Workplace Thought Leadership

Great Employee Seating

By Laura Woodard
Real Estate Executive (Ret.)

Employee conflict is inevitable in the workplace. There’s always a touch of drama wherever humans congregate. But an overlooked source of workplace tension could be your seating strategy. Your layout can either foster team togetherness or breed frustration. An effective way to minimize discord is to measure space usage and optimize your chosen configuration with a workplace management platform.

Design Influences Behavior (and Stress Levels!)

Human beings are influenced by their surroundings. It’s why some employees thrive in exuberant environments while others flourish in tranquil ones. Finding the right balance between these workstyles, however, is a serious challenge. One type of workplace layout might work wonders for one group but create serious dissatisfaction for another.

Just look at the open office. Removing cubicles and bringing down walls is a great way to combat isolation and encourage collaboration. But what if employees feel compelled to wear headphones to block noise? Your layout is now a source of stress. All that lost momentum, productivity, and concentration will eventually affect your bottom line.

I’ve seen this first hand when a team of software engineers was placed across from a group of recruiters. The only thing separating these two departments were very low cubicle walls. The recruiters wanted a bullpen-style environment on their side because they wanted the noise and the “buzz” from being on the phone all day—it helped their team keep up the high energy needed for their work. But the software engineers couldn’t escape the raucous atmosphere. It was so bad, one of the software engineers had memorized a recruiter’s pitch!

Neighborhoods are another popular workplace environment because teams or departments can be grouped together with supporting amenities. This is really beneficial, for example, if you have an accounting department that works well in a quiet open floor surrounded by a handful of small conference rooms. Everyone has access to the right combination of resources: quiet areas, proximity to colleagues, and huddle spaces.

However, the neighborhood concept can cause discord if it doesn’t fulfill a team’s needs. If an agile team is placed in an area with limited conference rooms, its ability to have scrum meetings is hampered. Employees can then become exasperated when they have to constantly search for a free conference room or a private place for a phone call.

What’s more, all of this time spent hunting for the right work environment comes at a cost. According to a 2018 Steelcase Workplace Survey, 40% of workers waste up to 30 minutes a day looking for a place to collaborate. And the 2017 Office Workplace Survey 2017 by Senion found that “39% of office workers spend as much as 60 minutes every week searching for available desks, conference rooms, or colleagues.”

In all of these examples, space shortages are the primary source of workplace conflict.  When everyone is vying for the same conference rooms, quiet zones, or privacy spaces, congestion is bound to occur. How can employees do their best if they don’t have the right work environment?

Create a Flexibility Layout

It would be fantastic if there was a universal seating strategy that worked for all companies, across all industries, but that’s simply not realistic. Creating a flexible workplace environment starts with digging deep and assessing what your employees truly need. When it comes to space programming, employees actually know best. That requires talking to them, not just their managers.

Because employees are the ones in the proverbial trenches, they are the first to experience friction. It’s important to understand the nuances of their workflow in a given day or week. How many hours are they in meetings versus doing individual work? How many times do they have a spontaneous meeting but can’t find space to collaborate? Is noise welcomed in the background or seen as a major disruption?

Then pair these observations with space usage data—especially for conference rooms. Establish how many meetings were booked, but also how many actually took place. See if you can ascertain if the meetings went over or under the allotted time. It could also be helpful to determine how many times a conference room was booked on the fly rather than in advance.

Once you establish programming patterns, space planning technologies are your friend. A space planning tool allows employees to view available conference rooms and book them with ease. Some software includes a floor plan that shows the proximity of a conference room to all attendees, which is crucial for a workplace that is spread across several floors or an entire campus.

For real estate or human resource managers, a workplace management platform also provides the ability to digitally manipulate layouts. You can run scenarios that forecast the impact of moving individuals or entire departments to a new location. Dynamic planning allows you to evaluate where you have free space and if it will support a team’s workflow.

At the end of the day, flexible seating strategies help diffuse workplace conflict. Everyone can breathe a little easier when they have the right resources to do their work efficiently and effectively. A productive and happy workforce is just a new layout away.

Keep reading: 10 factors shaping office space planning guidelines.


4 Step Office Seating Plan Guide to Maximize Productivity

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:

high performing workplace tips

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.

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Five Questions to Ask Before Buying Space Planning Software

By Dave Clifton
Content Strategy Specialist

Sick of polylining new floor plans or adding notes to spreadsheets every time you adjust the office seating chart? It’s likely time to invest in space planning software. Before you do, ask questions—not all platforms are the same. Take the time to come up with a few questions to ask before buying space planning software.

What should you ask? Some of the best questions are the most basic ones. Consider the biggest, most important questions you have and start there. Below are five simple questions that deserve answers before you proceed with a space management software investment.

1. How will you use the software?

The value of space planning software goes beyond any one single use. Instead, think about how you’ll use it collectively to better plan and execute the ideal workplace floor plan. Some topics to consider include:

  • Floor plan creation and optimization
  • Gathering real-time space utilization data
  • Custom dashboards and reporting for spaces
  • Planning and overseeing office moves
  • Macro real estate forecasting and planning

Probe these areas in some depth before you make any firm decisions about what you do or don’t need from your space planning software. Also, think to the future about features you may not currently need, but may come to need as your facilities evolve or scale on the back of better space management. How you plan to use the software is the biggest justification for your investment in it.

2. What capabilities do you need?

As you explore uses for space management software in your facilities, consider the capabilities that are most important to you. Beyond the basics like drag-and-drop floor plan tools, what do you need to allocate, organize, and optimize your space? Different programs (and even different tiers of programs) afford facility managers different tools that may dictate their experience with the platform.

Some of the most common (and beneficial) capabilities hinge on integrations. Linking up the company directory, for example, brings dynamic appeal to changing floor plans. Collaborative floor planning features can help simplify moves. Look at available features and pair them with your expectations to find software that meets your needs.

3. What processes will it displace?

Out with the old, in with a new space planning system. Ask yourself what current processes new software will make obsolete, as well as which processes it’ll automate, simplify, or otherwise improve. The goal is to take work off of a space manager’s plate, while improving the flexibility, agility, and cohesiveness of the workplace.

Draw direct links between features and benefits. Drag-and-drop floor plans eliminate polylining and spreadsheets. Space metrics and reporting absolve you of manual data tracking. Move management tools bring order to otherwise chaotic relocation phases. Take a close look at how, specifically, space management software will shore up your processes.

4. What opportunities does it unlock?

Chances are, you’ve made the decision to invest in space planning software because you want more from your facilities. Explore this idea deeper. What will space planning software allow you to do for your workplace that might not be practical or available at present? Some examples may include:

  • Explore hypothetical workspace layouts or desking concepts
  • Track space utilization metrics with accuracy
  • Develop a foundation for wayfinding and company directory
  • Improve workplace efficiency through optimization insights
  • Pave the way for a hoteling or reservation system

It comes down to a simple concept: what doesn’t your current workplace offer that it should? Identify opportunities for workplace improvement and look for space planning software that will help realize those objectives.

5. How will you define ROI?

Establish what return on investment (ROI) looks like in the context of your investment in space planning software. Do you have metrics to indicate improvement? Is there a dollar figure attached to your company’s top- or bottom-line growth? If so, how do you calculate it?

Space planning software affects so many facets of business operations because they’re tied to the workplace and employees’ interactions with it. Identify the concept of ROI in whatever form it takes before you invest in software to get a clear idea of what you’re getting for the cost of a license.

Build on these questions

Your answers to these questions will hinge on many factors—namely the size of your facilities, how you manage them, and how dynamic they are. A 12-person company with 2,000 square feet of office space won’t have the same demands as a 250-person company that operates eight floors. Stakeholders need to evaluate their situation in the context of a space planning software solution to see the value it offers them.

Start with these five questions and use them as a springboard for more. Can you explore new desking concepts? What metrics aren’t you tracking that you should be? Is it time to upgrade your office space? Good questions lead to a good investment in space planning software, which opens up a world of possibilities for workplace optimization and growth.

Keep reading: Space planning software buyers guide