By Reagan Nickl
Enterprise Customer Success Senior Manager
Employee engagement and satisfaction are essential. Your organization simply won’t operate smoothly and efficiently if the people who make it run aren’t concerned with or committed to your mission. There are several ways to keep your team engaged and satisfied, but the physical work environment in the office may be the most important aspect. This means comfortable temperatures, appealing office space (like an open-plan office), and a seat arrangement that helps everyone be at their best are all part of a good office layout. Make the most of your office furniture and the environment by following these four steps to make your team feel comfortable and facilitate maximum productivity:
1. Move into the 21st Century
First things first: you’ve got to have an office environment that satisfies the modern workforce. Cubicles and anonymous rows of desks are out. Open floor plans are in and for good reason. For one, people tend to prefer the look of an open floor plan with tables and benches rather than a warren of discrete cells that look crowded and impersonal. Modern offices with open plans are brighter, more welcoming, and less institutional feel. Choose appealing materials like warm wood or sleekly designed industrial metal along with effective lighting and, whenever possible, large windows with plenty of sunlight.
Another reason open floor plans are a good idea? They allow for easier collaboration. If a cubicle wall separates you and your teammates, it’s harder to simply look up and ask a quick question. It’s harder to quickly check in and get back to work. The same goes for desks that are all pointed in one direction. Shared tables with individual workstations make collaboration super simple and that tends to support modern work styles much more effectively. Teams can cluster around one another and put their heads together at their desks for quick consultations or get up and move into a conference room for all-day collaboration sessions.
But, open floor plans do have some drawbacks. This ability to constantly check in with team members can be good, especially for lower-level employees who need frequent guidance or approval. But higher-level employees often find themselves being interrupted by these check-ins when they just want to focus intently on the task in front of them. As a result, many companies are beginning to balance their open office concepts with hybridized plans that include private offices or soundproof rooms with space for just one person to sit and work. Remote work opportunities can also be part of this flexibility.
Ultimately, team member satisfaction and overall workplace efficiency should be the focus of an office seating plan overhaul at the highest levels. Balancing individual needs with collaborative needs sets up an ideal foundation for a highly functional and comfortable work environment.
2. Weigh in on Assigned Seating
To assign or not to assign? It’s a bit of a tough question in a modern workplace. The trend over the past few years has been toward more flexible arrangements, but some companies are starting to game their seat assignments in an effort to boost productivity. As you may be able to tell, it isn’t exactly easy to assign seats in an open, flexible workspace. Communal workspaces and remote work opportunities mean that an employee may not always be at his or her desk, even when assigned. As a result, many open office seating plans simply allow employees to choose a desk for the day based on what’s available.
However, a complete laissez-faire approach to assigned seating isn’t always the most effective option. At the most basic level, it’s not always comfortable. Many people prefer the familiarity of a personal desk where they can leave personal effects like a water bottle or decorative trinket without worrying about it being gone the next day. Beyond that, though, complete seating anarchy can waste valuable minutes and make team members feel unnecessary frustration. It’s just not ideal for productivity.
On the other side of that coin, keeping the seating arrangement too rigid can be a mistake as well. Research discussed in the Wall Street Journal indicates that productivity can increase when assigned seating charts are in place but refresh on a regular basis. This is especially true in large workplaces that may have multiple floors. Workers tend to interact only with those who immediately surround them, so if you need to facilitate cross-team collaboration, your seating chart may help.
3. Let Similar Team Members Sit Near Each Other
Another way to game the seating plan is to let performance reviews guide you. Research shows that highly productive employees tend to have a “spillover” effect on those around them. So, if you have a table of employees who get a little too chatty and another table of ultra-focused productivity machines, mixing the two can actually have a positive effect. Seat an average-performing employee next to a much more productive teammate and you could see that average performance improve.
There is a flip side to the spillover effect—“toxic” employees can wreak havoc when they sit in close proximity. Gossipers, mischief makers, and pranksters tend to feed off of each other when they’re close by. So, breaking up these toxic hives can also have a positive impact on the environment and, by extension, the productivity of your office.
The good news is that the spillover effect doesn’t tend to cut both ways. That is, a highly effective employee isn’t likely to become less effective when sat with average performers. You may not have previously thought to include performance rules in your seating plan strategy, but it’s not a bad idea.
4. Keep the Office Flexible
Ultimately, each of the above steps boils down to one thing: flexibility is key. You may want to rearrange a seating chart based on upcoming product launches and other short-term concerns or it may be necessary to see whether an underperforming employee can do better when he sits next to a different neighbor. A fully open seating plan may not work for your office, but closed-off cubicles also might not be the right answer.
There’s been some bouncing back and forth in recent years as tech-focused companies and millennial CEOs strive to find the best way to accomplish their goals rather than trying to adhere to some sort of pervasive corporate cultural norm. Getting caught up in the stampede between the extremes of a fully open office and 1990’s style cubicle farms can be costly for companies and confusing for facilities managers and other professionals concerned with space planning. Trends in this area aren’t always based on complete or reliable research, either, so it’s important for facility management professionals to view space management trends with a critical eye.
Luckily, there’s a middle space that makes it possible to balance these priorities. Configurable office furniture and other modern workplace solutions, like movable walls and soundproof cubby rooms, facilitate flexibility and allow for an adaptable approach to seating. The key is to avoid locking yourself into a plan that may not actually end up working. If you can stay agile, you can get ahead of any potential issues and find the most productive arrangement possible.
Putting Your Plan into Practice
There are a lot of nuances involved with the creation of an ideal seating plan. Everything from the industry you’re into the specific job tasks an individual team member completes and even the unique personalities of each employee can have an impact on the “ideal” seating arrangement for your needs. Versatility and flexibility are important, but they can’t be the only goal. Some degree of stability and reliability will be helpful for allowing employees to feel grounded and to settle into a work environment that really brings out their best.
Balancing these priorities may seem tough, but with the right technology on your side, the process is simple and easy. SpaceIQ allows for space planning in an easy virtual environment while also making it easy to support and inform employees on the floor in real time.
Offices that toe the line between open and private make it possible for workers to move around the space. Those with open floor plans may see a manager or other leader in a different spot every day. Conference rooms, private work rooms, break rooms, and other spaces all help boost productivity and employee comfort, but it’s just one more space to manage. With SpaceIQ, you can integrate all of these spaces into a visual interface that allows team members to find each other, even in a spacious workplace with multiple different venues.
Wasting time tracking down the people you need to talk to isn’t fun and it’s also bad for productivity. Using outdated technology to reserve conference rooms and communicate seating charts can lead to confusion and frustration. No matter what kind of seating and space planning scenarios work best for your organization, SpaceIQ’s powerful platform cuts things down to the heart of the matter, reducing the time and effort it takes to manage your seating plan and let your employees get back to doing what they do best.