Steelcase Publishes Research Book Studying “Global Villages” at Work

Research from The Office Code explores impact of national culture on office interaction and space planning, to be presented during ORGATEC 2008 in Cologne, Germany

October 14, 2008 – Grand Rapids, MI – As multi-national organizations increasingly employ workers from a variety of countries under one roof, they are often faced with culture clashes between employees rooted in their national differences. Upon completion of a three-year exploration study on the relationship between national culture and office space, Steelcase, a global office environments manufacturer, is releasing The Office Code, a book designed to help companies navigate how to successfully integrate workers who think differently at work with success.

Research published in The Office Code will be presented later this month at a Steelcase event called “Future starts now” taking place in Cologne.

  • During the ORGATEC 2008 Office and Facility Fair.
  • Event will begin at 6:30 pm on October 23.
  • Will be held in the Event Loft, Gladbacher Wall 5, in Cologne.
  • Presentation of the new Steelcase book “Der Büro-Code” (The Office Code) at 9:30pm local time.

The research spans six European countries, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy and Spain, and shows how national culture and physical office space are not always in harmony, likely due to pressing economic constraints or the adoption of traditional office configurations. From the impact of meeting start times – which in countries like Germany it is essential to be on time, whereas in Italy, being late is acceptable or expected – to the message of a closed door signaling a need for privacy or nothing at all, The Office Code addresses how the nuances between different cultures under one roof can inform space planning to maximize collaboration and communication.

“Steelcase is asked time and again how local culture manifests within the workplace, which can be particularly problematic after an international office is acquired through a merger or acquisition, but even exists in small companies when conducting business away from home,” said Catherine Gall, co-author of The Office Code and director of Steelcase Workspace Futures in Europe. “With this book, we compile our years of research to illustrate how organizations can accommodate and support different values, preferences and behaviors to avoid cultural misunderstandings – something that can silently eat away at company resources.”

The Office Code addresses research established by the Dutch sociologist, Gert Hofstede, who created a model for understanding culture with a study for IBM in the 1970s that identified five dimensions/cultural attributes that impact cultural understanding. It also provides an in-depth analysis of the differences between floor plans, anecdotes, and case studies obtained through interviews and observations of the six countries involved documenting regional differences among the cultures.

“In addition to daily nuances between cultures, we found varied perception and acceptance of mega-trends, such as distributed work (or working off site) between different cultures,” said Beatriz Arantes, co-author and social sciences researcher at Steelcase Workspace Futures in Europe. “In some countries, like Scandinavia and the Netherlands, working from home is accepted and carries no stigma, but in France, not being present in the office is frowned upon, stemming from the more hierarchal office structures. These are critical differences that organizations, some of which we showcase in the book, can overcome through proper workspace design strategy and understanding.”

In addition to identifying common issues and misperceptions, The Office Code also provides best practices examples of global companies such as Google, Accenture and Steelcase that are successfully integrating contrasting national cultures in the same settings. Initially published in German and available October 23, The Office Code will be translated into English and French in the coming year. A similar study with North American countries is also currently underway. To obtain a German copy of the book (ISBN 978-3-87422-818-3), please contact

About Workspace Futures
Workspace Futures is a trans-disciplinary research and foresight group at Steelcase. With expertise in the fields of architecture, business, engineering, ergonomics, industrial design, interior architecture, psychology, marketing and other professions, Workspace Futures seeks to understand the impact of evolving issues in the workplace. In addition to its internal staff, the group is actively engaged in a worldwide research network of leading academic institutions, other industrial sector research groups, and private research institutions.

About Steelcase Inc.
Steelcase, the global leader in the office furniture industry, helps people have a better work experience by providing products, services and insights into the ways people work. The company designs and manufactures architecture, furniture and technology products. Founded in 1912 and headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase (NYSE:SCS) serves customers through a network of over 600 independent dealers and approximately 13,000 employees worldwide. Fiscal 2008 revenue was $3.4 billion.

Laura Muyskens

Anne-Sophie Peter
Steelcase International
+33 388133537