Along with flexibility, furniture’s ability to contribute to employees’ productivity also is an important consideration. After all, the reason for purchasing furniture in the first place is to help employees do their jobs. “When you give people the right tools, they’re more productive,” says Hoffman of Kimball Office.
As a starting point, consider ergonomics, says Hoffman. Desks and chairs that are appropriately sized or that can be adjusted will help workers avoid sore backs and necks, and conditions like carpel tunnel syndrome.
This is actually becoming easier to provide, says Cahill, as more desks and chairs can be adjusted. Workers can raise the height of their desks in order to stand for a bit. “This provides vertical movement, but workers can remain in their space at work, versus stretching at the water cooler,” says Webb of KI. That can boost productivity.
Knowing how employees work is the first step toward helping increase performance. That starts with a workplace audit, says Webb. Observe employees in action to determine, for instance, the amount of time they spend in both concentrated and collaborative activities. Keep in mind their use of cafeterias, break rooms and storage areas, as well as workstations. “Every space within the real estate has to be used to enhance productivity. You can’t have wasted space,” Webb says.
Once you have an understanding of employee work patterns, look for furniture to match, says Johnson of Allsteel. For example, an accountant who stores hard copies of financial reports will need a filing cabinet, while a manager who frequently collaborates with colleagues needs room in his or her cube to accommodate other workers.
Simply assuming you know how different employees work can backfire. Lynch of Wright Line says he was working with a client who thought everyone in a certain department needed storage for reference materials. As it turned out, only one set of the reference materials even existed. Rather than equip all employees with the storage space, they created a central storage area everyone could access. That lowered overall costs and actually generated better sight lines around the office.
Hoffman suggests bringing employee focus groups to a furniture showroom, where they can try out the furniture and systems first hand. Or try to get the manufacturer to install several mockups of different systems on site. If neither of these options is practical, it is also possible to create a virtual workplace, and ask employees for their feedback on it.
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