image of a lounge with three people sitting
Steelcase’s Belle lounge system (shown), a collaboration with West Elm, creates a more relaxed conference room experience for in-person and remote employees to connect.

Christina Vernon of Steelcase Shares Her Tech-Led Approach

The Steelcase director, who is one of Metropolis’s 2023 Specify Hot List, discusses the role of the camera in product development and design.

Steelcase wants you to forget everything you think you know about office interiors. Long rectangular tables facing a short wall are out. Seating arranged toward the monitor is also gone. As the notion of workspace evolves, Steelcase is evolving its very process for developing office products along with it.

The Grand Rapids, Michigan–based furniture and case goods manufacturer is spearheading a practice of designing for deep technology integration in its effort to keep pace with change. That, the company says, means rethinking traditional paradigms such as conference rooms so that they work for everyone who is in-person and remote—designing for the camera as much as for people in the room.

Headshot of a woman against a frey background
Christina Vernon
image of people sitting in office cubicles
Technology integration is key in Steelcase’s reimagining of products for individual workstations and conference rooms that are designed for the camera as much as for the people in the room.

Creative Collaboration

“Just over a year ago, we created this category to think about hybrid collaboration, distributed collaboration, and different ways of creating collaboration opportunities in our spaces,” says Christina Vernon, the manufacturer’s director of distributed collaboration solutions and technology partners.

Consequently, many of Steelcase’s latest design solutions seem to have begun to grow out of new non–design industry alliances: “We have a great partner ecosystem with Microsoft, Zoom, Logitech, Crestron, even VergeSense. We work with these tech partners early to understand some of their customers’ pain points and where they’re seeing their technology going in terms of road maps, and how we could be innovative and integrate tech into the spaces.”

That approach, Vernon says, underscores the importance of grasping the capabilities of specific technology for everyone creating holistic interiors. “We’re now focusing on routing housing and mounting technology in the spaces because they require a lot more than previous years,” she explains. “You need a lot more technology to manage in the space, so we’re really trying to think of room sight lines, traffic flow around tables, and how to create those collaboration moments.”

image of people sitting around a table in a conference room.
The Ocular collection includes unique table shapes designed for hybrid collaboration, improving sightlines and creating a more equitable experience for in-person and remote meeting participants.

Equity and Engagement

In fact, considering the orientation and shape of the room while integrating technology can solve two significant problems: One is increasing equity between remote and in-person workers by elevating the remote workers’ experience so they enjoy as much access as room occupants to real-time events; the second is supporting collaboration—the number one reason people want to come into the office, Steelcase says. So far, people are dissatisfied with spaces for hybrid work.

“As people think about how they’re going to work in the office or at home, we think about ease, equity, and engagement,” says Vernon, adding that there are questions that need to be asked such as, “How do you keep people engaged in the actual meeting? If they’re joining remotely, how do you make sure that they’re staying engaged, that they can see content, that they can collaborate thoughtfully? Those are the types of issues we are trying to solve.”

Steelcase is already thinking about the next iteration of tech-led interiors. Earlier this year, the furniture manufacturer partnered with Logitech on a new videoconferencing device called Project Ghost, which seeks to allow for more personal conversations and connections than traditional video meeting services. 

“It’s designed to help us understand how we could create better one-to-one conversations between groups that maybe have direct reports that are not in their same spaces,” Vernon explains. “We are in the feedback collection [phase] right now with clients.” 

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