FORM 15: Jonathan Webb, VP, KI Furniture

Jonathan WebbAs technology mechanizes our lifestyle, we have become an increasingly sedentary society, and long days sitting at a desk doesn’t help either. Of course, the concept of changing the way we work to facilitate more activity is not new; however, finding data on active design in the workplace is. Thanks to the team at KI Furnture, we can now review information in their newly-released white paper on the needs of office workers. We spoke to Jonathan Webb, Vice President at KI, about the findings and what his active work life looks like.

Why did you become interested in Active Design?

The workplace is an incubator for sedentary behavior. The increasing cost of health care, the Affordable Care Act, and a cultural shift toward increased workplace productivity are leading organizations down a path toward Active Design.

I sought to learn more— and to determine if this term had ever been used in the past—over a year ago. The Center for Active Design, based in New York City, was an initiative of Mayor Bloomberg’s Administration. Its mission is to use the design of buildings, streets, and neighborhoods to promote physical activity and access to health food and thereby reduce the prevalence of obesity and chronic disease. It’s a really interesting concept and was the main reason I began searching for information on Active Design specifically geared toward the workplace. No data existed, and I saw this as an opportunity for KI Furniture to be a thought leader in this arena.


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In your research, you interviewed office workers. What did you learn about their needs in terms of creating a healthier workspace?

One of the most enlightening things I learned is that having a workplace wellness program isn’t enough to change employees’ behavior. We know that 90 percent of companies employing more than 50,000 workers have wellness programs. But what if wellness programs aren’t enough? We asked office workers, “Do you feel encouraged to work out?” Of those that exercised regularly, 42 percent said that they felt encouraged to work out. However, sedentary workers felt differently—only 3 percent felt encouraged to work out.

Furthermore, this sedentary group was 88 percent more likely to perceive that their organizations’ cultures wouldn’t allow them to work out, even though formal programs were offered. Clearly, workers have predisposed notions about what their organizations support based largely on their current lifestyles and practices.

How can you change the sedentary lifestyle that comes along with office work?

Within our research, we look at nine pillars of Active Design that are intended to promote movement and activity in the workplace, as well as make the workplace a healthier environment. These are highlighted in KI’s recent white paper. Most of these pillars can be implemented easily and all of them combat a sedentary work environment.

You also interviewed, practitioners who design office spaces. Did they feel that improving “wellness in the workplace” was a priority?

It was certainly noted in our research that improving wellness in the workplace was a common conversation between architects and designers and their clients. However, architects and designers certainly ranked this as a higher priority than the end users we interviewed. I think as time goes on, the conversation surrounding this topic will continue to increase.

Toggle-adjustable-table_sit-stand_modelWhat are some of the ideas the architects/designers you spoke with had in terms of achieving this goal?

Certainly many of the pillars we have identified are being used by architects and designers with their clients. However, in terms of workspace, we are noticing a dramatic shift in how spaces are being planned. A decade ago, it was common for 80 percent of space to be programmed for individual work and only 20 percent for collaboration. A shift to a 50/50 split or even 60/40 is becoming a more common trend these days. Creating a variety of work spaces is one of our pillars of Active Design.

Is Active Design a priority for employers?

If it’s not, it should be! A recent study by Gallup revealed that 70 percent of American workers are disengaged at work. This fact, combined with rising healthcare costs and the need to attract and retain talent, can easily lead us into a conversation about how an actively designed workplace can increase the bottom line and deliver the return on investment that companies need to survive in this day and age.

How does it improve factors like retention and productivity?

Consider the cost to replace a GOOD employee. It can range from two to four times the cost to keep a good employee. If implementing Active Design principles can assist in retention for any organization, it certainly becomes a good idea for all involved.

What are the principles of Active Design that you came up with?

These are highlighted in the white paper:

  1. Implement Daylighting.
  2. Create a Variety of Work Spaces.
  3. Encourage Face-to-Face Communications.
  4. Offer Healthy Food Options.
  5. Encourage Movement at Work.
  6. Design Flexible, Open Multi-Use Spaces.
  7. Subconsciously Inspire People to Take Stairs.
  8. Incorporate Height-Adjustable Worksurfaces.
  9. Allocate Outdoor Workspace.

What are your newest products to support these principles?

Our newest lounge seating product, Sway, won an innovation award at Neocon this year. Its orbital motion allows movement WHILE sitting—how’s that for unique? https://youtu.be/ghQXW-BQj0s

How do you collaborate with designers to create products?

KI bases its product development priorities on the explicit needs of each market we serve. We partner with designers outside of KI when needed, but also employ wonderful designers in-house to help develop successful products like Sway, Evoke (moveable wall), and others.

How do you stay active?

Ha! How do I not? I have three very active and wonderful boys who all play sports year-round. My wife, Michelle, and I manage to work out six to seven days a week to keep in shape. We run races, play golf, and lead VERY active lifestyles. It’s in our DNA in my house!

What does your workspace look like?

I am fortunate enough to have different work styles all in my office. I have a sit/stand desk (I stand a lot!) and a couple chairs I toggle between for meetings, conference calls, and everything else. We also promote movement within KI by providing an array of work settings that still allow us to stay “plugged in” at work. It’s easy to work at KI because I always have the best connectivity to my fellow employees.

What tech products do you use daily?

I’m an iPhone guy and it pretty much never leaves my pocket. I also use my laptop and/or iPad on the road and in the office. I’ve got my eye on the new iWatch . . . my birthday is just around the corner!

If you could live anywhere where would it be?

I have the opportunity to travel all around the United States, so I get a chance to see all sorts of great workplace environments and the cities they reside in. Denver is great—it’s like Disneyland for outdoor enthusiasts. North Carolina’s weather is the best and the views in Seattle are incredible. However, I enjoy the seasons and being close to my family is great so I’ll take Green Bay over everywhere else!

What are you reading right now?

It’s hard to keep up with all the industry magazines, blogs and articles, but I try and make time each week to keep up on current trends in our industry. I finally got around to finishing Steve Jobs’s autobiography earlier this summer and I just recently read Eat and Run by Scott Jurek. He’s an ultra-runner and his story is incredible. I highly recommend it.

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