The phenomenon that is… STEELCASE Design

"If you change the (organization’s) culture but don't change the space, the space will anchor (keep) behaviours (performance) in the past." STEELCASE CEO, Jim Keane

— The phenomenon that is… STEELCASE Design

“If you change the (organization’s) culture but don’t change the space, the space will anchor (keep) behaviours (performance) in the past.” STEELCASE CEO, Jim Keane

Currently, thanks to leading research regarding all office space applications (be it health, corporate or academic) by STEELCASE, the world’s largest supplier of office furniture, the theory of “ecosystem of place” is a boiling pot of revelation, where neuroscience and anthropology are helixed / spliced to create interiors where workers on all levels can function better than ever before.

Although STEELCASE have been operational since 1912, their profound leadership in making the office a more productive space was born in 1968 with the conceptualisation of the first personalised work stations. Their latest personal workspace design, The Brody Chair, is testimony to the evolution of research+design DNA-producing, innovative ways to work.

How can one mitigate every day workload pressures from overwhelming, detracting, exhausting and draining employed talent? It is logical that the space where we work have a significant influence on our productivity? Has the office become obsolete in the technological environment in which we work? Is our operational space actually still the office? Yes! Office interiors matter more today than ever before: in how space is being utilised, how technology is being applied, how a company’s goals and culture is being showcased and channelled.

We are not talking mere real estate, we are talking about an the office interior becoming an instrument to empower and support productivity, cultivate innovation and contribute to the happiness and well-being the people utilising the space.

If we want people to share information, collaborate better and innovate more, we need to invest in “ecosystem of place” that promote social interaction, creativity and individuation. Human beings are not only regarded as the users of space, but since they become physical components of the interior, they are considered elements of the operational space. They have to move, eat, socialise, rest and create during the 90% of the awake time they spend indoors and making provision for all of these activities equates to harnessing your team’s most profound potential.


As a practice, Rumour Has It and designers the world over benefit from STEELCASE’s WorkSpace Futures team’s work with neuroscientists to try to understand our human capacity for distraction. Our brains can only manage four or five hours of sustained and concentrated mental effort before exhaustion. The point of the “ecosystem of place” is to provide spaces where that mental energy is channelled into relevant solutions and not supplanted by distractions.

STEELCASE’s most profound insights come with reference to why we are so susceptible to visual distraction (think messages arriving in your inbox or your mobile), in parallel with the dichotomy of needing professional quiet time; why effective collaboration and creativity also requires the opportunity to think, digest and process in private.

As Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and a STEELCASE collaborator, says: “There is a complete misunderstanding of what collaboration is. There are lots of people who need to go away, to be on their own to think, and then come back and share.” This means that a collaborative office working cafe, or alternative “third space” should be juxtaposed by the provision of individualized contemplative alone-time areas.

In 2013, STEELCASE announced that it had discovered nine new postures – The Draw, The Multi-Device, The Text, The Cocoon, The Swipe, The Smart Lean, The Trance, The Take-It-In and The Strunch – around which it designed the Gesture chair. These insights were gained from studying 2000 people across 9 countries and is typical of the scientific approach STEELCASE take towards workspace solutions.

Workers rebel against generalisation and thrive under a more human-centered approach that enrich their emotional, cognitive and physical well-being. Contemporary office culture is about creating meaningful places for people to work—places that exude excitement and energy and which harness the latest enabling technology in support of navigating the complexity of work.

Recent STEELCASE research on the new ways leaders need to work to create the next generation of agile, adaptive teams for resilient organizations, revealed interesting strategies. These include the creation of thoughtfully-curated destinations that blend design, meaningful substance and technological performance while giving people freedom to choose where and how they work. Progressive leaders are reshaping their organizations to operate as a system that’s as complex and adaptive as the natural world. Change is the new normal and leaders are looking for ways to tap into new ideas without overwhelming teams with information.

STEELCASE researchers and designers have distilled innovative concepts for leadership-interiors that empower executives to lead in radically better ways. “People used to think that technology would make offices obsolete—but the opposite is happening. Technology will be embedded in offices so it actually helps people work better and makes the workplace even more relevant.” says Allan Smith, vice president, global marketing at STEELCASE. Technology should empower workers, teams and organizations and mitigate the sense of overload they frequently feel as work-pace intensifies and change accelerates.

The aim is to create space that people love and prefer by informed and considered design, as opposed to space that they merely have to use. The new office interior enables the juggling of multiple teams and projects in tandem, allowing continued transitioning between options and achieving a myriad of outcomes among a maze of activates – a real life reflection of the pace of work today. According to STEELCASE researchers, new office interior design should take into consideration the five senses—sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch – all these enhance the way workers experience their environment and by getting the setting “right” in terms of the research, your workforce flourish at the behest of design that promote mindfulness, authenticity, belonging, meaning, optimism, positivity and vitality.

Nurture your team’s sense of purpose through office eco-system-design, supported by respected scientific research such as that referenced by STEELCASE, and you will address their need to belong, contribute, master and trust – outcomes that should be the pursuit of all purveyors of workforce-talent.