Your Estimating Environment: How Your Surroundings Affect Your Work

Safety 0419 Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Everett Collection
Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Everett Collection

The work environment can substantially affect productivity, accuracy and health. This includes the size and shape of your office, the furniture arrangement, the chair, the lighting and the technology layout.

I have worked in a few different places. Some of them have been very comfortable and productive, and others not so much. Some were outright impossible.

The trainee

As a trainee estimator, I had a semi-private office. It had three solid walls and a glass wall with a sliding glass door. There was a standard desk on one side, at about 29 inches high, and a plan table on the other side. The plan table was slanted with a height of about 41 inches at the front. I had a regular office chair for the desk and a drafting-height chair for the plan table. This was before personal computers, so computer and monitor placement was not a consideration. I really liked this arrangement because I could stand or sit while working at the plan table. This suited me as a young man, since I didn’t like sitting all the time. Looking back, it was a little bit of a pain having to move between the two chairs.

The junior estimator

I liked my office better at my next job. I had a custom-built, L-shaped desk, with low partition walls separating me from another office and a large common area. The low desk had a tilted plan table on the left and a large flat desk surface on the right. I liked the desk being adjacent to the plan table because it made the work flow better when moving between the two surfaces. It worked well when I received my first computer estimating system. I set up the Apple II computer on the flat surface immediately adjacent to the plan table, making it easy to enter my takeoffs. I also liked this office because it had wall-to-wall, north-facing windows with a great view.

The senior estimator

In terms of work environment, this job was at least two steps backwards. My first office was a rather poorly lit room with a single, low plan table running across the back wall. That’s all there was. No windows, no desk and an uncomfortable chair. The space was depressing. It improved when my employer moved me next door to a house that was converted to offices while the main building was remodeled. I had a corner office with windows on two walls, which gave me much better lighting. I was still stuck with only a tilted plan table. My employer moved me again when he needed me on-site at a large project. The office was bigger but still had only a tilted plan table. That situation seemed to be a theme with this company. Fortunately, I was given the opportunity to design my new office during the remodel. When I returned from the job site, I had another L-shaped desk, with a tilted plan table, a flat desktop, good lighting and a comfortable chair. The only thing missing was a window.

Estimator/project manager

My next office was a vast improvement. There were three custom-built offices next to each other. The lighting was good. Each one was U-shaped, with the tilted plan table in the center and flat surfaces to the left and right. Large bookshelves were above the flat surfaces. Below them were a lot of cubicles for plan storage. The plan table even had a tilt-adjustment feature and faced a large window (with an unfortunate view of a restaurant parking lot).

Consultant

When I started my company, I had a folding metal chair and a folding table in a 10-by-12-foot office. My discomfort was very distracting. Eventually, the office evolved into a great work space with great light and an awesome chair. I ended up with a U-shaped desk with bookcases underneath and bookshelves above. The plan table was in the middle; a large, flat surface was to the right; and a small, flat surface was to the left. I still use this desk today, although I really don’t need the plan table since I went to on-screen takeoff. I would be fine with an L-shaped desk again.

People

The final thing I want to mention about working environments is the people around you. I consider myself fortunate that I worked in only one toxic environment during my career. I started looking for a new job after the first week. If your personality does not handle stressful environments, it will affect your health. If you can, find a better employer.

About the Author

Stephen Carr

Estimating Columnist

Stephen Carr has been in the electrical construction business since 1971. He started Carr Consulting Services—which provides electrical estimating and educational services—in 1994. Contact him at 805.523.1575 or steve@electrical-estimating.com, and...

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