Meeting Systems Furniture Challenges

Stackable panel systems with floor-to-ceiling and off modular capabilities can be the common denominator to not only attractively fitting out lower cost Class B and C office space but also in meeting the technology and versatility requirements today and in the future. While large companies have the financial resources to either staff for or contract out to providers of turn-key office solutions, owners of small to mid-sized businesses face the cold reality of making this happen with the resources at hand. Challenges include:

  • Optimizing floor plans by a mix of full walls and stackable panels
  • Balancing quality and price
  • Achieving eye appeal through colors, fabrics, glass, woods and textures
  • Fostering staff satisfaction and performance through ergonomic design
  • Accommodating changing workplace technology requirements
  • Adapting to relocations, moves, adds and changes
  • Assuring compatibility with future purchases
  • Minimizing need for space-wasting design with efficient storage options
  • Maximizing tax benefits with accelerated depreciation
  • Improving sound control and minimizing distraction
  • Identifying competent designers, suppliers and installers
Putting pencil to paper is the first step in addressing these challenges. Take time to sketch out a rough floor plan showing where you are today and where you want to be in an existing or new facility.

This can save headaches down the road. An aid in design can be found in the National Association of Realtors study. It shows typical office space for employee, including common areas such as conference and storage, ranges from 175 to 225 square feet . At the same time, the Urban Land Institute and PWC reported that corporations continue to reduce space per employee. But the reduction may not be across the board even within a single organization.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics Report looking ahead to 2014 shows office support staff (translated smaller office space) is expected to increase relatively slowly because of technology changes. Faster growth will be in higher-level occupations suggesting that the amount of office space per employee may increase. What to believe? In your favor is the fact that stackable panel systems are flexible - even to the extent of providing floor-to-ceiling enclosed workspaces. This means that they can expand, contract or reconfigure to accommodate changing needs - in many instances without disrupting the entire workplace. The industry term is moves, adds and changes (MACs) and a system's ability or inability to accommodate MACs is an important long-term cost consideration. Having this information at hand will facilitate discussions with suppliers.

But from this point on, paths to suppliers diverge widely so it is important to look at systems from the perspective of performance and price. First, there are several manufacturers of stackable panel systems and moveable walls. And unlike real estate brokers, landlords and building contractors, they are willing and ready to fit out smaller office spaces. Second and more important, pricing from some of these manufacturers can be three to four times that of others who are capable of providing equal or better quality, versatility and features.

Conversely, shopping on price alone can yield shoddy workmanship, frequent repairs and replacements and unwieldy, unreliable technology to bring intelligence to the desktop. In today's competitive systems furniture marketplace superior quality need not be expensive, nor is there a need to hire costly third-party consultants to formalize an office layout. Global sourcing and supply chain management coupled with local warehousing and distribution provide dramatic cost-savings across the board.

Layout and floor plan challenges are solved by manufacturers that provide free CAD services to purchasing customers. Instead, differences and potential pitfalls lie within the systems themselves, covering the gamut of stackable frame design and floor-to-ceiling interface to tiling and component options and the cable management that brings information technology to the desktop. Each of these system components must work in harmony with the others to assure fast, smooth assembly from day one to the MACs that are sure to come later.

The durability and performance of each of these system components has a direct relationship to what is called the lifetime cost of ownership that is associated with supporting the MACs. College Loan Corporation, a West Coast-based financial services organization, evaluated systems furniture from several suppliers prior to consolidating its nationwide call center from multiple locations into a 135,000 square foot renovated warehouse facility. Criteria included colorful and attractive design; durable construction; ease of installation, and user-friendly electrical, voice and data cabling management. A comprehensive matrix was prepared to assist the organization in comparing all the important features and capabilities from various vendors.

The result was furnishing 486 workstations in 6 x 6 and 10 x 12-foot configurations at $12.00 per square foot installed. will help business owners and operators make smart choices in systems furniture for their offices and selecting the right office cubicles.

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