THE FREM GROUP – YOUR NEW OFFICE
The Frem Group do more than make office furniture- they are changing the way we work.
“If you look at the way offices were run in 1914, if you look at photos of an office from those days its rows and rows of people at desks,” says Bryan Daisy, CEO of the Frem Group. “Cut to 2014 and you would still see open-plan offices with rows and rows of desks.”
He is not wrong. I have worked in that office, and the odds are so have you. But five years ago, things began to change, and the Frem Group spotted the opportunity to help develop the new way forward.
“In the last five years, the workplace has seen a massive switch in working patterns to what is called agile working and we’ve been at the forefront of shaping and developing that initiative,” Daisy explains. “It’s about creating spaces where people aren’t necessarily sitting at a desk but in a meeting pod or on a sofa. This is what millennials are happy with, it’s their kind of environment.”
Frem spent the next five years developing and selling a range of pods and booths that offer quiet spaces, a stark change from the previous 25 years they had spent creating open-plan offices. In fact, Frem had been at the vanguard of the open-plan revolution before that.
“We tore down the cellular offices, went to open plan and we talked about how it was better for collaboration,” Daisy remembers. “But nobody gave any consideration to two key factors. The first was efficiency. If people surround you, you will get distracted. You are naturally listening to other conversations and lose your own personal efficiency. But more importantly than that, recently there has been a focus on wellbeing, with many studies now showing that the noise in open-plan offices is detrimental to workers’ health, stress levels and ability to concentrate.”
THE END OF THE DESK?
The Frem Group has seen the workplace change in a number of ways since Bryan and his wife Claire founded the company 30 years ago, but this may be the most dramatic change yet. This new approach to workspaces takes a variety of forms. At the cutting edge, Frem Group has supplied companies such as Google, with sleep pods to provide their workers with a space for relaxation during the working day.
“You let workers go off for 20 minutes at a time to lie in a darkened room,” Daisy tells us. “That’s not where the majority of companies are going, but we’re producing sleep pods for companies that want to allow their staff that time.”
However, even more conservative businesses are rapidly coming around to Frem’s way of thinking.
“If you’re lucky they’ll allow you to do a sample area to test it,” Daisy says. “For instance, we gave one client a telephone booth five years ago, and their reaction was ‘Who will use that?’”
The results spoke for themselves.
“Within three weeks they wanted four more,” Daisy remembers. “Within six weeks they’d ordered another ten. The last order was for 112 phone booths. They are literally just phone booths so you can take important phone calls in a quiet space. I know when I receive a phone call from a call centre, I can tell they are in a call centre even before they speak. It’s distracting for them and for me as a potential client.”
These developments are not an endpoint for Frem, however. Their vision of a modern workspace is constantly evolving as a new generation enters the workforce with new ideas and needs.
“The desk is alien to the younger generation, they don’t want the confines of a desk, they want to sit on a sofa, they want to have a more casual environment, formality is gone,” Daisy points out. “When I started out, even if I worked from home, I would still wear a shirt and tie. Nowadays it is much more relaxed, so even in our office attire we wear jeans and t-shirts, it is far less formal. The whole attitude to going into an office has changed and people want to feel comfortable. So, I don’t see that ever going back.”
Indeed, Daisy goes so far as to tell us there is a question mark over the future of offices themselves in an age when people can work from home more easily than ever before.
“I know companies where a big percentage, 30% of their staff are working from home, so that puts pressure on us,” Daisy says.
He seems curiously optimistic for someone selling office furniture who is predicting the end of the office, and indeed, Frem is already adapting to the new working environment.
“There are two things we are already looking at,” he tells us. “Firstly, we’re creating space outdoors in a domestic environment. Currently, our pods are internal pods, offices within an office. We are now looking at pods you can put in your garden, so where people do not have space in their house, if they cannot turn a spare room into a study, we have an external room that gives them working space outside. Secondly, we are developing flexible furniture that can convert from a domestic to office use. We are looking at flexible furniture with a domestic application. We’ve got eight young designers and these guys are very forward-thinking and very creative, so it’s important to us that we’re not being led but we’re helping to lead.”
Looking to their own future, Frem is currently looking to expand their sales around the world.
“The big thing for us over the next few years is to look far more globally than the home territories, we’ve started manufacturing in the US, but now we want to increase our export business, withstanding any peaks or troughs in the marketplace by being spread far and wide,” Daisy says. “We’re starting to spread our wings a bit, doing a lot more in the Middle East. I also plan to have a trip to the Far East in the early part of the new year looking at India, New Zealand and Australia to continue to look on a global basis looking for the expansion and growth we’re looking for.”
To prepare for this potential global demand Frem Group have taken the step to increase its manufacturing capacity. With four production sites in the UK, they have recently invested in relocating its Haverhill operation to bigger and better facilities. The new site covering 26,650 square feet, is home to Frem Group Screens where the Group’s range of pods and booths are manufactured and joins the company’s existing manufacturing sites at Northampton, Ossett and Bristol. Frem Group invested a six-figure sum to secure the site on a 10-year lease and have invested in new equipment and machinery to enhance production and provide space for expansion and future growth.
This investment demonstrates that while Frem’s influence is spreading, Daisy insists that it will remain an extremely British company.
“Something I insisted at the start is that we manufacture in the UK. I didn’t want to import products, I wanted to create jobs here in the UK,” he says. “We’ve four factories now. We’re very flexible, we work with wood, we upholster, we work with steel and have all these disciplines combined in how we work.”
Frem is a company to keep an eye on, whatever they are working on now could well be what you are sitting on a couple of years from now.