Working Hard? Or Hardly Working?

Three ways the Milan Furniture Fair predicts the Future of Work.

You may have heard of the Milan International Furniture Fair aka Salone del Mobile Milano. Held in April every year since 1961, “I Salone” as it is known was started by local furniture manufacturers to promote Milanese design. Since its inception, the event has grown so much that every year almost 400,000 people from 165 countries converge on the city for a week of complete immersion in design. 

The week is many things – it is crowded, inspiring, exhausting, social and also … so much fun! There are so many events, installations, exhibitions and more that it is impossible to see everything. In Australia, those who attend talk about it for months afterwards, and every design publication, whether print or online, publishes their own version of the trends they saw in Milan.

So what does this have to do with business?

In the current business milieu, staff are increasingly treated as customers of an organisation. Now, the customer (or consumer) is more powerful than ever largely due to the ‘voice’ they’ve been given through egalitarian devices such as social and other media. We also live in a world where, in Australia at least, unemployment is low and the war for talent is widespread across many sectors. This has led to consumer/customer/staff driven workplace design where the desire for choice and personalisation is driving an increasingly flexible and bespoke market, especially when it comes to products and furniture in the workplace.

There were three main trends in workplace products at the Milan Fair this year. The common thread in all of these trends is the emphasis on people at the centre of all design.

1.       The Smart Workplace – where walls, desks, furniture, tables and other items are all embedded with Iot (Internet of Things) so that they are no longer dumb, inanimate objects. Digitalisation of analogue items allows them to be customised by the end user and able to accommodate an endless range of preferences, workstyles and personalities

2.      The Adaptive Workplace – space is no longer static and staff increasingly want to ‘create’ their own environments. Walls, furniture, tables and other systems were shown that are easily reconfigurable by the end user (without any OH&S issues) and that inspire creative thinking, innovation and new ideas

3.      The Biophilic Workplace - Biophilia is about a love of the natural world and the affinity that human beings have with nature. Our focus on sustainability, health and wellbeing at work has evolved into the biophilic workplace; an environment that not only includes nature but that is also based on the perfect balance that can be found in nature and people’s connection with this balance.

From the outside the Milan Fair may seem to be about designers having fun; yet it is so much more than that. At this year’s fair, the aim was to redefine the idea of work as ‘labour’ and instead attempted to position work, and the workplace, as an environment that is nurturing, intellectually creative and a joyful place to be. For too long workplace design has been treated as primarily functional, producing products and spaces devoted to productivity and devoid of engagement. The prevailing trends this year were about creating a vibrant, energetic, evolutionary workplace of the future; a place where a diverse range of humans can all be autonomous and create the environment they need in order to thrive.

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Angela Ferguson