Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Pallette of Places for Learning

This week I had an opportunity to attend the ASTD Forum Spring Lab, hosted by Steelcase Inc. in their Steelcase University training facility in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a new member of the Forum, this was my first time attending a face-to-face event. It was great to meet and network with other learning leaders in such a concentrated way. We were together for a few days with very little to distract us. So the conversation was lively, engaging and productive.

But today, I want to talk about the experience of being at Steelcase University. Steelcase is in the office furniture and office space design business. I was expecting to see some exciting new designs from Steelcase, and they did not disappoint. Like many companies of today, Steelcase has been transforming their business model. They have moved from being a traditional manufacturing company, to one that is insight driven, focusing on innovation to improve the customer experience. They are much more about “design” than they are about “build.” This was apparent when the Steelcase learning team took us on a tour of the facility. We were able to see evidence of some of the insights they had gained about designing work environments that were conducive to learning. They shared some of those insights with us as we strolled through the building marveling at the interesting places and spaces they created for people to use as they move about their day.

Here is how they expressed some of those insights:

Democratic Access – many of the Steelcase workspaces were designed to promote a sense of inclusion and community. This was evident in spaces that had no particular front or back, no “seat of power” and in which everyone had easy access to tools such as whiteboards, and monitors for projecting and sharing information.

Flexible Spaces – much of their furniture design is modular, foldable, storable and scaleable. The training room that we were in the first day, miraculously doubled in size the second day. The room did not look or feel make-shift in any way on either day.

Generative Spaces – Steelcase recognizes that people gather for different types of work and meetings. They have many spaces designed specifically for idea generation. These spaces are characterized by having long white-boarded walls, table heights for standing and thinking, and reduced barriers so people can move about freely and see everything that is going on from any position in the room.

Before, During and After Spaces – at every turn there we ad-hoc spaces that gave people the ability to gather in small groups for break-outs or intimate conversation. There were also places to easily plug in a laptop for quick email checks and the like.

Informal Learning – in general all of the designs were sensitive to the fact that we learn while work and we work while we learn. There were a variety of rooms, alcoves, and open work spaces that were comfortable, inviting and often casual looking, providing an environment that encourages thinking, idea sharing and collaborative work.

Steelcase is ready to help us say goodbye to the outdated work setting made up of offices, cubicles, and conference rooms.