voestalpine Roll Forming Corporation
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How COVID-19 is impacting the office space and furniture demands.

For many companies, the productivity of its employees relies heavily on highly engaged people working together.

Although more people will be working from home more than ever due to COVID-19, the relevance of the physical collaborative work space isn’t going away. As reopening phases progress, companies will still need to provide a space where employees come together safely to innovate beyond virtual means.

Let’s explore what some of the major office furniture companies have to offer on this topic in regards to what they are hearing from their customers, the future of office layouts and product solutions to help employees be both productive and healthy at work.

Before we dive into the content, we must first connect the dots on why a roll former is writing about this subject matter in the first place.

Roll Forming Corporation in the Office Furniture Industry

RFC has a been a manufacturing partner in the office furniture market for over 50 years including the production of metal components for the original cubicle system designed in the 1960’s.

We have evolved with the design needs, layout trends and technology enhancements of what the constantly evolving modern office space demands.

Today, we produce components for cubicle panels and systems, height adjustable desks and tables, movable wall systems and various other roll formed profiles for the office industry. Some of those components have involved pioneering new proprietary technologies and processes to create innovative solutions for some of the top office furniture companies in the world.

Needless to say, our customers have challenged us to excellence in manufacturing processes. Our engineering partnerships have allowed our customers to remain one step ahead in their marketplace.

We care about what is going on in this market. We are listening to this market as COVID-19 continues to be a major driver to the trends moving forward. And we have some insight to share.

Let’s dive in.

Office Furniture Industry Trends: Then and Now

Pre-COVID Trends

Cubicle privacy to wide open collaborative spaces. This has been the most visible trend in the office furniture industry, including more seamless integrations of technology and ergonomics. In summary: collaborate, use technology and be healthy at work.

Then there’s COVID-19 that came in like a wrecking ball forcing most office working employees to disperse from their team oriented and collaborative spaces to work from home, whether temporarily or forever.

A major question we are asking as an office furniture supplier is what impact COVID-19 will have on the way we work together moving forward, ultimately impacting the trends as we know them today? Will more people actually be working from home or returning to the office? Will cubicle walls continue to be in less demand or will they actually be making a comeback?

Mid-COVID Trends

In our recent poll administered on LinkedIn, here are the responses in regards to if one was or had been working from home:

Question: Are you or have you been working from home?

As of June 2020, 18% perceived that they would be working from home for the unforeseeable future.

82% were already back to physically working in their workplace or returning soon.

In another poll administered by mmqb.com, the question was asked about the relevance of more traditional office systems. Question: Will more traditional systems furniture make a comeback now?

83.7% said yes while 16.3% said no. It would be interesting to see the results if this poll was administered pre-COVID compared to mid-COVID. By the way, mmqb.com is a great resource to subscribe to for weekly updates, news and innovations in the office industry.

Post-COVID Trends

For those returning, the physical work space will need to evolve to accommodate a mixed bag of both open spaces and privacy in order to foster collaboration, productivity, safety, health and well-being.

One thing the trend of swinging from cubicles to wide open spaces taught us is the realization that organizations will need to offer flexible spaces for when employees need to work in isolation or with others depending on how they do their best work.

As states reopen and guidelines are enforced, many employers have to quickly navigate how to safely return employees to work. Check your local, state and CDC guidelines for clarity based on your location, industry and reopening phase.

Let’s see what some of the leading office furniture companies are hearing in the marketplace and what solutions they have to offer in helping companies follow safety guidelines as work environments continue to be on the move and in transition.

Office Furniture Industry Response: Research & Strategies

Redesign. Redefine. Retrofit. Reconfigure. Reinvent.

At RFC, we call this Embracing the COVID Challenge. Signature office furniture giant Herman Miller refers to this as Embracing a New Reality in their recently published white paper titled Workplace Strategy Insights for COVID-19 and beyond. Tips on how to redesign the flow of existing office spaces along with many other insights can be derived from its contents.

Haworth’s article on How to Bring People Back to the Workplace identifies important questions leaders should be asking their employees prior to their return. How is your team functioning right now? Who needs to return to the workplace? The questions get at the heart of the cultural shift or dynamic and any concerns around workplace safety, health and well-being. Some companies have gone as far as to hold an open house to help their employees feel safe and comfortable prior to reopening.

Kimball’s research summary on The Redefined Workplace emphasizes that there is no one size fits all approach for the future evolving workplace. Kimball shares recent learnings that have inspired developing products and solutions to support work, wherever it happens. Be sure to check out the last page that is full of valuable data and resource links in regards to this topic.

Steelcase outlines the evolution of office adaptations in waves for now, near-term and far away in their research article Designing the Post COVID Workplace. Steelcase has also provided Navigating What’s Next: The Post-COVID Workplace with strategies for retrofitting, reconfiguring and reinventing the workplace with the highest safety measures.

Office Furniture Industry Response: Implementing Product Solutions

Mobile Carts for Focused Work

The KORE Work Carts by Kimball are adaptable mobile workspaces for today’s evolving environments. The KORE line is award winning because this product line addresses a variety of needs in the workplace. Remember Kimball’s research study about how we are living in a world where one size does not fit all? Well, this product line addresses this issue along with screens to aid in proper distancing measures.

Barriers and Screens for Space Division

Need to adapt office reconfigurations quickly using existing office furniture? Retrofit and redesign by making slight modifications to existing layouts with flexible and multi-functional barriers and screens.

Kimball’s space division Product Solutions for a Responsible Return showcases the before and after use of existing spaces with products such as KORE Carts, XSEDE screens and Perks dividers to name a few. The offerings are vast including cubicle half walls and mobile floor divider screens with or without wheels and integrations of technology, storage and white boards.

Check out slides 15 through 31 for the Then and Now visuals and diagrams on how to seamlessly and quickly integrate barriers and screens to serve as immediate and long term solutions for COVID related office modifications.

Modular and Movable Walls for Visual Clarity

Herman Miller developed its Overlay product line to create visual clarity in open-plan offices. It not only helps people choose where their best work is performed but allows agility to evolve on the fly. The freestanding structure of tall movable walls offers unique, customizable, functional and scalable solutions to any space.

Pods for Privacy and Virtual Meetings

Pods function as a phone/office booth and offer privacy and focus to a noisy work environment. Pods are an ideal production solution for those with virtual meetings and we all know those are not going away any time soon.

Those working from home who are looking forward to returning to the work place in order to escape the headaches of disruptive work situations at home will also find pods beneficial to their focus and productivity. Employees can step away from their desk for a private virtual meeting or to further focus. Like any other shared space moving forward, a revolving cleaning schedule would need to be maintained.

Check out products like Framery or the many pod offerings from Steelcase Pods where you can take a pod quiz: Which Pod is for You?

Mobile Tables and Chairs for Safe Distancing within Meetings and Trainings

Consider replacing the large shared tables and dense quantity of chairs in conference rooms with individual mobile tables and chairs. Kimball Health has cross promoted its Aidin height-adjustable tables for any workplace given its mobile ability to accommodate social distancing measures in any environment. Haworth’s Ergotron mobile cart table is a good option that supports a wide variety of work flows and work styles.

voestalpine Roll Forming Corporation offers custom roll forming, welding, bending and laser cutting services specializing in the production of high volume, high quality custom shaped open profiles and tube components in the office furniture market.

We like to partner with design engineering and operations teams early in the product life cycle discussions. To our current office furniture market customer base, this is what makes RFC a true partner rather than just a supplier. To learn more, visit our Office Furniture market page and explore our technologies, services and solutions.

Roll Forming Corporation is part of the voestalpine group. In its business segments, voestalpine is a globally leading steel and technology group with a unique combination of materials and processing expertise. voestalpine, which operates globally, has around 500 Group companies and locations in more than 50 countries on all five continents.