The office furniture you use can dramatically impact your work output.
I should know: For the past few months, I've tested some office equipment from three furniture companies in hopes of seeing how the layout impacts my productivity. (The companies were all kind enough to let me use the gear for a few weeks; each item has been safely--and sadly--returned or donated to charity.)
I took a dramatically different approach for each test.
With Poppin, a company based out of New York City, I tested gear that has a decidedly Millennial look--bright colors and sleek lines--meant mostly for a startup. Poppin makes everything from staplers to two-person desks, but its pricing tends to be a little more affordable than most. That's a clear perk.
I also tested a desk and chair from Steelcase, its absolute latest models. (In fact, I am the first person to test its new Ology height-adjustable desk.) To complement this layout, I added a few pieces of office furniture of my own selection. Steelcase, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is a bit similar to Poppin in that it focuses on office productivity, but it tends to offer much more extensive furniture options.
The crème de la crème of office gear--at least for my testing purposes--is from Teknion, based in Canada. The company outfitted my office with an amazing design, one that made me feel cocooned and ready to buckle down and get some work done (or just sip coffee). It was my favorite layout, but one thing worth mentioning is that you should expect some higher prices for this top-of-the-line gear.
My office is 12 feet by 14 feet and has a large window facing a lake. My goal was to outfit this space in a way that made me want to work harder and yet feel comfortable.
Here are the results of my testing for each layout:
My first test focused on affordability for a small startup. My most important takeaway from testing the Poppin office gear is that it is inspiring and motivating. A designer talked about options over Skype, and then sent furniture with orange accents. I liked it, because the color added some flair to my office (and to my work).
I tested a Series A Executive Desk that's 72-inches long by 32-inches wide and costs $699, which is not a bad price from a small company with a few employees. For the chair, I used an Orange Max Task Chair for $329, which felt soft and comfortable but without the usual high price of a task chair (or the added lumbar adjustments). To complement the desk, the Poppin designer felt I should use a Gray Stash Sliding Door Locker (a.k.a. a filing cabinet). My layout also included a Dark Gray Block Party Bench for visitors ($549), two tables, a task lamp, and some accessories.
The idea was to create plenty of open space but provide a place for people to sit plus cabinets and tables to stash the gadgets I test routinely. The filing cabinet is sturdy enough to double as a seat for someone. I really liked how all of the accessories, the lamp, the chair, and even the bench used the same design. This consistency helped me keep my thoughts consistent. As an organizational method, having everything match with the two tone colors was really smart.
Compared with the Teknion gear, though, the final layout felt a bit sparse. I could have used more seating or a longer desk for my gadgets; I needed more storage, too. I felt inspired to work hard, but the empty space felt a bit underused at times. Because of that, it didn't create the "cocoon of focus" I really wanted.
I thought, "Maybe a standing desk would help me get more productive."
So, for this layout, I tested the new Steelcase Ology height-adjustable desk that's 29-inches wide and 52-inches long. The all-white desk costs $1,400 (average cost based on dealers in my area), so you are paying about double the price of the Poppin desk to be able to adjust the desk from about 22 inches high to 48 inches. The Ology uses an electronic control so you can push and hold a button to adjust, and there are three presets. As with any standing desk, you might find yourself sticking with one setting (like sitting) and use the standing mode for only a few hours per day.
Of the three tests, the Ology is definitely the most health conscious in that it offers a major advantage for you to stand for even an hour per day (ergonomics experts say sitting all day is terrible for you). As I learned the last time I tested a standing desk, it helps circulation and posture to get at least some movement during the workday. I tend to write with a bit more energy, although I also get tired faster and have to lower the desk if I try to stand too long (say, more than two hours). It changes your perspective, too. In my office, in a standing mode, I was able to look out over a lake, but when I was sitting, it was a little harder to see the view.
I also tested an absolutely amazing chair, my favorite of the three layouts'. The Steelcase Think costs $789 but is worth every penny if you really need to work hard all day in an office. It's exceptionally comfortable, has good lumbar support you can adjust easily, and just felt rock solid during long typing sessions.
Steelcase sent me the desk and chair to test, but I designed my own layout with a few extra pieces of furniture. Because I test so many gadgets, I wanted to come up with a way to easily store items but still see them. (When I use storage cabinets, I tend to forget what's inside.) So I used a Dot & Bo Wire Storage Cart that has eight slide-out trays. It worked perfectly. I also used a Sauder Edge Water Printer and Utility Stand from Wal-Mart that has interior shelves and a tall task lamp, which I used for more focused work sessions involving paper documents.
I was pleased with my office layout--it felt good knowing I had come up with the basic design myself and had some good storage options, especially for paper--but it was a bit too sparse. When I had too much open space in my office, I started using it for boxes and other gear. This layout lacked the color of the Poppin set that inspired me so much. I was ready to find out what happens when I turn my office plan over to a true expert who uses up all of the space and knows a bit about color design.
For this final test, I really wanted to go all out--I had it in mind to try the primo collection in an office layout designed to make me as productive as possible. While Teknion provided the most expensive gear, it also worked the best at giving me a sense of privacy, peace, and comfort. I say "comfort" because a really good office design just makes you feel relaxed. You want to work there. It's worth mentioning that Steelcase (but not as much with Poppin) also makes similar storage units that attach to desks and similar work surfaces that create the cocooning effect.
To start, I met with a designer at Teknion over Skype and showed him my office. We decided I desperately needed a space to meet with visitors that was separate from my main work area; that I needed a secondary work area for using an iPad or reading a book (something I do on a daily basis); and that I also needed a printing area.
The centerpiece of the Teknion design was the Upstage desk for $2,600. (The pricing varies greatly depending on the size and layout you use and the finish.) My desk connected to a storage unit that had (get this) a glass whiteboard on one side and shelving units on the other. OK, I am spoiled. The Upstage with the storage unit created an L-shape in my office and put me on one side by a large window so I could focus, but created a natural barrier against the opposing wall. In that space with the whiteboard, there was a meeting area with two chairs, a table, and a printer cabinet.
Behind my work area, there was an additional Metropolitan '14 chair for $1,900 designed for "lean back" tasks like reading and using a tablet. I had a task lamp there too. (Teknion sent several other accessories, including a MAST Dynamic Monitor Arm, a Tiers Keyboard, a Conflux Task Light, and a Desktop Power module for $750 total.) So that's three work areas--my desk, a meeting area, and a lean-back area.
Suffice it to say, I had to grudgingly arrange to send back the Teknion office layout after my testing--it was my favorite of the three designs and helped me get the most work done, albeit at the highest price. What worked so well? Having the separate work areas might seem too tight for a small office, but I viewed each of those areas as much more task oriented. I never had a "meeting" at my desk. I always used my iPad Pro at the lean-back table. I felt peaceful, and that helped me work harder.
Each of these office layouts had certain advantages, though. The Poppin used more color and the furniture is just more affordable, even if it didn't use up all of the space in my office. The Steelcase Ology adjustable desk was better for my health; I had a better view when I was standing. But the Teknion layout made me the most productive and helped me feel more peaceful. That's the biggest win of all.