Expert Series Part II: Can trading desk design affect productivity of the trader?

by Bruce Wells, Director of Marketing & DevelopmentimageLast month, I shared some thoughts on what furniture manufacturers are (or are not) doing to deliver productivity benefits to high pressure, high performance employees (traders) in dense, open plan trading room environments. I concluded that for the most part, the limited list of trading desk manufacturers have primarily developed their products to accommodate the IT personnel who service the product. Additionally, a single direction trend to compete on cost has resulted in value engineering to the point where the bulk of the market for trading desks is essentially mature and commoditized. As a result, many trading desks are being specified at a baseline quality level with little to offer in terms of end user benefit (beyond a 60x30 worktop with the same cable and technology management features that have been in place since the 90’s). Though adjustable height work surfaces that allow traders to stand while working is a significant contributor towards enhancing productivity, the reality is that height adjustability was introduced into trading desk design as much, if not more so, for the IT servicing benefit.

In the past few years, our efforts at Innovant to position ourselves apart from competition in a maturing, commodity-like market were focused on dominating the higher end of the market; essentially attracting clients seeking a sophisticated, tailored aesthetic with high quality detailing. It has paid dividends in terms of revenue, but working with more quality- and performance-conscience clients has also provided Innovant’s team with significant insight on design considerations that may deliver productivity benefits to the traders.  

One “high” hurdle question that has been raised is “Can the furniture and technology support at the desk quickly morph the personal environment for the trader from open, interactive and collaborative to closed, concentrative and focused?” The grid-like, high density space planning of most trading floors combined with multi-tier monitor arrays has all but killed the line-of-sight communication and collaboration that the trading floor was intended to deliver in the first place.  

I offered an idea to a friend of mine who trades at a prominent Wall Street bank, “What if the entire trading desk, complete with CPU, phone and display technology could rotate in situ somehow?”  We used business cards on a tabletop to represent the footprint of a trading desk in a common cluster and started rotating them at different angles to see how possible visual sightlines could open up across a room, or how privacy could be accomplished by “cocooning” to achieve better focus.   He loved the idea, but it became clear that the conflicts of rotating rectangles created big problems in terms of practicality. The answer may lie in a radical rethink of how a trading desk is engineered, opening up the concept of separating the raceway, technology supports and displays into free standing elements that can move independently of one another. My colleagues in the Innovant rendering department will be the first to help me conceptualize this. Stay tuned.