Professional Development

Breaking down walls

Office furniture dealer iSpace seeks Pinterest-worthy impressions

By John P. Palen

Technology companies like to create a vision of the ‘corner office’ as anywhere a leader wants to be: the beach, the gym or sitting on a deck in the woods.

This access from almost anywhere has sparked the increasing flexibility of workplaces — and changed how employers design their offices. Commercial real estate trends in big cities are painting a future with few parking ramps, the end of large grassy campuses and a workspace closer to home. 

Office furniture companies have seen these trends for at least a decade — and the smart ones have evolved with it. They aren’t just selling cubicles and furniture. They are selling an experience of collaboration and creativity cool enough to be featured on Pinterest. 

In January, Minneapolis-based iSpace acquired The Furniture Source, owned by Dan Sheehan and Scott Clare, to bring more expertise in-house to serve employers and commercial real estate. Over two decades in business, iSpace leaders have tried to stay ahead of demands for beauty, adaptability and “touch-down” collaboration.

“The office space footprint keeps getting smaller,” says Aaron Eggert, president of iSpace, “and it must respond to change. Some companies have four generations working for them. Business is fast-paced and some employees are brought on temporarily project by project.”

As leaders work more collaboratively with teams, the traditional layout of private offices with exterior windows surrounding a mass of cubicles is losing its importance, Eggert notes.

Having private offices or conference rooms sprinkled within the space allows in more natural light — creating a nicer environment and saving on energy costs.

Cube spaces are also shrinking along with the cost of space per employee, according to Joel Peterson, iSpace CEO. “People are sharing space because they aren’t always in the office. Private spaces can be smaller to allow for open lounge areas and even workout spaces. This ties into younger employees’ expectation that work and life flow together.”

Even the walls can float and change. Interior spaces can be easily reconfigured from floor to ceiling, reducing the need for costly remodels as a company grows or relocates. Demountable and removable interior walls are also easier to tailor for the next tenant in a commercial building.

Then there is the technology. Furniture must adapt to how employees access it and for how long. For example, requests for “sit-to-stand” workspaces have risen from 2% to 50% in the last decade, Peterson says. Amid increased concerns about sedentary jobs and long-term health, both employers and employees see such workspaces as a competitive advantage. “Many companies demand sit-to-stand for all their employees,” Peterson adds.

Employees also want to choose their device. It could be a laptop, tablet, smart phone or large HD video screen. Investment in videoconference technology hardware is actually losing its appeal as cloud-based video or video-as-a-service is improving in quality and cost effectiveness, Eggert says.

“Just think about the need for file storage. That used to be huge. Now companies are paperless,” he adds.

To help their clients envision the future, iSpace has showrooms in Minneapolis and Eden Prairie with plans to open a third in Mankato. As I said, it’s all about the experience. 


John P. Palen is CEO of Allied Executives and works with CEOs, business owners and executive leaders on leadership development and business performance improvement through peer groups, coaching and educational workshops.