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Smaller offices are a way businesses look to reduce overhead by maximizing their square footage and creating open lines of sight by using glass.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

Offices are turning toward smaller workstations, furniture companies say

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Offices are turning toward smaller workstations, furniture companies say
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

FARGO — As the way we work changes, so have our work spaces.

Largely, they’ve gotten smaller.

“We’re seeing a much smaller footprint each year, whether it be in an office setting or a workstation setting,” said Roger Christianson, president and owner of Christianson’s Business Furniture in Fargo.

Lori Wambach, a furniture sales consultant with Brown & Saenger in Fargo, said she’s seen workstations shrink from 8-by-8-feet to 6-by-6, or smaller.

This is largely driven by technology, which has spurred paperless work environments.

“Filing needs have gone down, so we see less file cabinets, less storage needs,” Wambach said.

Many employees also aren’t as chained to their desks, thanks to laptops and notebook computers.

“People are more mobile. We often see space not typically designated to one specific person. So you can land and plant at any spot, not necessarily one that is assigned to you,” Wambach said, noting that doesn’t work for every company.

She calls these “touchdown stations.”

Christianson refers to it as “hoteling space.”

But Doug Norby, co-owner of Norby’s Work Perks in Grand Forks, said he’s seen the idea of smaller workplaces come and go in the past. He said despite increased use of technology in the workplace, employees still need space.

“People still have to work, they still have to function, and they still have to have work to do things,” he said. “More electronics doesn’t take away the need for space. Personal space is important too.”

Reducing overhead

Still, the furniture business employees in Fargo said businesses are also looking to reduce overhead by maximizing their square footage. Amy Helm, interior designer for Gaffaney’s of Grand Forks, said the trend toward smaller workplaces is being at least partially driven by real estate prices.

“So companies are trying to make do with less square footage,” Helm said.

Office furniture often does double-duty. A rolling drawer might tuck under a desk to hold files and, with a cushion on top, roll out for an extra seat, Christianson said. A coat valet with a couple of drawers and storage have taken the place of an overhead cabinet, drawers under the desk and separate wardrobe, he said.

Meanwhile, monitor screens have gotten bigger. Many employees now have two monitors, Christianson said.

“Those two monitors have become their desktop,” he said.

Monitor arms are then crucial to lift the monitors off the smaller desk surface, where there’s not room for monitor bases and stands, he said.

Open spaces

As individual work spaces have shrunk, the offices they’re in have become more open, Christianson and Wambach said.

Panel heights between cubicles have come down. Remaining dividers are often glass for open lines of sight, Christianson said. Norby cited the Herald newsroom as one example of this phenomenon, where virtually everyone in the room is visible to one another.

While offices used to be situated along the perimeter and the workstations centered in the room, the opposite is now happening, Christianson said.

Walled offices are more likely to be built in the middle of the space with workspaces around the perimeter, to allow light to filter through the office.

Wambach refers to the trend as a “living office” — more open, collaborative and homier.

Instead of a table and four chairs, a meeting room might feature lounge chairs.

“People spend a lot of time at work,” she said. The trend is “to implement some areas that are more comfortable.”

Helm said younger generations who are used to studying in lounge-like areas are looking for a similar environment in their workplace.

“They go to college and they’re studying in media labs and group areas, and not just desks and quiet places anymore,” she said.

John Hageman
John Hageman covers local business and Grand Forks' legislative delegation. Get more business news at 
(701) 780-1244