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Office Layouts and Employee Productivity

Seating arrangements: every boss, manager and bride’s worst nightmare. They have the potential to empower or cripple employees, make or break evenings and seminars, and they can have a huge impact on your bottom line whether you know it or not. So which ones are the best? How should you really start to handle the infamous office layout?

Ask Your Employees for Input?

Well first off, if at all possible, always air on the side of open communication about seating arrangements. By putting as many systems in place to give others ownership of their lives you will notice giving them freedom actually PAYS off. Before you do anything (office relocation included, while being discrete), poll your employees. It will tell you wonders. Plus by letting your employees make decisions about their working environment you will boost trust, morale, connectivity and inner office good will therefore also boosting productivity.

When it comes to office seating arrangements we have seen the good, the bad, and the dysfunctionally ugly. Here are some instances we have witnessed where employee performance was severely undermined by ineffective and imposed seating arrangements:

  • An entire team’s productivity was sacrificed because the loudest member of the group was placed in the middle of the space and no one could concentrate on tasks because they couldn’t think over the amplified phone conversations.
  • An undesirable seat became cursed as no one that ever sat in that cubicle ever stayed with the company more than a year.
  • The quiet, introverted employee was placed with his back to the major circulation space in the office making him always nervous and on edge. The stress began to affect his job performance.
  • An administrative assistant is seated too close to the boss and eventually begins to feel rebellious and resentful as the overbearing proximity weighs down on his sense of self, independence and security.
  • Two employees who are not fond of each other are forced to sit side by side and are constantly distracted by the other’s animosity. Neither ever seem to want to come to work and they carry poor attitudes even when the other is not there.

Certain open office layouts can cause undue stress. If you ask your employees how they can best perform their jobs when it comes to an office layout then you will find the best seating arrangement for them and therefore avoid the above pitfalls. Now comes the hard part: actually giving them what they want and need to be productive.

Seating Preferences by Age Group

It seems there are actually two mindsets when it comes to seating preferences in office space and it has a lot to do with age and tenure. We had the pleasure during one office remodel to talk with every employee about their preferences, how they chose their current placement, and how they would like to change their seating arrangement to help them to be more productive. Exactly half of the employees mentioned a tendency to want to face towards the exterior of the office while the other half liked to look in so they could connect with their peers. The younger employees preferring the inward facing seats and the older employees preferring the outward configuration. These comments can actually say a lot to an employer about their workforce’s current professional needs. Our suggestion to management when developing their office layout was to give the employees what they wanted by splitting the office layout into a doughnut type configuration; the outer ring facing the windows and the inner ring facing a centralized meeting area. We would have never been inclined to design the office in that way had we not asked the employees the right questions. So do you like the window or the aisle? Read more about designing office space to accommodate the needs of multiple generations.

Privacy in the Workplace

Surprisingly, privacy was the number one concern of all ages in the case study. The younger employees mentioned a desire for connectivity and also a desire to maintain personal privacy within their immediate environment while the older employees ranked auditory distractions such as other’s music and conversations as large performance drains. Read’s article on the Top 6 Office Distractions Without privacy both groups said they did not feel as productive during work hours. So do open office concepts provide enough privacy to be effective? Often times not, unless they are supplemented with private spaces that can be comfortably occupied. For instance meeting rooms may provide privacy but they do not provide space for employees to work in private for extended periods of time. If you want an open office for collaboration then be sure to provide your employees with a balance of private space so they can be more productive.

If you have a feeling your current office space is not working to your benefit but can’t put your finger on how to change it then contact us today. A quick informal session could be just the thing you need to start transforming your office layout to better benefit your employees and your bottom line.