Industry Insight: Liz Walker, Orangebox

In our latest industry interview, Orangebox’s Marketing Manager talks lockdown, collaborative furniture design and the future of flexible office working

Tell us a little bit about Orangebox?

The Orangebox was born in the summer of 2002. Originally, the business focused on task chairs – desk chairs, to you and me – but the new team grew the firm into a global design and manufacturing business, with a focus on collaborative working furniture. We make seating systems, acoustic pods and modular meeting rooms – anything that’s important in the workplace.

Moreover, we work hard to create furniture that promotes better working practices, fostering collaboration and providing a sense of comfort. Our research and insight team has really helped us to become a leader in the field, we’re fortunate that we have a really strong research department that allows us to respond quickly to trends and changes in the market.

You must have seen a lot of change in a short space of time thanks to lockdown?

Yes and no. Of course the workplace is changing fast, but if you can step back from this year there have been some massive changes in the workplace over the past 10 years. Offices have never stood still, and in many ways the ‘post-COVID, pre-vaccine’ world is simply accelerating the trend towards flexible working that’s been gathering pace for years.

Six or seven years ago, you’d have assumed that an employee sat in a breakout area on their phone might have been planning their weekend; today, they’re most likely communicating with a key client. The technology we need to do our jobs has moved on, so the workplace can afford to be more flexible too.

How is Orangebox responding to this trend, then?

We have good leadership and flexibility in-built into the brand, so we’ve not had to adapt too much during COVID-19. We’re already encouraged to work remotely and flexibly, so in that sense the business has been well-positioned to respond to the ‘new normal’.

In terms of how we’re responding to the market, we’ve launched a new smart home working programme; supplying product for companies to distribute to employees’ homes. This wasn’t a market we planned to enter before lockdown, but we’ve responded to the opportunity to move into the space quickly.

We also worked hard during lockdown to design a new furniture collection that addresses some of the issues surrounding post-COVID workspaces, and I feel really proud that we’ve been able to do that so speedily. Of course, it’s not business as usual right now, but at Orangebox we pride ourselves on our ability to keep moving.

So the office isn’t a thing of the past?

Not in the slightest, we’re confident there is and will be a growing demand for staff to return to their offices as we move towards the end of the year. Some businesses can’t function from home, many businesses have long leases – if you’ve got eight floors in Canary Wharf, you need that space filled – and for many employees, it’s simply not an enjoyable experience to work remotely. Fundamentally, humans need interaction.

Instead, I think we’ll see more dynamism within offices; whereby people hot desk, or balance their time between home and office. In our office, for example, we don’t have assigned workstations. Instead, we can work anywhere within our five-storey office space and move around the building. Keeping your working environment fresh increases productivity. You don’t need to think of office furniture as anchoring the workplace any more. Instead, the right office furniture can help to improve productivity and creativity.

Any thoughts on how the industry should evolve in the next 12 months?

The industry needs to be more fluid. Certainly, there are more challenging times ahead, but this landscape calls for flexibility and innovation. At Orangebox, we often reference Kodak, once one of the largest film photography companies that failed to see the digital camera coming. These days, businesses need to be agile enough to change quickly.

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