The latest workplace trend: collaboration. Gone, at least for the fortunate, are the organizational silos and Dilbert-style cubicles. Now the emphasis is on casual, spontaneous exchanges -- the kinds of interactions that might usually happen at the water cooler or over a cubicle wall. With its latest collection of contract furniture, Allsteel wants to be among the first to cater to this new office paradigm, offering pieces expressly designed for idea sharing.
The designs were refined using critiques from over 200 people.
Called Gather, the 11-piece line, which won Silver at this year's NeoCon, accommodates a range of working styles and body postures, with the majority performing dual functions. Linger, for instance, is a chunky lounge-type chair with a seat back formed as a perch for another coworker. Hedge is a vertical freestanding unit designed to be a meeting hub -- one side is contoured so that one person can lean against it, while the other side has a work surface for laptops and tablets. Other pieces delineate spatial boundaries: Upholstered stepped seating modules, called Rise, provide another informal conversation spot and could be used as room dividers. (Check out the slideshow for more details.)
The collection is itself the product of collaboration. Allsteel issued an RFP to about six design firms, requesting a brief on their assessment of the collaborative workplace, where it's headed and what's needed to support it. Allsteel ended up selecting two teams: IDa Design, which has a track record with the company (it developed the Stride office system) was asked to take the lead with its expertise in industrial design, and HOK, which was brought in to share its experience in workplace design. Early research eventually led to preliminary prototypes, which were refined in design critiques from 200 professionals in eight cities.
This newfound appreciation for collaboration may very well have been sparked by the success of companies like Google that have created a culture of dorm-room-style interaction. But it also stems from a cold, hard economic reality: Offices are shrinking, and to offset smaller workstations, companies are providing collaborative spaces. Allsteel's Gather may not be the sleekest collection of office furniture we've seen, but it embodies the right idea: a break from the soul-sucking, institutional cube.