A New Frontier: How HON Is Taking NeoCon Virtual in 2020
Since 1969, NeoCon has been the flagship event for the commercial design industry.
In the heart of downtown Chicago, NeoCon is the premier annual gathering of industry professionals, customers and their partners. While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted this year’s in-person event, that hasn’t stopped HON from bringing you a virtual version of its would-be NeoCon showroom in an event that will take place June 3 and 4.
As employees plan their return to offices across the country, the workspaces they’ve come to know will not be the same. Design trends that gained steam prior to March are now being implemented in different ways, and the introduction of safety protocols and distancing guidelines has affected how the workspace is organized, cleaned and maintained.
There’s a lot for companies to think about when it comes to office design, and we’re excited to bring two experts together to offer a preview of what’s to come during our virtual sessions. Kristen Antony is a Marketing Manager for The HON Company and Rick Joutras is a principal at Whitney Architects, one of the nation’s leading architectural and design studios.
We sat down with both Joutras and Antony (virtually, of course!) to talk about NeoCon, design trends and how businesses can best prepare to reopen their offices safely and efficiently.
“We’re focused on furniture for NeoCon,” Antony said. “And for this virtual event, we’ve shifted gears a bit. It’s going to look different than what we had originally planned, but we’re excited about what we have in store.
“We’re pulling in industry experts like Rick to bring those resources to our partners and help us learn more about what (the experts) are seeing, as people who live this day in and day out.”
The Changing World of Furniture & Office Design
The pandemic has had a big impact on workplace settings, and it’s come to the forefront as companies plan a return to the office. Everything is fresh, it’s new, and there are no right or wrong answers just yet.
During HON’s virtual sessions, companies will see how this transition back to the workplace might take place—both in the very-near future and in the months ahead.
“It’s like learning how to swim when you’re already in the pool,” Joutras said. “We’re breaking it down into more digestible segments for the audience: there’s an immediate term, as in the next couple of months. Beyond that, the needs are going to be different long term than in the short term. We’re thinking of ways to build in physical distancing in the office and slowly increase that occupancy load while still keeping people safe.”
With a short window to make the necessary changes, many businesses must evaluate what they already have and determine if the current inventory of furniture is enough to ensure a safe return.
“What’s going to be really important is repurposing your furniture and providing the necessary supportive elements in that environment to give people protection,” said Joutras. “When we’re talking about panels, they do provide an element of control. People are able to place them around their work setting and it gives a psychological feel of having some shelter, or a boundary that belongs to them. It’s providing some level of control over something that we can’t control.”
A New, Holistic View of the Workplace
Typically, the NeoCon setting is filled with the latest and greatest products. This year, there’s a larger emphasis on the safest and most practical solutions. The problems companies are facing are immediate and require prompt attention; helping customers find the right products is always the goal, but now, it’s also about responding.
“Now, we have a bigger view of products,” Antony said. “What we had planned for the year is shifting a bit. What we were working on 6–8 months ago or a year ago, those things have all come to market but we’re also shifting gears to focus on our response platforms for COVID-19.
“This digital experience is about those changes, but we’re also looking at what that showroom looks like—what are these modifications for the short term, and how can we adjust furniture for distancing and other safety guidelines?” Joutras and his team at Whitney Architects have been working to design adaptive workplaces that answer the challenges of our current environment, and are also ready to accommodate the future of work.
“Being adaptive as we progress through this and swing with the pendulum is so important,” Joutras said. “That’s where, when we talk about the office of the future, we see utilization changing. The square foot per person will probably increase. And with WFH strategies, you may see less of the workforce in the office five days or 40 hours per week.
“We’re thinking about how you can allocate workspaces and seating and create an office that supports that. It’s a hard thing to create culture when you’re totally remote. That’s what HON is trying to bring forth in its new product offerings; it’s facilitating that place of choice, the zones of the workplace, because it’s huge for people when you feel like you’re part of something.”
An All-Encompassing Experience
As we embark on a new chapter of work, the HON team is focused on providing the most comprehensive information for customers—and this includes products and best practices.
We’re excited to use our virtual experience to bring the showroom to our customers and partners, and leverage the knowledge of industry experts to give real, applicable insight. This is a challenging time, but it’s also a time of opportunity.
“HON has always been a tip-to-tail company,” Joutras said. “It looks at holistic solutions from the minute you walk in and sit at your desk to when you leave again. It’s actively engaged and considerate of the ever-changing times.
“It’s evaluating the current offerings based on what it can do to support and facilitate work in these times, and then looking at new offerings and ways to use existing products. This approach helps you make the best decision you can while still keeping people safe as they return to work.”
For more information on HON’s virtual showroom event (which takes place June 3 and 4) and how to participate, visit hon.com/neocon.