Orgatec occurs every two years but, due to Covid, this year’s event was the first since 2018. It was about half the size I remember, many major manufacturers did not exhibit and the most innovative design I encountered was an unfinished product presented by a component manufacturer! However, as a bellwether for the furniture industry, there was still a lot to observe. Before doing so, however, it is worth reflecting for a moment on the event itself.
Aside from the significant reduction in the number of halls, the aisles between the stands were large enough to drive a lorry through. This indicates that there was even less exhibitor-occupied space than I first assumed. In the past, it has taken me at least two whole days – and 50,000+ steps - just to walk the entire event. This year, I was done in a day and less than 20,000. As I write this, the imminent ErgoExpo in Las Vegas has a similar story. Although it has always been a much smaller affair, it is one of the two key ergonomics events in the USA and this year sees fewer exhibitors, no whole-island stands and no big-name manufacturers.
Is this still an after-effect of Covid? Are we so used to virtual events now? Has the cost of travel risen too much? Are there more effective ways to reach customers? Only time will tell. My own view is that the cost of exhibiting has become disproportionate. From our experience, we can get three months’ work from our marketing agency or 10 individual one-day workshops for the same cost as two days at an NEC exhibition.
So back to my observations of products seen at Orgatec. The first and most obvious indicator is that there were far fewer desks and far more phone boxes. Indeed, there were phone boxes in almost every imaginable shape, size and construction. Ultimately, however, it is just a box with sound-proofing, light, power and air circulation so the scope for innovation is limited.
Approaches to the hybrid office were largely cosmetic with only a few extreme examples to challenge thinking. Will a ball pit in the office really stimulate creative thought?
Some of the most attractive co-working products were also suitable for external use although, as I look out of my window at yet more torrential November rain, it is hard to imagine widespread application in the UK.
As previously mentioned, elsewhere, I was specifically looking for compact homeworker desks and was disappointed to find almost no desk/table products specifically designed for domestic use. In my view, too many furniture manufacturers are still just offering smaller versions of their commercial desks rather than addressing the aesthetic and space-saving demands of the consumer. In the UK especially, lack of space is a major problem for millions of homeworkers. Surely, this is an opportunity that shouldn’t be left to Ikea to address? The absence of good products from office supply manufacturers is leading individuals to buy unsuitable furniture from retailers, unknowingly compounding their ergonomics problems instead of addressing them.
Acoustics products were widespread. In addition to the variety of phone boxes, pods, booths and hubs enabling workers to escape from the general workplace hubbub, there were manufacturers of screens, panels, cushions, baffles, ceilings and walls. From our own experience as well as widespread reporting in both general and trade channels, workplace noise issues are a major cause of distraction and stress. It is clear that manufacturers in this segment are rising to the challenge.
3D printing is a technology that is maturing rapidly. We are no longer confined to small components and there is real scope for the industry in the future. However, it still only appeared in the innovation area rather than on any mainstream stands. I look forward to seeing furniture manufacturers investing in 3D printers and design but it seems to be a long time coming.
We all know that employers are trying to build flexibility into their hybrid workplaces. As organisations try to figure out exactly what they need to attract and engage their current and future workforces, the opportunity to move, rearrange and redeploy furniture resources is a central consideration. So lots of manufacturers have added castors to their booths and hubs!
And mobility brings me to my favourite Orgatec product (pictured above). Disappointingly, it was not on a furniture manufacturer’s stand – there was no ‘Aeron Moment’. It came from Hettich, a substantial German manufacturer of components and it’s a concept ready for development and implementation by a workplace manufacturer. Their ‘room2gather’ enables four modules to be reconfigured almost instantly into alternative settings, from a collaboration space for four people to individual work areas. This is much more imaginative then just adding a set of castors and I look forward to seeing it exploited!