The recession and introduction of sophisticated mobile devices created the perfect recipe for organizations to identify new, efficient ways to design work environments. These new environments offer employees a chance to embrace technology and compete in the global economy while decreasing real-estate expenses.
After personnel costs, real estate is often the second largest business expense, and the recession forced many organizations to carefully examine lease agreements and reevaluate the amount of square footage allocated to each employee. However, this trend was not brought on solely by the recession; even prior to the economic downturn, organizations began exploring and adopting new workplace strategies.
According to real-estate research firm Reis, companies since 2008 have given up 137.8 million square feet nationwide. Much of the reallocated space has been designed with an open-plan layout and incorporates benching, impromptu meeting spaces, small meeting rooms, and touchdown stations for mobile workers. This trend towards integration, collaboration, open planning, and remote access greatly reduces the need for private offices and in some cases assigned workspaces.
A 2009 Global Benchmarking Study by New Ways of Working showed that recessionary pressures expedited the adoption of alternative workplace strategies. They also facilitated the combination of non-traditional work practices, settings, and locations to supplement or replace traditional workspaces.
Workplace benching fits well into this new way of workspace planning by providing workplace solutions for several types of workers. Based on Kimball Office research completed in 2011, three dominant worker profiles were identified as thriving in benching solutions.
- Traditional workers – Throughout the day, these employees constantly shift between collaborative and independent work modes. They rely on benching solutions to provide an environment similar to a cubicle, but with the flexibility to allow for easy interaction with teammates and co-workers. In most cases, privacy screens provide visual privacy from neighbors.
- Transient workers – This worker profile includes employees who primarily work remotely. They visit the office on a limited basis and spend a majority of the time traveling and working off-site. Benching satisfies this type of worker’s needs because they do not require an assigned workspace in the office, but simply a space to plug-in and accomplish work-related tasks.
- Teams – Teams spend about half their time working in group settings where collaboration is key and benching’s flexibility and ability to reconfigure easily allows them to expand or contract without disrupting work flow. Easy, visual access to teammates as well as power, data, and storage, make benching an ideal solution.
Although benching and a mobile workforce are becoming more prevalent, focused work is still important for individuals. The adoption of benching has also led to an increased use of lounge seating and small private meeting spaces in order to provide isolated areas for work requiring extra focus.
There are tradeoffs organizations must consider when evaluating whether or not to incorporate a benching solution, with one being visual privacy; however, research has shown that subtle visual cues by co-workers in an open plan can lead to decreased auditory and visual distractions.
The set up allows employees to identify when teammates are available, on the phone or focused on a project. Collaboration will continue to grow in importance to organizations, but the key is evaluating which benching solution meets workers’ needs and offers the flexibility required by emerging technology.