Efficient Office Layout
The work environment reflects crucial components of business activity, so its design is equally important to both established businesses and innovative startups. Steve Jobs believed that creativity can be sparked during spontaneous meetings and random discussionssimply running into someone and starting a conversation can trigger a great idea.
With that in mind, he designed the Pixar office layout so that it would foster creativity by encouraging the possibility of chance meetings among staff members. It is no coincidence that this animation film studio has produced some of the most successful animated films in recent decades. While owners define the structure of an organisation, its culture – its competitive advantage – is shaped by the combination of relationships, attitudes, values and the environment itself.
Efficiency Equals Productivity
- Optimal office layout varies according to the type and size of the business. Crucial to layout decisions are the physical conditions of an office, its dimensions, utilities, and technical and mechanical fixtures, as well as its communication potential. Style and appearance matter, but efficiency should be the main concern, because unhindered and effortless information flow enhances productivity.
An efficient office layout streamlines workflow, ensures easy use of equipment, improves productivity, and increases employee satisfaction. The entire organisation benefits from optimal use of space, improved energy efficiency, maximised opportunities for expansion and easier supervision.
Types of Office Layouts
- The notion of the ‘office’ was developed early in the twentieth century. Frederick Taylor, an American engineer, created a space where workers were crowded together in an open environment, and private offices were reserved for the managers. His office design resembled the mass production factory floor.
Since then, offices have evolved to reflect our changing attitudes toward work. New technologies may have called for some changes, but certain customs and attitudes persist. Before opting for a specific office layout, business owners should consider their needs and goals.
The following types of office layout are the most common in today’s business world.
The Traditional Office Layout
- The cellular of closed office layout is considered traditional, because it clearly reflects the hierarchical structure of an organisation. Individual rooms or cubicles accommodate a small number or individual employees (higher officials and management).
This layout is suitable for businesses that routinely require employees to work in a private setting; for example, a law firm, where employees need quiet and privacy for focused work and meetings with clients.
Conversely, businesses driven by teamwork, creativity and spontaneous collaboration would not benefit from this arrangement, as it creates obvious communication barriers. In addition to privacy, reduced noise levels and distractions, a traditional office layout provides a sense of security. It reduces office gossip and lessens absenteeism.
The entitlement to a private office can give employees a sense of achievement, significantly contributing to their satisfaction. The downside of such a setup is hindered communication and cooperation among staff members, as well as potentially lower productivity due to the lack of supervision. It is not advantageous financially, thanks to substantial construction expenses and higher energy consumption. Walls and partitions take up a lot of office space and make this type of layout inflexible.
The Open Office Layout
- The open office layout is the opposite of the traditional office space. As the name suggests, it is a large open space without dividing walls so it can accommodate a large number of employees, much as Frederick Taylor envisioned. Advocated by Google, eBay and Facebook, the open office layout is popular for its positive impact on communication, higher transparency and fairness within organisations.
An open office is suitable for creative businesses, such as design companies or digital agencies, as their daily assignments depend largely on open collaboration among staff, higher creativity and constant generation of ideas. Such a setting is not conductive to quiet and focused work, or for activities that include sensitive information. Apart from contributing to frequent employee interaction, this layout creates a sense of togetherness and removes impediments to teamwork. Business innovation and advancement are secured.
Moreover, interactions with higher officials are more frequent and informal, which makes the supervision effortless and problem-solving processes quicker. The economic benefits include lower construction costs, less energy consumption, and the reduction of expenses through equipment sharing. Noise pollution is an obvious disadvantage.
Higher distraction levels compromise employees’ ability to concentrate. The focus required for certain tasks is undermined by all the office commotion. Stress levels rise and productivity dips. As illnesses are spread much more easily in an open context, chances of absenteeism are higher.
The Cluster Workstation Layout
- The cluster workstation layout could be considered an innovative alternative to the traditional ‘ cubicle farm’. Workstations face toward a central core, with dividers between them, in an arrangement that resembles a bicycle wheel with its spokes. The height of the partitions can be modified according to the needs and functions of the occupants.
If employees happen to be involved in the same project and rely greatly on quick and efficient communication, the partition can be set lower. When more separation is required, the partition can be raised. Cluster workstations are popular in offices of telecommunication companies as they are much more convenient that the usual ‘linear’ layout. However, they might not be suitable in situations where interruptions are unwelcome, which is the case with certain IT jobs.
Cluster workstations enable better traffic flow throughout the whole floor. This facilitates communication and makes supervision easier, while providing sufficient privacy. Such a setup keeps the entire office more organised and can be reconfigured as necessary.
Workstations can be customised by incorporating various organisational tools into the section panels, or by adding extra storage and filing space.
Flexibility is a clear benefit of this layout. Moreover, the costs related to construction, utilities and energy consumption are reduced.Ultimately, however, the cluster workstation layout is still open plan. Despite partitions allowing some privacy, distractions and interruptions are not entirely eliminated.
The Modular Workstation Layout
- The modular workstation layout is highly functional, constructed with a variety of furnishings and panels that divide space into individual work areas. With rearrangement being quick and easy, this is a pragmatic solution for organisations prone to frequent changes in office dynamics. Modular workstations are convenient for businesses which insist that all employees operate from a fully functioning workstation with access to their own equipment, storage space and lighting. Employees can customise their workstations according to need. They can also modify the workstation ‘walls’ to satisfy privacy requirements.
The modular workstation layout utilises office space efficiently and can be easily rearranged. With no expenses related to construction, the modular workstation layout is cost-effective. Finally, its positioning in the centralised office area substantially lowers the energy consumption. Even though partitions can be modified to ensure a level of privacy and isolation, noise levels and distraction can still be an issue.
The Landscape Office Layout
- The landscape office layout is similar to the open plan layout in that workstations and equipment are located within one general open space. However, the workstations face different directions. The landscape office layout originated in Germany in 1958, where it was designed by the Schnelle brothers for the Bohringer Company. Their design was created to reflect interpersonal relationships rather than the hierarchical structure of the organisation.
The layout was designed to ensure a pleasant and productive environment, with an emphasis on maintaining a balance between the office work and the quality of life. It can be assembled by combining cluster and modular office layouts, clustered in work zones of various sizes. The arrangement is not random but follows patterns of communication between parts of the organisation. It is suitable for businesses that require creative work and collaboration, but it does not support quiet and focused work.
Such an office layout provides plenty of potential for natural and artificial decorations, along with an abundance of ambient lighting. These touches break the rigidity of a traditional office organisation, and the overall office setup is designed to enhance employee creativity, health and productivity. Higher officials can intermingle with the rest of the staff, which encourages a flexible management style. The main disadvantages of the landscape office layout are the lack of privacy, higher noise levels and constant movement of people, all of which affect the level of concentration and productivity.
Office Layout Software
- An efficient office layout is crucial to business success. Many organisations hire specialists to come up with optimal solutions for their office space, but if budgets cannot accommodate the expense of professional input, owners can consider using software to design the office layout. Many of these programs are affordable or even free to download. They provide built-in templates and examples that inspire quick and easy layout design. Users can customise dimensions and move walls, partitions, or cubicles where necessary. They can also focus on an individual office, generate the whole floor plan, or scrutinise a particular area with specific requirements. Those templates allow users to include all the equipment and supplies usually found in an office, so they create a comprehensive vision.
A range of office layout solutions provides enough options for a wide variety of businesses. However, in every case, consideration must be given to the division of tasks between departments and the relative demands of collaboration and creativity, or privacy and focus. Experts agree that office layout can be an amalgamation of styles, as long as functionality remains the primary design principle.