Shaping Systems Furniture Around the Changing Office Environment

By Lacey Muszynski, Assistant Editor  
OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Growing Number of Mobile Workers Affecting Real Estate Footprint, Systems FurniturePt. 2: This Page

People are working differently now than they were 10 years ago. That’s in large part due to advances in technology that allow companies to hire the best employees, whether they work at home in their pajamas or halfway around the world. In fact, 75 percent of all team meetings or interactions have one virtual participant, according to Gervais Tompkin, director of workplace strategy at Gensler.

Couple that fact with the increasing implementation of mobile work programs, and the demand on technology and the office furniture able to accommodate it is growing. When mobile workers do come into the office, the furniture needs to accommodate a growing list of portable electronics. Many desks offer power strips built into the desktop, eliminating the age-old crawl under the desk to find an empty outlet routine.  

While the real estate footprint is shrinking, so is the number of workstations needed as workers go mobile. Some companies might only have 20 desks to accommodate 100 mobile workers, for example. Furniture has to not only be smaller to fit into smaller footprints, but it also has to be ergonomic to accommodate different workers. “This desk is now for 10 people that could be from any job function all sharing this same resource,” says Tompkin. “You’ve got to have good ergonomics, meaning height adjustable, able to multifunction, accessible to necessary technology, and so on.”

Facility executives whose organizations are starting a mobile work program should examine their current office furniture carefully before any plans to reconfigure are made final. Typically, rows of cubicles branch off of what are called spines. Spines are more permanent sections of furniture panels that have all the communication and IT wires and cables running through them and into individual cubicles. Moving the spine is a costly proposition because it means rewiring the IT infrastructure. For that reason, when cubicle size shrinks, the spine stays in place while partition walls get moved closer together.

There will come a point when simply moving partitions closer together won’t cut it anymore. Eventually, facility executives will have to move spine walls. At that point, says Tompkin, the labor cost is so great that it will exceed the cost of buying new, more ergonomic and adaptable furniture. Facility executives should see this as an opportunity to upgrade the current furniture to accommodate changing working styles.

A good step to take when implementing a mobile work program and making furniture changes to better accommodate employees is to perform a study to find out how employees really are working. Often, there is resistance at first from employees when a mobile work program is implemented, but Tompkin often finds that employees are already working in a mobile way; they just have to adjust their behaviors and the furniture needs to support those behaviors. Companies should look at it as giving workers the tools and technology they have needed all along. That includes, among other things, new or adjusted furniture, new HR policies for mobile workers and more conference rooms with the right technology.

Tompkin puts special emphasis on conference rooms because he finds that employees are working as much communally as they are at their desks. Sometimes conference room furniture is overlooked, but it should be updated to suit worker styles and needs just as often as systems furniture. “Conference rooms used to be seen as a social space,” says Tompkin, “but facility executives need to refine the conference room to facilitate work better.”  

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Growing Number of Mobile Workers Affecting Real Estate Footprint, Systems Furniture

Shaping Systems Furniture Around the Changing Office Environment

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  posted on 11/23/2009   Article Use Policy

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