Defining Office Space – The Different Types of Office Layouts, Explained

By Gemma Church

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” While this is a striking quote from Sir Winston Churchill, you may wonder exactly how the diverse types of office layouts could shape and affect your business.

Well, it looks like Churchill was on to something. Creating the perfect office space for your business is just as important as finding the right workers to fill it. Why? Because a well-designed workplace can optimize the efficiency of all aspects of your daily workflow, as well as improve the productivity, health, and satisfaction of your employees.

There are numerous options available for office layouts, each suited to your different business needs, the available floor space, building facilities, and your budget. Let’s look at some of the main types now.

Private Offices

Your business may need some amount of private office space. For example, your employees may work with confidential information, so you need the security of a separate space, or you may need to hold private meetings where there’s no risk of eavesdropping.

However, private offices require extra floor space, as well as separate heating and lighting, which makes them the most expensive use of your office resources.

What’s more, while the quiet of a private space can increase productivity in some individuals thanks to a lack of interruptions, these offices create literal barriers of communication between coworkers, which can slow down the workflow of a business as a whole.

Open Office Spaces

While some studies build a case against open-plan office space, you can build communication and collaboration between your employees with a well-designed open plan office. Closely-linked teams can be positioned close to one another, keeping foot traffic to a minimum, whilst still keeping channels of communication open.

In addition, open plan offices have the highest capacity to optimize available floor space and sources of natural light.

Insufficient lighting can lead to increased fatigue and other health problems for your employees, especially those working with visual display units. Headaches, eye strain, and reduced alertness are common complaints caused by poor fluorescent lighting, for example.

Natural light is especially important in maintaining employee health and focus, and open plan offices can make the best use of windows to benefit all employees.

Although there are no health and safety regulations in the U.S. that stipulate minimum light levels, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK recommends a luminance between 200 and 500 lux.

However, open office spaces result in a much louder working environment, especially in spaces with a large number of employees. Large offices run at around 65 decibels of ambient noise, which can negatively impact employees that may struggle to concentrate in such conditions and can make tasks like speaking over the phone difficult.

While open-plan offices are the most common layouts nowadays, they are not the most popular. In March, CommercialCafe ran a survey on 2,107 respondents in the U.S., trying to gauge which is the ideal layout for office employees. As it turns out, privacy is the most craved office perk, as 43% of respondents chose the private office as their ideal work environment, while only 10% chose open-plan layouts.

Cubicle Office Space

Cubicle layouts offer a compromise between open-plan and private offices, tapping into some of the benefits that each can provide by dividing an open plan space with partitions.

However, you need to balance the exposure between workplace noise and natural light when deciding what type of partitions best suit your office environment.

Full partitions reach from floor to ceiling and can provide your employees with a little more privacy and significantly reduce the noise volumes of an open-place space. This is a crucial point as research from Cornell University revealed that a noisy environment heightens the stress of employees, lowers motivation, and can cause long-term health risks.

You may also want to consider half-partitions to further improve the availability of natural light, but these can adversely increase the noise output of your office.

Cubicle Layouts

A cellular layout is commonly used with cubicle offices, whereby cubicles are arranged in rows of partitions, and separated by narrow aisles for foot traffic. Because cubicles take up relatively little floor space, they can be made available for large numbers of employees at a fraction of the cost of private offices.

However, the flexibility granted by an open plan office opens up the ability to customize the working space to suit the specific needs of teams.

As opposed to a cellular layout, partitions can create larger cubicles to fit entire teams of coworkers. This creates a shared space to help the team communicate and collaborate effectively, whilst providing some shelter from the noise and distractions of other teams.

However, opinion on cubicle layouts remain divided. While a recent article in the Harvard Business Review claimed “Cubicles are the absolute worst”, others are calling for the return of the cubicle.

Desk Layouts

Even without partitions, different desk layouts can be used to optimize team productivity and workflow, with various designs suited to different requirements and preferences.

Teams that require frequent communication between members could benefit from a layout positioning around a central block of desks. Such layouts best suit teams of four or less employees to make optimal use of desk and floor space.

Alternatively, linear banks of desks can efficiently accommodate teams that may require less communication between coworkers.

Further types of layout may better facilitate ‘hot desking’ office models, which allow for employees to work flexibly and effectively from any seat in the office. Such systems can be implemented with automated software, or simply through the employees’ own initiative. These models can lower the amount of desk space required but have been shown to be detrimental to employee productivity.

Coworking Spaces

Coworking spaces allow for independent or self-employed contractors, and employees of small businesses, to use a shared office space with employees from other organizations.

This gives a place to work away from a home office or other public spaces and helps reduce feelings of isolation. Working from home is a much less attractive prospect than you might think, and even major companies are transitioning employees into coworking spaces.

While coworking spaces tend to differ greatly between their target audiences and the space available, most offer their coworking community a diverse range of spaces that you can use as and when you need to. For example, coworkers can hire a private office on a long-term basis or a meeting room for a couple of hours, hot desk, or rent out a dedicated desk in a shared open plan office. Coworking spaces also come with a lot of perks, like complimentary coffee and snacks or pet-friendly policies.

Shared Office Spaces

Similar to coworking spaces, shared office environments make use of excess floor space to share a single large office across multiple organizations. Although this approach is primarily used to reduce office costs, shared office space can also help develop strong networking links between complementary organizations.

Creative Office Spaces

Creative spaces make use of modern designs with a greater care for the aesthetics of the working space. Strong design elements can reflect the company’s brand to visiting clients, as well as create a highly desirable office environment to attract prospective employees and encourage collaborative company cultures.

Popular design trends make use of transparent partitions and flexible open space, with attention to facilitating face-to-face communication, and make use of collaborative technologies such as interactive whiteboards.

Virtual Offices

In the digital age, many enterprises will find that all they really require from an office is an e-mail and a postal address.

Virtual office providers can also include telephony reception services, as well as limited use of facilities for conferencing and meeting with clients. Virtual offices can create a professional front for small businesses to interact with clients, and often serve as a starting point to later transition into a physical office space.

How Do You Choose?

For some, optimizing business productivity may be as simple as moving a few desks and erecting some partitions. For others, you may need to take a more holistic approach where you design your office layout based on the needs of your business and your employees.

Whatever you decide, good design demands a careful compromise between many different elements. The best office will likely involve the use of multiple types of layout, combined into a single workplace that can suit all the differing needs of your business and your staff.

For many, the office is not just a building, it’s a home away from home and such design elements are becoming essential parts of the workplace. As such, our office buildings do not just shape us, as Winston Churchill once concluded, their layouts are an intrinsic part of our daily lives.

Author Bio

Gemma Church is “the freelance writer who gets tech.” She’s a specialist freelance science writer, journalist, and blogger. Her USP is that she’s worked in the science and technology sectors she writes about, bringing a unique level of understanding and experience most writers cannot offer.

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