Microsoft and Steelcase Want to Help You Build a Dream Workspace

By Juan Martinez Features PCmag

Have you ever looked at your immediate workspace and thought, "God, I hate my life!" If you have, then you're probably sitting on a creaky plastic chair, typing on a shallow keyboard, staring at your Gateway desktop monitor, and applying to new jobs. Fortunately for you, Microsoft and Steelcase, a 104-year-old retailer of innovative office furniture, are working in concert to deliver a revolutionary new workspace experience.

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The partnership, which lets Steelcase become a certified Microsoft Surface Hub reseller, is based on the notion that creative potential can only be realized when individuals and teams are provided with the architecture, furniture, and technology to produce seamless, collaborative workflows. Think about it like this: Do you really want your graphic design teams collaborating over instant messenger as they attempt to create content in separate cubicles on separate floors of your corporate headquarters?

The Microsoft-Steelcase relationship brings together the power of the Microsoft Surface Hub (which is already a game-changing collaboration device), Surface Studio, Windows 10, and Steelcase's architectural and office furnishing expertise to develop avant-garde workspaces.

"The Focus Studio"

The Design

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Steelcase demoed five unique "Creative Spaces" designed to take advantage of what the company refers to as "Me" and "We" workspaces. Each is meant to complement the specific situation, tools, and capacity required to accomplish a given task. For example, the "Duo Studio" office space is a cozy conference room surrounded by thick glass walls and V.I.A. Privacy Walls. The room features two adjacent Surface Studios, both situated at an elevated position at the rear of the room. Beneath the studios is a loveseat, which is about four feet in front of a 55-inch Microsoft Surface Hub. Duo Studio is specifically designed for two creative workers (e.g., graphic designers, video editors, illustrators) to collaborate on a project, while Miracasting one of their screens onto the Microsoft Surface Hub. The loveseat is meant for a creative director or client to sit in so that he or she can review the project in a large format and provide suggestions for improvement.

"The Duo Studio"

The "Ideation Hub" office space is a slightly more traditional conference room with an innovative approach to seating. It features an 84-inch Microsoft Surface Hub, a small standing table designed for three or four people, and high stools that let employees occupy a similar height whether they're sitting or standing. The room is designed to encourage brainstorm sessions via the Microsoft Surface Hub's whiteboard application and Skype for Business video conferencing. The high stools aren't just built to provide equity among sitters and standers, they're also designed to encourage employees to go up to the Microsoft Surface Hub and use the whiteboard app. The table even has footrests designed to make it easier for people with short legs to stand up, according to Steelcase.

"The Ideation Hub"

There is also the "Focus Studio" and "Respite Room" for individual creative work, and the "Maker Commons" for larger-scale group collaboration that doesn't require much privacy. Each of these dreamspaces is more comfortable and practical for creative work than the squeaky, broken, pleather chair that sits in the middle of your obnoxiously noisy, open-floor-plan office.

"The Respite Room"

The "Brody WorkLounge" was my favorite suggested update to the modern workspace. Although it doesn't revolve around Microsoft technology per se, the Brody WorkLounge gives individual workers a cozy, private nook, surrounded by a mesh, metallic screen. Workers sit in ergonomic reclining chairs as their feet rest on small ottomans while tilting/sliding desks provide support for laptops and tablets. The Brody WorkLounge is ideal for "Me" work that requires deep thought, a little privacy, and some tender loving care.

"The Brody WorkLounge"

Don't Quit Your Day Job

As exciting as the Microsoft-Steelcase partnership is, don't expect to waltz into your next interview and find a bunch of Microsoft Surface Hubs situated in front of plush reclining armchairs. The Microsoft Surface Hub and Steelcase products are extremely high end. For example, a Cobi Steelcase office chair costs a whopping $448 (no, I didn't accidentally add an extra "4") and the Airtouch adjustable standing desk costs $1,479. So, yeah, if you somehow land a job at a Steelcase-furnished office, then delete your resume and cover letter from your Microsoft Surface Book and go play the lotto.

For those of you who run companies or are thinking of running a company, you can also work with Steelcase to help plan your renovation or design your workspace from scratch. Steelcase said there's no minimum investment for this kind of consulting, which means that even small companies with crucial collaborative technological needs will be able to take advantage of a consultation and a few smaller-ticket items. Just make sure your fat VC wire transfer clears before you start charging workspaces and Microsoft Surface Hubs to your mom and dad's credit card.

"Maker Commons"

Trust Is Creative Lubricant?

One other thing to consider: With 25 percent of the US workforce telecommuting at some frequency, does it really make sense to drop Fort Knox-level investments on fancy work hubs, collaboration kiosks, and $4,556 Walkstation desk-treadmills? Steelcase CEO James Keane offered a refreshingly honest take on the remote work phenomenon. He acknowledged that there are, indeed, some jobs that don't require workers to be in-house, surrounded by Steelcase furniture and architecture. These jobs are primarily learn-and-perform tasks that don't demand much collaboration and, more importantly, team chemistry. However, creative jobs (especially those that require teamwork) shouldn't be done remotely, he argued.

"Creative work is at its core about trust," Keane said. "It's the human part of the formula. If I disagree with your idea, [you have to trust that] it's because I disagree, not because I hate you. Trust is the lubricant of a creative organization. If you're going to invest in a space, don't invest in a space that creates little islands that separate people."

That's where Steelcase and Microsoft come into the picture. Both companies are fixated on creativity, collaboration, and technology…with a lot of luxury sprinkled on top.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.