Trend 1: Benching
In this series of Q&A blog posts, we’re exploring emerging office design trends with members of the Miller’s Design Interiors Team.
For this article, Miller’s Interior Designer, Carolann Blanc, shares her insights and best tips on how to get the most out of benching.
Q: What is benching and why has it become such a hot office design trend?
A: Benching is a new way of working that was reintroduced around 2008 – 2010. Before benching, most offices were primarily made up of cubicles. Benching is
different because there are no barriers. Desks are side by side, with minimal storage and shared power supplies, known as power spines.
Benching has become popular primarily because it provides big cost savings and promotes collaboration. You can fit more people per square foot with benching…nearly twice as many people compared to traditional cubicles.
Benching also sends a message to prospective employees and clients that your business supports a collaborative, open environment. With benching, the traditional business hierarchies are gone because management is closer to employees physically. Gen Z workers especially like the socialization at work that benching can foster.
Q: Are there any challenges with benching?
A: Benching sometimes gets a bad rap because companies have used it as a “one size fits all” company-wide solution. That’s not how it should be used.
It’s critical to look at the types of employees and teams that you have, and the kinds of job functions they perform. That will determine if benching is right for a specific employee or team. For example, privacy can sometimes be an issue for Human Resources or with HIPAA regulations.
You should also consider work styles of your current top-performing employees. Some work styles require more focus or less collaboration. Some workers need more personal space and the ability to control outside noises.
Q: Which office furniture manufacturers are innovating the most with benching? Do you have any favorite client benching installations?
A: Steelcase was one of the first major manufacturers to introduce benching. Along with Steelcase, the premier benching manufacturers are Herman Miller and Knoll. Most of the innovation in benching is done by those three because they’re the largest and they’re able to invest the most in R&D.
Most architects and designers who implement benching in their own offices have successful installations. They’ve already done the research and understand the benefits of benching, so they’re able to leverage that knowledge to get the most from benching for their specific office situation. Specifically, I remember one furniture dealer in New York City where everyone from top management down used benching. The only exception was Human Resources, which had a hard-walled office for privacy. The organization really embraced benching and it was refreshing.
Q: What’s the best advice you can share with a company that’s considering implementing benching into their office design?
A: I would advise my clients to think about the types of teams they have now and will have in the future. Understanding the kinds of tasks their workers perform will determine if benching can be a solution for them. Do they have telecommuters who only come into the office periodically for whom benching is ideal? Are they projecting any growth in their workforce in the next five years to minimize reconfiguration costs?
You also need to understand how much square footage is available. Benching often requires more aisle clearance to adhere to most local safety codes.
Most importantly, I would encourage them to provide an agile working environment. An environment that offers flexible options, including benching where appropriate, multi-function conference rooms, break areas and meeting pods.