Privacy, Please

December 6th, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

Office Spaces Evolve and Shops Answer the Call

By Chris Collier

The last 19 months have brought a wealth of changes to society. As the world wades its way through COVID’s unrelenting pursuit, the window film industry is playing its part and riding trends that come its way. One of those trends is increased privacy film usage within re-designed office spaces. Is decorative film’s draw strong enough to reverse the rise in remote work?

Empty Spaces

“You can see the patterns developing in the market,” says Bill Valway, CEO of Absolute Perfection, Inc. (AP Corp.), Sykesville, Md. “Spaces are vacant. We’re close to a huge metro in Washington, D.C. We go into these gorgeous office spaces, and they’re almost completely empty still. I think the tenants are taking this as an opportunity to freshen up the space.”

Paul Shamiyeh, owner of Energy Control Consultants in Knoxville, Tenn., hasn’t seen an uptick in privacy film installations, but he has seen an increase in project scale. He says clients have worked to ensure the building is empty to upgrade with new graphics and office configurations. One of his clients is working on a welcome-back package, a sure-fire consideration for companies looking to lure their employees back to the office.

Marcello Becchi echoes Shamiyeh. He is the vice president of sales and marketing at Vetrilite, and says film plays a vital role in an accelerating trend—evolution in the office space. “Now that an employee has seen how they can do the same work from home, they are reluctant to go back,” Becchi says. “As a corporation, you need to ask yourself— especially given the current situation in the labor market—how much can I push for this [comeback]? There’s this battle. You go down the line, and everybody is asking themselves, ‘How do we attract our employees back? We need to create
a safer space, a better space and a more interesting space. Film gives the possibility of doing exactly that.”

Do Not Disturb

Tom Wallace, owner of New England Window Film in Boston, Mass., has seen a reversal throughout over a dozen commercial spaces during the pandemic.

“Twenty years ago, office space was a fishbowl, and everybody had their little cubicles,” Wallace says. “Ten years ago, [that] started to morph into the open concept—community desks. Now we’re seeing office space that is going back to the fish bowls. Everybody’s got their cubicle, but now they’ve got three feet of glass at the top that separates them from everyone else.”

What projects are shops completing as a byproduct of the design trends? SPF Window Tinting, Inc.  in Hattiesburg, Miss., has seen its printed film sales rise by 50%. Vice president Ty Sullivan says there’s been substantial growth within the financialsector.

“We have a lot of smaller bank branches and financial services that have seen an uptick in demand since the pandemic,” Sullivan says. “They have their call centers set up, [and] people need more space inside the call center. It’s been a race to get walls set up, partitions, cubicles—all of those have glass in them. We did custom print solutions on all of those, bringing not only privacy between the employees but also bringing branding into the workplace.”

Becchi has seen privacy film projects ascend by 25% during the last 19 months. Vetrilite is working on 36 new decorative designs after discovering that the commercial sector desires more than standard frost. But what exactly are clients looking for in this new world?

“Fun, color and things that make you smile,” Becchi says. “If you work from home, you work in a very elaborate environment— it’s your decoration throughout. There’s something that makes you feel happy. The corporate environment is usually a lot more sterile; now they have to make it livelier. Patterns, colors [and] texture are all extremely important.”

Sullivan says he’s seen a trend that speaks to Becchi’s investment in new designs. “We have to design our commercial workplaces where the workers want to be there,”  he says. “I think that’s where the window film plays a role. Instead of just having bare glass walls, making the space as interesting as possible seems to be one of the design trends these bigger companies are
doing to make workers want to come to work.”

Future Demand

Is corporate creativity a fad or the future? Where does the future of commercial film projects lie during these unpredictable times? Randy Hutson, owner of Five Star Window Coatings in Grand Rapids, Mich., is uncertain about the pandemic’s long-term effect.

“I think COVID has affected commercial work areas tremendously,” Hutson says. “Once the commercial businesses have found out how many people can work at home, there’s a good chance a lot of the decorative film business that we were doing in the past may decrease to a certain extent. Because I think office spaces are going to decrease.”

Adam Feldman, vice president and sales manager of Advanced Film Solutions in Lutz, Fla., expects COVID to continue its transformative effect in the future.

“This will be so fresh in people’s minds for a while that I think the days of the big, open, collaborative spaces—that might have to go away because of the spreading of droplets,” Feldman says. “They’re going to need to partition them into offices.”

No one knows the future, but one thing is for certain: these are odd times for the industry.

“It’s been bizarre going into these amazing office spaces and have fully stocked kitchens—and no one’s there,” Valway says. “We did a nice project and it was a mixture of decorative films, switchable and Casper™. There were, like, three people in this 15,000 square foot office space.

Chris Collier is the assistant editor for WINDOW FILM magazine. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook.
ccollier@glass.com

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