Moving to a new office or just planning to mix things up in your current one? Read our guide on how to make an office seating plan that works.
Whether your team is large or small, getting the seating plan right can make a big difference to your business. Given that many of us now spend more of our lives at work than we do at home, you owe it to your employees to make sure that your work environment is as pleasant and harmonious as it can be.
Seating isn’t just about creating a happy office, but a more productive one too. Just ask the researchers at Harvard Business School, who tell us that getting the seating right can add $1 million per annum to a company’s profit.
But don’t go rearranging the furniture just yet. For starters, the study found that this helped businesses of 2,000 workers, not 20. It’s perhaps most interesting to note that real improvements in productivity were made by placing ‘productive’ workers alongside ‘quality’ workers. The study certainly highlights the power of the seating plan, and shows that symbiotic relationships can be created when you pair up people with opposite strengths.
Office seating plans – where to start?
So if you’re creating a seating plan for your new office, or think an office shake-up is in order, where do you start? Who gets the window seat and who gets to sit next to the CEO?
Our 8 practical office seating plan tips are here to help.
Tip 1. Department proximity
First things first, take a practical look at your organisation. How many departments do you have, and how do they function alongside one another? It makes sense to seat departments together. While hot-desking and shared office spaces may encourage employees to sit wherever they feel like, sitting all of the IT team together and all of the accounts team together will help ensure easier communication and workflow.
Think about departments that often have to work hand in hand – the design and copywriting teams, or the accounts and HR or purchasing teams, for example – and place them at close quarters. It’ll make it easier for them to confer on a daily basis.
Tip 2. Get personal
Once you’ve decided who needs to sit next to who, you can then move on to who wants to sit next to who.
Some employees will be introverts, some extroverts. Some are great at sparking conversation and ideas, others prefer peace and quiet to get their head down and work. This is where your seating plan starts to take on dinner plan dimensions. Who you sit with who has the power to make the evening a roaring success or a disaster.
Getting the interpersonal side of things right takes a deal of sensitivity, and often needs to be done on a micro rather than macro level. So don’t just talk to managers, talk to staff on the floor too. They’ll be able to give you real insight into who gets on well with who, as well as any potential issues to look out for.
Tip 3. Get practical
Now it’s time to look at the particular layout of your office space. Note the location of heating vents and air conditioning. Sitting right next to a blast of hot or freezing cold air all day isn’t pleasant for anyone. So try and avoid seating people in these problem areas. Also, take a look at the office lighting. Lights might cause uncomfortable glare on the screens of some workers, depending on where you position their seating. If it’s a new building that you’re unfamiliar with, get in touch with the building’s facilities staff to discuss any potential environmental issues.
You can use a floor plan to help you out here too. These should be available from your commercial real estate agent or the building or co-working space you’re renting from. Be sure to make use of a spreadsheet, dedicated seating plan software or get designing by hand with graph paper to get a realistic grasp of the space available.
Tip 4. A word on that window seat
Whether you’re in a new build or converted warehouse, you’re a legal firm or a graphic design studio, one golden truth of office seating remains: everybody wants a window seat. Have a think about who you want to hand out these ‘superior’ seats to. They could go to more senior staff, or to workers who are non-client facing and tend to spend the most time sat at their desks. If you’re operating a more relaxed seating system, you could choose to rotate teams so that everyone gets a window seat every once in awhile.
Tip 5. How open do you like your open-plan?
Another key decision to take is where you want your executives to sit. Some will be more comfortable in a private office, while others like to be part of the open-plan environment. It’s an instant leveller and can create a more relaxed relationship between executives and staff.
Tip 6. Involve your staff in the planning
It’s official, a happy workplace is a more productive workplace. A University of Warwick study found that a happy work environment makes people around 12 percent more productive. But what makes workers happy? A University of Exeter study says the surefire way to increase employee happiness to is give them more control over the design and layout of their own workspace. So speak to your employees about their seating preferences – how much desk space do they need, for example, and would they prefer a standing desk? Give them a real say in where they sit and how they sit and everyone’s happier.
Tip 7. Communication and concentration – getting the balance right
Today’s office spaces are increasingly shared spaces. While this is great for creativity and communication, it can make it harder for workers to get the privacy or peace and quiet they sometimes need to get work done. When you’re considering how to make an office seating plan, be sure to include a space where employees can go to get some focused work done – a quiet area away from the desks, or a separate room or area for phone calls.
Tip 8. Building the plan
Once you’ve decided, in-principle, where everyone’s going to sit it’s time to build the actual plan. Designing a floor plan – either by hand or using software – is essential as it gives you a bird’s-eye view of your space and allows you to play around with seating areas without having to actually shift around any furniture. Things to remember when you do this:
- First add the permanent structures including walls, windows, doorways and any obstructions
- Include outdoor areas as well as the indoor rooms
- Try placing office equipment, seating and decor as you initially envisioned to see how it actually looks on the page
- Shift things around and experiment with different permutations
- Be prepared to revisit the plan once it’s been implemented – some logistical difficulties will only present themselves once employees actually trial the system!