The Mod Squad

Making It Work

Choosing a line of furniture can be as simple as picking a style. Most office furniture manufacturers offer a variety of modular lines. You'll find everything from modern to mission styles. If you run a tech company, a modern look with metal legs might be appropriate. The Bush Mod 4000, for instance, would give your office a contemporary appearance. If, on the other hand, you want your office to project a more traditional image, the Sauder line would suit.

Solid wood is pretty much a thing of the past when it comes to new office furniture. A variety of laminates, consisting of wood covered in plastic, have taken over. But not all laminates are created equal. Cheap desk laminates bubble up and pucker when they come in contact with water-that's a good argument for not buying your office furniture at a cheap discount store. Look for something along the lines of the Sauder Office Works Series' durable "short-cycle melamine laminate" and a 10-year warranty.

You'll also want to consider the future availability of the products. Find out whether the particular furniture line you're interested in will be discontinued soon. Most lines stick around for quite a while, but eventually the manufacturer will quit making them. Some companies design certain lines to work interchangeably, however. The Knoll Equity panel and work-space line includes a nonobsolescence commitment, so you can be assured of finding a suitable furniture addition down the line.

Before you buy, sketch out a rough layout of your work space. This is especially important if you're outfitting your entire office, but even arranging one room will be much smoother if you plan ahead. Get some graph paper and a measuring tape to make sure the furniture will fit. You don't want to find out after you've ordered and assembled a desk that it hogs up every square inch of your office or that you can only fit four-and-a-half cubicles where you thought you could fit five.

Researching manufacturers online is handy, but, as with most major purchases, it helps to see the products in person. Visit a Staples, OfficeMax, Office Depot or local business furniture reseller to get a first-hand impression. Is the desk sturdy or flimsy? Do the drawers work smoothly? Is the computer monitor position adjustable? Are the file cabinet casters strong?

If you do order online or have the furniture shipped directly to you, it will most likely be ready-to-assemble. That translates to putting it together yourself. When you're up against an office full of desks in pieces, you might have to either draft some employees or seek assistance from the manufacturer. Sauder, for one, offers assembly tips via streaming videos on its Web site. Just log on and view the instructions with either Windows Media Player or QuickTime.

You're more likely to get knowledgeable one-on-one customer service through a local dealership, however. Check with a manufacturer's Web site to find a listing. Many even offer design, project management and installation if you're not comfortable tackling a floor plan yourself. These services aren't cheap, but they'll save you time and headaches. It also doesn't hurt to compare prices online.

While investing in modular furniture may be on the low end of your to-do list, the payoff comes in the form of a professional-looking work space, flexible arrangements and positive employee morale. A comfortable, well-designed, ergonomic and functional desk area helps workers perform at their highest level with fewer distractions. Modular furniture ensures you'll be able to accommodate your business's evolution and future growth.

In Plain English
Laminates: wood covered in plastic; what most modular office furniture is made from; lower maintenance than solid wood
Modular: office furniture sold in compatible and coordinated mix-and-match pieces
Panels: system of arrangeable room space dividers
Peninsula: modular desk add-on that adds working space; projects like a peninsula
RTA: ready-to-assemble; refers to furniture that ships in pieces that you put together yourself
Workstation: main work area, consisting of a desk and any extra components

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This article was originally published in the May 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Mod Squad.

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