Steelcase and Microsoft Announce Development of Technology-Enabled Spaces

As part of extensive partnership, companies unveil Creative Spaces, which focus on flexible spaces aimed at future of work.

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Steelcase and Microsoft have joined forces to explore the future of work, developing a range of technology-enabled spaces designed to help organizations foster creative thinking and better collaboration.

These spaces “seamlessly integrate the best of Microsoft Surface devices with Steelcase architecture and furniture,” according to the joint announcement about what the companies are calling five new Creative Spaces that “showcas[e] how Steelcase and Microsoft can help organizations unlock creativity for every employee.”

Steelcase, parent company of Boston-based AV integrator Red Thread, and Microsoft also announced (1) Microsoft is bringing in select Steelcase dealers as authorized Surface Hub resellers and (2) the companies are now “working together to develop technology-enabled workplace solutions built on Microsoft Azure IoT technology,” according to the joint release.

“We’re looking at the same user through different lenses,” says Steelcase strategic partner lead Joel Zweir. “This partnership represents an opportunity to work together more collaboratively to create some new experiences. Microsoft is looking to create an ecosystem in these smart and connected spaces that will have more electronic instrumentation.

“The goal is to figure out how these tools and spaces come together to create differentiated experiences. The ultimate goal is to make people work more creatively to solve complex problems,” says Zweir.

Red Thread’s Boston waterfront headquarters features an open floor plan that has Microsoft Surface Hubs in several spots and few spaces that are set aside for particular employees, with the focus being on flexible working and collaboration.

Red Thread was among the Microsoft Surface Hub launch partners when the interactive device was first announced in 2014.

“The problems people face at work today are much more complex than they used to be,” says Sara Armbruster, VP of strategy, research and new business innovation at Steelcase. “They require a new creative way of thinking and a very different work process. We believe that everyone has the capacity for creative thinking and people are happier doing creative, productive work. Together, Microsoft and Steelcase will help organizations thoughtfully integrate place and technology to encourage creative behaviors at work.”

Fostering Creativity

Joint research conducted by Steelcase and Microsoft of 515 U.S. and Canadian companies with 100 or more employees reveals the pressure people feel about the shift toward more creative work.

About three-quarters of workers surveyed said their future success depends on the ability to be creative, and about the same percentage believe emerging technologies will change jobs, requiring more creative skills as routine work becomes automated.

About 25 percent of respondents feel they can be creative in the places they have available today for group work. Respondents ranked “having a place to work without disruption” as the second-highest factor that could improve creativity, just behind the need for “more time to think.”

Creative Spaces

The companies’ exploration of creative work found that creativity is a process in which anyone can engage and requires diverse work modes as well as different types of technology. People need to work alone, in pairs and in different size groups throughout a creative process, and they need a range of devices that are mobile and integrated into the physical workplace. Additionally, spaces should inspire people without compromising performance.

“With Steelcase, we have the compelling opportunity to blend place and technology into a seamless environment that allows our most important asset, our people, to unlock their creativity and share that with others,” says Ryan Gavin, general manager, Microsoft Surface marketing. “The future of work is creative.”

Five initial Creative Spaces are on display at the Steelcase WorkLife Center in New York City, with future rollouts in Boston, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C., in the next few months. Spaces include:

Focus Studio: This is a place to let ideas incubate before sharing them with a large group.

Duo Studio: This space enables two people to co-create shoulder-to-shoulder, while also supporting individual work.

Ideation Hub: A high-tech destination that encourages active participation and equal opportunity to contribute as people co-create, refine and share ideas with co-located or distributed teammates.

Maker Commons: This space is designed to encourage quick switching between conversation, experimentation and concentration.

Respite Room: This truly private room allows relaxed postures to support diffused attention.

“We are facing a time of unprecedented change at work,” says Armbruster. “Through this partnership we will bring together space and technology to help workers and organizations solve the workplace challenges they face today and in the future and ultimately perform their best at work.”

Steelcase officials are now “smarter on how we understand the spaces that house Surface Hubs,” says Zweir. “We’re asking how we can get everyone to participate and it’s all related to seating, table location, the whiteboard, acoustics and much more. The collaboration goes beyond just the Surface Hub. It’s about smart and connected work spaces.

“We’ll help clients understand what business results they want and how furniture can play into that. It’s a much more comprehensive approach that includes furniture, posture and electronic tools,” he says.

Internet of Things

As part of the partnership, Steelcase will roll out in the next few months technology-enabled office solutions built on Microsoft Azure IoT technology, giving companies analytical tools that “help improve workplaces and solutions to help employees find the best places to work.”

About the Author


Craig MacCormack is the former executive editor of Commercial Integrator (2011-2021). He's a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering local and national news and sports as well as architecture and engineering before joining Commercial Integrator.

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