A Brief History of the Cool Office
Once upon a time, every office looked the same. If you went into a business in the 1950s anywhere in the country, the furniture was as formulaic as the gray flannel suits worn by the executives running them.
There was a certain respectability in conformity. Looking like every other office was a way of showing that your business was as serious and mainstream as the IBM Electric typewriters on the secretaries’ desks.
That all changed when computers started replacing typewriters. The offices of tech companies from Silicon Valley to Seattle had a different aesthetic, from corporate ping pong tables to the famous photo of Steve Jobs working on his floor.
The modern office has a very different feel, designed to showcase creativity and innovation. Today, conformity means complacency. Having a generic office is seen by some as a sign that your business isn’t thinking outside the box and risks being left behind.
"The business casual tech startup office aesthetic is fast becoming a corporate interior design cliché," Kristin Hohenadel wrote in Slate recently. "The story goes that innovative companies need to offer something more than sterile, old-school office environments to attract creative talent. But these days, every company wants to think of itself as a unique, innovative, creative, tech-driven enterprise."
I’ve seen this first-hand as an executive of a family-run office and school furniture company. Our customers want customization. We are seeing an increased demand these days for furniture that comes in different patterns rather than just black, gray or white. They want hexagonal stools and built-in USB chargers and sleek modern designs in an array of colors.
This is especially true in reception areas, which are the calling cards for any business. Companies are no longer content with a generic looking sofa, chair and table. They want something that stands out and gets attention with interesting shapes, bright colors and funky patterns. This helps impress not only clients but also potential employees.
The Internet is also driving this cool office movement. Media outlets figured out that people love clicking through photo galleries of cool offices online, and the more outlandish the better. Today, cool offices are the work equivalent of tiny houses—you can’t help but look. There are photo galleries on sites like Fortune, Forbes and Fast Company, not to mention the photos employees share on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.
There are exceptions to the trend though. Banks and law offices tend to be conservative in their furniture picks, sticking with the tried-and-true designs like dark leather chairs and oak bookcases. That’s sending a message, too. These businesses want customers to feel reassured by tradition as they make major decisions about their money and their future.
After all, we all love casual Fridays, but no one wants to see their accountant or their attorney in flip flops and a Hawaiian shirt.
In today’s constantly innovating economy, though, most businesses want to seem as forward-looking. When you’re setting up your reception area, keep that in mind. You don’t want to send the wrong signal about your business to a potential customer or client.
Whether you intend it or not, your office furniture is saying something about your business’ values. Make sure you’re listening.
Blake Zalcberg is president of OFM, a family-run office and school furniture manufacturer and distributor headquartered in North Carolina with distribution centers there and in Arizona, California, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Washington state. For more than twenty years, it has provided affordable and quality furniture through a nationwide dealer network, offering the latest concepts and designs to businesses, and government, health care and educational facilities. Working with manufacturers in Mexico, Taiwan and China, OFM designs furniture to meet the highest industry standards which are sold through a variety of retailers, mail-order catalogs, and online dealers including Staples, Wayfair, Overstock, and National Business Furniture. To learn more about OFM, visit: http://www.ofminc.com.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post on February 29, 2016.