IPJ talk to Actiu on their 50th anniversary at the forefront of workplace design

As part of IPJ’s research into the ever-changing world of workplace design and the future of interiors, we have been talking with some of the most progressive furniture manufacturers in the industry, not just in terms of product design but also in relation to how they run their business and how they implement their design ethos across their organisation.

For the first interview of this new series we interviewed Jose Garcia, Business Development Manager of Actiu, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary.

Their forward-thinking attitude and approach to well being in the workplace makes them the perfect place to start. Actiu are Spanish manufacturers of workplace furniture and task seating but, as you will read, they are much more than just that…

Congratulations on your 50 Year anniversary, that is quite an achievement! Actiu have certainly achieved a huge amount in that time and with the environment being a big issue at the moment, the achievement of LEED Platinum accreditation for the HQ is massive, has sustainability always been a major consideration for Actiu?

Yes it has always been important for the company and I remember a few facts that demonstrate it: I remember the company buying small trees for all the staff going up to the mountain and plant them, note that this is Spain and it is quite arid climate with small quantity of trees in the forest. Other facts that we always have done is to offer a many products as we can in a flat-box format, so we reduce the volume impact on the logistics process and reduce the carbon footprint overall, so we deliver task chairs and storage units pre-assembled so we reduce the volume of the box by 40-50%. There are products such as desk-top screens where due to the light weight and the flat shape, we offer the option of 2 in a box, so we reduce volume again but also the amount cardboard on the packing.

I can see the HQ is set in some beautiful grounds and there is significant consideration around planting, water and light. 2018 has seen huge growth in biophilic architecture and product design – is that something Actiu will focus on more in the coming years?

Our Technological Park complex was a pioneer in Europe when it was built back in 2008 in terms of percentage of green areas compared with Buildings following a ratio of 60% green areas compared with 40% buildings. The company’s short term plans, and following our “towards WELL certification”, the indoor environments have an increasing biophilic element, adding to the indoor gardens some green walls and plants as well.

In terms of outdoor, the company has rebuild an area around our factory complex, reconverting this Old Inn house and the vineyards around it, into a nice extensive green area and the Actiu Museum. This area is now called LA VENTA FLORES.

Actiu are not just designing products for the workplace environment, they are also implementing their own strategy for how they work and how others should work, this is called ‘Cool Working’. ‘Cool Working’ seems to be the link between Wellbeing for the user/employee with the end result being creativity and productivity which benefits the organisation as a whole. Do you see this thinking becoming more popular in workplace strategy generally?

Yes of course, the SMART FLEXIBLE WORKPLACE concept is something that many companies are taking on board and our vision, but also recent experience in several projects is that large and medium size companies are using our Cool Working (CW) concept in some different ways to change their organisation, the main reasons we can see why a company is taking the CW seriously on board are:

1. Due to a generational change in the company, so the CW helps to introduce the new and fresh generations in place.

2. Due to a new management team, the CW refurbishment will embrace the company about the management change.

3. The company moving to a new/larger site, use the space change to embrace a philosophy change in the company.

4. Talent retain policy, another important reason why a company would take CW on board and keep the good talented employees by creating a comfortable-inspirational workplace, where people work and feel like at home.

Actiu are active in 96 countries with 120 showrooms so do you see your ‘Cool Working’ being appropriate all over the world? Are there some countries that are ahead in this way of thinking?

The new Workplace strategy varies from one country to another, even from different regions within the same countries. But the Global aspect of our current economies, and how companies get established in many different parts of the world, this is helping the change of mentality. In general terms the countries who are ahead of the rest of the world are: States, Centre&North of Europe and UK together with Australia and some areas in Asia like Shanghai and Bangkok. But it is also important to know that companies at sectors such as technology, pharmaceutical, automation, software and social media are well ahead of thinking from most of the rest of sectors, whose mentality is less forward thinking in this respect.

Technology is one of the main drivers for product development and how the office works. What technologies do you think will be most popular in the working environment?

In our opinion there are 2 types of technology and they both have different routes and different implementation speeds into the modern workplace.

The most obvious and imminent one is the technology applied to the furniture related to CONNECTIVITY: power and USB charger in desks or chairs, both workstations or meeting/executive areas but also waiting areas and break out/social areas. Of course teleconference and media centres are included in this section. All the above are already in use in many of the projects we do nowadays and they will keep increasing.

On top of the above the virtual reality and the augmented reality are marketing tools that we are starting to use in every project above certain level of desks involved, and this is crucial for the clients to understand the look of their new offices but also to be able to adapt the space before ordering it and be too late.

The slower one and less obvious are those related to remote working, wireless technologies and work assessment technologies, these are more expensive to implement and more complicated to control, and those days it requires of a third party companies who are specialised consultants in this field, who can provide solid solutions to it. Some examples are Presence control in the workplace, either for ergonomic/health reasons or due to control which desks are in use and for how long, etc.

What importance to do you place on Branding & Social Media – how your brand is seen in the market and how social media can have both a positive and negative impact on how a brand is portrayed?

Brand awareness is one of our main objectives for the next few years, at least in our key markets such as UK, France, South and Central America and Asia. Social media is a must within this strategy and we will be introducing local content managers in each market working together with the Social media experts in the HQ, adapting general company news but also adding value from local company news. This is the company’s main objective for the short term and where most of our resources are addressed at the moment, hoping to be one of the main brands in the industry soon but also to become one of the main 50 manufacturers in Europe.

And finally… What do you think Actiu has learned most over their 50 years?

Personas logo in Actui's window

We learned that our most valuable asset is our people, our staff, and this year’s logo about our 50th anniversary is PER50NAS (personas = people) as seen on the front of our HQ building.

Our human resources department is called PEOPLE’s TEAM, which reflects that every employee is a key part of the organisation and carefully kept by the family members on the daily basis. If we have motivated staff, the company will have half the way done already and both clients but also suppliers will have that feeling as well when dealing with the company. So the future aim of the company is to consolidate this staff engagement via the WELL umbrella.

We have learnt that special products adapted to the client’s requirements, either in terms of shape, finish or materials are so important, and Actiu decided a few decades ago not to outsource any of the production processes, so we can have full control of every angle of our product design and manufacturing process in order to adapt completely to any client’s request, the ability to adapt on projects give us a very strong approach with architects and large corporates, helping our brand to be re-known as flexible and adaptable to the market trends and also to individual clients globally. This resource has given us the ability to create completely new products in the industry such as Prisma with a metal frame simulating wood grain, or to get us into new sectors such as Airports, Auditoriums or Healthcare, which are complementary sectors to our most traditional one on commercial offices.

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