Strategic design for your workplace

Experts say more and more businesses want to bring in residential furniture, accessories

Biggs Insurance office
Biggs Insurance in downtown Vancouver recently had Workplace Resource of Oregon & SW Washington work to help design a new look for their downtown workplace. Courtesy of Biggs Insurance

There’s always been a distinction between residential and commercial designs, but according to Jordan Mumley, account manager for commercial design company Workplace Resource of Oregon & SW Washington, that distinction is going away now as more and more businesses want to bring in furniture and accessories that would formerly have been considered residential items, such as couches or lounge chairs.

“There is a huge economic swell in this area, and lots of companies are looking for ways to be efficient with their office space,” Mumley said. “And with the price of commercial real estate per square foot increasing, they’re looking to maximize the use of their space, especially growing companies.”

“Vancouver has been growing the last 10 years at a pretty consistent rate,” Mumley continued, “and with completion of the Waterfront project, the city is now stepping out from kind of being in the shadow of Portland, and is coming into their own.”

“The design trend is making the workplace less ‘corporate’ in feel,” said Anthony Pepe, marketing manager for WRO. “(This) may mean bringing in more casual settings. The style of furniture in the office as a whole is ‘residential,’ and that changes the feel and design of the office. That residential feel is being integrated into the overall office footprint, moving from corporate and conservative to a more residential feel.”

Mumley said there is a big difference between what they do at WRO and what an individual can do by just picking up some furniture at Costco, IKEA or other retailers.

“We’re not just space planners, we’re workplace strategists,” he said. “There are tools we use to plan spaces and to allow people to be more efficient. And it’s not just design, because it can look beautiful but if it doesn’t serve a function, nothing’s fully utilized.”

For most businesses or organizations, the two biggest investments are employees, and building and infrastructure. Mumley said they want to make sure a business’s building and infrastructure takes care of their first biggest investment — their employees.

“WRO creates workplaces that are uniquely tailored to help teams flourish and their companies thrive,” Pepe said. The WRO strategy is geared toward the ‘living office.’ Before the late 1960s, there were no cubicles. Then throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the trend morphed into less user-friendly and human-centered spaces, more focused around fitting a category of people into a space. Spaces were utilitarian, a one-size-fits-all fashion that didn’t support individuals. As technology changed, it changed how people worked, with a growing rise of knowledge workers, so work became less about production and more about collaboration.”

Rich Biggs, a client of WRO and owner of Biggs Insurance in downtown Vancouver, said that at Biggs, they prefer to work with a local representative and WRO fit the bill, as the owner, Terry Wren, and some of his team have been long-time Vancouver residents.

“The interaction we had with them from the beginning was always positive and helpful,” Biggs said. “We had in our mind what we thought we wanted, and they helped bring that vision to reality. Their team helped us with the design by starting with what we thought we wanted to see. From there, they helped with various types of products and how each product would fit and function in our space. They took our blueprints and designed a layout with workstations and color schemes that we could look at and better understand the look and feel of the new workspaces. The flooring and electrical teams were impressed with their plans, which made everyone’s work easier. By having visual layouts with optional seating and flow of the room, we could bring in other staff to weigh in on the options presented and get more support for our final decision of the workspace, function and colors.”

Biggs said they were so impressed with WRO taking their ideas and bringing them to reality that they have asked them to help with the design of more workspace on another floor of their building.

“In the early 80s, we moved into our current space and hadn’t done a true refresh of the space since our move,” Biggs said. “This new design allows us to better interact with our customers while meeting them in more comfortable and private settings. The new workspace has also helped us when trying to attract new team members.”

Mumley said WRO aims to provide the company they are working with the ability to create a foundation for employees to be comfortable, capable and connected.

“From start to finish, they spoke our language and took our ideas and put them to paper where we could see the final product,” Biggs said. “They delivered on time and their team was very flexible and supportive through the entire process. From working within our budget and design to installation, it all worked very efficiently and to budget. We have had many positive comments on the look and feel of our new workspace. We took a 1980s feel, brought it to our workspace and caught up to the new millennium. I would certainly recommend WRO to anyone looking to partner up with someone who can help with updating their workspace and overall interior designs. WRO has the people and tools to present you with what the finished product will look like before you make that financial commitment to move forward.”

In Southwest Washington and Oregon, WRO is the certified Herman Miller dealer, an American global manufacturer of furniture, based out of Michigan. As the original manufacturer of their own line of furniture, Herman Miller is a worldwide business and the leading furniture manufacturer.

Though Herman Miller does both commercial and residential, for commercial spaces they provide desks, screens, chairs, file cabinets and so on. They are a leader in ergonomic furniture. In the 1990s, they came out with the Aeron chair, which changed the way manufacturers created task chairs; an Aeron chair is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York.

“Companies invest in ergonomic tools that allow their employees adjustability and control of their environment,” Pepe said. “For example, user height-adjustable workstations, high-performance task chairs and adjustable monitor arms. The Herman Miller mantra is: ‘The best position is the next position. When you need to stand, stand; when you need to sit, sit.’”

Once an overall design is finalized for a company, the team at WRO recommends specific furniture settings that fit the customer’s budget and that support the character and activities that are unique to them. In addition to representing Herman Miller, there are 200-plus other manufacturers WRO works with.

“To help customers visualize that design, we first utilize digital tools to help customers visualize what we may be proposing to them and the solutions they may be investing in,” Pepe said. “WRO’s team of designers use software that creates photo-realistic renderings of the customers furniture design. On occasion, we also utilize “augmented reality” software that allows customers to visualize a furniture design in their own space. We’re excited about emerging technology, available in the near future, that will allow us to use virtual reality for customers to experience a proposed design/solution.”

In the beginning of March, WRO co-sponsored, with iQ Credit Union, the first Grow Clark County event of this year, a forum started by the Columbia River Economic Development Council (CREDC) to showcase businesses in the region. The event, “Human Factors in Workplace Design,” took place at Tandem Hall in Vancouver, featuring a keynote presentation from Jeevan Peter, Human Factors & Ergonomic Specialist for Herman Miller.

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