Steelcase

The 'Brody' is an effort to reclaim workplace privacy while preserving collaboration—and enhancing comfort and function for the modern office-dweller.

It'll boost the team's communication, they said. It'll make the company more collaborative, they said.

Today the open office layout is as commonplace in business as a Keurig machine. For all the benefits that the open office was meant to deliver, from a flatter company structure to team-oriented problem solving, the open-office revolution can be measured best by the uptick in noise-canceling headphone sales.

Brody may be one solution. It's kind of a desk, sort of an office, and something like the cubicles that have fallen out of fashion in office planning.

Steelcase

Brody is an effort to reclaim privacy and productivity in an open-office workplace without dialing it back entirely. It's not quite a return to yesterday's office-and-cubicles configuration, but rather an embracing of some of the things that got left behind in the market's rush to embrace open layouts.

Steelcase, the product's designers, emphasize the worker's body, and how it affects her mind and focus. That's different than the governing concerns that drove designers to ditch partitions: social factors, such as team work, structure, and collaboration.

(Steelcase)

Researchers at Steelcase drew on the work of the Cognitive Neuroscience Karolinska Institutet in Sweden to come up with Brody. The institute's work on "flow"—the fleeting state of deep concentration in which workers are their most productive—informed the design.

Discomfort is a form of distraction, for example, so Brody was designed with comfort in mind. (Does your desk have an ottoman? No?) Yet movement is good for the body and mind, a growing body of research shows. So Brody doesn't come with a lot of typical office comforts. No more sad desk lunch, because Brody doesn't come with a desk, exactly.

The seat's posture, which the designers describe as "alert recline," is designed with the body in mind. So there's lumbar support, of course, but it goes further: the work surface and seat are configured in such a way to prevent the strain of "tech neck."  

(Steelcase)

The Brody's modular design is lighter than a cubicle in structure, and it's meant to be adapted to suit a given purpose. The renderings make plain that it's most useful for people who rely on laptops or tablets, a restriction that increasingly applies to an awful lot of white-collar work.

If businesses begin to feel buyers' remorse over their open-office conversions, then Brody may be one of several designs competing in the solutions market.  

Frank Gehry's new offices for Facebook, said to be the largest open-office plan in the world, will put some 2,800 engineers on the same floor, at a time when designers and workers alike are starting to question the value of the open office. Can thousands of orders for work-booths be very far off?

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