The Office of Tomorrow … Today!

future officeA desire to boost communication and collaboration was a big part of the explanation behind Yahoo!’s much-debated decision to call its telecommuters back to the office.  

As a step toward bringing Yahoo! employees closer together, perhaps Marissa Mayer and company should get in touch with Herman Miller Inc.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal article (subscription required), the Zeeland, Mich.-based office furniture manufacturer—often credited with introducing cubicles to the workplace in the 1960s—is cleaning up these days, helping companies ditch the cubicle concept in favor of cutting-edge office layouts that encourage teamwork, not to mention save space and cut costs.

Herman Miller’s revenue, the article says, has increased by nearly one-third in the past two years, thanks in part to high-profile clients such as Microsoft Corp., which hired the company’s consultants to track how space was being used at a handful of Microsoft locations. Upon finding that conference rooms designed for 20 people were often being used by only two or three at a time, Microsoft created a number of “focus rooms”—cozier spaces more ideal for meetings of two-to-four people.

The notion of “post-cubicle” offices isn’t new, of course, with such spaces beginning to pop up at least a decade ago, corresponding with the rise of electronic communications and the type of ever-evolving technologies that have changed the definition of what a workstation can be. But the recent recession put a damper on the trend, the Wall Street Journal notes, citing figures from market researcher IBISWorld that found the office-furniture industry’s revenue dropping 26 percent in 2009, for example.

This year, however, figures to be a strong year of growth, according to IBISWorld, which predicts office-furniture makers’ revenue will reach $21.5 billion this year, an increase of more than 4 percent compared to 2012.

Silicon Valley companies are well-known for their innovative, inventive work environments—think Google’s new “Bay View” campus, which features angled walkways designed to create accidental encounters—but they aren’t the only ones reimagining the modern office.

Campbell Soup Co., for instance, recently remodeled its Camden, N.J. headquarters with furniture and input from Herman Miller. In addition to standardizing managers’ and executives’ offices at 120 square feet in order to create more open space for common areas, Campbell has created “huddle rooms” to host smaller meetings, similar to the spaces in use at Microsoft.

The changes have certainly had the intended effect, says Beth Jolly, a Campbell spokesperson.

“People are collaborating much more,” Jolly told the Wall Street Journal, without being “bound by walls or cubes.”

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