“We may have smart technologies, but our office furniture is still stupid,” notes Zdeněk Brisuda, sales director of the Czech branch of furniture makers Wiesner-Hager in an interview for #MORETHANOFFICE.
You joined Wiesner-Hager in 2002. How has the office furniture market changed over the last 17 years?
Right now, the market seems to me to be subject to unhealthy emotions. People are trying to make their offices resemble a home. Or make them resemble a factory. Because they saw it once in a photo…
On the other hand, you’ve made past statements that you’re trying to get more emotions into offices.
Yes, I have – but here I’m talking about cases where people are trying to appropriate others’ emotions without defining for themselves what they are like, what their company and employees are like. Even the prettiest home interior won’t change who you are. And the same applies for companies. If they’re not fresh and young on the inside, then their offices can be as pretty as you wish, but that won’t reflect their reality. Today environments are loosening up and becoming harder to quickly grasp, and people are losing their notions of where they belong, what their responsibilities are.
At first sight, some offices even look like living rooms. Is that situation OK?
In my opinion it’s the wrong road. The interior of business spaces should have a distinctive character. It’s not a residential interior. I’m not happy to see these two things merging; we’re all becoming the poorer for it. And also, I have one home interior, and you have another. If we furnish the office based on your interior or mine, one of us will be unhappy.
The Czech offices of L'Oréal company were furnished with aprox. 1900 pieces of furniture made by Wiesner-Hager. More pictures at the end of this interview.
So, then you’d tend to view the design of modern offices negatively?
Everyone has let themselves be driven into similar solutions. And this situation is spurred on by today’s wealth: there’s a lot being invested; square meters aren’t a problem; non-work meters are totally OK.
So, companies should not set up all those relaxation areas or chill-out zones?
They should do so if they have a need for it. Quite often they create them just because it’s fashionable. We’re all creating interiors with no long-term reach. Everyone’s copying everyone else. Everyone’s trying to show that, even if they’re not in IT, they can have offices in a renovated factory hall – just like in Silicon Valley. We’re not seeking our own roads.
Each interior should be made as universally as possible hand in hand with the available technologies, which largely define an office’s design.
Zdeněk Brisuda, sales director of Wiesner-Hager in the Czech Republic
Modern office furniture is, in your words, actually quite stupid. What precisely do you mean by that?
It’s one of those commodities that have stayed the same for long years – it’s a wooden or leather thing; it’s big, or small. No smart solutions are appearing here.
And what about, say, desks with built-in wireless phone charging surfaces?
But that’s an innovation that didn’t come from the furniture industry. Why aren’t there desks whose entire surface can be used for inductive charging? So you could just lay your phone anywhere, and it would start charging.
What’s your vision? How will we work in the future?
I think that in five years, offices will have a completely different role. Currently they’re only changing aesthetically under the influence of a certain fashion wave; they’re still working in more or less the same way. Meanwhile, today we’ve got everything in our phones and are able to do our work at a gas station just like we could do it at the office. Offices haven’t done much to engage this transformation.
People working standing up vs. sitting down doesn’t count as progress; that’s a 10-year-old trend. Today we’ve just perhaps become willing to pay for it.
What, in your opinion, will be the real big bang for offices?
I don’t know what it will be. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here. Even though we develop office furniture, we’re constantly seeking the right answer to your question. I don’t know what kinds of buildings they’ll build in the future. How will electricity be distributed? How will the internet be distributed? The change that’s coming over the next 20 years may be enormous. What’s being discussed the most is how the future of work environments is in self-driving cars.
Is work all one big ride, then?
Cars are a place where we’ll be gaining time we don’t currently have, and we’ll have to put it to use. We’ll have time for ourselves alone, we’ll be able to concentrate, and we won’t have to create any sort of enclosed phone booths for it.
But then there will be a need for an environment where a person can hand over their ideas, communicate them, and develop them together with their colleagues. So that they can then go on to sit back into their car and process them. So, offices will be meeting-oriented, functional, tech-filled spaces.
A TECHNOLOGICAL STONE AGE
Will technologies be that key factor that shapes the transformation of offices?
Definitely. Actually, technologies are not very well integrated into offices today. The times are changing fast, but in the world of work, changes are reflected very slowly. Desk depth has changed, for example, because we have thinner monitors. But touch surfaces? 3D display software? Smart technologies? When companies do have technologies like these, they’re stuffed into a single meeting room. And what’s more, only three people in the whole company can use them.
In place of this, can you offer a vision of how things could work better in your view?
For example, the moment you step into a smart building, your phone starts charging automatically. Because you aren’t going to waste your valuable work time at the office, or your colleagues’, asking for the wi-fi password, or where there’s a free socket, right? One day we’ll be seeing that as the technological stone age.
A phone booth from the m.zone product collection. Photo by Wiesner-Hager
WHO’S IN CHARGE?
What do you lack the most in offices today?
What I lack the most in offices and companies is some kind of “train conductor” who’s really in charge of the whole organism, setting its tempo and working with it. These things aren’t keeping pace in HR. And meanwhile this doesn’t even have to be a person, but maybe an app that can add efficiency to what we do, how we work, when we meet.
It might be software that notices the weather’s nice outside and sends us a morning message asking: maybe you all want to move that afternoon meeting in the black-and-white meeting room up to the rooftop terrace? If everyone approves it, the meeting is then automatically moved to the roof.
Do you think that people will be OK with it if AI is ruling over them and organizing their time?
I don’t have the slightest problem with it as an employee. Naturally anyone can click the option that they don’t want to get some sun. And the app would remember it, and the next time it wouldn’t try to drag them out of the office again. This app would help us all to work better and more effectively. For example, it would let me know that if I have an important meeting at 1 p.m., sirloin and six dumplings is a bad lunch plan…!