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‘Benching’ one of the newest office design solutions

Hon Benching System, above, is one example of a new workstation style that deviates from the traditional office cubicle system. (Photo courtesy of Business Interiors of Idaho)

Hon Benching System, above, is one example of a new workstation style that deviates from the traditional office cubicle system. (Photo courtesy of Business Interiors of Idaho)

Until recently, not much had changed in office furniture since the advent of cubicle systems. Large and small businesses alike have successfully utilized modular cubicle systems to create workspaces that promote privacy and focus, and accommodate a wide range of storage needs. For years, the use of cubicle systems seemed to be the most effective and economical solution for business owners.

Our world and the way we do business are changing in response to influences created by mobile technology and social networking. The way people work and the environment in which they flourish is being redefined. The 21st century employee has a need for an office environment that promotes communication and the sharing of ideas. The Harvard Business Review stated that “workplaces that enabled a line-of-sight connection between workers yielded more than a 15 percent improvement in workplace productivity.”

Office “benching” in many cases is an ideal solution that can help create an office space that promotes collaboration between colleagues. Benching is a style of furniture designed to give a unified appearance that combines function and flexibility. A team’s workspace becomes the focus of the working environment, instead of an individual’s workspace.

As the way people work evolves, the functionality and expectation of the workspace is changing. Companies are finding that a larger portion of their workforce is becoming mobile. These mobile workers often still need a place to work in the office.

The ratio of mobile workers and non-mobile workers can change quickly within a company. These fast-changing trends can be accommodated by a well-designed benching system. If designed properly, benching systems can allow a company to change its workspace to accommodate its workers’ changing needs.

As competition among companies grows and economic cycles become less predictable, managers and workers are looking to do more with less. Benching systems can be designed using less square footage per employee, giving businesses the opportunity to do more with their space or move to a smaller, more cost-effective space. Many office furniture manufacturers have recognized the growing need for office benching and are in the process of designing more functional and cost-effective systems.

Some benching systems are designed to work in conjunction with traditional cubical panel systems, giving businesses the best of both worlds. By combining the furniture types, large open areas can be separated by group or department. Employees who require a higher degree of privacy and focus can be accommodated with a more traditional cubicle environment in coordination with a benching system.

If designed properly, a benching / cubical system can give managers and owners the flexibility to easily change an area from private to semi-private or non-private workstation.

Benching systems help business owners reduce energy costs by allowing more natural light in the workspace. Studies show that when people live and work in a well-lit environment, they are happier, healthier and more productive. Natural light also has been shown to reduce eyestrain, increase productivity and even decrease absenteeism in the workplace.

The need for traditional cubicles is far from gone. There will still be professions that require varying degrees of privacy and focus. Groups of people who spend a great deal of time on the phone may not benefit from an open benching plan. Noise levels and sound travel are potential issues when considering a benching system. A large amount of communication among several employees at once can become overwhelming.

When designing an open office plan, one may consider including a room or area that would provide an employee enough privacy to place or take confidential calls.

The next time you think about re-organizing your office, consider benching systems as a viable alternative to the traditional cubical. Weigh the pros and cons and determine which employees would benefit from a higher level of teamwork and collaboration.

This column was written by Dan Cannon, sales and design consultant at Business Interiors of Idaho. He may be reached at [email protected] or (208) 384-5050.

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