Today’s workplace is drastically different from the workplaces of just five or 10 years ago. Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of technology, an increasing number of workers have the flexibility to work remotely, which frees up an office’s dedicated workspace. Additionally, the economy has put an increased strain on businesses of all sizes.

Business leaders are constantly looking for ways to curb real estate costs and adapt spaces to changing business conditions and needs. These factors have caused companies to rethink office space; bench seating has proved to be a functional, cost-effective solution to help redesign the modern-day office.

BenchingWhy Bench Seating?

Benching involves rows of work surfaces that are parallel to one another and centralized around technology infrastructure that provides power, data management, lighting, and work tools. Workers sit face-to-face and/or side-by-side. Depending on the product selected, the work surface can be fixed-height or adjustable, and one long expanse or individual surfaces grouped together.

First in Europe and more recently in North America, benching has grown in popularity for many reasons. Benching provides flexible, open workspaces that allow natural light to permeate deep into the office. Mobile workers are able to “see and be seen” when they spend time in the office, which helps connect with coworkers and technology. Additionally, businesses can maximize real estate space and reconfigure workstations with limited effort.

Benching by Job Type

Through primary and secondary research on benching, the Steelcase Applied Research Consulting team has identified key insights to this trend. The most significant finding was the need to tailor bench seating options for specific types of workers; one standard benching solution can’t meet them all. As a result, Steelcase identified four types of bench users, each with unique job functions that place different demands on workstations.

1. Residents Resident workers (administrative assistants, legal groups, call centers, human resources professionals, or operations staff) work in a sequential, process-driven, standardized manner. They require their own workstations with fixed technology and equipment. While they value visual connection to other employees as a means of socializing at work, they need to maintain a certain level of privacy to do their jobs effectively. The ideal benching solution includes low shields to reduce unwanted noise and mark personal territory. Fixed technology units and easily accessible storage are also important.

2. Nomads These mobile workers can do their work almost anywhere, at any time, through technology. However, these workers still regularly come in to the workplace to connect with coworkers, maintain visibility, and take advantage of fixed technology. Examples include consultants, contractors, salespeople, and telemarketers. Nomads appreciate flexible workplaces that cater to mobility and allow them to “pull up a chair” and work at an unassigned desk. Open interior vistas make it easier to collaborate and socialize with others – and for managers to see them. Above-the-workstation connections are important so they can easily plug in equipment. Storage for personal belongings, like a briefcase or small suitcase, is also appreciated.

Benching3. Project Teams Commonly found among financial consultants, marketing teams, research analysts, and strategic planners, these groups come together for a finite period of time to work together on systemic, multi-discipline work that often involves content creation. Benching solutions should leverage the communal aspect and eliminate all screens. These users require storage for project resources. The space should provide flexibility to accommodate varying numbers of team players as the project progresses.

4. Functional Groups Functional groups involve people in the same department who work in single or multiple groups. Collaboration and content creation – as with architects, communications professionals, design teams, or financial groups – is often the bedrock of their interactions. Most members are located in shared workspaces, while others may participate remotely. Benching solutions should involve a common work surface in the middle or at the end of the bench for quick collaboration and document-sharing. A privacy shield at the end of the bench can reduce interruptions from the aisle and provide a lean-against for coworkers who drop by for a brief conversation.

The Bottom Line on Benching

Benching will likely continue to increase in popularity as the workforce continues to move toward mobility, reliance on technology, and collaboration for innovation. Next-generation bench products keep the end-user in mind and offer a variety of options to support needs specific to these different types of workers.

Katie Hasse

Katie Hasse is a senior public relations specialist for Steelcase. Steelcase offers a portfolio of solutions that address three elements of the office environment: interior architecture, furniture, and technology. Learn more at www.steelcase.com.