Inside Innovation: Exploring the Steelcase Learning + Innovation Center in Munich

Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to have forged a strong relationship with office furniture manufacturers, Steelcase.

They were the topic of the first blog we ever published and we’ve previously written about their Walkstation treadmill desk, the research they conducted into privacy in the workplace and Creative Spaces, their collaboration with Microsoft.

At the forefront of research and development in the world of workplace and office design, Steelcase regularly publishes their own research into workplace productivity and pride themselves as being leaders in innovation and learning.

Forging LINCs through office design

Included amongst their facilities, offices, and factories in America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Australia and Africa are two Learning + Innovation Centres (LINCs).

Designed specifically to enhance their R&D projects, the first LINC was launched at their headquarters in Grand Rapids Michigan.

In 2017, Steelcase opened its second Learning + Innovation Centre in Munich, Germany.

Reflecting Steelcase’s research around collaboration and innovation, the main objective of the space was to increase productivity and the impact of product development.

The 14,400m2, three-building campus houses over 230 employees and was designed for them alongside dealers, customers, influencers and guests from around the world to lead, learn and innovate together.

As you can imagine, it’s an impressive space so we thought we’d take a closer look at this innovative working environment.

Interconnected Innovation

The LINC was designed with an understanding of how learning, creativity and innovation interconnect.

Steelcase wanted to demonstrate how a working habitat could foster new habits, encourage collaboration and allow staff to build stronger networks with each other.

As Steelcase’s president and CEO, Jim Keane, explains, “For an organization to scale innovation and growth, its employees need to be continuously sharing ideas and learning from each other - in real time, face-to-face and across locations.”

To this end, the LINC brings together teams that had previously been based across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA).

In order to make leaders more accessible to employees, they now occupy their own zone within the LINC.

3 Key Insights for Fostering Change

Based on the principle that a physical workplace can promote and nurture rapid learning, creative work and agile teams, three key insights guided the LINC’s design.

1. Learning happens everywhere

When work is transparent and people are accessible, employees can experience problems getting solved and learn from being part of the process.

2. It’s a never-ending journey

Rather than being episodic, learning should encourage experimentation and ongoing evaluation.

3. Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner

Anyone can share ideas and experiences. The culture of a business should admit that it won’t always have all the answers and be open to new ways of thinking.

The Reimagined Workplace

The LINC was a total re-imagination of an existing structure, transforming what was an outdated office space into a future-focused, inspiring centre for learning and innovation.

James Ludwig, who heads the Steelcase design and engineering teams, explained that they wanted to, “support a culture shift from thinking of the workplace as ‘the corporate office’ to experiencing it as ‘the creative studio.”

To achieve this, the design team had to ensure that all stages of the creative process were addressed, from focused work and collaboration to co-creation, function-based learning and areas for rest and relaxation.

Designed as an ecosystem of interconnected and interdependent environments, people are encouraged to choose an area based on their task, the technologies they’re using or simply their state of mind.

They can also choose the level of privacy they need, from open collaborative spaces to enclosed settings for focused work or personal conversations.

A Collaborative Community

Encouraging collaboration and movement were important. Rather than assigned desks, teams work together in designated neighbourhoods and everyone shares the entire facility, moving from setting to setting throughout the day.

The design includes smart paths of circulation, giving people the opportunity to get up, walk around, bump into each other, and grab a spot to work together or find an out-of-the-way cul-de-sac when privacy is needed.

A focal point of the LINC is a wide staircase that opens the space, encourages movement, gives visibility from floor to floor and acts as an encounter spot for spontaneous conversations.

The WorkCafé, a signature Steelcase concept, with its coffee bar, barista and seating spread over two levels, offers a place to interact, work or socialise throughout the day.

A Catalyst for Creativity

Steelcase realised that innovation was dependent on human interaction, exploration and experimentation, making the places that bring people together critical to innovative thinking.

With this in mind, the LINC offers:

  • Unassigned open project bays that can be easily “hacked” to offer places for brainstorming
  • Functional hubs where colleagues in the same discipline can gather together
  • Enclosed meeting spaces for individual focused work

The Model Shop and Test Lab at the LINC, rather than being relegated to the basement as is often the case, are on the top floor with direct access to daylight and surrounded by views of Munich.

The Visitor Experience

Rather than being a showroom for Steelcase products, the LINC is a place where learning and innovation happen.

All-glass facades give people outside clear views of how work happens within the building before they’ve even walked in.

Instead of a formal reception desk, the lobby offers seating options that encourage interaction.

Visitors and employees can freely intermingle on the open staircase and in the WorkCafé, giving everyone an authentic insight into how people work at Steelcase.

It’s less a show-and-tell tour of the business and more of a destination for exploration and discovery.

Accelerating Change

As businesses around the world struggle to encourage innovation, accelerate learning, connect their staff more effectively and keep up with constantly evolving technology, offering employees a dynamic workplace is more important than ever.

The right working environment can give companies a competitive advantage that allows them to attract and retain the best people in their industry.

The newest Learning + Innovation Center in Munich is not only a working example of such an environment but also allows Steelcase to stay at the forefront of research and development into innovative workplace design.

You can find out more in Steelcase’s article, Inside Innovation.

If you’d like to learn more about how our relationship with Steelcase could benefit your own business’ working environment, get in touch with the team at Paramount today.


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