Creating an Office Layout That Works

breadth development assignment

8 Fundamentals for Remodeling Your Office for Managers Doing it Themselves

Full Disclosure: I am not an architect, an interior designer, or a Ph.D candidate in inter-office psychological dynamics. Rather, I am just a manager of a 75+ employee department. Due to some recent restructuring in my firm, we had to remodel our office in order to accommodate additional employees who were joining my team. And since I didn’t have an extra $20,000+ in my budget to pay someone else to design the layout and manage the project, I found myself in charge of designing the office space and managing the whole thing.

Though I have never created an office layout in my life, I learned a few things through the process and wanted to share some of pointers with the MRH community. And while there are a lot of philosophies pertaining to modern office layouts – from open concept, to cubicle city – having been through the experience, I would tell you that most important thing is simply to do what works best for you within your budget. Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, regardless of your business or industry, the tips below will apply to any situation.

1. Emphasize Productivity

When considering ways to set up your office layout, your first priority should be creating an environment of productivity. If you run an organization of technical professionals who are writing documents all day, you might want to come up with a layout that promotes solitude and the ability to concentrate. Conversely, if you are in the graphic design business, you may wish to promote productivity by playing music on an open layout floor to keep the creative juices flowing. If people spend a lot of time on the phone, consider taller cubicle walls to help cut down on background noise.

My organization is composed of various sub teams – some employees need the solitude to concentrate on complex technical work, others need a work space equipped with a large open area to work in teams on various projects and to process stacks of paperwork. Though our previous layout could be viewed more as “open concept,” we ended up going with a more standardized cubicle arrangement with high outer walls that helped keep noise down across the floor. Inside each section, though, were smaller walls so that employees could interact more freely. Moreover, the tall outside walls created natural walkways that helped establish some seclusion where people were working. Previously, the open concept invited distraction in the form of excess noise and foot traffic as people walked immediately through work areas to go from A to B.

RELATED: How To Hold Employees Accountable

2. Create Natural Work Groups

Particularly if you oversee a large organization, create an office layout that naturally groups sub teams together. Put your pricing analysts in the same cubicle or area of the floor. Put your accounting team together, and put the program managers in the same area. It may seem obvious to do this, but aside by creating distinct work areas for each sub team, you are also helping each team create an identity. They can more easily as questions of one another, and can collaborate more easily than if everyone is placed randomly around your office.

In our cubicle arrangement, I elected to install a 4-person setup. For my organization, natural teams of either 2 or 4 existed, such that the layout created a natural seating chart for the office.

3. Separate the Talkers

OK. I don’t want to sound like a strict elementary school teacher here. But when you are redoing your office layout, carefully think about your seating chart. While you shouldn’t look to turn the office into a maximum security prison, you should look to promote an environment where people can do their jobs well. Let’s face it – a job well done requires employees to spend more time working than socializing. So when you are creating your seating chart, take a few moments to think about putting some separation between your more chatty employees. And if you’re not sold on this idea, even though talkers may like to sit next to talkers and may still get their jobs done, extensive conversation can be very disruptive to your other employees in the vicinity.

For my office remodel, I did have to make some deliberate moves to separate a few individuals who seemed to talk to one another more than to customers. The changes were not profound, but since these individuals were part of different product teams, separation was naturally created by seating employees within their respective 4-person workgroup…The groups just happened to be placed a little too far away for convenient chatter.

4. Carefully Consider Individual Needs

In the workplace, as in life, keeping everyone happy is only a pipe dream. But you can (and should) at least make an attempt to accommodate individual work styles and needs. When creating an office layout, do your best to place each employee based on his or her ideal working conditions. Got an employee who likes to work alone? Maybe put him off to the side, away from the main hallway to help minimize disruptions. How about your brand new employee? You might want to consider putting her next to a veteran staffer, so she can easily ask questions and come up to speed quickly as she goes about the day.

To maximize seats, I had a few extra desks off along a far wall. I placed certain individuals there who I knew liked to work in quieter conditions, and whom I could trust would work even if the boss were not watching. I also placed my newest employees adjacent to an experienced employee in each of the 4-person pods. And the loudest talker on the floor, whose voice carried throughout the day as he was on the phone, was placed in a corner, facing away from everyone. I gave him a spot with a window, so he didn’t think it was punishment.

RELATED: How to Get The Most Out of Your Employees: Think Baseball.

5. Value The Importance of Common Areas

Common areas are a critical element of your office space. Conference rooms, printer areas, cafeterias, whatever. Common areas within your office are where people may gather, interact or simply go to share certain equipment. Do you have enough conference room capacity for your meetings? If not, maybe add more seats in your remodel, or even build an additional conference room. Try to centralize things like printers, scanners and other shared equipment to minimize the amount of time employees spend walking to and from the printer. Create a single break area to consolidate floor space given up for coffee machine and the refrigerators, or consider multiple break areas to prevent overcrowding.

In my case, I placed the regular printer and scanner in the center of the floor, tucked behind a column so it was close to everyone but not an eyesore. However, I took the 3D printer and placed it off in a corner to reduce the noise down as it would run for hours. Additionally, we created a library room, which was stocked with text books, manuals, guides and other literature that various employees used to look up certain information. In terms of work space, we also created a ‘lounge’ area, complete with oversized club chair, which are great for impromptu meetings, and where employees can go to simply get out of the cubicle for a bit.

6. Remember Visitor Space

Every office area needs extra work space for visitors – customers, suppliers, auditors, interns or just colleagues visiting from out of town. When planning and office layout, don’t forget to allocate work space for visitors who will need an area to set up shop while at your office. Set up temporary work stations, or consider creating a visitors’ office if you have an extra room with a door. Particularly if they are not part of your organization, giving guests a little privacy to make phone calls is always a good thing.

In my case, since we did not have enough empty offices with doors, we resigned to creating two temporary workstations off in a corner where visitors could have some amount of privacy. We did, though, during the renovation, create an external network line since guests had previously been unable to have an internet connection in our office.

7. Take Advantage of the Opportunity

The organizational restructuring that drove the need to remodel was stressful enough. Moreover, adding a major project like an office remodel (during the holiday season I might add) was certainly not something I wanted to add to my normal workload. But I quickly saw the project as an opportunity to take care of some legacy issues. If you’re going to go through the effort of creating a new office layout, seize the opportunity to fix some lingering issues. Is your network slow? Maybe spend a little cash to upgrade it. Are the walls still that 1970’s orange? Get the walls painted while you’re going through the remodel.

For my office remodel, since I had to create office space for 30 more people, we had to get all new furniture. Because of this, we spent some funds replacing the old, coffee stained carpet before the new furnishings were delivered. We also had the walls repainted and upgraded the lighting. We also replaced the old furniture in the conference rooms and purchased some more modern HD projectors.

8. Give People Something to Be Proud Of

Finally, the opportunity to remodel your office does not come often. It may sound silly, but the condition of your office and work environment sends a message to your employees and will have an impact on the morale of your organization. Every employee wants to be proud of his or her work – the products you make, the customers you serve, and even the look of your facility. Give your people something to be proud of. Instead of buying the cheapest carpet, or basic lighting, spend a few extra funds to make your office and your employees’ workspace is a pleasant place to be. After all, we all spend 40 or more hours surrounded by the cubes, the tables, the conference rooms, etc. Don’t break the bank. But keep in mind that if your employees don’t feel the company is willing to invest in them, there will always be an inherent level of distaste in your employees’ mouths.

Though we already had spent our budget, we went a little further to sweeten up our new office. We invested in new monitors for every employee to replace the mixed and matched screens we previously had. We purchased nice new stainless steel refrigerators for the break room, and even upgraded the restroom facilities.

So there you have it. Our office remodel cost around $200,000 when all was said and done, versus an arbitrary budget of $150,000. But we certainly did not go on a spending spree, opting for used furniture in some cases, and saving costs here and there. But the impact has been tremendous. My employees like their new surrounds and are taking care of their office more than they ever did before. The lounge area is often occupied by a few people working quietly on their laptops, and the nice new refrigerators in the break room are being kept clean and orderly.

Looking for more on keeping your employees happy? Click Here to learn some essential manager tips for boosting employee morale.

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