The Complete Guide to Office Desks
Desks are the cornerstone of every office workstation. They do a lot of heavy lifting, and—if they do their work right—it goes largely unnoticed. Finding the perfect desk requires a buyer to understand the complete needs of a workstation (sit-stand flexibility, power capabilities, workspace, etc.) and match them to a desking solution best designed to meet those needs.
Because the world of commercial-grade furniture can be intimidating and confusing (Are you still scratching your head wondering what a desk return is? You’re not alone.), we’ve put together absolutely everything you need to get up to speed and become an office desk expert.
Choosing Your Desk Style
The best desk for your office is built to match your needs. Desk styles are differentiated by their silhouettes and the uses they are designed to support. As you search for the perfect desking solution for your office, you will find that some desk styles overlap. For example, “computer desks” and “corner desks” are individual categories. “Corner computer desks” are a smaller subset of that category.
To help you get your sea legs as an “expert desk buyer,” let us walk you through the most common office desk styles.
Executive desks are commonly used in large offices with space to spare. These big desks almost always have a double pedestal design and are equipped with file and box drawers for paperwork and supplies. Executive desks typically provide a single worksurface. These high-quality desks are often situated in the center of the office, but executive L-shaped desks and executive U-shaped desks also exist for those who need more space.
Features of an Executive Desk
“Computer desks” is an umbrella term that refers to a wide variety of desks that can accommodate a computer-based workstation. The defining feature of a computer desk is that it offers enough space to meet modern technology needs. Some desks will offer concealed storage for computer towers/CPUs, while other computer desks use storage space for filing and storage drawers.
Features of a Computer Desk
Size: Small to average
Wire management capabilities
Enough space for a computer
Some storage for office supplies
Compact desks (also called small desks) are designed for spaces with limited square footage. Compact desks are ideal for small workspaces, hoteling or hot desking workstations, small private offices, and home offices for your remote team. Although small desks are defined by their compact footprint, many offer a variety of features, including drawers, corner design, or height adjustability (allowing the compact desk to be used as a sit-stand workstation.)
Features of a Compact Desk
An L-shaped desk features a main desk with a secondary, smaller desk return attached at a right angle. This attached 2-desk design creates the shape of the letter “L,” giving this desking favorite its name. L-shaped desks give users a large flexible workstation. L-shaped desks are an extremely popular desking option for executive offices and workspaces designed for collaboration.
L-shaped desks are beloved because they allow users to use one side of the desk as a dedicated computer workstation and the other for collaboration. L-shaped desks are ideal for offices and workspaces where a professional will need to host regular meetings.
Many L-shaped desks offer an adjustable height function on one side of the desk—either on the main desk or the desk return. This allows users to transition from working while seated to standing throughout the day.
Features of an L-Shaped Desk
U-shaped desks feature 3 desks—a main desk, a bridge, and a credenza. This creates a U-shape, giving the desk its name. U-shaped desks offer the largest workspace of any option. They also generally require the largest footprint. Like L-shaped desks, many U-shaped desks come equipped with standing height adjustability on one side of the desk.
Features of a U-Shaped Desk
Size: Large to extra-large
Full desk and a credenza, connected by a bridge
Extremely large worksurface
Robust storage and filing
Adjustable-Height Standing Desks
Adjustable-height desks allow users to change the height of the desktop so they can move between a sitting and standing position to work. Adjustable-height desks have been among the top trends in desking in recent years as organizations place more emphasis on incorporating wellness into the workplace.
There are 3 main types of height-adjustable desks— electric, gas lift, and crank. Electric adjustable desks require power to operate. Once they’re plugged in, you can change the desk height with the push of a button. Gas lift standing desks use a gas cylinder similar to a pneumatic tube (like those used in office chairs). Gas lift standing desks require manual operation and are typically pretty easy to use. Crank adjustable desks require the user to manually operate the desk with a hand crank.
Features of Adjustable-Height Standing Desks
Size: Small to average
Operation options: Electric, gas lift, manual crank
Encourages movement and standing throughout the workday
Credenza desks are narrow storage units with knee space, allowing them to be used as workstations. Credenzas usually have 1 or 2 storage pedestals and are most commonly used in conjunction with a U-shaped desk.
Features of a Credenza Desk
Writing Desks and Laptop Desks
Laptop desks and writing desks are defined by their large workspaces and limited storage. If you’re looking for a minimalist desking solution—or an option for a hoteling/hot desking workforce—writing desks can be the perfect fit. If a laptop or writing desk features any storage, it’s usually a keyboard tray or pencil drawer.
If you decide you want additional storage, you can pair a mobile pedestal (a small rolling file cabinet). Most mobile pedestals come in a standard height that allows them to be easily rolled under a desk. If you want extra pizzaz, opt for a mobile pedestal with a padded seat, and that storage solution can flex into additional seating for pop-up meetings.
Features of a Writing Desk or Laptop Desk
Corner desks are designed for use in—you guessed it— the corner of a room. Corner desks are almost identical to L-shaped desks except that they have a curved edge on the user side of the desk as opposed to a right-angled edge.
Features of a Corner Desk
Curved edge on the user side of the worksurface
Perfect for use in tight quarters
Returns available for extra workspace
Workstations and Cubicles
Workstations, or cubicles, consist of a workstation surrounded by modular partitions. Cubicles are a great way to provide privacy and focus space in open-area workplaces. This allows you to accommodate a large number of people in a small space with limited distractions.
Features of Cubicles or Workstations
Worksurface surrounded by modular partitions
Widely used in corporate office settings
Accommodates a large number of people in a small space
Understanding Office Desk Materials
The desk material you select is just as important as the style. The material will affect how easy the desks are to clean and disinfect, how well they’ll stand up to scratching and staining, and the desks’ general longevity. These are the materials you’ll most often see in commercial-grade furniture.
Laminate is an engineered material, which means it can be constructed to withstand high levels of impact and consistent wear. Laminate comes in different grades (i.e., different levels of quality). High-performance laminate is one of the best desking materials for corporate office settings because of its durability.
Pros of laminate desks:
Cons of laminate desks:
Solid Wood Desks
Solid wood desks are constructed entirely from wood. Solid wood desks are beloved for their timeless look and perceived quality. While solid wood desks can stand the test of time in a home office setting, wood often shows scratches and nicks when used in a corporate office setting.
Pros of solid wood desks:
Wood is an organic, sustainable material
Wood desks have a timeless, elegant look
Cons of solid wood desks:
They don’t last as long in commercial office environments
Some wood types are not as renewable (for example, it takes 100 years for hardwood trees to fully mature)
Wood Veneer/Engineered Wood Desks
Wood veneer desks are constructed by adhering a thin layer of solid wood to a composite material. This gives you the look of a solid wood desk without the same price tag. Wood veneer desks have a base construction similar to laminate furniture (for example, particle board), but instead, they feature a thin layer of real wood on top. Veneer desks can be trickier to clean and care for than laminate, but the wood veneer provides a rich finish that many design-minded buyers prefer.
Pros of wood veneer desks:
Rich finish with an organic, classic look
Look of solid wood without the price tag (or literal weight)
Cons of wood veneer desks:
Metal is a great material for desks because it is lightweight, affordable, and durable. Metal is often mixed with other materials for modern styling. You might expect to find a desk with metal legs or metal drawer pulls. In industrial and medical settings, metal can make a fantastic primary material for a desk or table because it is easy to sterilize and clean.
Pros of metal desks:
Easy to clean
Cons of metal desks:
Glass desks are usually constructed from a thick sheet of tempered glass. Tempered glass is a type of glass that has been treated to make it more durable, reducing the risk of shattering. Glass desks often come with a metal frame. Glass is easy to clean, but it also shows fingerprints and smudges easily, requiring regular cleaning.
Pros of a glass desk:
Maximizes natural light
Easy to clean
Easy to sanitize
Crisp, modern look
Cons of a glass desk:
What Size Desk to Buy
The size desk you buy depends on the type of work that will be done at the desk and your office space limitations.
How to Measure for an Office Desk
Measure the size of your office to determine how large of a desk will be possible within the space. When measuring the square footage of the area where you’d like to put your desk, allow at least 2 feet of space around it.
Moving to a new office and deciding how much space you need? Use our guide to measure how much space you need for your business.
How to Measure for Desk Delivery
Measure doorways and stairwells and check against the desk dimensions to ensure the desk will make it into your office. If you need to navigate slender doorways or narrow stairwells on the way to your room of choice, then you may want to consider getting a smaller desk or one that comes ready to assemble (RTA) to make sure that it will fit.
Furnishing a Workspace? Shop Desks From Trusted, Commercial-Grade Brands
Commercial-grade, or contract-grade, furniture is built to higher standards than residential furniture. When shopping for a business or shared workspace, you should always look for commercial-grade furniture, as it’s designed to withstand the wear and tear of daily use in high-traffic environments.
Some of the most popular office collections include Series C by Bush Business Furniture and Connexion by Bestar. These collections offer a mix of pieces—like filing cabinets, bookcases, and high-back chairs—that can be set up in various configurations. Looking for even more collections from brands like DMI and Martin? Take a look at our complete assortment of office desks to find our offerings from all of our trusted brands.
Need Help? We Offer Design Services
NBF is proud to offer complimentary design services. You can work with our office design pros to create the office space of your dreams.
We’re Here to Help
Still struggling? Our furniture experts are standing by, waiting to help you find the best office desk for your needs. We’re dogmatic about customer service, so you can trust us to walk with you every step of the way on your office furnishing journey.