Once the staple of offices everywhere, cubicles came into being to liberate workers from the isolation and automatization of private offices, while still allowing them to remain autonomous and focused. Now, office tides are shifting again, and many companies are starting to sense that the next generation of workers is different, and the environment in which they thrive must be redefined.
A strong need for designing spaces that foster collaboration, combined with the rise of the mobile workforce and the increased focus on real estate efficiency and design sustainability, are all important forces that drive this transformation. Office managers today need to set up spaces that are innovative, adaptable, flexible, energized, and fun; they must also find ways to do more with less, as many small and mid-sized businesses continue to face cost pressures. It is exactly within this need for versatility and cost-effectiveness that benching systems find a role and become essential for both workers and office managers.
Benching systems encourage a type of informal interaction considered to have the highest value in the workplace. Similar to the famous encounters by the water cooler, colleagues of a shared space engage in information transfer and knowledge exploration that are essential in building team rapport, establishing trust, and making work meaningful and more enjoyable. Here are several important characteristics of benching:
Research from leading furniture manufacturer Steelcase into the extent of collaboration and mobility of modern workers concluded that some of the most effective applications for benching are the following:
Resident workers in collaborative environments. Those working in administrative offices, call centers, legal firms, and customer service, for whom it is important to establish visual interaction while maintaining privacy and focus, can greatly benefit from benching systems. Given the large amount of materials and resources exchanged between workers, a benching system facilitates a productive flow of information, considerably diminishing the response time from colleagues and superiors.
Mobile workers. The availability of high-speed internet and other technological advances have limited the need for people working as consultants, contractors, or in sales to be physically present in the office, other than for meetings. Since assigned workstations for them would remain unoccupied most of the time, it makes sense for office managers to replace them with high-density benching systems. This allows them to provide a readily available touchdown space for when remote workers visit the office while saving valuable real estate space.
Cohesive teams. A proper environment for benching is within a workspace that requires the input and expertise of people working in the same department, for whom exchanging ideas and information in a shared space can spark insight and innovation. For architects, designers, financial consultants, marketing and communications professionals, investment traders, and others for whom direct interaction is an important element in obtaining a successful outcome, benching is an excellent match. The easy configuration of the system is also beneficial for project-based teams, whose size and task requirements might change from one project to another.
Today’s benching systems are quickly becoming the cornerstone of the widely-adopted open-plan offices, providing the ideal work setting for a wide range of workers and organizations. However, it’s important to remember that they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. In suitable environments, they can greatly contribute to employee retention and real estate cost reduction, but wrong applications can dehumanize workers and make them feel unappreciated. Contact your local office space planner to make sure your investment in benching systems will benefit your business’s bottom line.
Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.