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Workspace Expo 2021: Review with Laurent Botton

The last edition of the Workspace show closed its doors on October 7th. Laurent Botton, director of the event, looks back on the highlights of this event held in the still uncertain context of the post-pandemic period. For him, this edition is one of reunion and questioning. The next one will be the first answers.

While the end of workplaces is regularly announced, while shows dedicated to tertiary development hardly seem more valiant than the sector they represent, is it reasonable to devote a show to this paradoxical object: the office, whose name designates both furniture and workplace?

Laurent Botton: The salon already had a long history when we bought it in 2006. We have repositioned an event dedicated to general services into two separate events, the first, Bureaux Expo, devoted to office fittings, and the second to business services. Bureaux Expo has been renamed Workspace Expo in order to be better identified by our international partners, particularly in Europe. You should know that after Germany, France is the second largest market in Europe in terms of the layout of workspaces. Our strength, and what explains why we continue to exist and even grow, is that we receive clients who, for lack of time, cannot attend events in the sector such as Orgatech or the furniture from Milan. As a result, we are attracting foreign manufacturers, on the exhibitor side, while our visitor numbers are increasing in France and in neighboring French-speaking countries – Belgium, Luxembourg, French-speaking Switzerland…

Are you satisfied with the attendance for the 2021 edition?

LB: We received slightly fewer visitors than in 2019, which was our reference year, which is more than encouraging.

Have you observed the appearance of a different, post-pandemic offer among your exhibitors?

LB: We all know the repercussions of this unprecedented crisis on the world of work, with the rise of telework, desired or suffered, and the problems it has posed for employees and companies alike, which have done an extraordinary job in terms of computer connection, and the security of the connections that accompanies it — the ransomware would have increased by 68%! For our exhibitors, who deal with the layout of the entire office universe rather than purely IT issues, 2021 remains a questioning fair: what are the dynamics that will assert themselves, how are we going to get there? adapt ? We will know the first answers and the first sketches of future trends in the months to come.

Have you been tempted by converting the show to digital format?

LB: We were of course interested in digital shows, but this format did not convince us. Our event highlights products related to the world of the office — furniture, partitions, tables, etc. Digital cannot restore the feel of a material, its color, nor the comfort of a chair or an armchair. And in terms of sociability, I was really struck by the pleasure people had in meeting each other after two years of distancing. These reunions gave off a very positive energy, between the discussions, the exchange of points of view, the smiles. The 2021 edition of Workspace convinced us of the relevance of face-to-face!

The 2021 edition of Workspace Expo closed its doors in October, the 2022 expo will return to its original schedule and open in late May — early June. Aren’t you afraid that this proximity of dates prevents manufacturers from preparing new products?

LB: We are almost 10 months apart, almost a year separating one show from another. We must also look at this temporality in its context. 2021 was a show of questioning, of confrontation of ideas, a show taking stock of an unprecedented period. Companies will now work hard to integrate this feedback and adapt their offer to this new situation, and I am convinced that the 2021 edition will bring a lot of new things to the aisles.

Beyond the product developments caused by the pandemic, have you observed any trends, devices or systems?

LB: I was able to observe very colorful equipment, also very adaptable, based on removable systems allowing reassembly and modifications according to the company’s needs. From my point of view, these devices are interesting, because they correspond to a world where the company is less and less fixed. A large company must be able to reconfigure itself to absorb the growth or contraction of the workforce, which occurs when a company recruits, merges, changes the scope of intervention or reorganizes its departments.

I would also like to mention the questions of made in France or made in Europe, reflecting a concern for eco-responsibility. These questions go beyond the layout of workspaces, they have repercussions on employees and business leaders. It is likely that in the future we will come across more and more products in our aisles that use recycling, either the recycling of the components of a product or the entire product.

You are organizing a Design Prize, do you plan to develop a prize highlightinglight products with the least impact on the environment?

LB: We are thinking about how we could set up not a label, which would go far beyond the area of expertise of a show, but a way of bringing out this co-responsible dimension among our exhibitors. Imagining a price remains more complicated, because our exhibitors operate in all areas of office design. How do you compare the environmental merits of flooring with software or workbenches? Here again, I think that our partners will shed light on these subjects during the cycles of conferences organized at the next show. This year, the main subject of the debates was the Post-Covid, I think that they will address in the future the different aspects of the environmental question.


Interview by Olivier Namias