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Creating the ideal layout for your business

When we look at offices today it’s clear that there is a strong preference for the open plan spaces that replicate the likes of Facebook and Google.

Open plan is the generic term used in architectural and interior design for any floor plan which makes use of large, open spaces and minimizes the use of small, enclosed rooms such as private offices. Due primarily to its cost effectiveness it’s a trend that certainly appears to be here to stay. There are, however, things that need to be considered when looking at designing the office for your business.

It's important to think about the type of layout you want. Is it one big team? Are there people constantly on the phone, creating more noise? If so, they should be separate from the people who need more quiet to do their job. Do you want a pod of workspaces that can be flexible to fit multiple situations, or is it more important that they are not able to be changed? All of these considerations will contribute to a positive working space for staff. - Renee Davies, Furniture Specialist, OfficeMax New Zealand
New Zealand is not immune to the open plan trend, with many businesses adopting this layout, or some version of it. According to UK-based member of the Institute of Acoustics, Colin Rawlings there are 15 – 20% more people in the same space today compared with 10 years ago, but it is possible to have an office that is aesthetic and acoustically well planned.

The prediction is that by 2020 we're going to have four generations of staff working, and people of different ages work in different ways and want different things out of their office.
There is more to office design than aesthetics; choosing what office chairs and desks you like based on shapes and colours. It all starts at the very beginning with deciding what sort of layout will work best to encourage productivity and collaboration between employees.

Office layouts - what are the options?

While open plan remains popular with businesses, it’s not an environment that everyone enjoys – it’s also not the only type of office layout there is. There are a variety of ways you can plan your office, each with their own pros and cons:

The private office layout consists of a cellular style, where interior walls stretch from the floor to the ceiling. These rooms are often occupied by only one person; however they can fit two or three, dependent on space and budget. Private offices are usually given where a level of confidentiality is required. These offices are typically lined along passages or ad hoc according to space.

Pros: Privacy is at its peak in this type of office and less distractions often means more productivity.
Cons: Collaboration with other teams is more difficult. This type of office also tends to be more expensive to build, with more internal walls that need to be erected.

The combination office is a mixture of open plan and private spaces. Offices tend to be spread among the common spaces, as opposed to lined in a hallway. This type of office works well for businesses where staff – usually managers - need private space, but also require working with others in the team regularly.

Pros: Privacy when required for staff that need it. Private offices also break up the big open plan spaces, creating ‘areas’, ideal for seating teams that work together.
Cons: You need a lot of space to be able to fit offices among open plan areas – something not all buildings have.

The co-working office is a space for those who are more mobile in their work needs. The workplace is considered a common sharing place where employees regularly come and go. It’s an open plan office with no set allocations. There is usually a fee that is paid by an individual to use the space, and is ideal for small business owners looking for a space to meet with customers, and network with others.

Pros: Ideal for those who don’t have a set office for their business – it can be used as and when required.
Cons: It’s not your building, you can’t really set up a strong base, and it’s not ideal if you have a business larger than a few people.

Thinking about these various styles of office, some of the factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing your office space are:

  • Who does what job – it makes sense for groups of people whose work is related to sit in the same areas.
  • What different roles require – some roles require a higher level of concentration vs those who require more collaboration.
  • Break rooms and collaborative areas – these need to be close enough for people to access easily, but far enough away that they don’t disturb those working close to them.
  • Meetings, while still important, can be held in meetings rooms, or taken outside of the office in a trend toward ‘walking’ or ‘movement’ meetings – do you have the space outside of your building to encourage this kind of meeting?

Meetings in the modern workplace

Meetings are no longer limited to the standard 30 minute stints locked in a windowless boardroom, taking minutes that no one intends to follow up on. Instead, businesses are coming up with increasingly imaginative ways to get their employees thinking and collaborating more organically.

Facebook is a shining example of this; Building 20 features a 3.6 hectare rooftop garden, complete with mature trees and rolling hills of grass. Two laps take around 30 minutes, perfect for walking meetings or an employee's weekly one-on-one meeting with their manager. While not all buildings have the ability to create full ecosystems on their roof space, most can at least take a walk outside the building. Inside the office, there is a variety of ways to utilise your space to encourage alternatives to meetings held in rooms. Teams can utilise open collaboration spaces, for one on ones huddle pods can create a confidential space. If all else fails, coffee never will – head out to the cafe and get time away from the office.

Solving the Open vs Closed debate

When done well, open plan offices can encourage collaboration and are a cost-effective way of fitting more people into an office.
The down side to open plan and flexi offices is not just limited to lack of privacy; there can be too much noise at times - impacting productivity, and of course, the dreaded winter flu season sees more people prone to catching bugs.

Dr Vinesh Oomen for the Asia-Pacific Journal of Health:

"Employees face a multitude of problems such as the loss of privacy, loss of identity, low work productivity, various health issues, overstimulation and low job satisfaction when working in an open plan work environment,"
"It is estimated that organisations can save up to 20 per cent in development costs when creating an open plan work environment. (But) workplace design must go beyond cost-saving to cater for the multifaceted social and psychological needs of employees."
Open plan does have its benefits, however there are draw backs, and when you’re designing, or redesigning your office space it’s important you take a variety of factors into account, to ensure you give your staff the optimal environment encouraging productivity and collaboration.

Modular Furniture - how does this solve the Open vs Closed debate?

In the context of workplace planning, a module is defined as a self-contained unit that can be interchanged or recombined. Modular furniture is ideal in larger office spaces, or those that require flexibility. The nature of modular furniture is such that from day to day you can use it to create open plan spaces, closed off private spaces, and/or collaborative areas – this isn’t to say it’s a process that happens in the blink of an eye, but it is possible.

The term ‘modular’ may give the impression that it is temporary, however when designed well it is difficult to tell if a piece of furniture is modular or not. Modular design embraces sustainability in that they are durable and long lasting. If you need to change a layout, instead of purchasing new products, these units can be reconfigured. This means you can create open plan spaces for those who need it, and you can create quite, remote pods for one or two people, to give that ‘closed’ feeling. Offices today don’t have to fit into one category, and with modular furniture, flexibility is at its peak.

Fitting out a New Zealand office with furniture? Let's talk!

By now you’ll know that designing an office layout comes with many considerations beyond the furniture itself. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to office spaces, and it’s important to keep this in mind.

Modular office furniture solutions like IQ Commercial’s Keystone is one way you can try to get the best of all the different aspects of a thriving and productive workplace. Described as a ‘multipurpose, modular furniture system for today’s rapidly-changing workplace’, Keystone comprises a kit of parts; the individual pieces are called ‘ingredients’ and they fit together to create ‘recipes’.

The keystone system provides flexibility on the go. If your requirements change, you can adapt your workspace to suit, anytime. Work spaces can be adjusted to add more privacy where required, and encourage collaboration in other areas. Create pods for multiple workers or single areas for those whose work requires a high level of concentration.

To find out how our Interior Specialists can help you design your office space simply click here.
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