Origami Offices

In this fast-moving economy, it seems as though nothing is permanent. Not your headcount, your product, your revenue, your mailing address — and even, your office furniture.

Flexibility is the key word here, and new office design is popping up to address that need. Call it Office Origami.

Today, you can find benches that double as seating for a collaborative work space or a dining area. A conference room can be literally made on the fly without sheetrock, hammering and moving electrical outlets. Your desks can transform from long group tables into coffee tables for your collaborative space. Nothing in today’s office design has to be permanent anymore.

A truly agile workplace must evolve and adapt to suit your changing needs. And a variety of companies have sprung up to service companies’ voracious appetite for agile spaces.

For example, London-based Apres Furniture makes modular sofas that can be easily rearranged and “railway carriage pods,” which are high-backed sofa units for meeting spaces. New environmentally-sustainable phone booths by New York-based ROOM play a similar role.

Made from recycled plastic bottles, ROOM’s booths are simply small rooms with sound-absorbing material, a light, fan, magnetic board, desk and electrical outlets. They give workers a bit of privacy and quiet for phone calls or focused work time. But most importantly, they’re portable and can be folded up and rebuilt in a new spot. Says Morten Meisner-Jensen, ROOM’s cofounder: “It’s privacy in a box that you can have up and running in 30 minutes.”

Dozens of other furniture makers, with names like Boss Designs, Elite and ZenBooth, have also popped up to fill the void, designing eclectic mixes of modern, retro and homey furniture that can be easily mixed and matched for different purposes. A side-table in a lobby, for instance, can be raised to serve as a desk in an office. The ideal design is simplistic and lightweight — and easy to move, whether it’s from one area of an office space to an entirely new address.

“No one needs the walnut table and 20 chairs anymore,” says Liz Walker, who sees global trends and needs as marketing director of London-based agile furniture maker Orange Box. “The evolution of the office is shifting, and furniture has to reflex that ability to be flexible.”