Office Furniture

Resurgence of the office real estate segment bodes well for real estate developers, architects, interior designers, and for the office furniture sector. Godrej Interio, Vector Projects, Featherlite, and Steelcase, share their insights on the current trends in design and furniture fit-outs in modern offices, and their capabilities in meeting escalating demand, with Seema Gupta.

The need to create a fluid and vibrant workplace environment for India's increasing dynamic and highly qualified workforce is driving furniture manufacturers and office designers to study anew the ergonomics, lighting, space and layout in modern office design and furnishings.

Positive Outlook on Office Occupancy
According to the recently released report 'Indian Real Estate: Coming To Terms With Varying Speeds of Growth' by JLL India in partnership with CII, unidirectional growth within real estate sector has made way for corresponding growth trends across office, retail and residential markets. The commercial real estate segment (office +retail) has been on a fast recovery with strong demand for space and rents seeing a healthy upside. Given the promise of favourable impact from REITs and FDI liberalisation (in construction, retail and manufacturing), this enthusiasm is likely to continue.

Office sector showing resurgence
After witnessing sub-30 million sqft of net absorption during 2012-14 to above 35 million sqft in 2015, the office sector is resurging. An aggressive expansion strategy adopted by many companies, along with rising prominence of newer players in the e-commerce, healthcare and technology space led to the recent jump in occupancy. During 2015 the absorption was growing on the back of both lower rents and a positive economic outlook. Therefore, this recovery looked more sustainable and long-term in comparison with the one seen in 2011.

Steelcase Ergonomic Think Chair
Steelcase ergonomic Think chair with an Integrated LiveBack™ System conforms to the user's body and moves as he/she changes postures.

As per 'Steelcase Growth Market Research', India's burgeoning middle-class growth will pose the biggest challenge for Indian workplaces by 2030. Growth is expected to accelerate and reach 475 million by 2030. This number comprises mainly India's Gen Y post 80s and 90s who have a mix of traditional values with a Western outlook. For this younger generation, the work they do is as important as the reputation of the company they work in and the salary they earn. Hence, to retain this younger, more vibrant and techno-savvy generation, a progressive workplace is needed, one that plays a key role in helping to retain and attract such a workforce. These findings came from Steelcase research conducted on eight growth markets including India.

Office Furniture Sales Picking Up
Gesture Steelcase
Gesture by Steelcase support user's interactions with modern technologies. The back and seat move as a synchronized system to provide continuous lumbar support.
According to Research and Markets: 'India Office Furniture Market 2015-2019', the office furniture market is one of the key revenue generators of the overall furniture market in India; it accounted for 20.45% of market share in 2014, and is set to grow at a CAGR of 18.98% over the period 2014-2019. The market is mainly dominated by the unorganized office furniture segment. However, the organized segment is also growing gradually, with Durian, Featherlite, Godrej & Boyce, Stanley, and Zuari Furniture dominating the space.

The Indian economy has started to gather momentum after the global economic recession of 2008-2009. Emergence of e-commerce and establishment of various start-ups in the country have led to the growth of the organized retail market in the country. Apart from that, the direct sales approach is paying a lot of dividend to market vendors as the customers still prefer to purchase the products directly from the manufacturers. Many vendors are using online media (along with their physical stores) to enhance overall value for customers.

Most e-commerce websites offer customers the choice of making a well-informed purchase decision by providing all product specifications, colours and materials, along with extensive user reviews, and product catalogues online. This indicates the time and resources leading brick and mortar stores are investing to enhance their presence in the online retail market. Further, the report states that organized retailers in the market face infrastructure bottlenecks and poor logistics due to which they consider supply chain a cumbersome task, which has forced them to invest more in stock maintenance.

Featherlite Height Adjustable Tables
Featherlite Height Adjustable Tables have simple buttons that help user reach the required sitting or standing positions.

The Trendsetters
Godrej Interio, ranked amongst India's largest furniture brands, lays emphasis on furniture materials and designs that enhance user's comfort while delivering aesthetics and functional solutions for the workplace. According to the company, the three design pillars that the Godrej brand stands for in office furniture are- ergonomics (wellness of users), sustainability (wellness of planet), and predictive colours (bringing alive the users' brand).

Vector Projects, a leading turnkey solutions provider in the country, brings in to Indian workspaces- an ergonomic and stylish range of office furniture, designed for large office spaces and also for home offices where space and interior design is more intimate and personal.

Featherlite, a leading furniture manufacturing company in India, derives inspiration from contemporary aesthetic and tech-led movements that enable it to re-imagine and redesign office spaces so as to provide economic solutions to tackle modern day challenges. The company's objective is to maintain productivity, deliver comfort, and facilitate a conducive modern-day work environment.

Global companies like Steelcase have been creating great work experiences by studying the way people work - in social, spatial and informational contexts - and translating the insights into relevant products, applications, and services.

Godrej: In Tune With Changing Dynamics Of Office Spaces

Bedraj Tripathy
Bedraj Tripathy, AVP Marketing, Godrej Interio

"Today's smart offices are slowly but surely moving away from cubical segregation into a more open working environment. What is new is the introduction of privacy pods and nooks. This is a natural occurring trend to promote distraction-free spaces for workers who just need to be in the zone for a while. It is really an organic mix of collaboration and personal space."

Interactive & High-Tech
As technology advances and new communication tools are inducted, the way of working also changes. There are more interactive areas in an office today. Many new office desks come ready to become one with technology. In addition to power outlets, USB ports, and USB charging ports can now be found on task lights. This makes for ease of connection, so workers can quickly plug in and get to work. Future office furniture design trends seem to be technology focused.

Design, Colour, Materials
Godrej Interio Smart Offices
Some companies have taken the common sit-to-stand desk and turned it into an entire sit-to-stand workstation. This is great for startups which need office furniture that can expand and grow with them. As an office design concept, it is being embraced on all levels - as natural materials are being used to create a complete outdoor environment. Everything from stripped-back wooden flooring and natural-wood desk tops to indoor hanging baskets instead of wall graphics, and even water features.

Color rules as 'king' in the modern office furniture world. Usage of eclectic color and striking material in the smart offices can be observed as it brings the contemporary workplace alive. Also, colors bring alive the overall ethos and values that the company stands for. Another theme which is weaving colors into other dimensions of the office design and fit out industry, is the use of geometric patterns, especially for furniture fabric and carpet patterns.

Desire For Space
With offices becoming more collaborative, buyers prefer open spaces. This is more evident in new age economy companies in IT, retailing and other sectors, where they are accepting changes quickly. Start-ups have also kicked up a whole new wave of change, as many of their employees work from home or elsewhere; outside the office environment.

In traditional offices, about 30% of the space is kept for meeting rooms, but in other sectors, work stations are designed to ensure collaborative working. This has led to meetings being conducted at open spaces and hence, today, there is very little need for confined spaces to host meetings. Office furniture is becoming more open and comfortable. There is an increasing use of glass, which ensures a notional division between spaces but still retains the openness and good acoustics.

Godrej Office Space

Furniture & Furnishings
Many consumers, both in the corporate and consumer segments, look for furniture that helps them de-stress. With the work environment getting increasingly stressful, both employees and employers are looking for softer furniture. One interesting trend that is huge is the introduction of residential style furnishings in the office. This includes solid wood desks that look more like dining room- tables or lighting that would look cozier. It is believed that a more inspirational or comfortable workplace will help employees feel more creative and motivated, thereby, increasing the overall productivity of an employee.

Vector Projects: Emphasis On Ergonomics and Aesthetics

Umesh Rao Vector Projects
Umesh Rao, Founder & CEO, Vector Projects (I) Pvt. Ltd.

"Today there is nothing permanent about office spaces; it is all about vibrant environments. Modern offices are breaking the monotony of the cabin system and becoming more interactive and flexible by promoting interactions and privacy at the same time."

Current Trend
Modern offices are focusing more on being collaborative and interactive with their employees by following the concept of 'WE Spaces' instead of 'ME Spaces'. Examples that best highlight the current change in trend are the desk based workstation systems with removable screens to convert them into team discussion tables; height adjustable workstations that offer flexibility to work at different levels; collaborative furniture for informal discussions; and identifying break-out spaces that use loose furniture to make workspaces informal.

Key Components
An office is not just a place to work; it serves as an extension of one's business and values. The energy of the organization needs to be reflected in the interiors. Create a flexible office, and you can see a boost in motivation from employees. Today, organisations want to focus on making their workplace stand-out, attract as well as retain talent. Companies are not only building offices that promote great environment but also a better workflow. Ergonomics and aesthetics are given prime importance in any office design to increase productivity at work as they allow less exertion and ensure better health.

Level Up System Adjustable Workstation
Vector Level-Up electrical height adjustment table offers sit-to-stand options, and includes controller with digital display for height read-out, microprocessor based control box for height changes, I-Beam screen for privacy,etc.
Equipping the workplace with correct furniture that improves efficiency is one of the most important aspects to be considered along with personal preference and the budget. Make sure the furniture is multifunctional and ergonomic and blends well with the space. Ergonomically enhanced chairs, flexible desk systems and standing workplaces, are a few of the inventions that have changed the way people work. Along with this, layout, lighting, ventilation and colours on walls, use of organic paints with no or low volatile organic compounds (VOC) that radically reduce the amount of harmful toxic elements, etc are important considerations today.

Light ducts have seen a visible increase as they help harness and deliver natural sunlight into interiors up to 9 meters. When used intelligently, they reduce our need for electric lights during the day to almost zero. There is an increasing focus on ventilation of the premises. Some spacious offices make the most of the windows and open spaces, whereas offices with limited windows are installing mechanically enhanced ventilation systems.

Scalability and Versatility
Incontri Silence Vector Projects
Incontri Silence by Vector is covered with a padded steel frame and soundproof panels for privacy and comfort
One can factor in scalability in office design by using furniture that is versatile in nature. For example, Modular furniture makes the most of the place, be it small or big. It can be easily modified or moved by maximising the space. Open plan offices are the current trend, hence opting for desking systems that can be converted into meeting spaces, creating mobile and private spaces that can also be used for meetings, telecons, etc. seems to be widely accepted and appreciated. Along with this, the question of small working spaces confining the application of radical designs has also been solved by creating multipurpose furniture and systems that fit the needs and budget of clients.

Understanding Furniture
An ergonomically designed chair that majorly focuses on flexibility, vibrant designs and finishes, and can provide comfort and support, thereby catalysing efficiency, can help transform the office environment. Essentially, flexible modern designs have made working much easier since people spend most of their times sitting in their office chair, which has resulted in a lot of health issues.

To maintain high standards of aesthetics and functionality we use materials that are of the highest quality, while remaining environmentally responsible. Our furniture is practical and durable and our returning clientele is testimony to that. We strive to create and sell furniture that responds to the demand posed by the market. Our product line is contemporary with a keen focus on functionality. We use the best quality of raw materials in our production and our furniture is made for sustainability.

While opting for the right furniture one needs to understand the nature and the type of work undertaken by the office. For example, in a start-up if the workforce is mobile, then it is advisable to go for the concept of flexi-seating, which helps in getting rid of unwanted square feet. Keeping the young workforce in mind, the mantra should be to devote less space to bulky desks, and more to collaborative or break-out areas. Whereas, in an IT firm, the design of the furniture structured by keeping "less rigidity" as a concept.

Artmatrix, the Malaysian arm of Vector Projects, has a range of workstations carrying Environmental Choice Australia (ECA) eco label. The manufacturing processes and products are assessed in accordance to ISO14024 and licensed with GES (Global Environmental Standard). In addition, eco-label products are laboratory tested against ANSI/BIFMA M7.1-2007

Featherlite: Keeping Abreast Of Market Demand

Manohar Gopal
Manohar Gopal, MD, Featherlite Group

"We as an organisation are constantly innovating newer products that are ahead of the design curve, keeping in mind market demands, retaining superior ergonomic standards that are currently setting new benchmarks, and keeping the affordability quotient intact with faster lead times on delivery."

India's Changing Workplace
The commercial real estate scenario in India has witnessed a phenomenal growth over the last few years resulting in huge office floor space being taken up. We are also witnessing a lot of global players increasing the competition by their presence. As the economy is currently opening up, this has led to a greater influx of start-ups mushrooming, thereby leading to a larger demand for office furniture.

However, most of the multinational brands that have set up shop in India are trying to meet the design standards for India since they are under cost pressures of the Indian market. So the designs and product offerings are entirely different from the ones sold in the American and European markets.

The emerging workspaces are changing in form and function; they are becoming more collaborative. This is changing the landscape of modern offices as they are moving away from partition-based systems to trendier desk- based concepts which are more versatile.

Current Market Scenario
With the growth in demand there are also more players in the market, which makes the competition stiffer due to varied price points being offered on the products due to different quality standards prevalent in the market. However, customers are discerning about quality and the cost of ownership, thereby creating a different bracket of furniture makers for small requirements, for instance, Malaysian products are also being accepted by the Indian market, although in small fragments.

As the real estate costs are spiraling, the density of workstations is also increasing in order to keep the infrastructure costs low. So, even the selling price points of furniture solutions have to be lowered. Increasing awareness and market response to ergonomics and green concepts have also caught up with office furniture manufacturers.

Overall, the environment has compelled organized and established players to operate at much lower margins. As the Indian market is exposed to global players, the quest for better finishes and aesthetics has increased multifold. To meet these demands, most of the manufacturing processes are becoming intensely automated, and the supply is squeezed for margins to keep the overall cost of the finished product competitive. The cost of labor is also increasing rapidly to keep pace with the inflation thereby making investments on superior plant and machinery to automate the processes mandatory.

Featherlite Group Office Furniture

Dynamics Of Design And Space
With the advent of imports and multinational players setting up shop in India, the overall design and quality parameters have improved. While the market is spoilt for choice, we as established manufacturers, encounter a new design benchmark quite frequently, thereby raising our manufacturing and design standards by several notches. For instance, we have introduced compact workstations to meet the needs of clientele requiring higher density of occupancy, with collaborative and desk-based systems

The importance of environmental and ergonomic factors reflects in the design of our products. As organizations grow, they often outgrow the existing workspaces and move on to newer and more relevant spaces, so our modular systems are designed to be reconfigured and laterally upgraded at a later point in time. This enables us to refurbish the existing offices at a much competitive price point in a price sensitive market like India.

Dynamic design changes globally as per the new trends of work culture. This reflects very quickly in our product line as we stay abreast with market trends. Newer design trends in the global market means that the shelf life of any design is limited, so constant innovations are key to stay ahead of competitors.

Pressure to lower operating expenses while the material input costs have been constantly on the rise in a price driven market is a major challenge for us. Also, the high cost for new machineries which are more sophisticated and which enable advanced features and better aesthetics in the end product can be an impediment when the customer is not willing to pay the premium.

Steelcase: Designing Workspace Experiences

Michael Held
Michael Held, Designer Director Steelcase India

When Steelcase, a global leader in office furniture industry and innovative workspace solutions, started operations in India in 2007, it brought its global knowledge, expertise and furniture products specially designed to meet the changing needs of the Indian workplace. The company sees India as a high caliber market with immense growth potential. Michael Held, Designer Director, Steelcase India, shares his insights on how the Modern Office Furniture Industry in India has evolved over the years:

In India, the kind of work done is evolving rapidly, therefore, it is extremely critical to design a workspace which is flexible and adaptable to the changing dynamics. In the past, India was relatively isolated from the rest of the world. Though some Indians were traveling abroad for education and trade, it was not very common and also global opportunities were rare. Now, Indian companies are focused on serving a global community. Multinationals are visiting India to take advantage of the high level of technical expertise in engineering, research, and innovation.

Brody Worklounge
The Brody Worklounge creates a micro-environment by providing a private place free from visual distractions and an enhanced sense of psychological security so people can concentrate for longer periods of time on difficult assignments.

Earlier, the only thing to retain the employees was compensation, however, now what matters is creating an employee experience, a community, and build a sense of connection with them. The office environment is evolving as an essential element which influences employee's productivity, inspires people to do their best work, unleashes their potential and helps their organizations win. With booming economies and burgeoning populations of well-educated workers and prosperous consumers in India, it is forcing businesses of all stripes to rethink their strategies and create an employee experience.

Steelcase research says that the work environment in India has become more sophisticated. The ergonomic office culture is evolving as never before. New work trends, especially tablets, smart phones and other touch-based technologies—present a new set of challenges for worker's health and wellbeing. Therefore, organizations in India are now designing the office furniture to suit these varied needs and provide easy solutions to everyday work activities. Steelcase too has introduced office chairs, guest chairs, lounges and spaces based on the same concept, and which are artistically designed for the Indian work culture.

Steelcase Office

In India, organizations are also adapting to the open office culture. For many companies, it now appears that there is too much emphasis on open spaces and not enough on enclosed, private spaces. Office furniture is being designed to suit the growing needs of an open office culture, however, the major problem with open offices is the incessant chatter and noise which affects employee's ability to concentrate. We suggest that a mix of open and enclosed areas, "I" spaces and "We" spaces should be implemented. Instead of providing only open-plan work settings, organizations should create settings in which people are free to circulate in a shifting kaleidoscope of interactions.

India has emerged as the fastest growing start-up economy and is maturing at an increasingly higher rate. India's successful start-ups have specifically designed their offices to break free from the traditional and conventional corporate set up. So, a huge demand for smart and innovative office furniture that boosts productivity and also engage employees at the work is being observed. This is compelling many Indian companies to rethink their strategies and create an employee experience to retain talent. For example, Tata Sky, created a space for its 190 headquarter employees with designated areas for game playing and socializing. Its unusual circular floor plan gives a feeling of openness, with the company's branding prominently displayed.

As per Steelcase Growth Market Report, product innovations will continue to be a reflection of constant research in observing and understanding human behaviour. As we see shifts in the way work is being carried out, we need to adapt to these changes by altering the way space is utilized. In our view, the workplace can be designed as a catalyst for change that will help foster efficiency and creativity of employees, and help organizations amplify employee performance. The importance of employee well-being to businesses and the effect it has on the bottomline cannot be ignored.

MGS Architecture August 2016