Tag Archives: Herman Miller

Office Origins

September 15, 2015 by

This article appears in the Fall 2015 issue of B2B.

For all the time we spend in our office, very few of us are familiar with how that space came to be. You may actually be surprised by the events and inventions that helped form the work environment we know today. From the development of the railroad to innovations in communication, our current corporate habits, structures, and tools have all played a role. In his book Cubed—A Secret History of the Workplace, Nikil Saval shapes the advances that created the conventional office we are familiar with today.

The advent of the Morse telegraph spawned long-distance communication. Then, starting in 1860, a series of technological innovations changed the possibilities of the workplace: the use of iron framework permitted the construction of taller buildings, and elevators assisted the climb. The Remington typewriter entered the office in 1874; Bell’s telephone was patented two years later.

At the same time, railroads expanded across the country, reducing transportation costs and extending markets for goods and services. Additionally, railroads produced an organizational transformation still in use today. The coordination of trains required employees, housed in structures all across the country, bringing a variety of offices to the American landscape. Between the executive, the manager, and the worker…the organizational chart was born.

The invention of telecommunications fostered the speed of information to surge, creating more work and, subsequently, more workers. As these workers moved into new structures, the spaces reflected their various levels of management.  In 1915, the Metal Office Furniture Company (now Steelcase) invented the modern desk—a flat metal table outfitted with file drawers. The new desks, massed together in defined rows, offered managers full visual access to the goings-on of the workplace; and this “sea of desks” became the norm for decades. Lockers and various cabinets, popular in the Great Depression era, became vertical files once steel became readily available after World War II.

In 1968, Herman Miller introduced the first panel system with attached components. Designed by Robert Propst, the Action Office system revolutionized the “office” in form, flexibility, and cost. Other furniture manufacturers mimicked the modular system, which became the norm for many businesses.

Up to the ’90s, the personal computer’s popularity grew, and the relative size of work stations decreased between 25-50 percent. By the middle of that decade, the dot-com revolution on the West Coast created an unprecedented workplace culture. The formal atmosphere of the office became much more casual, and discontent for the Dilbert-esque cubicle grew. Subsequently, creative furniture solutions evolved, with the desire to be more mobile leading the way.

In the early 2000’s, collaborative, open offices grew in popularity. New and improving technologies now offer connectivity in the office, home, or public spaces.  As a result, nearly every company today is adapting and using new furnishings as a tool to attract new workers. At the same time, retaining existing employees is equally important. The goal is to make everyone more effective and efficient in their work.

Whether you work in an office, from home, in the local coffee shop, or out of an airline terminal, you may start to notice that much of the furniture is beginning to look very similar. As long as you are able to connect to technology, you can work from virtually anywhere.

Doug Schuring is the director of sales administration at All Makes Office Equipment Co.

Doug Schuring is the director of sales administration at All Makes Office Equipment Co.


Bringing Community Responsibility to Life

May 25, 2013 by

Pythons. Hooded Pitahuis. Pygmy Marmosets.

Omaha is known by many across the nation because of Wild Kingdom, Mutual of Omaha’s primetime television show that brought animals to life in our living rooms.

But the show’s impact has been more profound for us (Omahans) than it has ecologically speaking. We identify with and claim the show’s reputation as our own. We feel community pride because, after all, it’s Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. This pride generates a strong sense of community responsibility. So maybe not coincidentally, community responsibility is accepted as one of the five Omaha City Values.

Wild Kingdom is one of the coolest examples in Omaha of what is called “traditional philanthropy.” This kind of philanthropy refers to the age-old practice of companies making cash donations or in-kind contributions to worthy causes. Most companies participate in traditional philanthropy because of their sincere desire to be involved in their communities and/or to give something back. Traditional philanthropy promotes reciprocity that produces important business benefits, including increased customer loyalty, higher employee retention, and enhanced corporate reputation.

As compared to traditional philanthropy, strategic philanthropy is a concept that has grown in prominence since the 1990s. This kind of charity involves a process where companies align their community relations initiatives with their core business products and services. Instead of a Wild Kingdom animal television show sponsored by an insurance firm (What’s the connection there?), corporations donate to specific community projects that align with their core competencies. For example, ConAgra does strategic philanthropy by focusing its charity on food and hunger issues, like Kids Cafés.

Some organizations are finding ways to impact their communities through employee engagement practices. Firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) recognize that young professionals crave choice. So they’ve created an innovative program for performance incentives that offers a choice to support a cause in their name. Every staff member gets to choose how they receive their incentive—cash, a charity match, a tech package, or a gift card. This is an ingenious way to bring community responsibility to life.

At the furthest end of the community responsibility spectrum are social enterprises. These organizations flip the capitalist model on its head. Maximizing profits is no longer the purpose of these businesses. Profit is a means to a broader end of enhancing the well-being of the community. Nonprofits, as well as for-profits like Herman Miller, Grameen, and PlanetReuse, are bringing community responsibility to life in this way. Their employees and clients are supporting their model with extreme loyalty.

From traditional philanthropy to social enterprise, we challenge Omaha businesses to continue to enjoy the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards that come from bringing community responsibility to life. And don’t forget—a sense of community responsibility starts with our kids. One of the ways the Business Ethics Alliance has promoted this is with our team of moral superheroes who live in the Itty Bitty City at the Omaha Children’s Museum. Take your kids to the museum and kick-start their sense of community responsibility by spending time with superhero Reese.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is Executive Director of Business Ethics Alliance and Chair of Business Ethics & Society at Creighton University’s College of Business.