. What made the AARP project stand out was two-fold:
Firstly, the project was complex and very large. There had been no renovations for two decades, which meant that the leap from the old to the new was far greater. Secondly, AARP is fully committed to its mission above all, and no compromises were made in that regard.


SPARK: Describe the plan of the space and your design thinking.

KR: Our design thinking process started with the previous two projects, which were prototypes for this project. We were able to learn from what had worked and what had not, to explore new ways of implementing this knowledge into how AARP’s new HQ environment could work.

Allowing natural light to penetrate the spaces unimpeded, and opening the floorplate to views that span across the entire building, encourages movement and therefore collaboration. Enclosed spaces were pulled away from the perimeter or fronted with full glass to allow light to pass through. The enclosed spaces, be it offices, huddle rooms, or storage rooms, were all constructed the same way and were 10 by 10, or multiples of 10 by 10. This meant they could be converted interchangeably to maximize future flexibility.

We created a space organization element called the avenue, which acts as a connecting element that stretches across the entire floorplate on each floor. This element hosts gathering places, casual seating, multi-purpose rooms, and elevator lobbies, and is flanked on each end by monumental stairs. The alternating locations of the main spaces along this avenue, aided by the vertical circulation elements, encourages movement and gathering, further enabling staff interaction. We collaborated with AARP’s in-house graphic design experts to develop and strategically locate environmental signage, as well as brand messaging.


SPARK: Do you have a favorite space or element of the project?

KR: I have two: The workspace floor avenues and the ground level extended lobby. These have reportedly become the client staff’s favorite spaces, as well. I especially like them because the two represent a work and life balance in a professionally relevant setting.

“The exposure to such diverse aspects of the professional world has given me an insight into the most critical point in approaching any project: a successful engagement must begin with a full understanding of the client’s business and organizational goals. This knowledge will guide the design effort and involvement with the client’s organization.”

— Kamran Riazi

6 Simple Ways to Create a Culture of Innovation

How to Promote Creativity in Your Organization

Jeff DeGraff is both an advisor to Fortune 500 companies and a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. His simultaneously creative and pragmatic approach to making innovation happen has led clients and colleagues to dub him the “Dean of Innovation.” Jeff’s thoughts on innovation are covered by Inc., Fortune, and Psychology Today to name a few. Jeff is the Co-Creator of the Competing Values methodology that integrates finance, strategy, management, innovation, and leadership into a system that boosts the business bottom line, and he collaborates with Haworth through the consultancy, Innovatrium.

Every organization has a need to innovate in some way to stay relevant. But it can be hard to figure out just how to begin. It all starts with building a culture that supports creativity and collaboration at work.

Here are some ways to promote a creative culture of innovation within your organization:

1.  Create a safe collaborative space. 
Collaborative innovation comes in many forms and kinds. From brainstorming sessions and innovation jams to crowd funding, these forms of growth all mobilize a diverse group of people with a variety of skills. The benefits to joint innovation efforts are plenty: the global scale of the initiative, the rapidity of experimentation, the reservoirs of outside talent, and the guaranteed wider array of solutions.

2. Avoid getting stuck in the center.
When a large team of people has ideas, and they all share them, there's the danger that everyone will get pulled to the center and ideas will be reduced to something unexceptional. Don't let the multiplicity of ideas at a brainstorming session get flattened out into a mass of mediocrity. Keep challenging yourself and those around you to go outside of the expected limits and boundaries of your project.


3. Surround yourself with people unlike you.
Find the people who can fill in your blind spots and help you with things you don't know. This means embracing individuals you may have nothing in common with: thinkers who see the world differently than you do. Gather the talents of those who can teach you and give you things that you cannot give yourself.

4. Remember the importance of expertise.
Collaboration assumes a horizontal structure of activity. That is, everyone involved is suddenly on the same level. This democratic attitude can be a great thing, yet people sometimes forget the centrality of expertise. Don't just solicit the opinion of the masses when you're building your innovation team—find experts in the fields relevant to your initiative.

5. Stop starting and start stopping.
What if the key to innovation isn’t starting something new? What if the real secret is stopping something old? You don’t have the capacity—the time, resources, or energy—to do new things because you are busy maintaining the old ones. Starting new things is easy. You just add an app or expand your workday a couple of hours. Stopping things is hard. It’s full of feelings of loss, disappointment, and failure. It takes more than creativity. It takes courage to stop what you’ve been doing to make room for the things your organization wants to start doing now.


6. Assemble your innovation advisory board
Assemble a group of bright, energetic thinkers your organization can trust. Use them to brainstorm and bounce ideas off them. Unlike a board of directors, which is subject to influence by outside financial interests like investors, a board of advisers has no vested interest in your company. Rather, they are committed solely to developing ideas and sharing and exchanging knowledge. The advisory board does the work that the organization can’t. Seek out people with extensive experience in their fields or those who can partner with you, such as customers, the community, investors, regulators, trendsetters, and visionary revolutionaries.

Creative collaboration is a must for companies that want to innovate, as are organizational culture and leadership that support these efforts. Starting with these tips can help you begin to cultivate a mindset that will help your organization embrace new ideas and support people with what they need to develop them. Learn more from SPARK about fostering creativity and innovation at work.

De-Stress the Workplace Through Design

Encourage Healthy Behaviors and Support Well-Being

As employers grapple with rising healthcare costs, one area often overlooked as contributing to employee health and well-being is the workplace, itself. Aside from lunchtime yoga and salads on the cafeteria menu, the approach to well-being at work often fails to look at the bigger picture and address the underlying issues that contribute to poor health: a sedentary lifestyle and work-related stress.

“We spend 90 percent of our lives enclosed within one sort of a building or another, and until recently there has been little attention on how to make buildings healthier.”

— Dr. Michael O’Neill, who leads Haworth's Workplace Research and Strategy

So how can a building make people healthier?

Nudge Better Behaviors
With training in psychology and architecture, Haworth’s Dr. Michael O’Neill has spent decades researching the connection between buildings and worker health and performance. O’Neill advocates for a combination of “nudges” and “microcontrols” that help employees make better decisions.

“A nudge is never about taking choice away from somebody. It’s about making the best choice—the obvious and easy choice,” O’Neill says. One way to nudge people to make a healthier choice is by encouraging them to ditch the elevator in favor of climbing stairs. A Harvard study found that taking eight flights of stairs a day lowers average early mortality risk by 33 percent. “The key is making the staircase a central element in the building, so people are drawn to take the steps,” O’Neill says.


Reduce Stress Levels
Beyond movement and healthier choices, the interior design of a building can play a role in reducing stress, the single biggest enemy of well-being. A person’s body reacts automatically to stressful events, like deadlines and production pressures, by releasing hormones into the bloodstream. The most dangerous is cortisol, part of the body’s natural fight-or-flight mechanism. Elevated cortisol levels are tied to a host of health issues, from heart disease to lower cognitive abilities.

“What’s sort of ironic is that you go into work and you have these pretty sedentary jobs. We dress nice, we drink coffee, we chat and have meetings all day. It seems really harmless. It's not like 100 years ago when most jobs were in farming or industrial settings like factories or coal mines, but it’s equally dangerous. And the thing that makes it so dangerous is that work stress is so invisible,” O’Neill says.

Providing opportunities to connect to nature in the workplace can help. Studies have shown that taking at least 20 minutes out of your day to stroll or sit in a place that makes you feel connected with nature will significantly lower stress hormone levels.  


Give Employees Control
Research has shown that an additional way to reduce workplace stress is to give people control over their physical workspace.

At the individual level, it can involve letting people choose a space for the task at hand, so they can do their best individual work. It can be as simple as providing furnishings that can be moved up, down, and around to adjust to someone’s body or workstyle. Giving workers power over small adjustments in their individual work environment ultimately allows them more control over their work process.

At the organizational level, create policies and a culture that give employees permission to choose a workspace that best meets their needs. “If that policy and sense of permission to give control isn’t there, you're going to spend a lot of money on space that you're not getting the value out of. So [employee] control is really a huge idea,” O’Neill says.

The Future of Collaboration

Digital Technology Makes Interaction Easier

Back in the early 2000s, Jeff Reuschel had a wild idea. Reuschel, the Global Director of Design and Innovation at Haworth, wanted to see his team’s entire portfolio of work at once, spread out before him like a desktop covered in papers—only minus the desktop and minus the papers. Reuschel wondered: Instead of looking at Word documents, InDesign files, spreadsheets, and scraps of notes in their digital silos, could he project these related bits of information onto a wall simultaneously? And better yet, could he manipulate those files with his hands as if they were physical objects?

The answer to both questions was a resounding no. Reuschel’s concept was ahead of its time. In the early 2000s, projection technology was becoming more sophisticated, but touchscreens were still nascent. “What I ended up doing was taking a lot of little cards and push-pinning them to the wall,” he recalls.

A handful of years later, smartphones and tablets had become commonplace, and the same touch-screen technology that powered those smaller devices could be blown up to wall size. “They have set us free to operate in much more creative and innovative ways,” says Haworth’s Chairman Emeritus, Dick Haworth. “They’ve dramatically changed the footprint of the office.” So, under his direction, Reuschel, alongside a team of engineers and designers, set out to make software that would power the workplace of the future. Their vision: an interactive wall that displays Word documents, spreadsheets, images, and notes, and can be projected onto a touchscreen surface that employees—both on-site and remote—are able to manipulate in real time, as if they’re using a giant tablet. They called this technology for visual collaboration Bluescape®.


One can think of Bluescape as an amalgamation of past and current workplace productivity tools. “To me it’s a merger of a tackboard, a whiteboard, an internet interface, and my desktop files,” Reuschel says. And like his description suggests, it’s part of a long lineage of tools that over the decades have helped employees work together. If you trace it back, there’s a path from pinboards and chalkboards to whiteboards and Post-It notes. Those low-fi tools were the conceptual precursors to software applications like Slack and Google Docs, which now allow employees to work together even when they’re geographically apart.

For Dick Haworth, who has been with the company for over 50 years, suddenly the need for cross-continental communication was crucial. “We were trying to figure out how to work efficiently and effectively,” he recalls. “The issues are quite different when you’re in one physical space versus an organization that’s spread around the world.”

Bluescape technology is both a work environment that supports collaboration and a communication tool that can bring teams together, whether in one office or across multiple work locations.

Haworth’s remote-working conundrum is familiar to most modern companies today. Over the last decade, the office has dematerialized—or at the very least, vastly shifted in appearance—as more employees are able to work from disparate locations thanks to technologies like Slack and Bluescape. Often, the trajectory of workplace technology is reflected in the office design itself. Closed-door offices and cubicles gave way to open floorplans, and open floorplans in turn gave way to huddle rooms and unassigned seating. Today, it’s common for offices to build out communal workspaces where employees can take their laptops and gather in small groups to do work, but not provide them with desks they can claim as their own. It’s a shift enabled by technology, which has made people available and easy to find, no matter where they may actually be. “That’s sort of the expectation now,” says Kasia Maynard, a researcher at the consultancy Worktech Academy. “You should have connectivity wherever you are.”


A couple of years ago, Boston Consulting Group moved from its midtown Manhattan offices to a new building in the Far West Side neighborhood of Hudson Yards. The new space was built to reflect the modern workplace, which is to say there are virtually no private offices. Instead, employees gather in communal spaces like a café or a long bench table that are designed to encourage “spontaneous collaboration.” They can book private rooms or temporarily be assigned a desk through an app, but there’s no sense in bringing a family portrait to work—no one owns any of the space.

Maynard refers to this as “activity-based working,” where employees meet in spaces that fit their specific needs at the moment. Need to meet with a team? Book a conference room. Need to be heads down on a deadline? Nab a desk. “When collaborating, you might go off to a huddle space, do some work, and then go your own way,” she says. “We’re not just with our teams anymore; we’re mixing with all different types of people all the time.”


For designers, this has necessitated a new way of thinking about office space. More general seating and common spaces are a given, but even tried-and-true work requirements like conference rooms are changing. Scott Poulton, Haworth’s Vice President of Strategic Ventures and Chairman of Bluescape, says he’s seen the design of the conference room morph from a stationary box with a door into something more dynamic that encourages employees to get up, move around, and interact with the environment. “A traditional conference room would be a large room with a big table in the center and maybe a 70-inch flat screen that everyone looks at,” he says. “In the future, the environment itself will be interactive.”

For Dick Haworth, the future is, to some degree, already here. He likens Bluescape to a “world” that multiple team members, thousands of miles apart, can inhabit: “You can brainstorm a project, and then you can begin to work on individual elements of it before implementing and managing those things—the details are all there in this vast space, but in a much more transparent way that enables different team members to easily follow what’s going on in different parts of a project.”

If technologies like Bluescape, Slack, and Google Docs are effectively proxies for in-person interaction; if their aim is to make collaborating with your coworker overseas just as compelling as collaborating with the person next to you, what’s the point of investing in a conference room at all? For some companies, the office will indeed become obsolete. But for Reuschel and Haworth, these advances are a reminder that while technology has enabled personal desks to disappear and offices to shrink, it has also made working together in the same space more rewarding. “I would say we’re getting awfully close to being able to work from anywhere,” Reuschel says. “But right now, I don’t think we’re there yet.”

4 Reasons Companies Should Incorporate Social Spaces

… And how to do it without a major renovation

Lynn Metz, LEED AP, is a registered interior designer and Vice President of Sales, Architecture, and Design, for Haworth North America. With her expertise in space design and demonstrated history of working in the furniture industry, she engages in the understanding of human behavior and realizes the importance and impact it has for a successfully designed environment. As a member of Forbes Business Development Council, she is a contributing writer to Forbes CommunityVoice™, a digital publishing platform that connects experts directly with the Forbes audience by enabling them to create content and participate in the conversation.

Following is her article, Why Companies Should Incorporate Social Spaces in the Office, which first appeared on

Whether you know it or not, you have already worked in a social space. This phenomenon—providing more than a place to sit and a surface to work at by giving a space an inspiring purpose of putting people at ease and encouraging conversations—seems to be growing fast. It used to be common practice in the office interiors industry to make the ratio of gathering space to private space 20/80. As the open-plan office concept emerged, it was a slow process to change that expectation to 30/70. Now, the ratio has dramatically changed to at least 50/50, and I often see a full flip to 70/30 in highly collaborative environments. Many designers are now consistently using these new ratios in solutions throughout the floorplate. It's also apparent as I see more design specialists specifically focusing on unique products and solutions for social spaces.

Why is this space growing to be so important? Based on my experience at a workplace furniture company, I believe we can attribute this to several factors:


1. Generations and lifestyle
While it's not exclusive to a generation, younger workers may be creating a more comfortable workplace that is also available anytime-anywhere. For instance, many people enjoy working at Starbucks and having the opportunity to sit in more collaborative environments. We also meet clients over breakfast, lunch, or after work for drinks. This engages people in a social setting and often encourages a different dialog than across a desk or conference table. We can and do work all the time and anywhere, and this influences how people use spaces.

2. Member engagement 
As companies strive to attract and retain their best talent, the traditional cubicle floor plan limits the ability for employees to connect with other members of the organization. This can limit the ability for employees to feel engaged. Social spaces are a swing back from that open-plan office setting. By providing a variety of spaces (including the opportunity for privacy), you can help member engagement. You have to match spaces to what people need—there is a time and place for everything, but not generally one option all the time.

3. Collaboration and innovation
Employers are constantly looking to drive their business objectives forward and stay ahead of the competition. A casual, comfortable environment can encourage collaboration and foster innovation. When people get together and start talking, you don’t know where it might lead, and this can be magic for unintentional brainstorming. You absolutely still need structured settings, but there should be a balance. A café, coffee bar, reception area, or lounge areas can be utilized this way. Think about them differently—what if you had a coffee bar and a greeter for your reception area instead of a formal space? By opening these spaces up for employee use, you end up with more usable space back in your floorplate and can help project your brand and culture in a unique way.

4. Tech 
Our internet of things world has enabled faster connections and the ability to work in a variety of spaces. In turn, visual and audio capabilities in social spaces can be a significant positive for a workspace. If you have great collaborative settings without tech or power, they may not be used as much.


It is hard to provide these spaces to an existing environment without some level of investment by the company. However, these spaces can enhance employee flexibility to work anywhere and increase employee engagement. Providing social spaces without a major renovation can be achieved by considering the following:

  • Existing breakroom or café settings can be enhanced by providing areas to work at a computer or sit down with a cup of coffee. Internet capability and access to power are important in these spaces. The space can be enhanced with lights and floor lamps that add an emotional connection and level of intimacy to the space. Enhancement of finishes, colors and textures that are different from the workstation environment can make the space feel inviting to get away and take a break.

  • If the company has an agile work policy and employees don’t need assigned workstations, consider reducing the size of their workstations and converting that additional space with a variety of seating areas. Ideally, social spaces can be enhanced with access to daylight and views. If that isn’t available, an aquarium or faux fireplace can enhance the mind’s ability to wander and reflect.

  • Social spaces should not be in the middle of work areas where employees need to do focus work. Social spaces should encourage interaction and not be disruptive to focused tasks.

  • When creating casual seating areas, consider grounding them with an area rug and lighting. This can help define an area’s use and add a residential feeling and sense of place.

  • If an outdoor space is available, it should be strongly considered as an excellent social space—being outside can enhance well-being. It’s important to consider access to Wi-Fi and power to ensure employees use these spaces.

Social spaces are a great space to work and collaborate. I hope you find one of these comfortable spots to innovate on the next challenge coming your way.

Social Norms in the Office Environment

Unwritten Rules that Guide Behavior

Let’s face it: Change in the work environment can be disruptive for people and processes. For example, a well-planned workspace reconfiguration—intended to achieve a positive end goal—is sometimes challenging for people to accept initially. We feel comfortable with our routines—sitting in the same place, talking to the same people next to us, with everything set up just the way we like it.

But space transformation doesn’t have to be painful, especially when a change management process is implemented. We know this well at Haworth, where we frequently reconfigure our floorplans to support new ways of working, especially at our corporate headquarters—a showroom and workplace that demonstrates our research in a living lab we share with customers.


Involving team members through communication helped them understand the various process stages for the renovation, what space would be occupied, and where the groups would reside. When you implement a change management communication program, you can more easily manage employee engagement and adoption of new ways of working, along with the resulting workspace layout.

Managing change in the workplace, like any successful project, requires a systematic process that guides, prepares, and enables individuals to quickly adopt new ideas to achieve desired business results. Companies that effectively manage change consistently outperform their competitors. Well managed workplace changes help individuals make a positive transition and result in achievement of organizational goals.


People are creative and love to share ideas and solve problems. Providing events, meetings, and communication can help uncover their fears, frustrations, anger, or anxiety. A change management program offers opportunities to minimize these issues, find solutions that people agree upon, and connect teams to cultivate excitement about the change. Who knows what might happen? You may find employees offer new ideas for ways they can improve their own performance.

Haworth Inc. Honors HBI with 2019 Best In Class Distinction

HBI has been designated as a 2019 Best In Class dealership for the 5th time in seven years! The Best In Class distinction is awarded to dealerships based on exceptional performance in market development, sales, customer satisfaction, operational excellence and enterprise development.

“Only through outstanding dealerships like HBI is Haworth able to provide the exceptional service experience our customers deserve.” Franco Bianchi, President & CEO - Haworth


Haworth Inc. currently has 600 partners in its dealership network worldwide. HBI is one of 30 dealerships to be awarded 2019 Best In Class. This is a distinction reserved for those dealers who not only obtain the highest performance levels but are successful in maintaining those rigorous standards over time and against other high-performing dealers.

“The Best in Class distinction is a testament to our extraordinary team members and the exceptional work they perform everyday to ensure that we are satisfying our customers and achieving organizational excellence.” Michael Taylor, President & CEO – HBI

6 Ways to Cut the Ties to Structured Work

The Future is Flexible

Not surprisingly, “flexible” and “flexibility” are two of the most popular search words related to work benefits. The future of how, where, and when we work is evolving at an extremely fast pace. People no longer want—or need to be—tied down to the traditions of the past. Technology is changing the way we work, and today’s business trends are following right along—opening doors to a more efficient, convenient, and fulfilling work-life balance.

See how these six business trends are cutting the ties that bind, making work more flexible—and enjoyable:

1. 24/7 Work-Ability – not tied to a schedule
This is either the most feared or the most welcomed flexibility trend in work today. Those who oppose it, however, may find themselves left behind. Proponents love the ability to work when it works for them—and when their employers are supportive, it makes all the difference. After all, who wants the ability to work at 3 a.m., if you’re still being required to report to the office from 9 to 5 every day?

Used to its full advantage, open availability can work for both employees and employers. The key is finding (and maintaining!) the perfect blend of work and personal life. A Workfront blog article asks, “If you’re in that email inbox by 6 a.m. and still fielding requests at 8 p.m., should it really matter if you disappear from the office from 12-3 p.m.?” Honest answer: Not if you’re getting the work done and supporting your team. Leaders who understand this will find they have happier, more engaged, loyal employees.


2. The Gig Economy – not tied to a job
Millennials graduated from college in an era where jobs were scarce—let alone, careers in their fields of study. They fiercely competed for work and took jobs where they could find them, out of necessity. During that time, temporary work and freelancing became more prevalent as viable income alternatives.

As a result, contract work now seems “normal” to this entrepreneurial generation. To many Millennials, it’s even preferable—especially today, when being a nomadic freelancer or short-term worker offers not only the flexibility of when and where to work, but higher incomes and perks from businesses competing for talent. In fact, according to strategy+business, freelancing and gig work is now beginning to attract the attention of GenZers entering the workforce, while becoming increasingly popular with Gen X and Baby Boomers, as well.

To make the most of this Gig Economy, a Deloitte article in the Wall Street Journal suggests that organizations should offer competitive compensation, programs for learning and development, and more opportunities for people to prove their drive, strengths, and skills.

3. Mobility and Movement – not tied to a space
Our bodies were made to move. Doing so keeps us happier and healthier. Organizational leaders who understand this tend to attract and retain more engaged, productive employees. In an agile environment, work can take place anywhere—even when we’re on the move from place to place.

According to Inc., walking meetings allow employees to break away from their workspaces and build physical activity into the workday. These on-the-go conferences create casual and comfortable communication experiences that yield improved health for decreased healthcare costs and a lower number of sick days, greater inspiration and collaboration for creativity and innovation, and better working relationships between managers and employees as they walk side-by-side.

There are other ways to give employees a little healthy nudge and get them moving too. Offering a variety of inviting spaces for people to choose from encourages them to walk to a new area for a change of scenery, while giving them alternative places to work, collaborate, or just rest and recharge. Incorporating height-adjustable workstations and standing-height tables in the work environment gives people the ability to move around and change postures during the day, as well.


4. Wi-Fi Anywhere – not tied to the inside
As human beings, we’re drawn to nature. We paint it. We photograph it. We want to be a part of it. Now, with Wi-Fi making the outdoors more technologically accessible, there’s no reason we can’t get a little fresh air while we work. In fact, Haworth Senior Workplace Strategist John Scott says that the outside is becoming the new “in.” In A Different Path for Thinking, he explains that stepping outdoors to meet with your team or converse with a coworker has been shown to lower blood pressure, while activating creativity in the whole brain. And happy, healthy teams are more engaged and productive.

Today, according to Slate, giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, L.L. Bean, and Microsoft are embracing the outdoor movement, each experimenting with adding different outdoor settings from botanic gardens to tree houses to green roofs. This lends some credibility to the trend, but these players do have some pretty hefty budgets to work with. All you really need to get started is some comfortable furniture on a Wi-Fi enabled patio, balcony, or rooftop. You may be amazed by how simple it can be to create an outdoor social and collaborative space people will love to work in—or should we say, “out?”

5. Virtual Meeting Rooms and Offices – not tied to a location
In a world where we can now use FaceTime to connect with up to 32 people at once, remote communications capabilities are expanding every day. The “office” is becoming more of a concept, rather than a physical place. However, teams are still expected to come together for collaboration and sharing of knowledge—even if they’re not in the same location. Enter, virtual meeting rooms and offices.

Meetings in virtual office spaces are not standard conference calls—or even videoconferences. They are similar to in-person gatherings, but in digital destinations where invitees can participate in real-time collaborative work in various ways. Virtual tools can help people stay connected and productive, whether they’re a floor away or a world away. Here are some examples:

  • Online community platform, Slack, allows users to create secure channels based on teams, projects, clients, etc. and use those channels to ask questions, share files and feedback, access work tools and services, and generally communicate to get work done together.

  • Haworth’s technology tool, Bluescape, gives authorized users a nearly infinite collaborative canvas for presenting visuals and designs, sharing files and ideas, and even brainstorming, so everyone can see the whole picture and stay on the same page—from anywhere in the world.

  • And then, there are virtual coworking spaces, which encompass all the communal aspects of the office. Some even show you a virtual office floorplan, with avatars and office space for each employee. People can move from room to room for meetings and collaborate, or simply shut a virtual door for privacy.


6. In-Office Mobility – not tied to a desk
When we think of flexibility at work, we often think about our freedom and ability to move from place to place outside our office surroundings. But, what about furniture and tools that have the ability to move around us—within our office spaces? This is becoming more of a trend, providing flexibility and variation for changing workstyles, as well as easy-to-reconfigure spaces.

In-office mobility is no longer just limited to desk chairs on casters, though they are definitely the forerunners of this movement. Now, entire workstations are mobile, allowing people to move from place to place within the office on a moment’s notice. Travelling worksurfaces and whiteboards on wheels bring collaboration tools to any open space.


A colleague recently sent me an article by National Geographic called “Can The Ocean Feed a Growing World” .  The article says that food production will need to double by 2050 to accommodate the world’s population, and that farming fish could be the answer.

But National Geographic isn’t the first organization to talk about the 2050 food crisis.  One of my favourite discussions on the topic is from former commodities trader Sara Menker’s talk at TEDGlobal 2017 .  She offers a simple description of the problem and who it will affect most.  Ms. Menker uses the word “structural” several times in her talk.  I think she uses the word to describe policy and industry reform, which is undeniably crucial, but from my perspective there’s another interpretation: literal growing structure.

HBI has seen a trend in agribusiness to move towards higher yield-per-square-foot facilities.  Really, it just makes sense.  Densifying your assets lowers facility costs and raises profits – an easy sell to stakeholders.  That’s why we’ve been championing high-density, vertical growing equipment for years, and established Bloom Vertical to support sustainable trends in agribusiness.  Vertical Growing is not a new idea but it’s become more popular with the imminent legalization of adult-use cannabis in Canada.  This has given us a chance to test our systems against real facility needs.  The results surprised us.

Yes, growing vertical makes sense from a revenues perspective.  It’s also complicated.  Plants need lots of resources to thrive and moving to a vertical system means adapting existing processes to the new structure.  Here are some of the early questions we needed to address with our clients in agribusiness:

  • How do you attach resources to a vertical structure?
  • Can custom brackets be guaranteed for safety?
  • How do you protect lighting electronics from the water being distributed nearby?
  • How do you clean everything in case of disease?

Enter the Grower’s Rack, Canada’s most integrated growing system.

I’m not sure what the whole answer is to solving the 2050 food crisis, but I do know that HBI is doing our part.  Like Sara Menker said in her talk, “We can make a bold commitment to increasing yields – exponentially”.  Sometimes it starts right here at home.

Written by Janelle Sandboe, Strategic Storage Consultant with HBI/Bloom Vertical


Did you hear about the family that donated $1.5M with the Calgary Public Library to support free access to programming, or the dealership that donated $55,000 to the Humbolt Broncos families?  What about the dental hygienist who volunteered her skills … in Haiti?

There sure is a lot of good in Calgary.

And the people behind HBI make an effort to be good community members, too.  That’s why we consider ourselves privileged to support initiatives that embody our values of community and sustainability.  You might not know this about us, but one of our favourite champions is World-Record-Holder Frisby Rob, who tackles physical activity and bullying in schools.  We also offered temporary office space to our peers in Calgary that were displaced during the Floods.  And, we regularly engage with local post-secondary institutions through scholarships and bursaries, because the forward-thinking professionals of tomorrow often need support today.

Stay tuned for our next scholarship announcement later this month!

If you want to step up YOUR community involvement, here are 5 easy ways that your organization can give back:

  1. Know who your dollars are supporting when you choose to work with HBI.
  2. Save unwanted furniture or shelving from the landfill and donate it to a charity or NFP who needs it.  If you’re a charity or NFP, send us your wish list!
  3. Host a Pop-Up Pet Room in support of AARCS.
  4. Ask about what modern workspaces can do to meet their sustainability goals.
  5. Share what your organization does to support community and sustainability, and we will feature you on our blog!

In the words of anthropologist Margaret Mead:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”


If you work in a particular industry for a while, you start to think you’ve seen it all.  That’s certainly true for me.  I’ve seen racking tower 40 feet in the air to hold millions of volumes of books.  I’ve seen 250 bankers boxes fit into an 8’x8’ cage.  I’ve even seen Queen Victoria’s Underpants.  But I’ve never seen shelving help to commemorate thousands of women.

Walking With Our Sisters is a travelling commemorative art installation that is beautiful, spiritual, poignant, and private.  It’s being hosted at MRU’s Riddell Library until May 13th, 2018 and honours the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women of Canada and the United States.  To fully respect the art, a secluded space was created on the 4th floor using HBI’s movable library shelving as privacy screens.

One of the most amazing things about my industry, which is strategic space planning (ie: furniture and shelving), is that a little bit of forethought can bring so much adaptability to a space.  When Mount Royal University designed the New Riddell Library, I don’t think they had exactly this use in mind.  But they did design a lot of flexibility into their space by choosing products that could do more than what you first think of.  Simple things like choosing HBI’s mobile and modern-looking library shelving gave them the chance to do a lot more than store library books – without having to buy additional products.

This exhibit is worth experiencing.  I’m so glad that I had a chance to see it and consider the reality of what the art commemorates.  Since pictures of the exhibit are not allowed, I highly recommend you check it out yourself.  You can learn more about the project at and see the Riddell Library Case study here.

Written by Janelle Sandboe, Strategic Storage Consultant with HBI