Are Couches the New Desks?

As designers and manufacturers rethink office life, some are ditching the desk-and-chair paradigm in favor of more relaxed solutions. 

As new technologies enable knowledge workers to perform more tasks from anywhere with an internet connection, public space has become a third workplace, alongside coworking and home-based setups. That means boundaries between homes, offices, and locations like coffee shops and airport lounges are blurrier than ever. Given this new landscape, designers are rethinking the basic one-person, one-desk arrangement. Enter the work sofa, which combines the informality of remote work with the ergonomics and functionality of traditional desks. 

A collaboration between Vitra and London-based industrial designers Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, Soft Work combines ergonomic seating, work surfaces, power, and privacy through seating, not desking. Recently included in Vitra’s Club Office concept—which reimagines the workplace—Soft Work’s flexible, movable add-ons enable myriad seating and working positions. Similar sofa systems have been developed by Stylex and Davis. COURTESY © VITRA / EDUARDO PEREZ

Manufacturers including Stylex and Davis have explored this notion in their products. Swiss furniture brand Vitra placed it at the center of a new concept called Club Office—a workplace first deployed inside its own headquarters in Birsfelden, near Basel, Switzerland—recognizing that when employees can do solitary work anywhere, collaboration, community, and shared purpose must be the draw. The sofa, with its connotations of sociability, may be the perfect furniture typology for this new kind of work. Especially when paired with work surfaces, power outlets, charging stations, and other productivity enhancers.

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