Office Space Plans
Office design has a massive impact on your company. It's a crucial determinant of the engagement, wellbeing, and performance of your people. However, office design is much more than the aesthetics. It also includes the layout of your office – what types of environments are included in your workspace. The layout is actually more important than the aesthetics, as it will have a bigger impact on the performance of your people.
Every week, we speak to companies about their upcoming office refurbishments, relocations, and fit outs. Getting the layout right is a crucial part of every project, and it’s something we spend a lot of time working on with our clients.
In this article, we’ll go through the 4 most common types of office layouts – ones that we regularly encounter in existing offices and design ourselves. We’ll explain what makes them different, as well as their respective advantages and disadvantages. Then, to help you decide which is best for you, we’ll explore the 5 key factors to consider when making your decision. By the end, you’ll have a good idea of which office design layout is best for you, and you’ll be ready to start thinking about your design style.
The open plan is the most well-known office design style. With few partitions, the workspace features several areas designed for different types of working, including collaborative, semi-collaborative, and focussed. There are few (if any) private offices and meeting rooms. Everyone sits in one large office, including the managers.
Open Plan Advantages
The main advantage of the open plan office is improved communication. Staff can easily speak to each other in person, without having to book a meeting space or go back and forth on email. Plenty of people in one space create a community atmosphere which is the polar opposite of remote working. It is also very space efficient – reducing office leasing and operating costs.
Open Plan Disadvantages
If not designed well, open-plan offices can become very distracting (and frustrating) environments. While easy communication is a benefit, it does make focussed deep work more difficult. If there is not sufficient acoustic damping, the space can also become very noisy. There is also a lack of privacy and personal space, which makes it hard for some staff to relax and focus.
Co-working office design replicates the layout of a coworking space. However, it does have a few adaptions to improve its suitability for a single company. The co-working layout is often confused with open-plan, but there are several key differences. Unlike open-plan offices, there are no assigned workstations. There is also more soft seating and collaboration space.
Having plenty of collaboration spaces and no assigned seating encourages staff to move around the office, meet new colleagues and network. The layout also promotes social interaction between staff, strengthening team bonds and culture. Co-working offices have a calmer, less distracting feel than open-plan spaces.
Much like open-plan office layouts, co-working designs have very little privacy, which can be distracting for staff. There also tends to be very little space for focussed work, which can limit staff productivity.
In a cellular space plan, nearly all of the space is divided into individual offices or cubicles for 1-3 people. There is little, if any, space for collaboration and relaxation. This used to be the most common office layout but is now less popular due to the increased need for communication.
Unsurprisingly, a cellular office layout is very good for privacy. With solid walls between staff, there is much less noise, and it is harder for staff to distract each other. Because of this, it is very good for situations where confidentiality is required.
Having physical barriers between colleagues reduces communication. This can be very isolating, especially for new or younger staff. In fact, there may be little difference to staff working remotely. It also takes up a lot more space than many other office layouts.
Very few offices are exclusively any one of the above 3 styles. They use different elements of each, combined to suit the exact needs of your company. Because of this, a combination-style layout is a very variable style that looks different for every company.
The greatest advantage of the combination layout is that it is unique to every company – taking elements of other layouts as required. As a result, it is built around the unique needs of your staff. The different environments also cater to a wider variety of different characters and working styles.
Having a variety of environments within your office layout is not without its disadvantages. Staff sometimes use a space for the wrong purpose – eg, talking in a focussed working area – which spoils it for other staff.
4 Factors to Help You Choose Your Office Design Style
No one office layout is the absolute “best”. As you’ve seen, they all have their respective characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. It all depends on your company and your people which is best for you. To help you make that decision, here are 4 key factors to consider.
The biggest difference in the above office layouts is how they affect communication. When choosing your office layout, your first consideration needs to be “How do my people communicate and interact – or how should they?”. If your people need to work a lot together in small groups, then a co-working layout may be a good option. If your staff work mostly independently on confidential matters, then cellular is probably best for you.
Staff productivity is the most important factor in office design, and the layout of your office is a crucial part of this. The kind of tasks they complete, as well as who they work with, needs to be considered. This is a balance of enabling communication, minimising distractions, and maximising engagement and wellbeing. If your staff work mostly alone, then a cellular office with plenty of focussed spaces will be best. If your people need to interact with each other whilst working (like a trading floor) then open-plan is the best option.
The culture and structure of your company will also affect which office layout type will be suitable for you. It will affect how your people communicate and work, as well as the atmosphere of the space. If you have a very relaxed atmosphere and flat company structure, then a co-working layout will be a good option. If you have a very formal culture and a hierarchal structure, then a cellular office layout may be more appropriate.
The industry in which your company operates will also play a role, as it will affect the type of work, as well as staff preferences and expectations. Industries such as law and consulting often gravitate to cellular offices because their staff have a high degree of autonomy and require confidentiality. On the other hand, industries such as media and PR often have open-plan offices to make fast communication as easy as possible.
Your budget won't change which layout is best for your company, but it may well affect what is possible. The key consideration is how space-efficient your office layout is. This will affect how much total office space you require and your overall lease costs. Open-plan and co-working office spaces tend to require 100-200 sq/ft per person, whilst cellular offices require 400-500 sq/ft per person. It’s important to prioritise ROI above initial cost, as any investment in staff productivity and communication will likely have an excellent return on your initial outlay.
Choosing Your Office Layout
Choosing your office layout is critical. Much more than the aesthetic design, it will affect how your people perform individually and collectively, day in and day out. Consequently, you need to make sure that your office design choice is the right one for your people and company.
Now that you know about the most popular layout types, as well as their respective benefits and drawbacks, you're much better prepared to decide which is best for you, using the 5 key factors to help that decision. To take the next step, read Which Office Design Style is Best For Me? There, you’ll learn about the most popular office design styles, and what to take into account when making your choice.
To learn more about planning for your office design, download the definitive office design guide. There, we’ve answered all the most common questions we get asked by companies planning an office design, from cost and timeframes to mistakes to avoid. Download your copy here.