As the great Willie Nelson once sang, I am "on the road again". This time to the great state of Michigan to visit the other Eames', Herman Miller. Once I had the opportunity to sit down and think, I became pretty excited to look at Herman Miller in comparison to Vitra, just because I expected them to share a few view points and potentially approaches in marketing and presentation to the world.
The first impression was very much what I had expected (having already been to the showroom in NY), visiting the "home" of the Living Office. This is in response to many stimulus in society, but for example the growth of the start-up sector has had a huge impact. When those companies offered flexibility to workers to try and encourage them to work for them, they would encourage them to work from where ever they felt comfortable. The flip side to this is that employees infrequently coming to the office led to a distinct lowering in the feeling of community within the company, which brought a huge host of problems. Therefore there is now a large push within these companies to offer these comfortable environments to employees, which allow them to move freely and feel like they are somewhere between work and home. In this context, Herman Miller indeed practice what they preach with a large, airy and open office space built around the ideals of a manifesto written on the walls:
"Living Office helps people customize their methods, tools, and places of work to express and enable shared character and purpose. It is based on what is fundamental to all humans and evolves continuously in response to change. It is a more natural and desirable workplace that fosters greater connection, creativity, productivity, and ultimately, greater prosperity for all."
Interestingly, they go further than just furniture offerings—an analytical wing of the business called Performance Environments works within the Living Office system to use data driven systems to create environmental systems based on facts. They use many methods of studying the space and the people withing, from IR heat maps, to sensors in seats and direct observation. This this goes through a design process and reflection of various principals (the idea that there are 10 ways of working, and 10 environments to support those methods of working). Herman Miller has actually used this in the development of their space here in Holland to adapt the space and make sure that they live up to the manifesto posted on the wall. This even extends into the furniture itself with the launch of Live OS, I'll admit I didn't get an in depth walk around of it, but there is a great article here from Design Milk about it.
Needless to say Herman Miller feels more like an American company. That's not to say anything bad about it, but it's funny being in a European company one week and then a slightly more corporate environment the next. I'm going to go into some kind of nit-picky stuff now, but the set up of offices is kind of interesting to me, so here I go. The Herman Miller office here operates at around 60% territorial/resident space (meaning someone owns a specific space) and 40% flex works who move around. Interestingly this is distributed by hierarchy, but through need. Those who don't need a dedicated space, use it infrequently, or feel that it doesn't fit their work style (that it will effect the amount they interact with others) move more freely around the office.
Herman Miller has a fairly high mean age of employee, which is great because they have a huge amount of experienced workers with them still, but they will soon face a fairly large group of theiremployees retiring out of the company (around 38% have been with the company for over 20 years). This in itself is a really interesting problem within the industry to me, where many of these companies have survived on the longevity of their workforce, which in this day and age will turnover much more often. It will be interesting to see how these companies communicate the drive and passion to those new employees and whether they are able to retain them longer than the average might be for other professions.