NeoCon Presents A Sneak Peek Of The Workplace Of The Future

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Presented at Neocon Sagegreenlife’s Verdanta is a plant-filled portable wall that doubles as a writing board and also works as a partition
  • NeoCon, the world’s largest event for the commercial interiors industry took place last week in Chicago
  • Over 50,000 design professionals gathered at the event and over 500 companies showcased their latest products
  • Since the 1960s, NeoCon has been a harbinger of trends and issues affecting design and the workplace

Over 50,000 design professionals gathered in Chicago last week for NeoCon, the world’s largest event for the commercial interiors industry.

On view were products from more than 500 companies showcasing the latest furniture, finishes and accessories to support a technology-infused workplace. With an overriding focus on human-centered design, products also provided solutions to the search for privacy in open office settings and tools to create environments that encourage collaboration.

Held annually for a half a century at The Mart in Chicago, NeoCon has been a harbinger of not only trends, but issues affecting design and the workplace.

Since its beginning in the late 1960s it has served as a launchpad for innovations that have influenced how we live and work. According to the U.S. Dept of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and BIFMA, the U.S. office furniture industry has grown from roughly $830 million in the 1960s to an estimated $13.4 billion in 2017.

Below is a  brief summary of what we observed at NeoCon and what you can expect to see from manufacturers in the coming year.

  1. Biophilia is big. As a proven contributor to employee wellness, plants were very much in evidence; from walls of vertical gardens, to succulent-lined troughs of benching systems, to lounges that resembled leafy jungles. 
  2. Storage is shrinking. Two and three-drawer pedestal files have long been the companion to the desktop. With minimal needs for paper and other storage, these pieces are becoming smaller in size, with drawers replaced by open shelves sized to fit a change of shoes. 
  3. The disappearing trash bin. With a move toward open offices comes a concentrated effort to clear clutter and streamline the visual horizon. The latest victim: the personal trash can. Some systems showed trash and recycling bins located discreetly at the end of a run of bench seating in drawers that pull out when needed. Other times they are part of a centralized amenities grouping in a nearby location designed to encourage serendipitous interactions and boost physical movement. 
  4. Charging at your service. Manufacturers are responding to a population with a constant reliance on electronic devices by incorporating power and data into all sorts of applications. In addition to table troughs and free-standing power stations, USB ports and power outlets were spied in lounge chairs, low tables and stand up phone stations. 
  5. Lounges live. The workplace is taking more and more cues from hospitality providers, and manufacturers are providing the furniture and finishes to make it happen. Conference rooms and reception areas are resembling lounges with bar-height seating and tables, a variety of lounge chairs and sofas, low tables and the music and lighting that creates a club-like ambiance. 
  6. Sit-to-stand for all. In addition to the sit-to-stand desk, which has become ubiquitous, conference and other meeting tables that transition to multiple heights for group meetings and more formal offices are now available. 
  7. Write on. Writable surfaces come in all shapes and sizes. New options were seen for portable whiteboards, as well as temporary and permanent walls made for brainstorming and strategy sessions. 
  8. Agile workers. Agile furniture. Tables, chairs, stools, privacy screens and even storage and writing displays are becoming lighter and more portable. Maximum mobility empowers the individual or team who moves frequently throughout the day and wants to shape their environment of choice. 
  9. Possibilities for privacy. New ways to find refuge within open offices continue to emerge. Many variations of high-back wing-style chairs were seen, as were movable screens, two-person booths and individual phone rooms. 
  10. Sound off. Acoustic treatments are materializing in a plethora of decorative and functional forms. Now available: numerous variations of acoustic lamps, privacy screens, rugs and, decorative ceiling treatments, most in a broad selection of colors, design and range of NRC ratings. 
  11. DIY adjustments. The workplace is mobile and agile, meaning that many people occupy the same seat throughout the day. To serve a varied population, manufacturers are designing chairs, monitor arms and other furnishings that adjust simply and intuitively, often with minimal or nonexistent controls.

Through the 1970s energy crisis, 2008 recession and political and economic upheaval, NeoCon has served as a platform for innovative products, new ideas, influential voices, and a vital meeting place for the industry.

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    Over time, design priorities have expanded to encompass versatility, inclusivity, and corporate responsibility.

    In recent decades, the workplace has been redefined by technology and startup culture, followed by a focus on wellness, sustainability and comfort. Technology and mobility continued to blur the lines between work, home and life. Today, customization, materiality, and uniqueness rank among the top design priorities.

    Looking ahead, workplace design will continue to evolve, even as big data and smart technologies drive new modes of office planning. Human well-being is emerging as a new benchmark for design, as is inclusivity for people of all abilities, genders, and ages. No doubt eyes will continue to be on NeoCon for thought leadership and predictions on what the world can expect next from human-focused design.

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