Here, Steve Hancock, from Kit Out My Office, guides Business Advice readers through the best office layouts for driving productivity within a small company.
The landscape of the modern office has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, with huge tech firms leading the way in pioneering new layouts for the office. But are sleeping pods, slides and ping pong tables really conducive to productivity?
Here are some of the best office layouts for high efficiency, comparing open plan and cubicle offices, and a few other ideas too.
Whilst many businesses seem to be moving away from cubicles toward a more open style office, many argue that the former is actually better for productivity. Cubicles offer workers a sense of privacy and possession over their work space, which in turn can have a positive effect on work rate.
Having your own personal cubicle means that you can keep all your documents and work effects close to hand, and will save time rooting through your bag or drawer to find your things.
Probably the strongest argument in favour of bringing back cubicles to the office setting is because it reduces the amount of distractions. Having a physical partition between co-workers means they will be less likely to engage in general chit chat, and can focus on the task in hand. This will lead to less low-level noise in general, creating a quieter atmosphere and a better work environment.
However, physically separating workers could lead to a dip in morale, and therefore productivity. Whilst the layout of cubicles can prevent noise and chatter between colleagues, it can also deter interaction completely, which might cause workers to become unhappy.
As well as causing workers to feel isolated, cubicles make it harder for teams to interact with each other, especially if they are working on a joint project, as this would have to be done elsewhere.
Open plan office
Conversely, an open plan office actively encourages interaction between co-workers, which comes with its own benefits and disadvantages. Open plan offices lead to a higher sense of community in the office, and will prevent workers feeling isolated. This will lead to a higher level of morale, and productivity should see an increase as a result.
In addition to an increased feeling of camaraderie in the workplace, open plan offices encourage freer conversation between teams, making it easier to work with each other across different sectors.
As well as facilitating conversation between teams, open plan increases the chance of ad-hoc learning. When working with a partition, co-workers are less likely to be aware of what their neighbours are working on, and therefore unable to offer advice on something that might occur to them.
Similarly, open plan offices mean that you can place the least experienced member of the team next to the most senior member, for them to learn and grow, eventually leading to higher productivity.
So what are the alternatives, if you don’t want your staff to feel isolated, but want them to work productively with minimal distractions? Workers seem to favour the idea of an open plan office, due to the higher levels of cohesion and camaraderie. Consider having separate “nests” of desks, with five to eight workers to each area.
Much of the criticism of the open plan is the distraction and noise, if you set yourself up in this way you eliminate an element of that. Particularly if all members in each cluster of desks work on the same team, as they will likely appreciate what others in their area are working on, and adjust their volume accordingly.
Another option is to have a combination between cubicle and open plan. To encourage cohesion but keep distractions to a minimum, a possible solution is to have an open plan style office, but with glass partitions.
Whether it be between each individual, between different teams or to segregate an office room, this could be a way to decrease distractions and improve productivity, whilst maintaining the morale of your staff and encouraging interaction.
Other ways to achieve this could be to have an open plan style office, with separate office rooms – although the issue with this is that it could lead to feelings of hierarchy and jealousy in the workplace.
Having a flexible workplace, with different areas and no set desks, is another alternative to consider. By having a mixture of say, meeting rooms separated by half-doors or glass, normal desks and private offices, gives workers the choice of where they want to work, depending on the tasks they have that day.
By offering this option, you maintain the feel and camaraderie of the open plan, without sacrificing productivity, as distractions can be avoided depending on where you choose to work.
The conclusion to draw is that there is, unfortunately, no quick and simple answer to the best office layout for productivity. The reality is that it depends a lot on the industry, and the people you employ.
For example, creative companies are likely to benefit from a more open plan office, where interaction and creative thinking are encouraged, whereas jobs that require the need for quiet would benefit from a cubicle based office.
Having a happy medium however, can ensure that you reap the benefits of both layouts; consider having partitions in the office but use glass, or have half doors instead of doors, to encourage interaction and maximise productivity.
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