Tailored Furniture Solutions and Workplace Performance

June 28, 2006
Effective workplace design helps attract and retain employees, facilitate innovation, and promote teamwork.

By Mike Tennity

In today’s competitive business environment, companies challenge all aspects of their operations to continuously create more value. Facilities managers, architects, and designers play an important role in supporting these efforts by establishing environments that optimize workplace performance.

Increasingly, organizations turn to tailored workplace concepts - furniture and furnishings based on their unique business and productivity objectives. Effective workplace design brings important benefits in several key areas: attracting and retaining employees, facilitating innovation, and promoting teamwork.

Staff Collaboration and Mobility
Many companies seek an environment that helps build teams, encourages information sharing, accommodates impromptu meetings, and supports mobile workers (either from homes or various locations within a building). To facilitate these activities, workplace design might feature enclaves, lounges near cafés and/or libraries, and dedicated project rooms. Furniture that supports these collaborative settings includes clustered desk systems, appropriately scaled and easily reconfigurable tables and seating, and accessory furnishings (such as whiteboards and wired tables).

To connect groups spatially and visually in more traditional office settings, traditional panels - under considerable revision with new designs and materials - and open desking are emerging as alternatives to fixed cubicles. Movable, acoustic walls provide another level of flexibility in creating the right size and type of workspace for effective collaboration based on (and reconfigurable with) organizational growth and needs.

Employee Comfort and Productivity
Poor ergonomics and the injuries they cause represent significant drivers of business costs. Repetitive-stress and related musculoskeletal disorders are expensive to treat, prone to reoccurrence, and require a good deal of time to heal. To address the causes and alleviate the impact of these issues, ergonomic considerations are increasingly important when designing workspaces and selecting furniture. Benefits include decreases in injuries, absenteeism, and complaints, as well as increases in productivity.

Height-adjustable desks and workplace design that allow workers to alternate between sitting and standing serve as effective means of enhancing employee wellness. Adjustable sit/stand workstations allow employees to take breaks from their static posture. Adjustable desks make it easy for workers to sit or stand at comfortable levels by selecting the worksurface height that is most comfortable for their dimensions.

The aforementioned workplaces that foster collaboration and mobility also accommodate movement, which is a key to wellness in the workplace.

Tailoring Solutions to the Organization
Developing a successful environment for workplace performance involves the active engagement of the company, designers, architects, and manufacturers. The team should begin by answering questions such as: Does the organization have a clear definition of its business drivers and what it wants to accomplish? Can it establish metrics to understand baselines of employee performance and project impacts, including how to replace existing designs and potentially modify behaviors? While financial improvements should be a consideration, knowing what is being measured and why provides the data to escape from the simplistic tyranny of cost-cutting when designing and outfitting a workspace.

Mike Tennity is vice president of design and development at Green Bay, WI-based KI (www.ki.com).

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