A far cry from its roots as The Metal Office Furniture Company—whose first patent was a fireproof wastebasket—Steelcase today has a global presence with a massive portfolio of award-winning brands and products for business, healthcare, and educational markets. This year, the giant celebrates a giant anniversary—number 100. To mark the occasion, Steelcase is looking forward with updated headquarters and an anniversary website.
The latter, 100.steelcase.com, fittingly heralds the theme “100 Dreams, 100 Minds, 100 Years.” The website features video interviews with children who share their dreams for the future, as well as insights from thought leaders in the fields of design, art, science, and education, including Paola Antonelli, William McDonough, and Toshiko Mori.
Steelcase is often on the advisory side when it comes to workplace solutions, but the company took the opportunity to apply this
expertise when recently reconfiguring its own headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Built in the 1980s, the headquarters fit the corporate campus typology. Employees were split between a headquarters building and another building off-site, a pyramid-shaped corporate development center.
The recent recession prompted Steelcase to reevaluate its use of space, and it decided to pare down by selling the pyramid and moving employees to the main building over a three-year period. The project was dubbed Connect 12 because the company set a goal to connect all employees at the headquarters by 2012. “What started out, quite frankly, as a real estate project became a question of ‘is there a way we could bring employees together and create more energy?’” explains Nancy Hickey, Steelcase’s chief administrative officer. “We didn’t want this to just be a ‘box move,’” she continues, “if we had to move people, we wanted to move them into a space that lives up to our brand promise.”
Best place strategy
As part of that brand promise, Steelcase acknowledges that each employee works differently today. As a global company, Steelcase is particularly aware of how technology has changed the work place. “Technology and place are becoming one tool to support the evolution of culture and work,” believes Dave Lathrop, director of research and strategy. Some workers don’t need an office or assigned desk with a desktop computer, and can accomplish their work with a laptop, tablet, and cellphone. The reconfiguration of the headquarters allows employees to choose where they can work most effectively, or “best place strategy” as Hickey calls it, depending on whether they need to hold a meeting, participate in a conference call, or work quietly by themselves. “Employees understand that we trust them to be doing their work,” Hickey reports, “which breeds loyalty and good work.”
The focal point of the Connect 12 project is the Work Café, the newly renovated 20,000-square-foot cafeteria and seating area in the headquarters’ lower level, designed by Joey Shimoda and Susan Chang of Shimoda Design Group in Los Angeles. But to call it a cafeteria is an understatement. In fact, the Work Café feels more like a hotel: visitors enter through the building’s atrium and descend a grand walnut staircase with an artful honeycomb-patterned canopy floating above, and at the base they are greeted by a concierge.
While it might appear that this sleek setting was designed with clients in mind, it’s mostly for the employees and “embraces the notion of the nomadic worker,” explains Shimoda. The premise is simple, according to Lathrop: “let’s make it the place that people choose to go when they have the choice to be anywhere.” The Work Café offers a variety of seating configurations and degrees of intimacy, from lounge-like settings ideal for informal meetings to bar-height counters with stools, the perfect perch from which to grab a quick coffee and answer emails.
Though renovations of Steelcase’s corporate headquarters were initially prompted by the need to consolidate real estate, the company identified an opportunity to do more with less space. Now that employees have the freedom to choose where they want to work, their reactions have been positive. These flexible spaces have improved productivity and instilled pride and as an unexpected bonus, the new interiors created the possibility for serendipitous interaction. By fostering that kind of environment, Steelcase ensures there will be many more anniversaries to celebrate.
Key Design Highlights
- Acknowledging that people work differently, workplace arrangements offer a variety of seating and desking options for engineers, designers, sales, and marketing.
- A dramatic walnut staircase connects the main floor lobby to the lower level Work Café. Shimoda Design Group designed the café and staircase.
- Variations on comfortable seating in the Work Café encourage informal meetings.
Designer Shimoda Design Group and Steelcase
Where Grand Rapids, Michigan
What 20,000 square feet (Work Café only) on one floor
Cost/sf $240 (Work Café only)