Keeping Up with Technology

The office, as we know it, continues to change. It is important, therefore, to step out of our comfort zone and continue to keep our minds open to new ways of doing things.

Will there be a new product or technology that will once more change the face of the industry? Will someone launch a furniture product that will respond to the boom in this new office technology?

While we may like to think we’re on the cutting edge, a great deal of what our industry develops and sells is often just a response to changes in other industries, technologies, legislation, and sometimes, even the economy. I wouldn’t say there isn’t any innovation, but few that aren’t the result of external forces.

The idea of office cubicles was not really new when they started taking over the workplace in the late 1970’s. Many businesses had used bankers’ walls and other types of partitions to divide up the office and provide a bit more separation and privacy for their employees. What was new was the fact that the cubicles had become modular and therefore semi-mobile. Modular systems quickly changed the landscape of the workplace from a sea of stagnant desks and hard wall offices to a flexible workspace that could be rearranged to fit the changing needs of the business. The dealers who understood this new opportunity jumped in and their businesses grew exponentially.

Modular systems furniture arrived shortly before computers hit the workplace, so they were designed to accommodate the equipment of the time…typewriters, adding machines, calculators, telephones, etc. The work surfaces were often thirty inches deep and pedestals were of a size and configuration similar to the freestanding desks they had replaced. Typewriters sat on a deep corner work surface.

The computer was perfectly suited to modular systems furniture. The corner work surface could easily handle a large computer monitor and initially the work surfaces could be set at standard desk height or typewriter height.

The basic configuration of a cubicle hasn’t changed, but the equipment inside it evolved. This change has led to many offices going back to open plans or benching systems. Desktop computers continue to be replaced by laptop computers, tablets, and even smartphones. One user with multiple screens is no longer unusual. More and more people are checking their email on their cell phones and foregoing the computer altogether. The ubiquitous mouse is starting to be replaced more and more by touch screens. The keyboard and the mouse will likely start to disappear as more computers operate through direct touch, gesture, and voice commands. The much-heralded release of Apple’s iPad and other similar tablets was just the tip of this new technology.

Just one example of how office technology is changing comes from a survey (Published by Arne Holst, Sep 13, 2019) showing laptop, PC, and tablet sales statistics from 2010 to 2023. It showed global shipment figures for tablets, laptops and desktop PCs from 2010 to 2017 and also offered a forecast for 2018, 2019, 2022 and 2023.

Sales of desktop PCs from 2010 through 2017 dropped from 157 million units to 97.8 million units sold. During that same time frame, laptop computers dropped from 201 million units sold to 162.6 million units. Tablet sales went from 19 million units sold to 230 million in 2014 and then dropped to 163.7 million sold in 2017. In 2023, around 122.1 million tablets are expected to ship worldwide.

How will the products we offer our clients address these new realities and the needs of the new decision makers who will use new technology?

As an industry, we need to go back and remember how technology changed business models and the products that were sold. It is also important to identify and avoid fads and focus on selling products and services that are sustainable into the future. History has taught us that it is critical to look beyond our own small industry and see what products and technologies may affect it.

New technology and legislation continue to offer many new sales opportunities. Learn from the past… but don’t get stuck there. Look backwards for reference with an eye to the future.

Jim Heilborn is a business consultant specializing in the office furniture/products industry, working nationwide with dealers, manufacturers, and service providers. Jim has been associated with INDEAL for eight years, specializing in training and dealer development. He can be reached directly at or by phone at 916.434.8711.