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The high cost of office furniture deliveries in Central London

By Crispin Maby

We’re all used to paying department stores very little, or more often than not nothing at all, to deliver a piece of furniture to our homes. But an office furniture supplier will often charge upwards of £100 to deliver a single item of office furniture to a Central London office. So why?

If offering free deliveries, the department store will almost certainly have factored in some (or all) of the cost of delivery into their sale price, particularly on the bulkier items that are almost always delivered rather than collected by the customer. So you’re still paying for it, its just that its not obviously itemised as a separate cost.  They will have a lorry with driver and helper who will do scheduled drops on set days within the local area of the store or local distribution centre and the home owner will be informed that their item will turn up at a non-specified time on a given day.  This makes it cost effective because they will be making multiple drop-offs within a defined local area, and in a sequence or route that maximises the efficiency of their time. They might send out smaller items via a national parcel delivery service such as DHL, DPD, Tuffnells etc, but these carriers operate on exactly the same basis with no fixed delivery time to work to so that they can work to their own agenda and do as many deliveries as possible within a day.  But these item(s) must be sufficiently small and light that they can be handled by one person (so no need for a second person on the van to help carry things). Also, the item is delivered only as far as your door, not inside and up the stairs, and generally speaking, within a residential area the driver can usually park-up relatively close to your residence.

Delivering office furniture to Central London is different. More often than not, the customer wants the items delivered to their floor, not just to the front entrance of the building. The reason for this is twofold; firstly their staff are busy and should not have to take time out humping large items up and down the stairs or in and out of lifts, and secondly, a health and safety consideration whereby they don’t want their office workers lifting heavy objects for the risk of injury. Moreover, most companies require and expect the furniture items, be they desks, chairs or cupboards, to be assembled by the delivery men and all the cardboard and plastic packaging taken away and disposed of. The net result is that the office furniture supplier most often has to send along a van with 2 strong men and a set of screwdrivers, spanners and anything else they require to do the job. If they’re lucky, they find a parking spot on a yellow line directly outside your office and they manage to get everything offloaded, into the office and assembled within the 20 minutes or so the traffic warden will allow them before issuing a parking ticket, but often they will not be permitted to even stop outside the building and will have to park many yards away, and even then, go and find a pay-by-phone parking bay to legally park in whilst they are doing the furniture assembly.   This, coupled with the fact that there are 2 men plus parking, fuel, congestion charge and so on, drives up the cost.

But that’s not all. There’s the issue of timing, and it is often the case that it is simply not acceptable for the customer to have the furniture turn up at a non-specific time during the day. It might be that the room into which it is being installed is being used for client meetings, or that the building manager does not allow large items to be carried through the building in at certain times of the day, or simply that the area needs to be prepared before the furniture is installed. So a specific time has to be booked, which means that the supplier now has to send a van and 2 men into London solely for one timed delivery and installation, and quite often the date and the timing means that this is the only reason for the journey because they are unable to spread the costs between other deliveries that they might otherwise have also been making. As such, the costs rocket and it is not uncommon to pay around £300 or more just to have a couple of desks delivered and installed (quite possibly doubling the cost of the initial purchase).  And that’s the problem.  It often costs just as much to deliver and install a single small item as it might to do the same with a small suite of office furniture.  And the reason is because this is roughly what it costs to send 2 men and a van into the centre of London because regardless of how much work they have to do, and if there isn’t anything else for them to go onto afterwards, we still have to pay them a days wages, and it still costs the same amount in fuel, congestion charge and, to a certain extent, parking.

The office furniture suppliers are not being unreasonable. Quite the contrary, I believe that most of them pass on the cost of deliveries and installations at cost price to their customers. After all, they all need to be as competitive as possible in order to secure the business in the first place. These costs can be reduced or even eliminated, but to do so the business customer needs to agree to a similar service as offered by department stores to home owners for home deliveries, but in order to do so they need to be prepared to be very flexible on delivery dates and times,  and they need to be prepared to do a bit of DIY furniture assembly!

Key points for negotiating reduced costs on office furniture deliveries:

  1. Be very flexible on delivery dates and fit in with the supplier’s scheduled runs to your area.
  2. Be very flexible on delivery time. If the supplier can fit your deliver in with others to your area, the costs can be shared between yourselves and others.
  3. Agree to taking the items from the van or lorry and carrying them into the office yourselves (this is often referred to kerbside or tailgate delivery).
  4. Agree to assemble the furniture yourselves

This is not to say that there won’t be charges if you follow all of the above, and it’s not to say that you would necessarily pay £300 or more if you didn’t, but you can be sure that the charges would normally be a lot less if you don’t mind being flexible and also taking some of the workload off the delivery driver.

Office Desks – Planning ahead for Expansion

By Crispin Maby

It happens with surprising regularity – the desperate phone call from a company executive needing to fit a few more people into their office to accommodate their expanding business, and wanting us to work out how it can be done. Invariably, they want to keep the existing desks and furniture and somehow squeeze in a few more desks to accommodate their new staff, but they still want to retain the meeting room(s), executive and managerial cellular offices and breakout areas. And, more often than not, we tell them that it can’t be done (not, at least, in a way that would satisfy a health and safety inspection) unless they are prepared to re-equip with smaller desks and/or more economically shaped desks. And even then, we often have to break the bad news and tell them that the private offices have to go too to create a more open plan office environment.

It has to work because moving office is usually not an option. The company is usually committed to a 3 or 5 year lease and has already spent many thousands of £ on fitting out the office with partition walls, furniture, IT cabling and so on, so moving office yet again when the lease hasn’t run it’s full term is usually prohibitively expensive.

So what can be done? Unfortunately, sometimes nothing at all. But more often than not, prudent forward planning at the time of selecting the property and then again when planning the initial desk layout may facilitate future expansion. For any given size of office, some are always going to be more versatile and usable than others (see my articles How office shape can reduce usable space and How pillars can reduce available desk space) , so the number one priority is to find as near to the optimally shaped office as possible. Once you’ve committed to the office, you have to try to make the best use of what you have, and unless you’re absolutely certain that your business is not going to expand and that you’re not going to need to fit in more people, then purchase the smallest desks of the most regular shape that are appropriate for your business. Keep the office as open plan as possible and only introduce meeting rooms and other cellular offices where absolutely necessary, because open-plan generally allows much more flexibility and allows for a greater number of desks. Then populate the spare space you have gained from this economical layout with breakout furniture, informal meeting areas and maybe some hot-desking. Not only will this create a much nicer working environment but it means that when you do need to fit a few more people in, you can do so very quickly and simply by substituting part of these casual areas with extra desks. Get it right, and you don’t even have shuffle existing desks.

Of course it’s important to get the right mix between economy and practicality. Don’t be too stingy on desk size because they still have to be physically big enough that your staff can work efficiently and with reasonable comfort, and the layout needs to allow an appropriate level of interaction and efficiency between the working groups, but just because your staff might have been used to oversized desks in the past, it doesn’t mean they should continue with that privilege. If they are made aware of the fact that smaller desks means more open spaces for breakout and casual workspaces for them to use, then employee satisfaction and wellbeing can also be enhanced resulting in improved performance.

Get your planning wrong from the outset and attempt to utilise all available space with rooms and furniture that cater only for your current capacity with no room to spare, then expanding will mean extensive re-configurations and may mean purchasing an entire new set of desks and/or removing partition walls that were costly to put up in the first place.

Do:-

  1. Buy the smallest rectangular shaped individual desks that would be acceptable given the type of work your staff do.
  2. Keep your office as open-plan as possible by keeping private enclosed offices to a minimum, and where you have to have them keep them reasonably small.
  3. Keep meeting rooms to a minimum, unless it’s absolutely essential that meetings have to be carried out in privacy.
  4. Create informal meeting areas within the extra space reclaimed by not having large desks. These can be formed with soft seating, or small meeting tables, or café style furniture (or a combination of all).
  5. Create hot desking or drop-in areas for staff who use the office on an ad-hoc basis and don’t really need their own desk. These desks can also be used by permanent office staff if they need more desk space for a particular task from time to time.

Don’t:-

 

  1. Build lots of enclosed rooms (meeting rooms or offices). Usually, this makes the office suite as a whole less space efficient and results in a smaller (sometimes considerably) desk capacity.
  2. Avoid bench desks. These might fit your initial requirement, but can be very inflexible during office reconfigurations.
  3. Avoid corner (crescent shaped) desks. These can also be very inflexible when considering re-configurations, and can be far less space efficient than rectangular desks.

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Bench Desks. A good investment? Perhaps not.

By Crispin Maby

Bench style desks have some advantages over individual desks, but if you ever need to do an office re-configuration, or take your investment with you to your new office when you move, it could prove to be a costly mistake.
desking_bench
It used to be very simple.  If you wanted to maximise your office space and populate it with as many desks as could reasonably fit, you’d buy lots of regular rectangular desks and set them out in long rows end-to-end, back-to-back. But a few years ago a designer at one of the big office furniture manufacturers came up with the idea of a bench-style desking system and now absolutely everyone (manufacturers and dealers) offers at least one, or a number, of such solutions.  Furthermore, they are now very popular and more often than not it seems that businesses are buying these, rather than single desks.  So what’s the thinking behind bench desks and are they a good deal, or are businesses being sold a concept that they might regret later?

A bench desk is defined by its design – one of long and/or wide work surfaces supported on a shared (bolted together and normally metal) framework and legs.  The original concept, apparently, was to promote flexible workspace whereby you could utilise as little or as much desk space as you needed dependent on the task in hand.  Fundamentally, no-one owns a fixed area of desk and everyone shuffles up and down the length of the bench to allow more people to join into the work group, or to have access to a larger bit of desk if they have big documents, or lots of documents to work on at any one time.  This is facilitated by the fact that the well designed bench desk has fewer legs beneath the desk top, and those that do exist are inset from the desk edge so that you don’t bang your knees as you wheel your chair up and down its length, and, perhaps more significantly, you can sit in any position without having to sit astride a set of desk legs.

That’s the theory anyway, and although I’m sure that someone, somewhere, uses these desks in this way, I’ve yet to see it.  The problem is that people still seem to like their personal space, even when hot-desking, even if the defining factor is simply the join at the sides and back of the desk where the worktop meets the next desk in the row.  But more fundamentally, no one wants to sit on the join between two desktops, no matter how discrete it is, and even though the bench unit might be many regular desk widths in length, it will invariably be too big for a single sheet of worktop (there are limits to the size a single MFC board can be practically manufactured and what can be carried into a typical office building), so we usually end up with lots of standard desk-sized worktops all bolted together.  The net result is that most bench desks are little or no different from the top to a series of regular desks sitting side-by side. Only the structure of the framework underneath is fundamentally different.

So given this,  why are people buying them?  The manufacturers sell the concept that shared components means fewer legs and less metalwork overall which in turn results in a reduction in price. But in my experience, where there is a cost reduction the difference is very small, but more often than not these systems are pretty expensive bits of kit and very often considerably more costly than the equivalent stand-alone desk.

There are clearly some advantages but in my opinion the single biggest disadvantage outweighs any and all advantages.

Advantages:

  1. Fewer legs makes the underside of the desk more open and access to under-desk cabling is easier.
  2. The open design makes it easier to incorporate a shared cable management system (one great big long cable trays basically).
  3. Because the framework and desktops are bolted together, the desk is generally very solid and sturdy and less inclined to wobble or move.

Disadvantages:

The downside, and this is a very major downside,  is that once you’ve got these things, you’re stuck with a set of very large desk clusters that can’t be moved – not easily anyway.  The problem arises mainly when you need to re-configure your office (perhaps to get more people in or because you need to change the working group arrangements), or when you need to shift furniture around  to re-carpet tile the office,  of if you move office and want to take your bench-desks with you. This is when you discover how extremely inflexible the bench system can be.  You can’t just pick up a couple of desks and shove them onto the end of another group, because they’re sharing a framework.  And you if you need to reduce the length of a bench by, let’s say, 2 desks and put those two somewhere else, you can’t just unbolt those 2 units either because the framework supporting them probably also supports part of the next positions in the line, and in any case you will end up with at least one set of desks with no legs. Although the manufacturers tell us that you can buy the extra components you need to re-configure these systems,  it can be complicated trying to work out what is required, the extra bits can be expensive and you will almost inevitably end up with a big pile of metal framework that can’t be re-used, and therefore wasted. Also, by time you need to do the reconfigurations, the manufacturer might have changed the design of their product and you might not even be able to buy compatible parts.

But let’s say that you can get all the bits you need to do the re-configuration, is that “problem solved”?  No it’s not, because now you have the enormous headache of getting everything done over night, or at a weekend, and have it all up and running again when the staff come into work the following day.  If you have individual desks, its a pretty simple process – you simply lift them up and move them around.  But with  bench desks, you will have to work out weeks in advance exactly what parts you will need and get them ordered in time for the move. Your furniture fitters might then have to spend time dismantling and re-building entire rows of desks, just because you need a couple of desks off the end of each, and this might have to be repeated throughout the office. That means that not only do the desks need to be cleared and computers and phones unplugged for the specific workstations that are being re-sited, but potentially many others too.  Of course, it depends on how extensive your office re-configuration is, and also what type of bench system you have, but what might take just a few minutes to complete with individual desks, could take an entire weekend with a bench system.

By the way, we sell bench systems, but that’s because people insist on buying them. That said, I always try to encourage customers to buy smaller units – for all the reasons explained above.

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