Knowledge & Insights

INTERVIEW SERIES: Conversations With VOOU + Simon Castle of Orangebox

Simon Castle is Director of Corporate Accounts for Orangebox in the U.K.

"Orangebox is a designer and manufacturer of furniture for the changing workplace with a focus on “Smartworking” solutions – furniture that fosters collaboration while providing contemporary aesthetics, visual/acoustic privacy, and commercial-grade performance. Born in 2002 Wales, now part of Steelcase in the U.S.

I've met Simon about 10 years ago in Asia (and I say Asia because Simon spent a lot of time there and we would see each other in many countries). So it's fair to say that our chat took me back to that time, but it also brought me forward.


Kelly: What three business trends Do you believe COVID-19 has accelerated in your industry for 2021 and beyond?

Simon: COVID has pretty much forced every business to now hit the reset button from how they would have worked before and evaluate how they can work going forward. We have probably fast-tracked 5 years ahead of time in embracing a more agile way of work. IT has most certainly been the biggest facilitator.

Many companies were already on an agile journey, meaning they had already adopted some form of activity-based working prior to the pandemic. These companies were able to adapt and respond far more quickly and were able to sort of bend and flex to the new scenario. I think having this ability has quite clearly been one of the biggest drivers that's helped to enable us and I’m sure will form part of a bigger strategy for many businesses looking ahead.

Generationally wise, leaders have had to trust their staff more as well. In a way, it's been forced upon them to do so, but I think it’s helped to break down the disbelief that in order to have a productive staff, they have to be seated in your direct line of vision. In some cultures, perhaps more hierarchical in nature, this was likely a lot harder. The working from home model has certainly been tried and tested with tangible benefits to both businesses and employees (sustainability, wellbeing, productivity, etc.) and I’m sure will form part of most company’s future workplace strategy, however, the extent of this new “hybrid” working model will very much depend on each individual business needs.

Considering we now have better IT capability, the opportunity to implement various degrees of homeworking and agile working (with leadership buy-in) has now also presented businesses with a great prospect to question and re-evaluate their real estate needs and potentially achieve some significant cost savings. It’s created a bit of a perfect storm to drive change – reflecting on what they learned, what they haven't, (which is hard to do), and implement what's right for their business going forward.

Kelly: What do you believe matters most to your clients or your customers right now?

Simon: Resetting. We all know that change is inevitable and the only constant that we can rely on. We have experienced a massive disruption over the past year, but this wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last time. And the speed of disruption is increasing as well. So, I feel that companies that can scenario plan for such disruption and stay agile enough to be able to bend and “pivot” will fare better in the years to come.

Employee well-being is another area of added consideration for organizations. It might have been in the past, but it has certainly taken center stage at the moment. Let’s hope it doesn’t fade into the background in years to come.

The Orangebox team has been working hard on a new white paper (which is due to launch in staged chapters this month) called “Relationship Buildings.” Our suggestion is that although businesses will embrace various “hybrid models,” the office will still be a core destination and critical in harnessing and nurturing company culture and ensuring employees thrive through social interaction and collaboration. The “Relationship Buildings” white paper has been designed to help inspire, inform and provide key knowledge and insight to our clients to enable us to help guide our clients as they navigate their future workplace strategies.

This is certainly a “test & learn” period and no one has a crystal ball, however, with the right toolbox, we firmly believe there is an exciting evolving period ahead where businesses can look to make positive change that leads to not only business gains but also bringing out the best in their workforce.

Kelly: Has your organization changed or altered the way your products are sold as a result of COVID? Did the distribution model change at all?

Simon: Orangebox created the narrative “Smartworking.” Designing and manufacturing innovative products that help support all work activities away from the desk has been our core focus from the moment our brand was established. Companies have been embracing agile working in some form or another for years, which has been accelerating in different parts of the world faster than others, but with the key objective of being able to increase productivity and efficiency within a floor plate.

We now have the understanding that people don’t have to be tethered to their desks and that IT has been the biggest enabler for this change. We are now connecting people to each other, not their desks.

So Smartworking for us, even before COVID, was always about having a toolbox of products with cultural empathy so that regardless of where we are located in the world, we could sit with and engage with clients and help them implement work settings that were right for them and could support their work activities, whether that’s collaboration, focus work, meeting, training, socializing, rejuvenation, etc.

That's why we call it Smartworking because we feel that's the smart thing to do.

Fast forward, and now hopefully nearing post-COVID, we all understand that perhaps there will be more of a balanced hybrid model of working from home (or elsewhere) and in the office. The suggestion is, if you are going to make that commute into the office it is going to be because people are craving to be part of a community, a working life, seeing and socializing with colleagues, collaborating - making the office more of a place to bring people together. Luckily, our Smartworking product portfolio means we are well-positioned for future growth, creating spaces to facilitate the increase in these activities.

We have also been fortunate that our Managing Director, Mino Vernaschi (a product designer by trade) has always believed in continuous new product development being critical to the growth of Orangebox. In times of other challenging periods, and I recall two recessions in my time with OB, we have always continued to invest and ensure our product development program remained resourced. Throughout the pandemic, we have continued that ambition and have recently launched a number of new products including our largest product platform to date “Campers & Dens.” We believe these products will provide our clients with exciting new concepts that offer flexible adaptable solutions to increase productivity, maximize efficiencies whilst creating destinations that employees will certainly want to travel to and work within.

Orangebox’s route to market is via a local network of key dealer partners providing our clients with globally manufactured products with local service. This route to market has never changed and important as we see our clients requiring a consolidated project approach with an increasingly broader product mix within their scope.

Kelly: What is the most common mistake you're seeing companies make when it comes to marketing?

Simon: We’ve all heard of the concept of “fake news.” I think sometimes there may be a risk (especially with social media) of companies jumping on the bandwagon when it comes to marketing and delivering unfounded messages. This time last year people were declaring the “office was dead.” Fast forward a year and we have all had a fast-track period of learning. We are now experiencing many large corporate organizations declaring just how important the office is in protecting and nurturing a company’s culture and ensuring productivity doesn’t suffer.

I think one of the biggest mistakes is to not fully research and understand what the particular business drivers are and make sure that you're balanced in the new view and leveled in how you respond.

On this occasion, I am pleased to confirm it is very much “long live the office” – exciting times ahead!

Kelly: What three adjectives would you use to describe 2020? And what would you like them to be for 2021?

Simon: 2020: Unpredictable. Responsive. Turbulent.

2021: Positive. Assertive. Proactive.