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The Year of Essential Workplace Design

Updated: Feb 27, 2022

by Mike Skaar, Founder of Knak Group

2020. What a year. We learned about essential workers and essential tools to protect our health. Here at The Knak Group we discovered the art of urgent, essential collaboration in a new, forced-distance environment, to produce new essential office design solutions. We were fortunate that, as a team, we have more than a century of experience working with leading architects and designers creating modern built environments, and we needed every bit of that experience and more, to help innovate solutions for our clients workplaces and for the health and well-being of their employees.

We were blessed to have the industry’s best manufacturing partners, Muraflex, Halcon, Neutral Posture, Mayer, Adapt, Benchmark, and more, who provided us with the best solutions for both in-person and remote, interior and exterior working environments.

Finally, we were humbled by the trust that leading architectural firms and designers, general contractors, dealers, and facilities executives placed in us as they strategized to respond to 2020 and to plan for 2021. Though we are located in the San Francisco Bay Area, our solutions spanned multiple continents as we designed for laboratories, PPP manufacturers, ICU’s, 911 facilities, medical office buildings, research laboratories, offices, and more.

As we all look ahead to the future, I wanted to take a moment to share with you what I have learned this past year and how I believe it is going to impact all of us.


There is no crystal ball for seeing what trends will present themselves in modern office furniture and design. Every year there are nuanced changes in buzzwords, materials, and influencers. However, over the years I have learned to look for those foundational and fundamental changes in how we work and play and connect.

The design criteria for supporting team members with executive office desks, ergonomic office chairs, and even the basics of open office layouts were forced to change in 2020 as never before. Some of those changes are short term. Others are lasting. Living through a pandemic has only strengthened my view into their patterns and I share three with you below.

The Adaptable Workplace

We founded The Knak Group on the concept of adapting the work environment to the needs of the individual. In the mid-80’s, as the term “ergonomics” began to surface, we were fortunate to have been inspired by and associated with the pioneering individuals and companies who helped bring this new concept of enhancing safety and productivity into the spotlight. Eventually, the larger manufacturers took notice and implemented some of these same concepts, but it was our nimble, smaller resources who provided true innovation and leadership.

Looking forward, as we say farewell to 2020 and plan for the future, protecting the health and well being of employees has re-emerged as the most important design focus that we can support. The office, wherever it may be, must adapt and adjust to the safety and productivity of the employee, wherever they may work from. Our resources include the world’s most innovative office furniture manufacturers, and they will continue to provide new solutions that enhance work, wherever it occurs. We will adjust to support the needs of working from home, from remote locations, and we’ll create an adjustable, safe, shared office experience.

The Visible Office

As we look for ways to reconnect, to share physical space as well as ideas, visibility and transparency will be crucial. From safety protocols to workspace expectations to corporate responsibility, to the fundamentals of shedding and sharing light within the workplace, visibility and transparency will propel us forward.

We’re fortunate to work with Muraflex custom demountable glass panels; they are an acknowledged leader in providing core tools, demountable partition solutions, for a safe, transparent light-filled work environment. Neutral Posture, Halcon, Mayer and Adapt have also delivered unique, adaptable solutions for facilitating this environment, and we have new innovations launching in 2021.

The Diverse Office

Our workplace and our nation has evolved to become more diverse than ever. That diversity, properly nurtured, will benefit everyone. We have more generations engaged simultaneously in work, and the challenges of accommodating the different needs and requirements of this ever-expanding workforce will be rewarded many times over by the immense benefits of tribal knowledge transfer. Modern elders can gently apply guardrails for the brilliant ideas that are emerging from Gen Z. Everyone in-between will benefit.

Diversity among those of different ethnicities, sexual orientation, gender identification, and political ideologies can add richness to shared experiences provided we are sharing the same “facts.” The year 2021 is bringing a diversity in leadership to the forefront; we are now witnessing a fundamental, transformational increase in diversity at every level of role model leadership in our nation. We will work and look and think differently because we will SEE and embrace the differences among us. As a nation we have chosen to empower that diversity in 2021 and beyond.


In addition to our new name, we are formalizing our Knak philosophy. I am sharing it with you for two reasons; so you understand who we are at our core, and also so you hold us accountable for these beliefs. This philosophy has four main pillars.

  • Design - We are committed to nurturing great design and we will bring timeless solutions that inspire and enhance the places we gather. We are long-term focused and will never sacrifice quality of design, materials and service.

  • Sustainability - Our industry may be small in some regards, but it has a vastly oversized role in it’s impact on our environment. We reject the mentality of landfill clogging, low quality, disposable design and manufacturing. We will support efforts to raise sustainability standards and lower emissions at every level of our industry.

  • Service - We are committed to servicing our local San Francisco Bay Area community, as well as to our industry. We continue our decades long commitment to giving back. In 2021, our work with Philanthropy By Design will help foster solutions for the most underserved in our region, including some iconic, globally revered non-profits who need our support now more than at any moment in my lifetime. We’ll also continue to actively support core professional associations like, and their important mission.

  • Diversity - The Knak Group embraces diversity in our team and in our partners, because we know diverse voices and experiences create more innovative and functional spaces.

Save The Date: Tuesday, January 26th, 12PM PST

Mindfulness: Wellness in Commercial Design

As we enter 2021, we would like to invite you to partake in one of a series of continuing education units. Given the events of the past year, we wanted our first course offering in 2021 to reflect Mindfulness, and how we can foster wellness in Commercial Design.

This course is open to anyone with an interest in the subject, will offer the discovery of the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness, and how to plan and design spaces that encourage mindfulness to improve health and productivity.

Earn 1 AIA/CES Learning Unit (LU)/Health Safety Welfare (HSW) and 1IDCEC Continuing Education Unit (CEU)/ Health Safety Welfare (HSW).

SEE YOU IN 2021...

As the year draws to a close, we especially want to thank you for helping us stay focused on the brighter days that are before us. In 2021, we see new doors opening, and fresh solutions to support our needs in the places where we work, play, worship, get inspired, and celebrate. We look forward to these new beginnings, and especially for the moments when we can once again connect in person.

About the Author

Mike Skaar, after several decades of success, rebranded his firm in 2020, to continue his industry-leading legacy of innovation and collaboration. He has been privileged to work on projects around the globe with leading architects and designers from California to the Pacific Rim. His success comes from appreciating the balance of work and life. His passions include travel, snowboarding, community service, and he has attended Burning Man 21 times and counting. Mike holds an MBA from Arizona State University and completed additional post-graduate work in international business at UCLA.

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