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Manufacturer Report: Steelcase

Not all manufacturing innovation comes from the ‘kit’ that makes the furniture. When you’re the global leader, you can even develop specialised innovation centres.

01/04/2019 3 min read
Steelcase Learning and Innovation Centre

Established as the Metal Office Furniture Company, its very first patent was for a metal wastebasket, intended as a safety measure for office workers – in crowded cities where fires spread quickly, replacing wicker with steel was a lifesaving innovation.

Founders Peter M Wege, Walter D Idema and David D Hunting built the business in Grand Rapids, Michigan – a city then known as ‘The Furniture City’ because of its many wood furniture manufacturers.

By 1919, the company began to establish its dealer network, making desks, cabinets and other products available nationwide. Officially known as Steelcase Inc. from 1954, the company grew globally and executed the largest single shipment in the industry in 1973, providing over 400 truckloads of furniture for Chicago’s Sears Tower. Today, Steelcase is the number one furniture manufacturer globally, boasting brands such as Coalesse, Designtex and our very own Orangebox in its portfolio.

In 2017, Steelcase opened its new Learning + Innovation Centre in the heart of Munich, capping a multi-year planning effort and bringing together employees from across the region in an amazing 14,400 sq m space designed to promote learning and spark innovation.

As organisations recognise the importance of face-to-face interactions and shift back to centrally located business hubs, Steelcase opened this new facility to propel growth within its own organisation – and to give customers a first-hand look at how space can impact work.

This development comes at a time when leaders and organisations worldwide are focused on staying ahead in a disruptive economy. To stay competitive and effectively innovate, organisations must become more agile and speed up the flow of information and cycles of learning to take risks and make better, faster decisions.

‘Creative work and innovation happens when trust is built. So, we designed a place where people could come together from all over Europe to build relationships, learn, fail and grow together,’ says Jim Keane, President and CEO of Steelcase. ‘We believe this is central to innovation, but it’s not just for us – it’s for our customers too. It gives them a place to experience real work as it’s happening and to see how space can support and accelerate business results.’

The centre brings together over 230 employees representing 25 different nationalities from groups previously dispersed throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Munich’s geographic centrality, superb infrastructure, transportation capabilities and thriving design scene contributed to the site selection, enabling Steelcase to create a primary space connecting people in pursuit of learning and innovation.

The Campus

A diverse, international team of experts, including Henn Architects from Munich, Patrick Jouin and Manku Design from Paris and the Steelcase Design Team, designed the three-building campus.

Features include a centrally located WorkCafé, which provides a dynamic space that revolutionises the traditional corporate cafeteria. With a coffee bar, barista and an eclectic collection of settings spread over two levels, the WorkCafé is a place for workers to interact, work or take time to socialise and rejuvenate.

Steelcase’s executive team is located near the WorkCafé, on the first floor in an open plan space, where people constantly pass through and meet. Its location and informal design makes the executive team more visible, encouraging frequent interactions with employees and visitors and helping leaders stay closely connected to the business.

Cloud-enabled technology throughout the campus allows ideas to travel from space to space and make it possible to include remote participants from around the world in the innovation process.

A virtual reality tour provides visitors a look at product development and gives them fresh ideas for their workplaces.

An ecosystem of interconnected and interdependent environments has been purposefully designed to support the needs of both individuals and teams by bringing them together and seamlessly integrating the technologies they need in order to work efficiently.

Multiple informal spaces throughout the centre and several specialised classrooms promote collaborative and individual learning. A distance learning classroom and video conferencing rooms ensure learning happens both globally and locally throughout the day.

‘We wanted a place where people could come together to build trust, collaborate and learn. All of these activities propel new ideas and different ways of thinking to help us grow,’ Jim Keane adds. ‘We’re excited to have Munich be the heart of innovation for Steelcase. Not just for Europe, but for everywhere.’

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