Steelcase drives workspace overhaul for the 'fitness and wellness' of IT
Renovating IT's workspace means breaking out of the basement.
Pushed by forward-looking execs or propelled by competition, companies are embarking on multiyear modernization programs overhauling technology infrastructure and business culture for the digital age.
To grow from dated operations, and in advance of adopting practices like agile while maintaining legacy environments, companies are making physical renovations to existing workplaces.
For IT, those renovations mean breaking out of the basement.
"In the past, we [had] what you might call a traditional IT space," said Steve Miller, CIO of Steelcase, in an interview with CIO Dive. While there was some space for mobile workers, the technology workspace was cubicle-centric with a heavy amount of conference rooms nearby. "It definitely felt like the basement no matter where you were at."
When Steelcase decided to renovate, "it was the company saying, 'hey, we need to work differently and IT needs to be part of what we're doing as a company more closely in order for use to be successful,' " Miller said. It was a step in driving IT to become a more strategic part of the company.
The space, along with IT's technology roadmap and organizational changes, speaks to Miller's goal of promoting the idea of "fitness and wellness."
Over its history, technology that enables the business has grown, but to enable Steelcase's transformation, "we need to keep [it] fit," Miller said. "So that's where things like DevOps and cloud capabilities, advanced analytics, things like that, now need to come into play in our road maps to say, 'how exactly are you making those moves' and 'how are you moving towards more fit environments.' "
Fluorescent lighting in focus
Complaints over harsh lighting or walled-off workspaces only go so far. Large-scale renovations and modernization efforts are born from investment in culture.
Miller joined Steelcase 19 years ago, and was tapped as CIO earlier this year. The company used his transition into the role, in part, to put some of the new organizational structures in place.
As part of the overhaul, Steelcase had to redraw the lines of IT to be more product or customer-centered, rather than based on an org chart, according to Miller. With DevOps serving as a theme, the company structured tech workers around the customer and delivery.
Steelcase nicknamed the IT space overhaul "Project Ampersand," Miller said. Whether it's operations and IT or sales and IT, the "and" signaled IT should be a key strategic contributor from the start of projects.
Experts are quick to discuss the future of work, but the future of the workplace matters too. To remain relevant, organizations have to optimize offices to attract and retain talent, creating an environment employees enjoy working in.
Research into how offices impact workers have helped support calls for renovation. Color and smell can have an impact on how workers perform. And open offices allow employees to have more physical activity and interaction, which reduces workplace stress.
The need for attractive workspaces is particularly important in the tech market, where IT workers are a hot commodity. And when the company is in the business of making innovative and comfortable workplaces for its customers, it's even more imperative for the company to reshape how it works.
Steelcase is a made-to-order furniture business, specializing in office, hospital and classroom furniture. Founded in 1912, the company made its mark by patenting metal wastebaskets.
"If you added up all the possible variations of products that Steelcase makes, it's about 50 quadrillion," Miller said. "It's the nature of what we make. Spaces and furniture are just so diverse that we have to have a lot of flexibility in what we do."
Steelcase relies on IT to make orders manageable. Customers can specify products and rely on accurate orders, even when there are so many options and interconnected pieces.
The question of reshaping IT's physical workspace all centered around deciding how to facilitate teams working together in an agile mode. After almost two years of planning, tech teams have begun to move into Steelcase's new space.
The future of Steelcase's space
One of the first things the company addressed was creating a workspace that would entice people outside of IT. Drawing in employees who don't work in technology is part of the effort to get more teams to include technology in their projects, remembering to partner with the core part of the company.
Referred to as "front porches," other teams can come and work, collaborating with agile teams or conducting stand ups, Miller said.
Steelcase also built agile studios, where teams have a workplace kit and can reset spaces. Those spaces can look different from day to day, almost like workplaces constructed from building blocks.
Some formal meeting space is required in the business districts, and other areas reference gardens, bringing the outside in so employees can refresh.
Working with Microsoft to embed technology into physical workspaces proved a turning point for Steelcase, Miller said.
With connected products, like Workplace Advisor, businesses can optimize real estate investment and make a hub of creativity. Running on Microsoft Azure IoT platform, Steelcase's advisor can send information to companies to show exactly how offices are being used.
Follow Naomi Eide on Twitter