PORTLAND, Maine — A football field of rectilinear cubicles brought to you by Dilbert. That was the isolationist corporate office model of the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, collaboration is all — just ask the Millennial at the standup desk next to you. And workplaces, with sleek, light-filled cafes where the corner office used to be, are suddenly dynamic.
But when a business is ready for a culture change, it can’t just rearrange the desks, said executives at Red Thread, an affiliate of office innovation trendsetter Steelcase that recently moved into downtown Portland.
“By offering different settings for people to chose from, companies on the leading edge of things can really leverage what they do and move their people toward a different way of thinking,” said Suzanne Ludlow, business director at the Portland showroom.
That thinking starts at the front door.
At Red Thread’s sleek, new storefront anchoring One City Center, the office of the future is on display for all to experience.
No longer a sea of sameness, a colorful, multidimensional workplace needs room for resident workers, nomads and the corporate exec that drops in unannounced from Albuquerque.
“So you don’t feel alienated, there will be space for you when you walk in the door,” said Petra Geiger, a company marketing associate.
That means open bench seating, a “touchdown space” shared by all, chairs that recline and torque for easy collaboration, and communal areas for quiet or group conversation.
“This is a direct response to what work is like today. In reality, it’s not always ‘I’m here 9 to 5.’ It affects all of us. Whether you are a mobile work or hybrid … We are thinking how to transform our work lives in the future,” said Geiger.
Though operating as their own company, the furniture is designed by Steelcase in Grand Rapids and other manufacturers.
“[Steelcase] are very heavily into research, and that informs where they are headed designwise all over the world,” said Geiger.
Elevated design and pleasing environments are no longer the sole domain of creative industries. Higher education and health care are Red Thread’s top industry clients.
Dick Daigle at Martin’s Point Health Care in Portland hired Red Thread to create a hub for a new clinic opening in Gorham in August. The vice president of support services said “there is a lot of walking around” and “hunting and fetching” among his scattered staff.
An open, collaborative space for key employees will be an advantage.
“Providers, physicians, support staff and patient service reps can all sit together in the new environment. They don’t have the ability to interact that way now,” said Daigle.
Joined at the hub, the experience will be streamlined for workers and clinic visitors.
“This will be a huge benefit for the patients themselves to get quicker answers and greater attention to needs,” he said.
The top need in the evolving, mobile workplace is fast access to technology. Connectivity is at the nexus of Red Thread’s offerings.
The company’s mediascapes, on display in Portland, reside in a central well in the middle of a conference table where computers and tablets connect to a “puck.” One press of the button and co-workers can share files on a monitor.
“Things become more and more seamless, so you’re not fumbling with wires,” said Geiger.
Video conferencing areas that look like space-aged waiting rooms abound.
“People want to feel part of the office when absent,” said Geiger. “It’s an evolution. Over the last 10 years, everything has become tech-driven; we have to provide solutions.”
To keep up, Red Thread relocated from Westbrook to Portland’s urban core.
The new downtown location next to a wine bar, third wave cafe and a pastiche of restaurants vamps on location and branding that’s hot right now in business culture.
As Ludlow knows, greeting you with fresh coffee in a white and red cafe setting, interior redesign can do as much for your bottom line as an increased sales force.
By hiring Red Thread, “companies could be trying to express their brand and culture in a different way,” she said.
Lisa Whited, a Portland interior designer who specializes in office design, can zip into the showroom to test drive the setup in real time with clients in tow.
“You get a better sense of what something looks and feels like,” she said.
Whited can also use the space to work, a smart move because the North Deering resident will get to know the offerings intimately.
“There is a lot going on in office environments. Red Thread stays current with everything,” she said.
Today’s open workspace comes with challenges, too. Concentration is chief among them.
To manage what people hear and don’t hear, Red Thread offers sound masking — an acoustic system that muffles excess chatter so workers can be more productive.
“The office of the future allows employees to have choice and control over their work environment,” said Geiger. “It’s helpful to bring in someone who can offer new solutions to their concerns.”