The Good Funeral Guide Blog

Sit-up-straight or laid back?

Friday, 15 March 2013

 

Pictured above, the arranging room at Holmes and Family before and after its makeover. 

The GFG strongly encouraged this makeover. We acknowledge that our point of view is not shared by everyone, to the point that we’re not so sure, now, either.  

The role of the funeral arranger is to be both 1) an empathetic fellow human being; and 2) a properly detached professional. Getting the proportions right is the important thing — and to some extent this is determined by the evident needs of the client. Some clients like to keep the chat brief and businesslike; others are stunned by grief and need someone to listen and gently guide them. An arranger has to be able to switch between the two — and all the others in between. An arrangements interview can last between 15 mins and several hours. There’s no Standard Operating Procedure — though there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that some firms are impatient of arrangers who take more than 30-40 minutes. 

A desk-and-chairs setup asserts and reinforces the professional standing of the arranger. Some feel that this is helpful in defining their status and, therefore, the nature of the relationship (arrangers are not grief counsellors). The barrier marks a boundary. It also determines and defines the agenda: we’re here to conduct business.

By the same token, a sofas-and-coffee-table setup can blur the focus of the interview or even distract from it. That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is say that it promotes a collaborative, creative approach to planning a funeral; it is far better suited to the age of the bespoke funeral. 

Midway between the two is a round table, which is the preferred style of a funeral director we admire very much. 

Is it a matter of either or? Should a well-equipped arrangements room contain both a table or desk and sofas, and clients asked which they prefer? 

 

 

 

11 comments on “Sit-up-straight or laid back?

  1. Wednesday 27th March 2013 at 4:20 pm

    I dont have an office or arrangement room, in fact, the last funeral I arranged was done at a lovely country tea shop with hot tea and cakes in a relaxed and informal setting. Just like the wonderful natural burials I am privileged to conduct.

  2. Saturday 23rd March 2013 at 10:35 am

    I’m glad you raised this. Having visited many funeral directors around the UK, I think that Cooperative Funeralcare have got this part right. Simple uncluttered rooms with round tables and comfy upright chairs – a table top to use for note-taking, sharing information, somewhere to put you cup of tea, a solid surface to lean on – you’re there to get things sorted out after all.
    Settees around the sides of a room often leave a big empty space. Elderly folk find low seating difficult. Taking notes is not easy, especially when you’re nursing a cup and saucer. Faux domestic decor and furnishings? Yuk.
    Check out one of the new Coop branches and see for yourselves.

    • andrew plume

      Friday 29th March 2013 at 12:33 pm

      thanks James but err…………..no thx

      call me a cynic but any new fit out of Funeralcare’s arranging rooms will have almost certainly seen their Nationwide prices increase to reflect this – the ‘People’s Undertaker’ does nothing without charging for it

      andrew

  3. Friday 15th March 2013 at 11:20 pm

    We have an informal setting with a low coffee table, two sofas and a large desk in the room too. The only regret I have with the setup is that the couches are too comfy and once you get into them it is difficult to get out of them again. However that is the only thing I would change. Most of the comments we get from the clients is that they like the sitting room layout of the office. it is warm friendly and relaxed. I tend not to wear a tie in the office either maybe that also makes a subtle difference to the mood of the arrangement.

  4. Janice Hutton

    Friday 15th March 2013 at 9:48 pm

    Having worked for a company who insisted that you sat behind a desk to make funeral arrangements, it is something that I have never felt comfortable with and regularly brought the chair from behind the desk to be closer to the family. Now with my own company, I regularly make the arrangements with the file placed on my knee, and if in the family home, I am more than happy to sit on the floor with the family if that’s what they want, and if the children, animals and TV want to join in, then that’s fine too. It’s all about making the family feel at ease.

  5. Friday 15th March 2013 at 9:43 pm

    We have both of the above and so far , are undecided. The formal arrangement has served me well, I never feel stuck behind my desk, when the need arises, I can move! Like others, I like home arrangement – more often than not, the client opts for the kitchen table. I think some comfy chairs or sofa is a good idea and will try the round coffee table too. (Thanks!) Space is a limiting factor for many FD’s, me included. I think you can be a good FD behind a desk, but sitting on a sofa can’t make you a good FD by itself. Ideally, the client would choose how to do it. Some of our older clients have been uncomfortable in the new soft room – we have added a few formal chairs.

  6. Friday 15th March 2013 at 1:23 pm

    We have two sofas, two leather arm chairs and a low, glass, rectangular coffee table. That’s the set up we have always had here and again (speaking as the somewhat bewildered outsider who never expected to be here) it never even occured to me t do anything else. It works well. It gives us somewhere to put documents an something to lean on for signing things but its relaxed and comfortable. Generally speaking we feel the bereaved are dealing with enough without a set up that they might find intimidating. many people have said, as soon as they come in, that it feels like being in someone’s front room and that is entirely what we were aiming for when we had our refurbishment last summer. We do about half of our arrangements in the clients house. From me, personally, I think a desk would be a backward step.
    Jenny

  7. Friday 15th March 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Having changed to a round table set-up in the last 6 months, I can vouch for it. No-one in overall control, easy to pass things around, somewhere to sign paperwork. We’ve had lots of positive comments about the change, and that makes us happy.

    The round table even comes apart and forms 2 semi-circles, which are perfect for putting against walls and using as display surfaces when we hold ceremonies in the same room!

  8. Friday 15th March 2013 at 10:48 am

    Well, sweetpea said it.

    One of the FDs I most like working with visits the family home as a matter of course – and she is a very busy FD. Others visit, or use their arranging room, because sometimes people simply roll up, it seems. I’d have though a round table is a good compromise.

    Being shut away behind a desk says all the wrong things to me, just as it does for managers in offices in general. Side-on desk can work; gives you your work platform, computer etc, but enables you to turn round and talk directly to people.

    Each to their own. Don’t play high status games when you don’t need to. I don’t think it’s about formal/informal. it’s about having the empathetic skills to be business-like and efficient without wishing to put yourself above the people you are dealing with.

  9. sweetpea

    Friday 15th March 2013 at 9:30 am

    When I visit a family, they make the choice about what suits them in their own home – around the kitchen or dining room table, or on sofas, or out in the garden or conservatory if they wish. As you say, Charles, every family has its own way of working through this, be it brisk and businesslike, gentle and accommodating or anything in between. We should be able to respond to any particuar family, chameleon-like, without blinking an eye. If an fd has room for both a round table and comfortable sofas, this is ideal because it allows choice. Some people even choose to move from one situation to another during a meeting, as they relax.

    I would suggest that if you need a whalloping great desk between you and your client just to stamp a line of professional detachment, then you are probably in the wrong job. This subtelty is actually achieved through professional skill and personal empathy, not through a display of macho desk display. My chair’s bigger than yours. Like something out of a 1950s government information pamphlet.

    And, although I appreciate a company’s need to watch the clock in terms of staff time and availability, it’s a sad day when anyone is employing an arranger who isn’t trusted correctly to judge and balance the needs of his/her employer and his/her clients.

  10. Friday 15th March 2013 at 8:47 am

    It always amuses me, for some reason, when I visit these industrial-type funeral branches on industrial estates. Store rooms, chill rooms, garages, offices AND one room that looks completely out of place – the “comfy” room, complete with leather sofa, pastel walls, and clever lighting. It looks like a “pod” in a desert. There, of course, to allow the NAFD and SAIF inspectors to pass the property as a “branch”.

    Time was, when you wanted to take instructions in a comfy room, you’d do that “thing” that few FDs appear to want to do these days – visit folk in their own home!

    My vote is for a comfortable, yet formal arrangement room. Cut the clutter, but by all means have some form of desk or table. Simples!

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