Cubicles, Workstations, & Benching – Open and Private Offices Part 2

Monica Jo D. Ward M.S., A&D Consultant

Previously, we took a look at closed office designs. We listed their pros and cons, and how you can incorporate some of those ideas into your office. We discussed how this provides your employees with spaces that provide privacy and allows them to concentrate and focus on tasks requiring quiet concentration. In this article, we’ll look at open office designs and the advantages they provide for businesses that want to use their space more efficiently, boost collaboration, and create healthier environments for their employees.


As with closed office designs, there are also two main configurations to consider when it comes to open office design. Modular workstations and benching. The philosophy of open office design primarily centers around opening up the office visually and physically. This is accomplished by removing barriers, such as cubicle walls, and arranging workstations into either long lines at tables or clusters of desks, placing workers close together to encourage collaboration.

Open office design has become prominent in offices over recent years because businesses are prioritizing collaboration, space-efficiency, and healthier office environments. All of these factors are key to boosting employee productivity in the office.

What is Benching?

Benching is an open office configuration that features communal workstations with minimal or no barriers, arranged in parallel rows of tables or desking systems usually connected below by a trough platform for power and data. This configuration reduces the size of individual workstations and can reduce the overall footprint of the space.

Benching stations provide convenient access to power, work equipment, and Wi-Fi that enables groups to easily form when team-members need to collaborate on projects. Benching is also extremely beneficial in creating a healthier work environment by eliminating barriers that would otherwise block natural sunlight and limit fresh air circulation.

What are Workstations?

Modular workstations are a new innovation of open office design. They allow you to customize your office design to best suit your needs. Modular workstations work by leveraging compatible sets of furniture parts and pieces that can be configured in different ways to create shared workstations uniquely customized to particular employees or particular uses.

The Bivi line is great example of how modular furniture can be configured to create bigger workspaces for projects, offer more storage, or provide more privacy.

Employees can personalize and customize their workspaces with writable work surfaces, shelving for personal items, or storage that keeps their worksurface tidy while making items easily accessible. Glass panels can also be used instead of solid walls to help bring in more natural light and create an open feeling, but still provide privacy.

With the increased priorities of multitasking and collaboration, employees need a workplace that allows them flexibility, and it is invaluable to be able to customize your space to meet their needs.

How Can You Manage Noise in an Open Office Design?

While open workstations are great for flexibility and making the best use of available space and natural light, there are some downsides. Open office designs can be much louder and more distracting for workers, which can–in turn–hurt productivity. You can use different methods of sound masking to offset noise, and provide a few conference rooms or quiet areas your employees can use for privacy and focus.

When you implement an open office plan, it’s important to keep a holistic view of your office in mind. If you approach benching or modular workspaces as simply a way to shrink desk size without considering how it impacts employees, that can quickly lead to unproductive workers who are crammed into tiny work spaces that don’t suit their needs. Setting expectations early to help transition your company into their new workspace is the ideal solution.

Open office designs can be much louder and more distracting for workers, which can–in turn–hurt productivity.

Steelcase provides a plethora of workplace tools to determine needs, which could maximize employee engagement and satisfaction while allowing your company to plan a space that fits your specific goals. A tool that can help understand those needs was introduced at this year’s NeoCon in Chicago — Steelcase’s Workplace Advisor, which took home a Silver Contract Award. This device is an intergrated system of embedded intelligence that provides usage trends over time in collaborative spaces.

Companies and design partners can leverage this information to make data-driven decisions about how to use valuable real estate. Workplace Advisor includes an occupancy sensor network, a cloud platform to store data, and a website that provides visualizations and insights. Ultimately, your goal should always be optimizing your use of physical space, and creating the healthiest, most productive environment for your employees to work in.


If you aren’t ready for a major redesign, you can incorporate some of the principles behind these design strategies into your workspace by making smaller changes.

Natural Light & Plants

Focus on improving your use of natural light in your office. Remove barriers near windows and make sure that all of your employees can make use of areas that get the most sunlight. Look into improving your ventilation and air quality by introducing plants and unobtrusive fans, which can help to keep your employees alert and productive, as well as lower your heating and cooling costs.

Leverage Common Areas

Consider if every space in your office is being put to its best use. Do you have a kitchen or break area that sits empty most of the day? You could potentially get more value out of it by converting it into a collaborative lounge, or an informal meeting area by installing larger tables equipped with power outlets that allow employees to brainstorm or work over lunch or a cup of coffee. Larger halls or walkways could also be rearranged or expanded to create nooks with benches or small standing tables where employees can pause to discuss ideas while they stretch their legs.’

Turn a critical eye on your office by rethinking the way you allocate space, and see where there is opportunity for improvement.

Did you miss Part 1 ? >

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