open plan office

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Those who ignore office space planning do so at their peril! Not only is it important that the people occupying the office on a day to day basis are laid out in such a way as to best insure that they can work efficiently, but businesses need to think about what they would do if they had to expand – something which is, I assume, on the agenda for every CEO wanting to run a successful company.

I’ve visited plenty of businesses in a lot of offices in my time, and I have seen the same mistakes being made time and again with regards to space planning.

If you haven’t planned for change, there will always be a tendency to accommodate every new addition (like a new employee or bit of kit) into the system in an ad hoc manner, slotting the new pieces into the jigsaw where they will fit rather than redesigning the jigsaw so that every piece fits perfectly.

Why is office space planning important for your business?

Quite simply, the layout of your office will have a significant effect on the way that the interaction and supervision between employees is structured in the workplace.

Right from the start you need to address whether you have the capacity (plug sockets, heating and so on) to create your ideal office space, and if not fix the problem there and then. No one likes working on a construction site and working from temporary offices is far less disruptive to operations when the business is new, to when everyone has settled into their daily routine.

Space planning is essentially the task of balancing the needs and capabilities of your organisation with the shared facilities and space that it inhabits.

cubicle office

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Office vs. Open plan

This is the main ideological battle that has taken place within the office space planning community over the last couple of years, and still continues on to this day. If you are going to get a handle on space planning you’ll need to take a stance pretty early on on this one!

The benefits of an open plan system are:

  • It instills a sense of collective spirit and community
  • Communication is generally easier between different groups
  • It suits those that like to work with a group of people, instead of feeling isolated
  • An open plan design is arguably better to supervise and monitor

The benefits of a partitioned office system are:

  • Privacy, both on an individual and team level
  • The idea of having four walls around them is comforting to some people
  • There is likely to be less background noise and therefore less distractions
  • Since there are already pre-defined ‘spaces’, the job of space planning can actually be made a lot easier

large office

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Leaving open the possibility of future changes

Businesses, especially SMEs and start-ups, need to address the operational needs of their employees right now, but also bear in mind how much of a disruption a shuffle around will cause some months or even years down the line.

One of the most important features of office space planning is the idea that the plan needs to accommodate the future expansion of the company. This is actually an incredibly difficult thing to do successfully without either limiting the ways in which you can expand, or wasting a little of your present capacity.

In a cubicle-style office, do you have the space to install collective meeting rooms if you take on more creative or dynamic staff who need to converse regularly? In an open-plan office, will you be able to add in more desks easily, or create closed-off spaces for private, face-to-face meetings with large groups of clients that may happen further down the line?

On the one hand office space planning is concerned with the pragmatic and mundane aspects of workplace reality such as head counts, making sure very one has a computer and a phone and ensuring that the relevant people are close to each other, but on the other hand it is a highly creative and rewarding activity. And that, my friends, is what makes it an art form.

Does anyone care to disagree?