The Problem with Bench Desking

I’ve written about this before – Bench Desks, a good investment? Perhaps not – but after a number of recent complications with decorating and the fitting of new carpet tiles in offices I feel compelled to write again and highlight the issues.

Yes, we sell bench desking, and we do so because our manufacturers make them, our customers often want them and no matter what we say to deter them they have them anyway, and there are, of course, a number of compelling reasons for having them.  BUT, there are also a number of reasons to avoid them.

A few weeks ago, we were called in to quote for re-decorating an office.  Because it is an operational office, decorating work would have to take place during a weekend and everything had to be back in position on Monday morning so that the staff could continue with their daily work without disruption.  The desks were positioned within a few inches of the walls that needed to be decorated – too close to be able to even push a paint roller between the wall and the desk let alone allowing enough space for our decorators to stand and carry out a proper job.  The desks would therefore have to be moved but they were bench desks and each bench fitted neatly between the wall and a pillar in the centre of the room.  Because of this, they couldn’t be shifted away from the wall and the only solution would have been to clear everything off them and box it all up and then dismantle every desk.  There simply wouldn’t be enough time to do this, get the office decorated and then re-assemble and  re-position all the desks during a weekend.  The net result is that the company still has unpainted walls and is still deliberating as to what to do. Had they had individual desks, we could have very easily just pulled the end desks out from the cluster and decorated the walls.

The next experience was almost identical to the previously mentioned situation except that this time there was sufficient space to move the desks away from the walls into the main aisle. But they were immensely heavy and couldn’t be moved without first clearing everything away to avoid damage, and employing additional people to lift them.  Due to time constraints (again trying to get everything done and back to normal again during a single weekend), the operational procedure of getting everything ready for the works and then re-instating it at the end was almost as extensive as the decorating work itself.  The following additional steps would have to be employed:

  1. Unplug from floorboxes all computers, phones and electrical equipment
  2. Clear all desktops and pack away into labelled packing crates
  3. Clear everything from under the desks and pack away
  4. Label computers, phones and remove and store in a safe place
  5. Employ an additional 2-4 men to help lift and shift the desks without damage to the floor or desks, or injury to the people carrying out this work
  6. Repeating all these procedures at the end of the weekend to put everything back again.

The above could have been limited to clearing just a handful of desks had they have been individual units.  Again, this company has had to put off their plans to decorate their office because the process was too complicated and costly.

An finally, we had a recent experience in re-carpeting a fully operational office with bench desks (we have had to do this a number of times before I might add, so it was not a new experience too us).  What we would usually do is to work in areas by shifting all the furniture into another area, carpeting the cleared area and then shifting everything back again and working on another area.  But this is assuming the desks can be moved which, if they are individual desks they can.  The bench desks may (as was the case in this situation) have to stay put, and our fitters worked at a far, far slower pace because the desks had to be lifted whilst carpet was being laid underneath them.  Not least, we had to employ additional labourers who’s job was purely to lift desks.   All in all, the cost of the job was significantly greater because of the inability to move the desks.

To conclude, when buying new desks and designing the layout, think about how long you’re likely to stay at the office, and what the chances are that you will want to do an office re-fresh at some point.  In my experience, the most likely facelifts are new carpets and decorating.


Space planning; why is it fundamentally important to space plan an office in advance of signing a lease?

By Crispin Maby

Don’t take a chance. Signing up to a 5 year lease on an office suite and then finding that you can’t make the layout work the way you ideally want it to, or worse still, you simply can’t fit everyone in without making some serious compromises can have a major impact on your business for a number of years.

The landlord or letting agent is only interested in getting you to commit to a long term lease at the highest possible rental rate and service charge. It’s neither their responsibility nor is it in their interests to tell you about any negative aspects of their office building and certainly they cannot be expected to make sure the space is suitable for your needs. That’s your job, and if you get it wrong, they’re not going to be sympathetic and let you off the long term commitment you’ve just signed up to.

Your own commercial property (acquisition) agent, should you choose to appoint one to assist in your office search, should be more accommodating – after all they are working for you and you are paying them – however, they usually work on a ‘finders-fee’ which they only get if and when you’ve entered into a lease agreement. Furthermore their fee is usually based on a percentage of the annual rental, so we must question whether they really have your full interests at heart, or whether their concerns are more focussed on their own pockets. Perhaps I’m being very unfair on the commercial agents – there are a lot of very good ones out there and I know a few of them – but their job is to help you find a property of the size and specification that you decide you want. You need to tell them what you want and they will find it, but don’t expect them to spend time working out how you’re going to make best use of the space, or whether you can fit everything in. At best, they might throw a few rule-of-thumb figures at you – the most typical being 100 square feet per person – but every business is different and uses the office space in different ways, so one size (or rule) certainly doesn’t fit all. Also, the usable space of two offices of identical floor size (square footage) are likely to be completely different, so any general sizing rules should be used with caution. Take a guess and you may well find that you’re either committing to and paying for far too much space, or perhaps worse, not having enough space. Either one can have a serious financial impact on your business.

Space planning will confirm whether an office is too big, too small or just the right size and shape. But this needs to be done as soon as you find what you consider to be a potentially suitable office and most definitely not further down the line when it’s in the hands of the solicitors, or when the lease has been completed.  If it comes to light that the office is unsuitable, then you will hopefully have time to find another one that is.  There are plenty of companies and individuals who can offer you a space planning and measured building survey, some of whom might do it for free and others charge, but either way it is worth getting them in to assist you in making the right choice.


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.

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