Office Space Planning – Why Is It So Important?

Here we break down the 3 whys of good office design and why it is so important to get it right.

If I had to choose one of all the services we render to our client’s office space planning has the greatest long term effect, Hands down. The reason is simple. Your office’s layout and design affects your organization every day in ways you may not even realize. But in order to get it right, we need to always be asking ourselves 3 important questions.

  1. How is your office design going to provide your people the privacy and control over their personal workspace they need to feel comfortable and do their best work?
  2. How is your office design going to reflect the culture, character, and brand that you hope to cultivate?

And finally…

       3. How is your office design going to affect your team’s productivity and efficiency?

The HOWS will be addressed on design day, today we will look at some of the WHY’s, starting with privacy and control.

Managing Privacy & Control with Sensible Office Space Planning

Most of us desire to have some degree of control over our surroundings. We also want to feel like we have the option of privacy. 

This is why when you walk into an office you rarely see someone with their desk up against the wall and their back to the door. 

Instead, you will almost always find the desk placed in “the command position”  – Diagonal to the door and in full view of the room. This makes us feel like we are in control.

But the desire for privacy and control in our workspace is much broader than that. We also like to personalize the places where we spend most of our time. Otherwise, we choose places to work that already fit our needs and tastes. 

This desire is so strong that being deprived of this really stresses us out. So much so it can even affect our physical health – or at least our attendance.

For instance, take the report published in 2013 by Stockholm Universities Stress Research Institute titled; 

Office Designs Impact On Sick Leave Rates

The authors had looked at a few of the best studies available on this subject. Namely, they examined how the type of workspace that people work in affects the amount of sick leave that they take. The report concludes that we fare best in 2 types of office layouts out of 5 office types that were considered;

First, here are all 5;

  1. The private office: which is a single person office.
  2. The shared room office: a room or cubicle shared by 2-3 people. 
  3. The open-plan office: This means employees share a common workspace without partition walls or barriers. Often this takes the form of rows of workbenches known as “benching”
  4. The flex-office which is defined by a lack of personally assigned workstations. This is often referred to as hotelling and is the most flexible office type. Employees can work from any available station or work from home.
  5. Lastly, the combi-office, which is defined by teamwork and the sharing of common facilities. In the combi-office, you have your own personal workstation but you often work and collaborate elsewhere. 

What they found is that people who work in private offices and combi-offices had the lowest rates of sick leave while those working in open-plan layouts incurred the highest rates of sick leave by a wide margin.  

It wasn’t because of more germs either. In their concluding remarks, the authors stated that; 

“Altogether, the results indicate lower odds of sick leave in office types with high personal control and a lower degree of environmental stressors. Also, sick leave rates are lower in offices with more collaboration in teams with colleagues.”

To recap, a good office design enables a sense of personal control, privacy, and the ability for team members to readily communicate or to focus without distraction.  How you order these competing priorities leads us to the second question; 

Office Design & Company Branding

How does your office design reflect the culture, character, and brand that you hope to cultivate in your organization?  – and more fundamentally why is this even important?

To sum it up; if your marketing is going to talk the talk then your offices and your operations need to walk the walk. It’s a matter of authenticity. This is true both for when customers, potential talent or strategic partners visit your office but also when your employees come into work every day. What is your office saying to them?

Culture and morale are influenced by many factors but I think it is safe to say that in the background the look and feel of your office sets the tone. THAT is why it is important that your office reflects the character, culture, and brand that you hope to cultivate in your company. 

The Impact on Productivity and Efficiency

But what about productivity and efficiency? Can your office design really make a big impact on how much work your people get done? Or how well they serve your customers?

The answer is yes and double yes, and I don’t think the importance of this one needs explaining. So how? 

Let’s start with some statistics:

A study of over 2,000 office workers in the UK showed that in an eight-hour day, the average worker is only productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes.

The 10 most popular unproductive activities listed were:

  1. Reading news websites–1 hour, 5 minutes
  2. Checking social media–44 minutes
  3. Discussing non-work-related things with co-workers–40 minutes
  4. Searching for new jobs–26 minutes
  5. Taking smoke breaks–23 minutes
  6. Making calls to partners or friends–18 minutes
  7. Making hot drinks–17 minutes
  8. Texting or instant messaging–14 minutes
  9. Eating snacks–8 minutes
  10. Making food in the office–7 minutes

That is a lot of time spent not working – but all is not lost. The amount of your workforces time consumed by all of these activities can be greatly influenced by your office layout. As an example, I’ll share my own recent experience with #7, hot drinks. 

At Business Office Outfitters our retail sales team sell an obscene amount of office furniture right off of our showroom floor every month. But when I started as sales manager I noticed that they always carried their coffee cups from the showroom all the way back to the breakroom leaving the showroom temporarily empty. In the months that followed I saw them day in and day out, 3 or 4 times a day making the 10-minute journey to the break room and back for refills.

I decided something ought to be done. This had to be stopped. So finally, I rolled up my sleeves, marched out into the showroom and set up a Keurig right next to the front door. Now it takes about 2 minutes to get a cup of coffee and our customers can have some too. 

The Three Why’s of Good Office Space Planning

Needless to say, small layout adjustments can have big impacts on efficiency. Moreover, most of the other time wasters on that list can be discouraged with high-quality office design. That is because high-quality office design accomplishes 3 things;

  • It gives employees a sense of privacy and control while allowing for enough transparency to keep honest employees honest and on task.
  • It reminds them every day when they come into work that they work for a company that cares about what they do, and takes their shared mission seriously. 
  • And finally, it offers an environment without unnecessary hurdles, delays, and distractions standing in the way of getting their work done quickly and efficiently.

So for your businesses sake – for your employees and customers sake – I urge you to take the time to get your office design right. If you aren’t sure where to begin, remember that Business Office Outfitters is here to help.