Does cardboard furniture work for DR?
You’re in the midst of a major IT incident. You need to up sticks and get out of the office. Your DR team needs a site to set up shop and coordinate a response.
Usually, a company has a Work Area Recovery contract. That’s a location with desks, desktop computers, phones. If you have multiple sites, you can just relocate your staff to another of your sites. Or, you could use a serviced office or a hotel conference room.
The Work Area Recovery contract also used to include IT recovery hardware. The company who managed it had to keep spare hardware for all the customers using that site.
Now, IT DR has moved on. Half of the Work Area Recovery contract has gone.
First, virtual server recovery meant you didn’t need the exact hardware to recover the server onto. Then, cloud DR services could recover DR in remote and dispersed data centres. We can grab any laptop, log into those systems and work remotely.
The change in IT recovery has been dramatic but in terms of physical working, there hasn’t been as much innovation.
In this modern, 5G enabled, BYOD era, could everyone just work remotely? Some can, and that’s the right method for large swathes of the workforce. But it is useful to have a hub, even for just a skeleton team to work in the same place.
If you’re not using a traditional Work Area Recovery office, there’s a good chance this site isn’t kitted out with the amenities you’re used to in your normal office. What if there’s no furniture?
The furniture in question
Picture the scene.
You are bringing staff from a site affected by a disaster, to another of your sites.
You’ve got flexible cloud DR. Systems are up and running and have access to laptops for the team.
You need to make sure everyone can work comfortably for an extended period.
Chairs and desks are cumbersome. Lugging them around won’t be anywhere near the top of anyone’s priority list.
What’s the alternative to sitting cross legged on the floor?
Cardboard furniture has been around for some time. We think it has potential as DR furniture.
So, we took the liberty of testing it as a short term solution.
We bought, assembled and tested a set of flat pack desks and chairs. Then we put them through the daily rigours of office life for one month.
Our tester was a medium sized adult male, weighing around 13 stone (or so he would have us believe).
We assessed what we want from furniture for DR and put together a short list of success criteria:
Is it cost effective?
Can it be rebuilt and reused? If not, is single use acceptable (it needs to be factored into cost considerations)? What is the storage footprint? How much space does it take up?
If you’re keeping the furniture at one of your sites, it’s not good if it wastes lots of your storage space.
Could someone bear to sit on a cardboard chair at a cardboard desk for days? Is the chair strong enough for the heaviest team members? Is the desk strong enough to support a laptop, a desktop, or something heavier like a large Mac?
How long does it last? This is a temporary measure. In most cases, a DR invocation will revert to the primary site within 2 weeks. The furniture must therefore last at least 2 weeks – this gives you enough time to source something more long-term (if it’s clear invocation will take a long time).
If it only lasts a day, it’s no good.
Each chair costs £19.99. The desk is £29.99 in sitting height spec.
The items arrived in their own cardboard box. It’s not a hard material, so small knocks in transit leave marks on the actual furniture.
Because the chairs and desks comes as flat packs, they’re easy to transport in bulk. They are slim, but too big for most car boots. A van is the best method of transport. The cardboard is light - each chair weighs c.1kg. A desk weighs 2kg.
The card itself is strong – but when putting it together, the slits don’t allow much margin for error. The folds need to be exact, or it doesn’t slot perfectly. Then you need brute force to put it together.
When you do this, it creates breaks and folds in the card. For us, this happened with the backs of the chair every time. This isn’t a big problem structurally, as there’s not a lot of weight pushing against the top of the back. But it does mean the back of the chair bends easily and doesn’t support the top of the person’s back.
It took around 8 minutes for us to build the first chair – after that, it fell to 4 minutes. It took a similar time for the desk. With a group of people, a makeshift office can be up in minutes. They are also quick and easy to disassemble. It took us 45 seconds to disassemble the chair and 1 minute to reassemble. The desk took 1 minute to take apart (the legs required some intense wiggling) and 1 minute to put back together. Both were slightly worse for wear, but structural integrity wasn’t significantly affected.
We found the chair surprisingly comfortable. There was no need for a cushion. If you lean back too far, the back of the chair is liable to give way – so if you normally work in the recliner position, this won’t be great. If you sit up straight, there’s no problem. By the end of the month, the chair was a little wobbly and looked worse for wear – but it was still fit for purpose (just).
The chair can wobble if you shift around on it, or sit down at an angle. If you keep your weight planted, it’s stable. For this reason, heavier members of the team weren’t keen to use it. The desk can also wobble when weight moves around on it.
The desk is a good height, but shallow underneath. This makes it difficult for the average sized person to fit their knees in. You can buy a standing desk for £34.99, so you could have a mix.
According to the retailer’s recommendations, the chair can support weight up to 100 kg (15st 5lbs). The desk can support 50kg. Within a couple of hours of testing the desk, someone spilt a mug of tea (we said it was a real-world test). Horrified, we thought it would cause untold damage.
In fact, the stain was light and didn’t weaken the top of the desk.
We had several subsequent spills and you can see some coffee mug rings (sadly coasters weren’t provided). But after a month, the desk is still useable.
There is comfortably enough space for a desktop. Two people with laptops can sit opposite each other, although this would be tight. One person per desk is optimal.
The chair lost some rigidity after four working weeks. The desk was still going strong. Environmental friendliness wasn’t a consideration in our original success criteria, but it did occur to us that when the furniture has served its purpose, you can dispose of it safe in the knowledge that it’s recyclable and eco-friendly. So an unexpected positive on that front.
Is cardboard furniture a viable short term solution for disaster recovery?
Yes and no.
The chair fared well in our tests and remained usable for the month’s testing. It was surprisingly comfortable and only began to lose stability towards the end of our testing– but if you are a fidget, you may speed up its degradation time. It ticked all the boxes on paper.
But, it still failed for us.
It is not strong enough to support people who are above average weight. Several people in the office said they would not be comfortable sitting on it. That’s not a conflict you want to deal with in a DR invocation.
The desk, while not ideal for legroom in sitting spec, met all of our requirements for temporary DR furniture. It is strong enough to handle normal working with laptops or desktops and hardy enough to resist the spills and bumps that come from a busy office.