By Tamara Sheehan
Director of Business Management
SpaceIQ

It’s a question that occurs in businesses of all sizes: “Who should sit where in the office?” On the surface, it seems to be a simple question, albeit one that’s usually motivated by people with their own ideas of how things should be. And, it’s often followed by a barrage of negativity. Why should Jim get the big office? How come Karen gets a window? Does Marketing really need all that space?

The office seating arrangement doesn’t have to be a divisive topic. Everyone will have their own preference and ideas about how things should be. Businesses shouldn’t ignore the individual voices—but also shouldn’t be held hostage by them when it comes to optimizing seat allocation.

Developing a seating arrangement that works for everyone takes a top-down approach, macro to micro. Businesses that consider seating from a hierarchical standpoint will have a better understanding of who should sit where and why.

Full-time employees vs. variable workforce

The first consideration of any sitting arrangement in offices is who, specifically, is “in the office.” Plan for the variables you know and can control: the people who come to work each day and consistently occupy space. Planning around contractors, remote workers, consultants, and other variable workers is fruitless. Their in-office capacity can change on a whim. While these folks still need space, their needs are secondary to in-house employees.

Accounting for in-house workers looks different depending on your general office concept. For assigned seating, each person needs a desk or workstation to call their own—a 1:1 desking ratio. In flexible, collaborative work environments, it’s better to look more at general capacity—10 seats to accommodate 10 people.

Once you guarantee a seat for each in-house employee, turn your attention to figuring out the balance between remaining space and an acceptable number of flexible seats.

Consult your stack plan

Once you know the total number of needed seats, consider where to locate them. It’s the best way to see, on a macro scale, where groups are, how many seats they occupy, and where within the building they can be accommodated is through your stack plan.

Stack planning informs more granular decisions. There’s no sense planning space for 25 Marketing employees on the third floor when there’s only space for 15. Likewise, before you designate seats for 25 Marketing employees in their current space, you might decide to move them to the fourth floor, where there’s seating for 30.

The key: Place groups before you place people. Groups demands more space, so avoid breaking them up. Organize the stack plan in a way that promotes cohesiveness within groups and synergies across departments.

Seating by floor

With each group relegated to the correct floor, it’s time to arrange departments by floor. This is where seat allocation software is useful.

Look at a complete plan of a specific floor. Then, determine how many seats are in each business group on that floor. Try to place business groups in spaces conducive to how they work. For example, Marketing may be better suited for a benching concept in an open office, as opposed to Human Resources, which may require more conference rooms or traditional office space. Balance this with finding areas large or small enough to support the entire department’s seating needs.

The final piece of the puzzle is determining proximity to amenities. Put departments where it makes sense, not just where they fit.

Seating by space

Seat allocation in office happens at an individual level. Decisions will make the greatest impact on office morale and address individual concerns.

Seating by space is easier once you’ve established floor and area plans. But it’s still difficult because individual spaces have their pros and cons: Lots of natural light, but located near a fire exit; Room to stretch out and sprawl, but in a highly trafficked area. Balancing positives and negatives is the key to appeasing staff.

Office concepts also impact seat allocation. An open-air concept has less seat diversity than an agile environment. It’s best to commit to a desking concept first and let it predicate seating options. In most cases, employees will gravitate to seating that supports their workstyle. From there, it’s up to space planners to recognize what works and what doesn’t, then adjust the seating plan or seat allocation.

Make seat allocation a strategic priority

Seating matters whether you’re a handful of people in a tiny workspace or a multinational corporation occupying most of a skyscraper. Where people sit impacts how they interact with their workplace and coworkers.

Placing desks, groups, and individuals is a puzzle, but not an impossible one to solve. Follow these steps and look at seating from a broad-to-narrow perspective. Most importantly, make sure each group and every person has a seat conducive to helping them succeed.

Keep reading: Planning Your Workplace with Office Space Software