Furniture maker partners with Microsoft


The Ideation Hub allows workers to "co-create, refine and share ideas" with co-located or distributed teammates via the Microsoft Surface Hub. Courtesy Steelcase

A local furniture maker has announced a new partnership with Microsoft.

Grand Rapids-based Steelcase said today it has entered into a partnership with Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft to “explore the future of work” and develop a range of technology-enabled spaces designed to help organizations “foster creative thinking and better collaboration.”

As part of the announcement, the companies unveiled five new Creative Spaces that are on display at the Steelcase WorkLife Center in New York, which “seamlessly integrate” the "best of Microsoft Surface devices" with Steelcase architecture and furniture.

“We are facing a time of unprecedented change at work,” said Sara Armbruster, VP of strategy, research and new business innovation, Steelcase. “Through this partnership, we will bring together space and technology to help workers and organizations solve the workplace challenges they face today and in the future and ultimately perform their best at work.”

Ryan Gavin, GM of Microsoft Surface marketing, said the future of work “is creative.”

“With Steelcase, we have the compelling opportunity to blend place and technology into a seamless environment that allows our most important asset, our people, to unlock their creativity and share that with others,” Gavin said.

Steelcase also announced that Microsoft is expanding its partner network into the world of design by bringing in select Steelcase dealers as authorized Surface Hub resellers and that the companies are working together to develop technology-enabled workplace solutions built on Microsoft Azure Internet of Things, or IoT, technology.

Microsoft's device team is not working with any other furniture companies, according to a Steelcase spokesperson.

Steelcase and Microsoft study on workplace creativity

As part of their partnership, Steelcase and Microsoft conducted a joint study that included 515 U.S. and Canadian companies with 100-plus employees.

The research revealed that creativity is seen as a critical job skill driven by organizations’ needs for innovation and growth, in addition to employees’ desire for meaningful work.

Despite the findings, Steelcase and Microsoft said many organizations invest in technology and space as separate entities, rather than approaching them holistically and that the lack of cohesion creates “sub-optimal conditions” for fostering creativity at work.

Research findings

Seventy-two percent of workers from diverse industries, including health care, retail, education, financial services and manufacturing, believe their future success depends on their ability to be creative.

Seventy-six percent believe emerging technologies will change their jobs, requiring more creative skills as routine work becomes automated.

There is greater need to collaborate in business. Yet, 25 percent of respondents feel they can be creative in the places they currently have available for group work.

The study also reveals the connection between creativity and privacy, as employees ranked having a place to work without disruption as the second-highest factor that could improve creativity, just behind the need for more time to think.

The creative process

The companies’ exploration of creative work found that creativity is a process in which anyone can engage and requires diverse work modes and different types of technology.

People need to work alone, in pairs and in different-size groups throughout a creative process, and they need a range of devices that are mobile and integrated into the physical workplace.

Additionally, spaces should inspire people without compromising performance.

Bob O’Donnell, president, founder and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, said most employees are still working with “outdated technology” and in places that are “rooted in the past,” which makes it difficult for them to work in new, creative ways.

He said the five Creative Spaces designed by Steelcase and Microsoft were designed to “bridge the current gap” between place and technology and “help creative work happen more naturally.”

Creative Spaces

Focus Studio: Steelcase said individual creative work requires alone time to focus and get into flow, while also allowing quick shifts to two-person collaboration. The space lets ideas incubate before sharing them with a large group, such as focused work with a Microsoft Surface Book or a Surface Pro 4.

Duo Studio: Working in pairs is “an essential behavior of creativity.” The space enables two people to co-create shoulder-to-shoulder, while also supporting individual work with a Surface Studio. It includes a lounge area to invite others in for a quick creative review with a Surface Hub or to “get away without going away.”

Ideation Hub: The space encourages “active participation” and allows workers to “co-create, refine and share ideas” with co-located or distributed teammates on a Surface Hub.

Maker Commons: Socializing ideas and rapid prototyping are “essential parts of creativity.” The space is designed to encourage quick switching between conversation, experimentation and concentration, using a mix of devices, such as a Surface Hub and a Surface Book.

Respite Room: Creative work “requires many brain states,” including the need to “balance active group work with solitude and individual think time.” The private room allows for relaxed postures to support “diffused attention.”

Steelcase: Microsoft Surface Hub reseller

Select Steelcase dealers are authorized to resell the Microsoft Surface Hub as part of the Microsoft partner network beginning today in the U.S. and Canada.

It’s expected that additional dealers in Germany and the U.K. will be added to the program later this summer.

The companies will announce additional markets in the coming months.

As the spaces roll out in the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific, the range of spaces will continue to expand and evolve.

Internet of Things

Steelcase also expects to announce new technology-enabled office solutions built on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform and Internet of Things technology in the coming months.

The offerings would provide companies with analytics that help "improve workplaces" and solutions to help employees find the best places to do "diverse types of work within the office."

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