Proving contract furniture projects benefit the bottom line was the mission of journalist and author Kevin Salwen. The former Wall St. Journal reporter keynoted the annual meeting of Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) in June. BIFMA partnered with the International Interior Design Association to commission Salwen and his colleagues to identify some signature headquarter build-outs that demonstrably improved productivity for client staffs. The co-author of the IIDA/BIFMA report on workplace - Design, Leveraged - examines how smart companies use office space to boost productivity.

“For decades, businesses have viewed their work spaces as ‘overhead,’ a necessary evil of spending on desks, carpet and pricey lighting,” Salwen writes. “But now, smart companies are shifting their thinking on design: The firms doing the hard work to get it right are reaping the benefits right down to their bottom lines.”

Salwen says this applies to all firms, not just Google and Facebook. “Most of Corporate America doesn’t fill its seats with 20-something engineers eager to pull all-night hackathons,” he says.

Why is design critical?

Three factors:

• Real estate costs are rising roughly 10 percent a year;

• A scorching war for talent is underway (and expected to worsen); and

• Demand for innovation amid global competition is acute.

Only one in four U.S. workers say they have optimal workplace environments, according to a 2013 survey by San Francisco architectural firm Gensler. “Design may be the single most underleveraged tool in the business world,” says Salwen.

At The DesigLeveraged.org website, David Radcliffe, Google’s VP real estate and workplace services, reveal’s his Top 5 office planning keys: 1. Coming in to work matters: “We want to create an environment where it feels like they’re missing out if they’re not there.” 2. Valuing accidental encounters: at least half of Google’s space is dedicated to “collaborative environments” – casual meeting places with a couch or a kitchen so workers bump into each other and chat. White boards and plugs for laptops are sprinkled through the office for spontaneous brainstorming; 3. Healthy Eco-friendly buildings: Good health helps drive productivity and innovation, so furniture is formaldehyde-free and building materials are free from toxins. Space allows a maximum of natural light. 4. Blend local with Google: Local staff advise on locations, and interiors, using different architects. Each office “starts with a clean sheet of paper.” 5. Go urban: “We love urban cores,” says Radcliffe.

Continuing on its efforts to promote office furniture design, BIFMA is teaming up with Contract magazine to present The 2014 level Roadshow: a program aimed at educating design professionals about BIFMA’s multi-attribute, sustainability standard and third-party certification program for the furniture industry known as “level.”

The event is co-sponsored by Herman Miller, Knoll and National Office Furniture.

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