Shared cubicles– does it work?

Posted: May 8th, 2013 By: getltd

Shared Cubicles: Great Concept, Tricky to Implement

Sharing cubicles sounds like a great idea to planners and facilities managers, but how does it sound to the guys who will share the space?

Stories abound of cubicle mates who came to blows. (Dilbert has a series of cartoons on the subject: http://search.dilbert.com/comic/Share%20Cubicle)

Let’s just accept the fact that there’s always some risk of conflict. If we expect friction– in varying degrees of severity– we can work around it.

If it’s done right, there can be more privacy available to someone working in a pod of six than in a cubicle with one person.

Depends on two factors: the design of the workspace and the nature of the work.

Designing around the job

First, the nature of the space. Two people working on the same project might be comfortable sitting side by side, each facing their own monitor. Behind them could be some tools of collaboration– whiteboards, printers, conference area, coffee machine.

It’s important, even with people working cheek-by-jowl, that they have enough elbow room so they can eat their lunch or set up a clipboard on their side of the workstation.

Second, consider the nature of the work being done. Someone who’s in desktop support needs to be available at all times. You don’t want to pair him or her with a programmer who needs to focus for extended periods.

Although not every company has the luxury of doing this, Google allows its software engineers to choose between a shared space and a private office. Google, with its micro-kitchens scattered around, adheres to the idea that a worker should have access to privacy but be able to connect with someone when they take a break.

Escape route to privacy

Experts say that the trauma of knowing you’ll be working in the same cubicle with another person can be eased if employees know there are places they can go when they need to be alone– without having to offer an excuse or ask their suite-mate to leave the room.

Ally Financial (formerly known as General Motors Acceptance Corp., or GMAC) uses small communal spaces, with desks and monitors, where cubicle partners can go for a private phone conversation or to deal with personal issues.

Musical people, stationary chairs

Another option is to have employees float. State Farm Insurance Cos. follow a method they call Systems@Work. At the headquarters in Bloomington, Ill., more than 5,000 employees don’t have an office. Instead, there are a number of workstations containing desks and electronic devices. Any worker can bring his cell phone and laptop and set up shop in the room.

This concept is called ‘hoteling’ and it dates back to the 1990s. One reason it hasn’t been more widely adopted is that employees cling to the concept of ‘my’ office.
From a management standpoint, that’s exactly why sharing could be useful. Hoteling reduces the amount of hoarded paper files, and requires employees to take a leaner approach.

Judy Voss from Haworth sums up the various aspects of hoteling in an informative white paper. Read it here: http://www.haworth.com/en-us/Knowledge/Workplace-Library/Documents/The-Hoteling-Experiment-Lessons-and-Questions.pdf

Voss says it’s important to set up a reservation system and enforce it. The concept works best for staff who are on the road, in sales, for instance, or those who work from home most of the time.

If you’re interested in trying one of these configurations– shared cubicles or hoteling– give me a call and let’s discuss how it might be applied in your company.

Open Plan Office Space– Will It Work For Your Company?

Posted: April 12th, 2013 By: getltd

Keeping an Open Mind on Open Plan

You hear a lot about open plans these days. At first glance, they seem like an attractive option. Less expensive (fewer walls or modules), more expansive-looking design. Envision a corporate beehive instead of a honeycomb.

So (I can hear you saying), what’s the catch? Well, as with most things that seem like no-brainers, it’s best if you apply a smidgen of brainwork to the subject. Yes, open-plan offices can be more creative, productive, economical, beautiful– but only in certain cases. Whether it will work for your situation depends on the type of work that’s being done, as well as the nature of the building and the age of the workers.

First the bad news

Let’s cover the negative aspects first: Open-plan office environments can increase stress and create conflict between employees; it may contribute to staff turnover. Noise is especially difficult to manage. Just the hum of several people talking on the phone or in an impromptu meeting can easily escalate to the point of distraction.

Confidentiality goes out the window with open-space plans. So does privacy. For the gregarious soul in an industry that thrives on collaboration, this is a plus. For more staid industries or people who need a quiet environment, not so much.

Now the good news

On the other hand, there are good reasons why open-plan work spaces have been growing more popular. Large American companies find that interaction between individuals in various departments yield tangible benefits. Surprise! There’s actually value in having designers work face-to-face with bean-counters, for instance.

For facilities managers and other executives, the savings are substantial. There is also the advantage of flexibility. As the company grows, changes or evolves, it’s fairly easy to reconfigure the work space. Plus climate control is easier with open space; and daylight is more evenly available throughout the building. Window views can be shared by all. In today’s horizontal work environment, the leveling of status– at least in terms of physical offices– makes sense.

How to make the call

Obviously, some industries lend themselves more than others to open-plan work environments. Advertising agencies and entertainment are two that come to mind. Accounting firms or any company that requires quiet concentration from its employees, on the other hand, may want to stick with traditional offices.

The age of the workforce is also a consideration. Experts say that, generally speaking, younger people are more amenable to open plan seating. And no matter who or how old your workforce, you need to make private office space available for solo work or small-group meetings. Before you decide anything, try to assess the effect such a move would have on your corporate culture. And then introduce the subject carefully– explaining the decision, the benefits you expect, adjustments the employees will need to make– and support the changes and any feedback from the work force.

You can accentuate the positive– friendlier work environment, more creativity and innovation, financial benefits for the company. While some employees may resent losing their office/window/privacy, you can highlight the increased sense of space and light. Maybe there’s a way to compensate for the loss of prestigious corner office? (Just asking . . . .)

No matter what you decide, you don’t want to spring this on the workforce. The main point is to keep your employees informed and involved in the project– which is, after all, the point of open space, when you think about it.

To discuss open-plan and other office configurations, give me a call or send me a message: bill@ltdofficesolutions.com

Lease v. Buy– What’s your best option?

Posted: March 13th, 2013 By: getltd

Lease v. Buy? Weighing the options for office furniture

Whether you’re setting up a new office or keeping up with the inevitable changes in staff or in your product line, the question pops up. Is it more practical or easier to lease office furniture or buy it outright?

It’s possible to rent almost anything these days. Plus there are a variety of terms and deals. You can rent new furniture or used, rent to own, or trade up as you would with a truck.

So the question becomes, What’s better for your situation?

The pros 

The debate often centers around finances. A big factor is cash flow. If furnishing your office will require a large sum of money, you might be better off using that money somewhere else– say, investing in marketing or R&D or staff, which can’t be leased.

If you have a line of credit from your bank, the funding could be used for emergencies or for business expansion instead of fixed assets. And if your credit is not good, it might be easier to find a loan for leased furniture than for outright purchase.

Your accountant can tell you that leased furniture will not appear on your balance sheet. Also, sales tax will be applied only to each payment and not to the total value of the furniture.

Some lease payments may be tax-deductible. You can check with your accountant on the financial implications.

In some ways, leasing furniture is like leasing a car. You can trade in for a better model, and keep up with the technology. You’re not stuck with the choice you made years earlier.

The cons

The downside is that leasing is almost always more expensive than buying furniture.

You can equate this with a mortgage on your house. If you finance a $300,000 house over 15 years, you’ll end up paying more than $427,000. If it’s not quite that exorbitant when you lease furniture, payments over time do add up to ‘way more than the furniture is worth.

Plus while you’re not building equity in the furniture (so you couldn’t sell it if you had to), you are responsible for the life of the lease. So if your needs change or your business is sold, you are still on the hook.

When you buy furniture, you can often deduct the full cost in the first year. For 2013, for instance, Section 179 of the IRS code allows you to deduct up to $500,000 worth of equipment. So the net cost to you might be quite a bit lower than the actual purchase price. Or your furniture may be depreciated over time– another tax advantage.

Questions, answers

If you do consider leasing, you’ll want to read the fine print.

Some questions for your furniture vendor or lender:

How long is the rental period?

Is there a rent-to-own option? (Do you want one?)

Who pays for delivery? You, or the furniture supplier?

Is installation and set-up included in the lease terms?

Who will pay for pick-up when the lease ends?

Obviously, the higher the value of the lease, the more bargaining power you have.

You, the Decider

Ultimately, the question of lease-v.-buy depends on your unique situation. If your business is in a fast-changing industry, it might make more sense to lease. If your company has multiple locations, can you move furniture and equipment around as needed?

You also want to take into account your cash situation. If cash is tight and there are more pressing needs, leasing might be the way to go.

Some large companies use my firm, LTD Office Solutions, as a sort of warehouse. I store their unused furniture, and turn the surplus into cash or credit. You can be very creative if you own the company!

My advice? Find a dealer you trust with the product you like, then discuss the options.

P.S. Got my email and phone number?

Imports v. Domestic– The Office Furniture Trade Wars

Posted: February 21st, 2013 By: getltd

Office furniture trade wars- import v. domestic

Keywords: Office Furniture, Domestic v. Import, Blackbird Asset Services, BIFMA

 

Will Office Furniture Ever Come Back Home?

Ever since I got involved in the furniture business back in 1989, I’ve watched American manufacturing give up ground to foreign competitors– Chinese, Swedish, Brazilian, Korean, and Malaysian, as well as our own companies who outsourced production.

Now some say we are in the beginning of a sea change, as companies begin to repatriate their factories. So far, Apple Computer and General Electric are among those who realize that it pays to have their factories located in or near the home market. Analysts say the trend will spread eventually to other industries, for a number of reasons.

First: Have we hit bottom? At the present time, the “consumption” of office furniture– defined as domestic production plus imports minus exports– is about $11.1 billion, according to the Business & Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA), an industry trade group (http://www.bifma.org/?page=HistoricalData).

(BIFMA says you can add 15% to that number if you’re counting recycled furniture.)

And keep in mind that nothing’s simple in today’s world. A table can be designed in Denmark, made in China, and assembled in South Carolina. We can only hope that some of the higher-end jobs end up in the U.S.

Domestic production was up 13% last year, while imports increased at a slightly slower 12%. The industry rides and falls with the general economy, so it’s no surprise that we’re still recovering from 2009, when U.S production of office and institutional furniture fell to their lowest level in 20 years.

 

The Asian Invasion

Over the same 20 years– which roughly corresponds to my time in the business– companies from China, Russia, India and Eastern Europe have jumped into the market, encouraged by the fact that they can penetrate the U.S. market without paying import duties, and backed by government initiatives from countries such as China who are aiming to develop their own domestic industry.

In 1992, imports accounted for 19% of all hardwood furniture sales; by 2008, that percentage had increased to 64%. During the same period, U.S. employment in said industry fell 44%.

Has the trend finally leveled off? There are some reasons to think so, according to Blackbird Asset Services LLC, an auction and appraisal firm based in Buffalo, N.Y.

Blackbird’s President David Fiegel says that foreign manufacturers are facing a number of issues which quite likely will increase the cost of offshore production and make domestic manufacturing more competitive– such as rising wages, pollution, a crackdown on worker safety violations, currency adjustments, higher energy costs for production and shipping, and political turmoil in some third-world locations.

On the plus side, consumers are showing an interest in sustainable energy, green products, ergonomics, and custom furniture. The domestic market is the best laboratory for keeping a finger on these trends.

Blackbird’s Fiegel, who conducts appraisals and liquidations for secured creditors, also believes that we’re seeing a reaction against what he calls the walmartization of the market. For the past 20 years, he says, quality has been sacrificed to price. Durables such as case goods have had shrinking shelf-lives. Now consumers are starting to rebel against the low-cost mentality.

If quality regains some status, smaller makers of custom furniture stand to gain as well. Companies that specialize in niche products (such as ergonomic chairs or adjustable desks) have a good chance of success against international competition, where the production of low-quality items is the main selling point.

Case in point: Herman Miller was a pioneer in ergonomic furniture and stands by its commitment to this day. Based in Zeeland, Mich., the 107-year-old company says its sales in the second quarter of 2012 were up 8% over the prior year’s second quarter.

 

Weighing the pros and cons

Now to the nub of the matter: We all admit that there is some good imported office furniture. How do you decide whether to buy domestic or imports? Here’s a tip sheet:

  • If lead time is an issue, overseas delivery could be problematic. You can usually expect to receive domestic product in 4-5 weeks, as opposed to 12 weeks from an offshore supplier.
  • Customized office decor is more easily obtained from local or national companies. Offshore manufacturers tend to specialize in cookie-cutter design.
  • Safety concerns can arise because many offshore plants have little or no oversight on the chemicals, solvents, and materials that are used. Say what you will about U.S. regulatory agencies; our sofas don’t catch on fire.
  • Dealing with international companies is often caveat emptor– buyer, beware. If the contract is breached; if the shipment fails to arrive on time; if the quality or quantity differs from what you think you ordered . . . . it will be a long and expensive battle to set things straight.
  • At the end of the day, when all manufacturers are under the same cost constraints, domestic production is still superior. I say this not as an American, but as the owner of a company who’s watched thousands and thousands of pieces cross my path.

If you do a little shopping (or find a dealer you can trust), you’ll usually find that Made in USA is still the better investment.

A Buyer’s Guide to Refurbished Furniture

Posted: January 17th, 2013 By: getltd

When it comes to buying office furniture, one of the first questions is whether to buy new, used, or refurbished. I get this question quite often.

Frequently-used terms in our industry are used, as-is, and refurbished. In all cases, you’re getting a discount. But there are some differences.

Continue reading →

Ergonomics a Good Hedge Against Work Comp Claims

Posted: December 6th, 2012 By: getltd

If you ask a business owner what keeps him or her awake at night, chances are workers compensation claims are on the short list. In 2009 (the most recent year available), the average Massachusetts workers comp payout was just under $14,000. That’s up from about $8,000 in 2002. And although the State recently rejected a proposal for an 18.8% increase, odds are it’s just a matter of time before rates go up again.
Continue reading →

L.T.D. Offers Free Design With Every Furniture Order

Posted: November 16th, 2012 By: getltd

New & Used Office Furniture - L.T.D. Office Solutions, Inc.
L.T.D works with companies of any size, from five to 100,000 employees. We will fill your order, and help you with floor plan and designs. L.T.D. offers free design with every furniture order – to ensure you the most attractive, efficient office space for the best price. We deliver door to door in New England and outside the region, and we will dispose or re-use office case goods in an environmentally responsible manner. We are there with you, start to finish. We’ll take your ideas from the cocktail-napkin stage all the way to final installation. Satisfaction guaranteed.

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Please note: To access the catalog, click on the image below. On main page go to "Online Orders" and press 'Click Here' button. Online Product Catalog

 

 

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The L.T. D. Office Solutions team is available for consultation at your site. Call or email us to reach one of our experienced sales staff. No job too big or small!

Address: 5 Waltham Street, Wilmington,                          Massachusetts 01887
Phone: 978.988.LTDO (5836)
E-mail: bill@ltdofficesolutions.com

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