By Emma Hickey
There are a lot of decisions that need to be made when building a business. There are big things to decide, like how to structure your organization, and smaller things, like what kinds of snacks to stock in the kitchen. Somewhere between those two decisions, you also have to choose a layout for your office. Your office floor plan is more important than you might think—after all, despite what the architects say, form always influences function. Do you want to create an environment where teammates can easily collaborate with one another, or would you rather create an environment that lends itself to independent work? Do you want your office to be minimalist and uncluttered, or would you prefer a more personality-driven space? Do you want to invest a lot of resources into the build-out of your workspace, or would you rather spend that money elsewhere? It’s important to choose a floor plan that will be a good fit for your team. Let’s take a look at some of the options out there!
Open office floor plans have become the norm in today’s business world. According to a New York Times article titled “Are Cubicles Preferable to the Open Office Layout?”, 70% of Americans work in open offices. The pluses are self evident. Open offices facilitate collaboration and communication within the team because no one is divided by walls and everyone is accessible. In that same vein, open offices help flatten a team’s hierarchy by keeping leadership mixed in with the broader team and making them approachable. They also promote the idea that all employees are equal and no one person deserves an office over others. Not to mention, they’re much cheaper to build-out than other floor plans. This is one of the driving reasons behind their popularity, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come at a cost, which is often privacy and productivity.
Open offices can be loud and distracting. A 2013 University of Sydney study declared a “privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices,” and found that the pros of easy communication just don’t outweigh the cons of noise and lack of privacy. Also in 2013, the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B published a study stating open offices actually decreased the amount of face-to-face interaction between coworkers. The authors of the study explained it as such: "Rather than prompting increasingly vibrant face-to-face collaboration, open architecture appeared to trigger a natural human response to socially withdraw from officemates and interact instead over email and IM." This is the exact opposite of the desired open office affect, but if you hire for people who would thrive in this environment rather than shut down, then an open office may still be a good fit for your team.
Herman Miller invented cubicles in the 1960’s and from that point until the recent present, cubicles dominated office floor plans. They were actually created as an alternative to the open floor plans of the past that were really cramped and crowded, which employees disliked due to a lack of privacy and personal space. Somewhere over time, though, cubicles became shorthand for boring office jobs, and as industries strove to innovate and move away from those negative connotations, cubicle-based floor plans fell out of favor. Still, cubicles allow for privacy and focus in a way that open offices just don’t. They’re more expensive than building an open office, but they’re cheaper (and more practical, space-wise!) than building private offices in your workspace. They also allow your team to express their personality by decorating their cube and they encourage a more quiet atmosphere. If this is the kind of environment you want to create, then dividing your office into cubicles might be the right fit for your team.
Hot desking is the trend of the moment in terms of office floor plans. This seating arrangement describes an open office where there are more people than desks and no one has an assigned seat. Employees are given lockers in which to store their belongings and are discouraged from keeping anything on their desks. They’re also discouraged from sitting at the same desk regularly. Hot desking derives its name from the military practice hot racking, where people who work different shifts sleep in the same bunk in order to reduce sleeping space. The motivation behind this kind of floor plan in an office isn’t too different from that of the military—hot desking reduces the number of desks needed in an office and reduces the cost of building out the workspace. It also frees up space in the office for collaborative workspace areas and different types of seating. Other benefits to hot desking include easily being able to sit near people you’re collaborating with on a certain project at any given time, flexibility and autonomy over where you sit, and keeping your workspace decluttered. If you have a highly collaborative and active team, this type of floor plan could be the best solution for you—especially if a lot of team members travel frequently and are regularly out of the office.
Ok fine, this one isn’t quite a floor plan, but it is an option for your business! A virtual office is when companies forgo brick and mortar workspaces altogether in favor of remote work. If you’re looking to cut down on costs, eliminating rent payments is a great way to reduce overhead. It also gives employees more flexibility, which is attractive to candidates and keeps a team happy. In addition, it expands your talent pool because you’re no longer limited to people who live in close proximity to your office. Remote work is only rising in popularity—according to Product Hunt, “remote work went up by 115% from 2005–2015 and continues to climb today.” As with anything, though, there are also drawbacks. Remote work can be isolating and it can reduce collaboration among team members, however it’s definitely possible to hire a team for whom this type of work a good fit. Some companies find a happy medium between a virtual office and a physical office by renting a small workspace with just a few desks and a conference room. Employees who are primarily remote can use this space when they need face-to-face collaboration, when they’re visiting from out of town, or when they just want to get out of the house.