Collaborative, Custom Workstations That You Can Have, Too

Written by on August 16, 2013

A couple years ago, Software Advice started out-growing its office space. When we decided to move to our current location, we had to think about the environment we wanted to create for our employees. We wanted to foster a spirit of openness and collaboration—so sticking people in cubicles seemed counter-intuitive.

In search of a viable alternative to the cube, I sought the counsel of architect Wendy Dunnam Tita at Dunnam Tita Architecture + Interiors. From design through execution, she helped us create our current workspace—and one of its most vital components is our custom “farm table” workstations. 

A lot of time, effort and consideration went into designing and building these tables, so we thought we’d share our story and the process we went through. But I’ll get right to the best part: In keeping with the spirit of openness and collaboration, we decided to open-source the plans for these tables here under a Creative Commons license, so that you can take the plans to your local craftsman and have them built, too. 

Software Advice Office

The Software Advice farmhouse table workstations in use today.

Personal Space Meets Collaboration

The most important principle to me—both in terms of our company culture and from a design standpoint—was openness. I wanted everyone to see, collaborate with and learn from each other. Our office itself is very open: it is the former location of the Austin Opry House, so our employees all sit in one big space, with offices for myself and Austin and conference rooms for collaborative work sessions along the side. This open area provided our first challenge: how do you foster team interaction, but also allow for personal space? 

Well, we came up with a solution: multi-person workstations designed like a big French farmhouse table, at which employees of the same team would have plenty of room for themselves, yet still be able to interact with one another. Each workstation would be composed of two 5’ x 8’ tables pushed together, with one person on each side of each table. We also decided to stagger the computer monitors, so that each employee would be looking at open space instead of staring at the back of someone else’s monitor. 

Software Advice Office Plans

Initial plans for the Software Advice work space.

In a cubicle-oriented workspace, employees are often cramped in close quarters, with their personal space dictated by wall partitions. In this open workspace, personal space is designated by just that: ample room for each person. Through the size of these workstations, we allowed for both personal space and collaboration at the same time. Each employee has a generous eight feet of table for their individual work area—and it’s also big enough for someone who’s in training to pull up a chair, set up their laptop and plug into that group environment. 

Budget Constraints Inspire Creativity

Since our business was still growing, our budget was a constraint—but it also inspired us to be creative. Wendy worked closely with the fabricator, Andrew Danzinger of Hatch Workshop to create a design that would have all the functional assets we needed while also making efficient and cost-effective use of materials. We settled on table tops made of medium density fiberboard (MDF): an amalgamation of recycled wood shavings and resin. And while initially we were going to use screw-in aluminum legs to support the tables, Andrew recommended we use steel frames, instead. Steel is more structurally sound.

Originally, we were going to include a dry erase board next to every computer monitor. However, this option was expensive, and in the end didn’t seem entirely necessary. Instead, we opted to paint several-foot-tall strips of dry erase board along the back wall of each conference room and executive office. In the end, this was actually the better choice: the large boards are more collaborative, and have proven essential to our team meetings.

Function Meets Form

Having successfully covered the functional requirements of size, privacy, budget and the ability to collaborate, we moved on to the aesthetic requirements. As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m a very detail-oriented person, and this quality doesn’t just apply to numbers. I wanted our workstations to be clean-looking and clutter-free. This presented us with our second challenge: how to achieve a clean and organized appearance, given that we had a whole mess of power and data cords to tangle with.

Farmhouse Table Cubby

We had already attempted to minimize clutter in our old office by providing each employee with a wireless keyboard and mouse for their computer, but these devices required us to keep battery chargers strewn all over the place—and we still had a bunch of power cords coming from the computers themselves. To solve the battery charger problem, Wendy added a cubby beneath the end of every table; this gives the chargers a designated place to live and keeps everything looking clean. 

The power and data cords were a bigger challenge—and the solution proved essential to how well these tables work for us. When we moved into our new space, there was already a structure in the rooftop that carried the primary power and data cables to the server room. We wanted to feed those cables down to the workstations, but without it looking like a cheap hardware store solution.

Andrew, who had tackled this problem for another Austin-area client, proposed the idea of power poles: two steel tubes, one for power and one for data, which are connected to the rooftop cable structure and slide into a slot cut into the end of each table. All the wires are passed through grommets underneath the length of each table and connected, through individual slots at each employee’s workspace, to their computer and phone. Ryan Anderson—whose company, RAD, made and installed all of the tables’ steel components—worked closely with Wendy to develop this concept. It took a lot of coordination between Wendy, Andrew, Ryan, the electrician and the data specialist to make sure all the integration was correct—but we ended up with a solution that is as visually appealing as it is functional.

A Comfortable Place to Sit

The last piece of the puzzle? We had to find the right height for the tables and the right chairs to put behind them. Our employees run the whole gamut in terms of height, and it became clear that a “one size fits all” desk would have to deviate a little from the industry standard. Ergonomically, a table that is a little too low is better than one that is a little too high, so we made ours a little lower than average. We also made sure that the apron under the desk was shallow enough that it wouldn’t be a problem for those employees who needed to raise their chairs.

Speaking of chairs, what better way to choose than to put them to the “sit test”? We took several different chairs we were considering over to the old office space—one very high-end model, one less-expensive model and one in the middle—and let employees give them a spin. Interestingly enough, the consensus was in favor of the mid-range chair.

Farmhouse Table Plans

The plans for our custom farmhouse tables.

You Can Build These Custom Tables, Too

As Software Advice continues to grow, we’re still getting more of these tables built every couple of months—and you can have them built, too, with any alterations your workspace might require. We simply ask that, if you do use these plans, you keep the spirit of openness alive and give credit to Wendy Dunnam Tita at Dunnam Tita Architecture + Interiors—and share your photos and plans with us, too, so we all can learn from one another. 

After all, it’s all about collaboration!

 

Creative Commons License
Farmhouse Table Workstations by Dunnam Tita Architecture + Interiors is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://wins.softwareadvice.com/files/2013/07/Farmhouse-Table-Plans.jpg.

Posted Under: Execution, Technology
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About

Don started Software Advice in 2005 after a ten-year career in the software industry. Previously he held positions as an ERP analyst at an investment firm and as a corporate development executive at a pioneering CRM software company. Don lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Lauren, daughter Hudson, son Stone and Bernese mountain dog Stinson.

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