How should I set up our new office?
June 16, 2006 9:28 AM   Subscribe

The company I work for is probably moving away from our parent company into a 3400 sq. ft. building of our own. I have the task (opportunity) to suggest how we can set up this office for our 31 people. The question is, is there a non-traditional option that is better than the standard cube farm, but is still inexpensive and effective?

I have created a basic floor plan showing one possible layout. Each person has around 30 sq. ft. of space, so it's tight. Sales and sales support are on the left. Design, content and tech are on the right. Everyone sits in front of a PC and we may go wireless.

I'm not totally against cubes. I work in one now, and since it has 3 ft. high walls, it works pretty well. Unfortunately, they cost the company about $2,000 each. My boss has suggested getting desks at OfficeMax for $100 each. Besides the fact that I don't want to put my own desk together, my cube offers a lot more desk and storage space than a desk would.

We have joked that we need something somewhere between a cube and a beanbag chair. Does anyone have a creative solution that is better than another cube farm?
posted by quirked to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
So the idea is officemax desks with no partitions? I endured a similar setup for 2 years. Nowhere to hang your photos/notes/whatevers, no privacy, no peace and quiet to work. It was awful and led to quite a few arguments between staff and boss, and to one guy quitting.

You could do something with drywall, if there are contractors in the building, which may end up less that $2,000 per.
posted by jamesonandwater at 9:39 AM on June 16, 2006

I've always wanted an office like Joel's:

Bionic Office

Although minus the lime-green walls, I suppose.
posted by Imperfect at 9:42 AM on June 16, 2006

I like the idea of the angled walls. They create a semi-private area which is a step up from cubes but are not yet offices.

If your boss is set on $100 officemax desks in an open office format, your co-workers could shortly be in a world of hurt... You may want to tell him the extra money used to set up and provision the office right will be well worth it in the long run due to employee general job satisfaction.
posted by aurigus at 9:56 AM on June 16, 2006

"My boss has suggested getting desks at OfficeMax for $100 each."

That's being viciously cheap. Does your boss show contempt for you peons in other ways? Sheesh.

I'd go him one better. Suggest that you get everyone to come in on a weekend and build some long benches and tables out of splintery reclaimed lumber. And wireless? Hah! You will have one modem to share among you, to be made available to whoever promises to wash the boss' car!

Seriously, I think it's tough making this work well. Cubes do take up a fair amount of space. You might be able to sort of compromise between space and pricacy by making desk clusters of 4-6 desks facing into each other with partitions between them
posted by adamrice at 9:59 AM on June 16, 2006

Try and sell them on the "The Coffin Model" described here.
Not very useful I know, but it thought the page was funny.

posted by The Radish at 10:02 AM on June 16, 2006

It being me .
posted by The Radish at 10:03 AM on June 16, 2006

The best "cube farm" I've seen used 4 one-plane partitions to create a cross shape for 4 workers. Desks were placed facing in a spiral rotation within the cross. These 4-plexes were then placed in a somewhat organic / somewhat organized fashion so that they would maximize use of the floor plan. a sketch of the desks/partitions.

(The partitions were constructed with a vaguely translucent white/grey plastic so that light and air would seem to pass through but workers felt they had independence and privacy.

Most cubes use 2 or 3 walls per desk so using only one per desk could reduce your costs.

This also varies each worker's focus so that instead of 6 people lined up facing the same wall one after another, you have each worker facing his own direction and gaining a sense of independent work space from that. It's more creative-friendly than a grid pattern.
posted by superfem at 10:25 AM on June 16, 2006

When I was running a small company, we went with the $100 desk approach. It worked in the sense that we all had the 'startup' fever and were happy with the way things went.

Of course, we were producing paperless office software, which meant that we didn't have paper, books, or anything to store. A cheap file cabinet provided storage for cables and needful stuff, and we were all (mildly) happy with that.

If I were to design an office right now for tech staff, I would put programmers in a large open space with the $100 desks. (Actually, what you really want are tables with wheels so that they can be re-oriented quickly. Anthro makes nice sets. I had a few sets of these for programmer workstations. The logic behind this is that my programmers (web app guys, each had a specialty -- database, php, javascript/ajax/system-level stuff -- worked in teams more often than not, and all had laptops... there was no use in them having their own cubicles. I was the only support staff, and I had my own (small) office that was also used as a meeting room.

In your case, I'd find out from someone what the actual budget is. Then make a proposal in that way that makes *sense* based on each person's role in the company/department.
posted by SpecialK at 10:40 AM on June 16, 2006

Have you given any thought to expanding individual space by using alternate work schedules - having employees share a (larger) space at different times.

If that won't work I second the comments of superfem on the four person/two sidewall cubicle stations. (please ensure they are wired by an electrician).
posted by KneeDeep at 10:56 AM on June 16, 2006

might I suggest Door desks in the interest of saving money?

And don't go all wireless with the network. If you're starting with an empty canvas run some friggin cables.

Good luck with the layout
posted by freq at 11:05 AM on June 16, 2006

KneeDeep, Chiat/Day and a few other ad agencies tried that in the late 90's. Their employees HATED not having their 'own' workspace.
posted by SpecialK at 11:06 AM on June 16, 2006

Response by poster: I think the $100 OfficeMax desks comment was more to make a point than to actually suggest that was a solution.

The 4-plexes are efficient, but I think you have to turn the people slightly so you aren't being stared at all day from one side.

Having stations that can move is interesting, but electricity becomes tricky.

There is no budget yet besides 'much less than $2,000/worker.'

Our current space is holds 14 and we are expanding in the next year to 30. There is no way to alternate schedules.

freq - why not wireless?
posted by quirked at 11:12 AM on June 16, 2006

Don't rely on wireless only because it has much less bandwidth than wired, you might wind up saturating your wireless hub with 30 people (depends on the hub), it's less secure and more prone to trouble. You can wire everyone in the office using gigabit ethernet relatively cheaply, and that connection is basically as fast as a hard drive's connection.
posted by adamrice at 12:02 PM on June 16, 2006

IKEA has some affordable office furniture but doesn't seem to have any solutions that would have the same effect as a cubicle would (partitioning space, giving privacy). Plus there's the whole putting-together-the-furniture thing, which I would run away from screaming if we were talking about several dozen individual pieces of furniture.

HOWEVER. As I was having (and then rejecting) this IKEA idea, I had this other idea that you could fasten white boards with brackets to the far edges of each desk (any desk you wouldn't mind messing up in that way). Not the real ceramic kind of whiteboard that cost hella lotta money, but whatever is next down from that in the whiteboard food chain. There is the outside chance (ok, pretty good chance actually) that this would end up kind of tacky if it was done sloppily, and you'd have to do it so the board stayed rigid (not flopping onto your neighbor's desk at odd moments), but the whiteboards would serve the dual purpose of acting as a visual buffer between desks - especially if you reconfigured them to be more facing each other - and also an actual usuable space for writing, sticking notes, whatever.

Cheap IKEA desk (or similar) + inexpensive whiteboard (whatever dimensions seem appropriate) = lots less than $2k/person I'll bet.

Good luck with whatever you choose!!
posted by contessa at 12:53 PM on June 16, 2006

At my office, we use little work pods, based on this.

It's a nice compromise between open-concept and privacy, and it's a step-up in quality from Ikea. (Ok, a few steps up.)
posted by generichuman at 3:47 PM on June 16, 2006

I wouldn't discount Ikea right off the bat. It could be an inexpensive solution. What about using bookshelves as cube walls? Might as well have the walls do double duty.

Check out Ikea "Bonde" shelving units. Totally modular, and therefore customizable. Also, Ikea sells desk legs that are adjustable in height.

There are room-dividing curtain thingies there, as well, which are extra long so you can hang them from the ceiling. They would make a cheap and attractive privacy screen. Sorry I can't describe them better . . . maybe go have a look.

Sounds like a daunting but fun project. Good luck.
posted by shifafa at 4:03 PM on June 16, 2006

quirked: The idea with stations that move is to be able to assemble them in different configurations. Power's easy to figure out; make sure the walls of the area have TONS of power outlets on them (at least 4-ups every 5-6 feet) and then get power strips with long cables.

Having a ton of movable stations along with moveable partitions made it easy for a previous employer of mine to provide team areas on a moment's notice. A huge bug was found, and the team that got assigned to that bug made itself a little 'fort' with the partitions that kept them from being bugged by others.

When teams got reshuffled during a reorg, there wasn't much to do but unplug and roll.

The point I'm trying to make is that you can think about people's workspaces in the light of their job role. If someone always has other people working with them, don't give them an office area, give them a group area.
On the other hand, if someone keeps mountains of paper and books and always works alone, they're most likely going to need an office-ish space.
posted by SpecialK at 4:34 PM on June 16, 2006

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