What is the best office layout to inspire productivity?

Employment & Skills | Reports
Best office layout for productivity

By Steve Hancock, spokesperson for Kit Out My Office

In the modern business environment where some offices seem to resemble a children’s play area more than a workplace, business owners are looking for more and more innovative ways to layout the office.

But are quirky ideas like chutes, indoor basketball courts and arcades actually destructive to productivity? Unfortunately there’s no golden solution, but in this article I’ll talk through some potential options and discuss their pros and cons.

Cubicles vs Open Plan

The age old argument of cubicles vs. open plan spans back years, and was likely the topic of conversation around the water coolers in the first purpose-built offices of the 18th century. With most offices seemingly leaning in favour toward the open plan office, which of the two is actually best for employee productivity? Let’s take a look at the benefits and drawbacks here.

The main difference between the two styles is the level of interaction between colleagues, and the noise and distractions involved in this. The pro-cubicle group will argue that the open plan office creates too much noise, and is easy to get distracted.

Having cubicles eliminates a great deal of chatter – simply because it is not as feasible to talk across desks – and thus reduces the amount of low-level noise and the ease with which one becomes distracted.

The flipside of this is that separating your workers, and reducing conversations between them, could lead to discontent and even resentment. This in turn could lead to an unfriendly work environment and lower morale amongst employees, thus leading to lower productivity. Additionally, cubicles can make workers feel isolated and underappreciated.

Whilst it can make employees feel like equals – as each has the same work space – it can also lead to them feeling like individuals, rather than a team.

Conversely, open plan offices facilitate and even encourage conversation and interaction between workers. This will immediately make the office a more communal and welcoming place, and should lead to happier staff in general and higher retention rates. It also makes it easier for different groups to interact with each other, making cross-team projects easier and bringing different wings of your business together.

Having an open layout in the office can make your team feel like a more tight-knit group, and can also reduce feelings of hierarchy.  With cubicles it can be easy for your team to feel separated, and this feeling will be even more exacerbated with separate offices for senior members of staff.

Having the boss in the same room will firstly discourage staff from slacking or procrastinating, but will also make them seem more approachable and more of an equal. If your workers are having any issues they will feel they can talk to you more easily than if you were situated in your own office.

Whilst both of these points focus on increased morale rather than productivity, the two are inextricably linked, so as long as the balance is correct it should increase as well.

‘Nests’ of desks

As touched upon one of the main drawbacks of having an open plan office is the distraction caused by increased interaction between workers. A potential way to counter this, if you want both the focus brought by cubicles and the communal feeling brought by the open plan, is to have nests of workers, in clusters of desks.

Many argue that the perfect number for a team to be most productive is between six and nine people. A team of that size means that everyone has to stand up and be counted, whilst no one gets left behind or given too much work.

If you set up your office in an open plan style, but have groups of desks of between six and nine people, then you might find that you stop conversation banding across the room, because it is confined to the clusters. It will reduce overall noise and will allow teams to talk easily between themselves, whilst also allowing conversation between teams if necessary.

Compromise

Another alternative to consider is some sort of compromise between the cubicle and open plan office. Using partitions that are made of glass, or having sliding or half doors in the workplace can be a great way to balance the two conflicting ideas to make the most productivity.

If you have separate areas, such as a meeting room, separated by a glass wall, then the feel of the office is still familial, but workers have the chance to separate themselves if they need to, without leaving the room.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for raw productivity in the office and the choice is between cubicles and open plan, then cubicles is probably the option for you. This could however lead to low morale and a high turnover of staff.

Realistically it will depend on the type of work that you do, as creatives are likely to benefit from open plan whilst statisticians will probably profit from privacy and quiet. Consider instead a compromise between the two, as this is the best way to get the most out of both office layouts.

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