Interview - Coffee Break with Andrea Albiez from Steelcase

13th May 2020 • Enrichment

For over 107 years Steelcase has been leading the way with their comprehensive portfolio of architecture, furniture and technology products and services not only designed to help people reach their full potential, but to also support social, economic and environmental sustainability. In January 2020, Steelcase was recognised by Fortune Magazine as a Most Admired Company and, in the same week, received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index. They are a global company with over 800 dealer locations!


Steelcase engage in a variety of thorough and consistent research. The Workspace Futures team conducts ongoing research on work and the workplace. They are a group of highly skilled individuals with diverse qualifications including designers, psychologists and educators.

Aileen Strickland McGee and Andrew Kim lead education research within their Workspace Futures team. They study educational environments at schools and universities and regularly participate in presentations and workshops on educational issues. You can peruse their extensive and enriching research on their website.

Andrea Albiez, the Regional Manager for Education (Aust & New Zealand) kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us, so let's dive a little deeper in to the world of Steelcase...

Steelcase doesn’t just sell furniture; you provide a number of additional services. Can you tell us more about this?

Yes, Steelcase offers a portfolio of services to support our design community and clients in the places where we work and learn. These services can include anything from design support such as drawings, renders or VR experiences; to sharing and presenting insights from our research, conducting surveys, workshops and consulting that help our clients achieve organisational success.

Steelcase Education works with educational institutions to create highly effective, rewarding and inspiring learning environments. We help institutions of all sizes leverage space to pursue a range of goals, whether it’s growing revenue, improving recruitment and retention, raising test scores or attracting top talent.

Integrating Steelcase consulting with our product solutions creates an impactful combination not just in the classroom, but cross campus.

You work closely with educational institutions and speciality consultants in the design of learning environments. Can you tell us about the new AP Education Idea Book and the philosophy behind this?

We want to partner with designers and educators to prepare students for success. It can be difficult to imagine what the future will be like, and very challenging for educators who, in part, must prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet. We know organisations want employees with skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity, as well as adaptability, empathy, leadership abilities and cultural sensitivity.

Schools and universities are facing unprecedented challenges due to changes in society, demographics and technology. The value of teaching has never been so important. Clever space planning and furniture can support these challenges and expectations.


The AP Education Idea Book is a compilation of research insights, applications and case studies that explore and demonstrate how new active learning environments improve student engagement and outcomes, that will help prepare them for success in the ever evolving and creative economy.

The role of a library is constantly evolving. How can we design libraries to be future-ready?

Many libraries are breaking away from tradition and redefining what a library should be, with a vision of the library as a vital resource center that connects students and faculty to one another, to librarians and to information.

Today’s library should be a broader and deeper resource than ever; a place where traditional and new knowledge resources converge. With information available online virtually anytime, housing countless books has become of secondary importance.

Students are looking for spaces that support the types of work they’re being asked to complete. They need spaces to fully immerse in the creative process — to think about a problem, to prototype solutions and be able to share their work and gather feedback.

Designing for an Evolving Library should:

  • Embrace a diversity of behaviors and blur the line between social and academic activities
  • Empower students to control their own learning process — and their own success.
  • Have opportunities for socialisation and individual discovery, and to be supported cognitively, emotionally and physically
  • Allow students and faculty to connect and collaborate, to focus and be productive

By serving as a safe, neutral space, and supporting a range of needs from social to emotional to scholarly, libraries can continue to be a positive catalyst for change on campus.

Can you tell us about Steelcase Foundation? Can you share one of your success stories?

At Steelcase we believe business can be a force for good, and by leveraging our scale and resources around the globe, we can make a real difference in the communities where we live and work. We aspire to do more to create a ripple effect that is broad and deep and profoundly inspiring. By helping others reach their potential, we more fully realise our purpose to unlock human promise. Between Steelcase and The Steelcase Foundation, we supported communities with over $6.8m in monetary and in-kind donations in 2019.

Steelcase are a signatory of the UN Global Compact, demonstrating our public commitment to meet fundamental responsibilities in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anticorruption, and our alignment with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Independent from Steelcase Inc., the Foundation was established in 1951 by Steelcase founders and original trustees, Walter Idema and David Hunting Sr., to support “charitable, scientific, literary, and educational causes”. Today, the Foundation supports projects that drive systemic change in our communities, with a goal of directing 60 percent of their annual budget toward education.

The Steelcase Foundation empowers people to reach their full potential. Quality, accessible public education is paramount to achieving this vision, as well as generating education, work and cultural opportunities. The Steelcase Foundation uses a social justice lens to evaluate projects that improve equity and opportunities for everyone in Steelcase Inc.’s founding community of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Kent County) and in Athens, Alabama (Limestone County), where Steelcase operates a large manufacturing facility.

There are many success stories from education/learning centres, homelessness, suicide prevention causes and more. One that comes to mind is the ongoing support of the Sowing Opportunity Now (SON) program:

Since 2015, the Steelcase Foundation has supported the Grand Rapids Urban League’s (GRUL) Sowing Opportunity Now (SON) program, a workforce-based program targeting young men of colour aged 16-28. The program addresses academic, personal, and social needs, providing help to complete high school/GED, continue their post-secondary education and career training, and job placement to overcome the barriers they face and find stable employment.

The first three years of the program has found overwhelming success, serving 150 young men, and provided a springboard for them to increase their educational opportunities, enter in career-laddering training programs, find stable housing, and secure full and part-time employment. Participants credit the program staff in their ability to help them improve their current situation, reduce barriers to personal and professional success, and get on the path to a living wage job and financial and family stability.

In addition to the Steelcase Foundation, Steelcase Inc. offers up to 10 Active Learning Centre Grants annually. The grants include furniture, design review, installation, onsite training, transformation support services, plus a Learning Environment Evaluation for two-year grant period.

Award criteria assesses how well the school’s educational strategies align with active learning philosophies, capacity for future active learning spaces based on the grant-funded experience, robust plans for completion of research on approved topics and a comprehensive dissemination plan to share learnings and insights.

Finish this sentence: Learning environments should be …. engaging, empowering and inspirational.

Being engaged allows for a deeper, richer learning experience.

When we think about empowering learners, we think about fostering a multi-dimensional definition of student success — moving beyond merely achieving good grades or getting high test scores.

This approach individualises learning by considering how each student’s needs, goals and interests are discovered and enabled, and makes students the drivers in the learning process.

Find out more about Steelcase here.