In a world in which remote working and hot-desking is increasingly commonplace, it seems like the conventional wisdom is that fixed seating arrangements is yesterday’s news. But while new freedom to work from anywhere definitely has its advantages, proper seating allocations in the workspace can have a significant impact on employees’ productivity and overall satisfaction.
There are multiple reasons why it’s important to get this right. Perhaps the biggest challenge in arranging the physical workspace for the satisfaction of everyone is finding the right balance of privacy and collaboration. Employees can benefit enormously from an open plan environment, in which they have easy access to colleagues (and vice versa) to share ideas and expertise, and work together on projects. At the same time, it’s important for employees to have their own personal space so as to avoid distractions and increase focus. Studies have shown that privacy can be a key driver in workplace engagement, and that engagement is highly linked with overall satisfaction with workplace environments. This may differ from team to team, each of whom have their own requirements. Copywriters or designers could prefer a buzzier, more collaborative atmosphere in which to work, while coders or accountants’ departments may benefit from quiet.
Getting this balance right will vary from company to company
In the same way that the positioning of products in a retail environment affects how customers experience the store, so too does the way that an office is laid out affect the experience of employees. Company culture and mission objectives are clearly communicated by the way that the workplace is arranged — from open floor plans to encourage teamwork to boxed-off cubicles on different floors and otherwise closed environments which encourage individual focus.
Even in companies where the expertise between teams differs greatly, employers may have reasons to want to increase interactions. Some of the most interesting ideas come from unrelated employees, often in completely different areas, enjoying spontaneous interactions. Steve Jobs, the former CEO and co-founder of Apple, frequently pushed for serendipitous “collisions” between people from different parts of his company. While certain teams were siloed away to focus on specific projects, he also proposed ways to ensure that different departments would interact regularly, believing that this would spark new ideas. Today, the 2.8-million square foot circular Apple Park campus embodies some of those concepts.
In his classic business book Managing the Flow of Information, Thomas Allen described the exponential drop in frequency of communication between employees as the distance between them increases. The so-called “Allen Curve” shows a strong negative correlation between physical distance and the frequency of communication between workplaces. In an attempt to get around this, some companies have explored the possibilities offered by shifting around desk spaces, so that office seating assignments rotate. This way, barriers between teams are broken down in a way that can prove extremely productive.
Balancing this is both an art and a data-driven science
Employers generally want their employees to be happy at work. Not only does this make the workplace, by definition, a more cheerful place, but there is considerable evidence that happier workers are more productive workers, too. A famous 1985 study demonstrated how the feel of the workplace environment impacts on positivity and performance in much the same way that salary does. In other words, you can throw out all the raises you want; if you don’t optimize your workplace environment, you’re never going to achieve maximum workplace productivity.
If you’re an employer, cost is also likely on your mind. After payroll, the cost of the average workspace is likely your biggest overall expense and your biggest fixed cost. Empty space is wasted space, and you’ll continue paying for it, regardless of the fact that it’s probably not being used by employees.
You need the right tools
There is, sadly, no magic formula or universal rule for determining the optimal layout for every workspace out there. One thing that is essential, however, is having the right tools for the job. POC’s Seating Allocation System is a tailor-made software which allows you to efficiently optimize your seating allocations in an intuitive and cost effective way. Users can easily place employees, divisions and teams into a multi-layered map of their office floor plans, alongside objects such as office furniture like desks, phones and chairs. In doing so, your existing AutoCAD drawings can be transformed into dynamic, color-coded maps for planning and tracking the movement of employees. It clearly enables you to spot empty working stations, rearrange on-the-fly, and even carry out simulations to see what kind of interactions result from these changes.
When it comes to creating the optimal workplace environment, layout is essential. It’s far, far more than moving around a few desks.