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.
- Buy the smallest rectangular shaped individual desks that would be acceptable given the type of work your staff do.
- 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.
- Keep meeting rooms to a minimum, unless it’s absolutely essential that meetings have to be carried out in privacy.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Avoid bench desks. These might fit your initial requirement, but can be very inflexible during office reconfigurations.
- 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.