The employee friendly office Featured

9:48am EDT July 22, 2002

As your company has grown, your cubicles have gotten smaller. The IT team has laid down so much new wire you could serve as a back-up should the nation’s electric grid shut down at midnight Jan. 1.

And that chair, you know, the one with the fabric tear where the padding fell out so many times it was finally replaced with a couple of T-shirts and someone’s dirty sweat socks? It’s seen more rear ends than a proctologist.

The bottom line: It’s time to relocate and to refurnish the office.

You’re not a start-up anymore, and that desk you got after cousin Ned’s accounting firm closed down just won’t cut it anymore. You need new furniture. You adopted a business plan to get you this far, so this is no time to throw up your hands and rush into something without examining it closely.

As with the other aspects of your business, you need to plan your new space and what will go into it, says Joe Westfall, director of integrated Interiors Group, a division of Ohio Desk. According to Westfall, there are four steps to consider before taking the leap into a new space:

Document your needs

How many desks, chairs and computers to get only addresses your company’s surface needs.

About 91 percent of companies’ costs are in salaries, benefits and technology investments. The other 9 percent goes toward of occupancy costs, equipment and everything else.

Most managers don’t consider how the 9 percent affects the 91 percent, Westfall says. They often view their space as the box in which the work is done.

“The only opportunity to improve the environment, the culture, the ability to attract and retain high quality employees, will go on with whatever is done inside that box,” he says. “The goal is to show a customer how to worry about space and that what goes into that space can truly affect the quality of the people that you attract and retain.”

Consider growth needs

As companies change size, many owners simply wedge employees into different space.

“(We) ask a customer, ‘What was your head count three years ago, what is it today, and what is it going to be three years from now?’” Westfall says. “If you see a dramatic opportunity for growth or shrinkage, then everything that you have in the way of assets needs to be movable and flexible.

“If you’re very stable and you’re not growing a lot, and you don’t anticipate growing a lot, you can afford a much more rigid solution.”

Understand your culture

The traditional approach to business puts the CEO in the corner office and gives the top executives window offices. It’s based on prestige. But the CEO is often rarely in the office.

“If you take status out of the equation of decision making, it’s a very bad decision,” Westfall says. “So some of the stark realities now in all industries are saying, ‘That’s a bad use of our real estate.’ So senior officers are going to open plan stations. They’re becoming equal with the staff.”

Westfall says it’s important to keep all your drywall to the inside of your space.

“That would be strategy number one: Minimize permanent offices and keep all the space on the outside as open as possible. Minimize your rigidity and maximize your ability to react.”

Know your technology needs

Architects and office designers are working together more often to redesign the traditional office. Some offices may never entirely rid themselves of cubicles, but the style of and approach to their use must be considered.

“The concept is decoupling of the business furniture system from the infrastructure system — the electrical and the low voltage voice/data systems.”

Some companies have gone as far as distributing the electrical, communication and HVAC equipment beneath a raised floor. That allows for complete flexibility in terms of furniture, Westfall says.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you’re able to plan the space you want and find the appropriate site in the market.

“Once you document what the needs are, you can begin to experiment with the ‘what if?’ scenario. The pragmatic questions are, ‘How are you really using your space?’ and ‘How are you measuring its use?’’”

How to reach: Integrated Interiors Group, (800) 326-0601

Daniel G. Jacobs (djacobs@sbnnet.com) is senior editor at SBN.