There are several reasons so many offices fall victim to the dated time warp look. The most common reason being that office furniture is just one of those things that typically only occurs on the radar when there is an upcoming office move, employees are added, or something breaks. Once the office has been set up, most offices fall into this maintenance-only mode. It is all too easy for time to slip away while in maintenance-only mode and that is when you walk into your office one day and realize your office looks pretty much the same as it did 10-20 years ago.
Once a business has realized their office is stuck in a time warp, they often get overwhelmed trying to figure out how to get un-stuck. The cost and/or logistics of remodeling the entire office are enough of a turn-off that they’ll turn a blind-eye on their dated look. It is for these businesses paralyzed by the idea of an entire office overhaul that I will share this little secret: modernizing your office doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to start over from scratch. There are simple things you can do here and there as time and budget permit that will propel your office into the current decade. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make enough of, or even a big, difference. What are these little things you ask? Let’s take a look:
- Update your artwork. Matting can fade over time, making it look dirty or old. Some framed photographs can look outdated because of the fuzzy picture quality from old technology. Sometimes the frame and the color of the matting on your artwork can date the piece. If you think the art is worth saving, simply have it re-framed and re-matted to make the artwork look current again.
- Eliminate the old school letterboards. If you have a letterboard in your lobby that says something simple like “Welcome to ABC’s Corporate Office”, replace it with a professional wall mounted logo instead to let visitors know they have arrived at your office. If you still want to say “Welcome”, have it lettered or etched on to the entrance door or on a window next to the door. If you use letterboards as a way-finding tool, replace them with framed stands that allow you to insert printed signs from a computer. If you use a letterboard as a building directory, consider replacing it with and electronic building directory.
- Watch out for those four-star chair bases. Office chairs are now required to have a five-star base for stability. If you still have chairs with a four-star base in your office, get rid of them. Not only are they contributing to your time warp look, they are also considered a safety issue.
- Remove dated wallpaper and borders. Not all wallpapers are dated but if it has a mauve and teal pattern, chances are it should come down. If you like the visual texture wallpaper provides or you like it for ease of cleanability, then replace it with a more modern wallpaper. If you don’t need the wallpaper, remove it and paint the wall a fresh color. Wallpaper borders in the workplace look dated more often than not so chances are you should take them down.
- Do some deep cleaning. Dirt, dust, and grime can add years to the look of your office. Think about all the hard to reach places or objects that just don’t get cleaned on a regular basis. Clean or replace dirty and discolored ceiling tiles (note: discolored ceiling tiles indicate there is likely a leakage problem which you will want to have checked out). Dust off the ceiling vents and any exposed duct work. Steam clean fabric on your chairs and workstation panels. Clean out any dust or bugs that have landed in your light fixtures. While cleaning the light fixtures, replace any bulbs that have burned out. Strip and re-wax the floors. Even just having the windows washed inside and out can help revive the office.
- Replace your fluorescent task lights with LED task lights. The light fixtures themselves can provide a modern look because they are more streamlined than chunkier fluorescent fixtures. Besides the updated look, LED lights can save money on your energy bill, save labor and money on replacing bulbs due to their longer life, and employees will appreciate their ability to control the amount of light in their space which isn’t possible with fluorescent task lights.
- Offer flexible workspaces. The demand for a variety of work environments within the office is increasing as technology allows us to work from places other than our desk and as multiple generations with differing ideas on the ideal work environment try to coexist in the workplace. This may be tricky to do if your office is already at capacity but let’s not get overwhelmed just yet. Think about starting small by re-purposing or re-envisioning just one of the existing areas in your office. In a large breakroom, perhaps you can remove some tables and chairs and replace them with lounge seating for people to meet and work–much like a coffee shop setting. If you have multiple conference rooms, consider converting at least one into a less formal and idea-sparking collaborative environment by replacing the traditional conference table and chairs with mobile tablet arm chairs.
- Don’t plop technology down in your space, integrate it. Technology has become so engrained in the way we do most anything in business that we might as well embrace it in our space. Make it look like the technology is intended to be there by creating a home for your technology. So often I see printers and scanners on folding tables or the equivalent. That technology probably isn’t temporary in your business, so don’t place it on anything that looks temporary like a folding table. Place your flat panel monitors on monitor arms. The monitor arms will give the screens a modern looking home, they will save valuable desk space, and most importantly, they will make viewing the computer screen(s) more ergonomic for your employees. Conceal cords as much as possible through the use of grommets and cable managers. In the conference room, conceal audio/visual equipment in a credenza and consider installing audio/visual ports and electrical outlets into your conference table for laptop usage. By integrating technology into your furniture, you will portray the image that your company embraces technology and how can your office get more modern than that?
When clients ask me what the most important part of the office to budget for is, I will always say it’s ergonomics. While aesthetics are important in offices, employee comfort is even more critical. I often get the joking response “We don’t want them too comfortable or they’ll fall asleep”. Ergonomics is not about putting people to sleep. Ergonomics is about easing a lot of distracting physical strain on your employees that, over time, can lead to permanent injury. When your employees feel better, they will likely be more productive and they will likely be in a better mood which will boost morale. Let’s take a closer look at ways to incorporate ergonomic features and the benefits:
1. Go easy on your legs and lower back by using a footrest. Benefits of using a footrest include improved circulation, lessened strain on lower back, and leg support which, in turn, eases strain on the hips.
2. Raise your desk with desk risers. If you are taller, chances are you might be slouching over your desk and banging your knees under your desk if your work surface is too low. Desk risers can raise your desk in 1″ increments and can be stacked to increase height. By raising your desk, you can relieve tension in your neck, back, shoulders, and legs. In a cubical and don’t have a free standing desk to use desk risers? Your work surface can be hung higher on the cube panel.
3. Relieve some stress on your wrists with adjustable keyboard trays. Keyboard trays have come a long way from the early cumbersome models that made you feel like you were going to lose a finger if you touched the wrong spring knob. There are now intuitive models that use simple lift and lock motions to set the tray in place. Intuitive motion models are a bit more expensive than basic models but well worth the investment if they are easy enough to use that it makes your employees are confident enough to adjust them to the proper angle. There’s no sense in purchasing a basic model that is difficult to adjust if your employees are intimidated by it and it ends up going unused or worse yet, used improperly.
4. Corner makers, also known as create-a-corners, can turn a 90° corner into a more usable angled corner for those who prefer working in the corner of their desk. The corner maker will allow a keyboard to be more easily installed in a 90° corner.
5. Look straight ahead with monitor arms. When your computer monitors sit directly on your desk, you more than likely have to gaze down at your computer screen. When you gaze down for periods of time, you are likely to bend your head and neck down which can also cause your shoulders to slouch. By using a monitor arm, you are able to raise your monitor screens to a comfortable eye level which will ease strain on your eyes, neck, and shoulders. Monitor arm models are available for a single screen and any number up to six monitor screens.
6. Ergonomics for the computer is no longer a luxury reserved for desktop-only users. There are now products that make using laptops and tablets more body-friendly. Laptop holders raise and angle the keyboard of your laptop, easing strain on your wrists much like a keyboard tray would for a desktop computer user. Very similar to flat screen monitor arms mentioned above, there are laptop arms and even tablet arms that will hold your laptop or iPad screen closer to eye level, easing strain on your eyes, neck, and shoulders.
7. Get out of the dark with task lighting. Straining to see is an often overlooked and neglected comfort issue in the workplace. It is a chronic distraction that can be simply controlled by providing task lighting for employees. Each employee has different lighting needs which are affected by their age and the tasks they are performing. By giving your employees the ability to control the amount and direction of light in their workspace, you are giving them the power to control their comfort and in many cases, their productivity.
8. Glare filters on your computer screen can greatly increase eye comfort and greatly reduce the risk of developing Computer Vision Syndrome.
9. Take a stand with adjustable height tables. Standing height tables or work surfaces are quickly becoming one of the most popular requests I get from clients. If you sit for long periods of time at work, standing throughout the day can help alleviate the strain on your back and boost your energy. There are a few ways in which you can raise your work surface. Adjustable height table bases can be added to existing work surfaces or they can be purchased as a complete adjustable table with top included. Adjustable height table bases are available in electric powered, hand crank, or ratchet height adjustable models. If an adjustable height table is out of the budget, consider hanging one of your cube work surfaces permanently at standing height.
10. If there is one ergonomic accessory to invest in, it is a good ergonomic chair for every employee. Do not, and I repeat, do not skimp on good chairs for your employees if you can at all help it. A good ergonomic chair is the foundation for building a healthy and ergonomic office environment. An ergonomically designed chair can ease a large number of the discomforts that can occur in the workplace. They are designed to have multiple adjustments that will allow the sitter to adjust the chair to their body. As a general rule of thumb, the more levers a chair has, the more ergonomic adjustments the chair will have. Here are some important features to look for in a good ergonomic chair:
- Seat–Contoured seat cushions and a waterfall seat edge will help increase circulation.
- Back–Look for contoured back cushions, lumbar support, adjustable back angles, and adjustable back height. If you are a taller person, you might want to find a high back chair rather than a mid back chair. A bonus feature might include an adjustable neck rest.
- Arms–If you are sitting in a chair for periods of time, do not get a chair with fixed arms. Generally, the only time you can get away with fixed arms is in a conference room setting. For task purposes, find a chair with adjustable arms. The most common adjustable arm type is height & width adjustable. If you spend large chunks of your day working at a computer, you might want to find an arm that also pivots, telescopes, or slides which will allow you greater control to adjust the arms at more precise positions for the task at hand.
Hopefully this post has given you some insight into the possible causes of discomfort that can occur at work and how you might alleviate them. Implementing these solutions can be another way of showing your employees how much you value their well-being. If there is one piece of advice I can give about providing ergonomic accessories for your employees, it is to make certain that your employees know how to use the accessories you have provided them. There is no sense in purchasing these accessories if people aren’t confident enough to adjust them or they don’t understand how to adjust them properly to fit their body.
If you have pre-existing injuries or are worried that chronic strains are resulting in permanent injury, please consult with your doctor or chiropractor about which ergonomic accessories and specific features will be most helpful for your condition.
Having plants in the workplace can have an overwhelming number of benefits including:
• lowers blood pressure
• reduces stress
• increases humidity
• reduces illness
• purifies air
• reduces dust
• lowers energy costs
• quickens employee response time
• enhances problem solving ability
• sparks creativity
• increases brain activity
• provides a positive outlook
• acts as a mood elevator
• has a calming effect
• boosts learning
• enhances productivity and performance
• contributes to noise reduction
• improves office appearance
• reduces distractions
List of Benefits from Primex Garden Center (www.PrimexGardenCenter.com)
With so many benefits, adding plants to the office can be a simple solution to creating a happier & healthier office. I recently stumbled across a very unique method for incorporating plants in the workplace. The Breathe™ Living Wall from Dirtt takes going green to a whole new level with a modular wall system that houses potted plants. The Breathe™ wall system could be used to create an eye-catching feature wall with major impact. It could also be used as a space saver in small offices where floor space is at a premium and there isn’t enough room for potted plants.
For more information on the benefits of plants in the workplace, check out the following resources:
According to the 2012 Workplace Trends Report by Sodexo, “Employee wellness programs are slowly becoming the norm rather than the exception in corporate America”. Corporate wellness programs might include office gyms, nutritionists, massage therapy, smoking cessation programs, life coaches, etc.
In response to the corporate wellness trend, the office furniture industry has come up with some innovative ways to accommodate movement while working. Steelcase came out with the Walkstation which is a treadmill desking solution. While the Walkstation is a nice solution and I know a number of people who own one (or a few) and are happy with it, I’m just not coordinated enough to walk and work at the same time (I can’t even workout on a treadmill without getting distracted and walking into the sides). Due to my lack of coordination, I have to say my top pick for an “exercising desk” would be the LifeBalance Station from RightAngle.
Not sure if you should retrofit the entire office with moving stations? Consider purchasing one or two and having employees sign up for blocks of time to use the moving stations. If usage becomes widespread and there’s a waiting list to use them, then go ahead and purchase more equipment as needed.
Is your office lacking visual energy? All too often offices fall into the neutral grey, beige and white color palette. If your office is sleek and modern, the neutral color palette might make sense. If not, the office can easily fall into the tired, boring and forgettable categories. Color is an excellent way to infuse personality and energy into your office environment. Here are a variety of ways to add color to your workspace:
1. Reupholster your overhead flipper bin doors and tackboards in a punchy color or pattern. Don’t feel the need to stick to one fabric either. I have a daring client that picked a different fabric for each workstation’s tackboard. The key to making multiple fabric patterns work in an office space without going overboard is to stick with a single color family or palette (i.e. fabric patterns all in the blue family with similar accent colors to each other).
2. Paint your file cabinets in a vibrant color. I don’t mean taking them out to the parking lot to spray paint them–you’ll want to have them sent to a professional metal finisher to ensure a quality paint job that stands up to daily commercial office use. If sending your file cabinets out for professional painting isn’t an option, you can look into electrostatic painting, a process where the cabinets can be painted on site. Another option would be to see if a furniture dealer would be willing to offer you trade-in credits for your existing file cabinets towards the purchase of new, colorful cabinets.
3. Add artwork–this could be in the form of paintings, wall hangings, sculptures, etc. Not sure where to start when selecting office artwork? Think about ways the artwork could reflect your business or tell a story about your mission. For example, if you are a travel agency, you could incorporate artwork that depicts vintage modes of transportation or geographic locations (i.e. framed maps or satellite images). Is philanthropy important to your company? Maybe you could include photographs of charitable events your company has participated in.
4. Upholster your chairs in something other than black fabric. Black is often chosen because it is a safe, neutral color choice and it hides dirt. There is plenty of colored fabrics or patterns that will also hide dirt and add personality to the office through the use of color.
5. Flooring is an often missed color opportunity. There are so many materials out there available in a wide array of patterns and colors. If in an industrial office, consider using tinted concrete. Have wood floors? Consider painting a border stripe at the floor edges near the walls. If using linoleum tiles, consider doing a mix of colors–3 can be nice. You can have the tiles installed at random based on a percentage of color you give the installers (i.e. 60% main color, 30% accent color one, 10% accent color two). If using carpet, consider using a pattern with color that is noticeable from a distance, not small flecks that disappear. Carpet tiles can infuse patches of color much like the linoleum tile installation mentioned above. Another idea, take any of the materials listed above and have a custom logo or design inlaid into your floor. The possibilities are endless, don’t be afraid to make the floors your color centerpiece.
6. Paint–The key to selecting dynamic paint colors is contrast. If your furniture (i.e. workstations) are a light neutral color like grey or beige, you might want to pick an actual color for the walls to provide contrast. On the flip-side, if your furniture is already colorful, you might want to keep the wall colors neutral. Also, don’t be afraid of using more than one color throughout the office. You can highlight certain walls with a different color or you can use color as a way-finding tool. If you have a large office, you might want to “color code” certain areas to help people distinguish their location.
7. Bring nature in–Plants themselves can provide color. To punch up the color a step further, you could use colored planters. Personally, I think contrast here is key as well. If you have colorful plants, have a neutral color planter to really let the plant steal the show. If you have a solid green plant, consider using a colored planter. Don’t want to commit labor time to maintaining the plants? Consider outsourcing the work to a garden center with a plant leasing department that will install, maintain, and replace plants as needed.
8. Create a feature wall–a feature wall is a wall that is more distinctive than the walls surrounding it. Feature walls can be created through the use of paint, murals, tile, water features, colored glass panels, stone, wood, metal, or wallpaper, etc. The feature wall can be an excellent place to place your company name or logo.
9. Shed some light–Colored pendent lights or wall sconces are an easy way to add color that glows. Pendent lights could be added over the reception station, over a credenza, above the table in a conference room, or in the breakroom. Wall sconces can line hallways and flank doors and bookshelves.
10. Dress up the doors–Consider using painted doors as the colored element in your office. A painted door can be less of a color commitment since it’s a smaller surface area than a wall. Painting a door is also a good way to live with a color to see if you like it enough to use on a whole wall.
To kick things off, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nicole and one of my greatest passions is office furniture & design. Let me share with you a little bit about the journey that sparked this passion…It all started during childhood. While other kids were watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was watching shows like This Old House, Home Time, and New Yankee Workshop with my dad. Other kids were picking up on terms like “Turtle Power!” while I was picking up on terms like “dado cuts” and “dovetailing”.
Watching these shows made me comfortable with the idea of design from a construction standpoint. While I was comfortable with the idea of how designs were built, it wasn’t like I was running to the garage to play with hammers and saws to get my hands dirty. I was far more fascinated with the finished product. I’ve always been on the quiet side, always observing and taking in my surroundings. I love to look at things. I love to see the art in our surroundings. Then around 4th grade, the movie Mrs. Doubtfire came out. In the movie, Sally Field’s character plays an interior designer. This was the first time I saw that there was an actual career in creating beautiful surroundings–not just building them but designing them. It was from then on that I wanted to be an interior designer.
I went on to obtain my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Interior Design in 2007. Very early on in design school, I knew I wanted to pursue commercial design–specifically office design. I knew I wanted to do commercial spaces because my designs would impact more people than if I pursued residential design. I was also very fascinated with the way people work. The average person will spend around 93,600 hours working during their lifetime.* With people spending that much of their life in an office environment, I found commercial office design to be especially important. Not only do aesthetics matter but comfort, functionality, and safety are also crucial elements in utilitarian spaces like offices.
After graduation, I wasn’t finding a lot of opportunities to make my break into the commercial design world. However, I kept seeing job postings for office furniture sales jobs. Sales was the last thing I saw myself doing. I had the image of a cheesy used car salesman and I wasn’t ready to put on the plaid coat and ask “What will it take to get you in that chair today?”. Eventually, I caved in to the sales idea figuring that I needed to start gaining experience somewhere, anywhere. It turned out to be one of the best decision I ever made.
I went to work for an office furniture dealer that specialized in new, used, and refurbished office furniture. By having such a vast selection with the new & used mix, I was able to learn a ton about a number of office furniture lines. I also do the space planning for my projects so I still get to let my inner interior designer loose. I have now been in the industry for four years.
I am unique in that because I do dabble in the used & refurbished end of the business where there are little to no interior designers, I look at furniture and interiors very differently. I do appreciate and am inspired by the innovative looks coming from ‘A’ grade manufacturers but I can also do unique things with used and refurbished furniture. Many of my colleagues in the used & refurbished world started out as installers, gradually transitioned into sales, and then many go on to start their own businesses. Because they started out as installers, they look at furniture in terms of parts and pieces. While office furniture is very much parts & pieces, I am able to look beyond that and figure out what to do with those parts and pieces to take them to the next level. I challenge myself to figure out ways to make the old and drab look new and current again.
This unique niche I have found in the office furniture world is what has inspired me to start this blog. My favorite part of my job is meeting new companies and learning about what they do for a living, how they work, how they interact in their office space. I never cease to be amazed by how many unique jobs and industries there are out there. Because no two projects or industries are the same, I am constantly being challenged with new and unique requests from clients. I want to share with you my journey in discovering more about the world of office furniture and commercial design. While part of my day job is sales, the purpose of this blog is not to be influenced solely by the lines I currently sell, but to strip any barriers I may have in my day job and really just have fun exploring all of the products and solutions that are available out there. This is my way of letting my hair down and letting the creative juices flow!
~ Nicole–Digs Director
* To come up with an approximate number of hours the average worker will put in during their lifetime, I calculated 2,080 (Avg. # of hours worked in a year) x 45 (I came up with 45 years of working by assuming that a person might start working full-time out of college at the age of 22 and retiring by the age of 67)