Office Layout (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
Office productivity is influenced by a number of factors, one of which is office layout. Because office layout influences the entire white-collar-employee segment of the organization, its importance to organizational productivity should never be underestimated. Office layout is based on the interrelationships among three primary factors: employees, flow of work through the various work units, and equipment.
Efficient office layout results in a number of benefits to the organization, including the following:
- It affects how much satisfaction employees derive from their jobs.
- It affects the impression individuals get of the organization's work areas.
- It provides effective allocation and use of the building's floor space.
- It provides employees with efficient, productive work areas.
- It facilitates the expansion and/or rearrangement of work areas when the need arises.
- It facilitates employee supervision.
Planning the layout tends to occur in two steps, a preliminary stage and a final stage.
When designing office layout, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration during the preliminary planning stage, which is generally carried out by administrative office managers, employees, or consultants. Among the factors to consider during preliminary planning are these:
Work flow: Studying the flow of work vertically and horizontally between individuals and work units is critical in designing office layout. The goal is to design a layout pattern in which work moves in a straight-line direction with minimal (if any) backtracking or crisscrossing pat terns. The major source documents found within the various work areas are often considered in analyzing work flow.
Organization chart: Studying the organization chart, which visually depicts who reports to whom as well as the relationships among and between employees, is also considered in the preliminary planning stages. Generally, the organization chart helps determine which units should be physically located near one another.
Projection of number of employees needed in the future: Having a good understanding of the possibility of expansion helps assure that layout is designed to accommodate future growth. Among the factors to be considered are the potential need for additional work units as well as the number of additional employees likely to be needed in both existing work units and new work units.
Communication network: Studying the organization's communication network identifies who within the organization has considerable contact (either face-to-face or by phone) with whom. The more contact employees have, the greater is the likelihood that they or their work units need to be physically located near one another.
Departmental organization: Studying departmental organization also helps determine which departments should be placed in close proximity to one another. For example, those departments with significant responsibilities for the accounting and financial aspects of the firm should be located near one another; those with frequent contact with outsiders (personnel and sales, for example) should be located near the entrance to the structure; and noise-producing departments (copying/duplicating, loading dock, etc.) should be located near one another and away from areas where low noise levels are required.
Ratio of private to general offices: Increasingly, many organizations are opting for more general offices and fewer private offices. This trend probably helps reduce the amount of total office space needed, and it certainly facilitates the rearrangement of office areas. A number of advantages result from using general offices rather than with private offices. General offices are more economical to build than private offices; general offices make it easier to accommodate change in office layout; and it is easier to design efficient heating, cooling, and lighting systems for general offices.
Space requirements: The total amount of needed space is determined by the amount of space needed for each employee (including projections for growth) in each work unit as well as the amount of space needed for various specialized areas. The amount of space each employee needs is determined by the employee's furniture/equipment requirements, the location of such structural features as windows and pillars, and the employee's job functions and hierarchical position.
Specialized areas: Many organizations have a number of specialized areas that must be taken into consideration in the preliminary planning of office layout. Included are such needs as a reception area, board or conference rooms, a computer center, a mailroom, a printing/duplicating room, a central records area, and a storage area.
Safety considerations: A number of safety considerations play an important role in the preliminary planning of layout, including aisles/corridors of sufficient width, door openings, stairwells, and exits. Providing for quick evacuation of the premises in case of an emergency is a critical aspect of the preliminary planning of office layout.
Barrier-free construction: A number of federal laws require that office layout accomodate individuals with disabilities. The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act requires "reasonable accommodation" of individuals with disabilities. Perhaps most significant in office layout is designing office/work areas in which individuals can easily maneuver wheelchairs.
Expansion: To stay abreast of developing space needs, many organizations undertake a yearly space analysis, just as they prepare a yearly budget. Doing so enables these organizations to be proactive rather than reactive in anticipating future space needs.
Equipment and furniture needs: The amount of equipment and furniture that needs to be accommodated in an organization must be taken into consideration during the preliminary planning of office layout. Failure to take these needs into consideration often results in inefficient office layout.
PLANNING OFFICE LAYOUT
Perhaps the most critical decision that will be made in planning office layout is whether private offices only or a combination of private and general office areas will be used. The trend is toward a minimum of private office areas and maximum use of general office areas. Typically, the general office areas make use of the open office concept, which overcomes a number of the disadvantages of conventional private offices. Whereas private offices tend to be based on the hierarchical structure of the organization, open office areas are based on the nature of the relationship between the employee and his or her job duties.
Open office planning takes into account the cybernetics of the organization, meaning that information flows and processes are considered in the design process. Information flows pertain to paper flow, telephone communications, and face-to-face interaction.
Three different alternatives are used in designing space around the open office concept. These include the modular workstation approach, the cluster workstation approach, and the landscape approach. In each case, panels and furniture components comprise work areas. Typically, the panels and furniture components are prewired with both electrical and phone connections, which considerably simplifies their installation. Panels are available in a variety of colors and finishes, including wood, metal, plastic, glass, carpet, and fabric.
Modular workstation approach. A prime characteristic of the modular workstation approach is the use of panel-hung furniture components to create individual work areas. Storage cabinets and files of adjustable height are placed adjacent to desks or tables. The design of modular workstations enables employees to have a complete office in terms of desk space, file space, storage space, and work-area lighting. Modular workstations are designed according to the specific job duties of their occupants.
In certain situations, the modular workstation approach is preferred to either of the other two open-space concepts. It is especially well suited for those situations that require considerable storage space, and the work area can be specifically designed around the specific needs of the user. Also, changes in layout can be made easily and quickly.
Cluster workstation approach. An identifying characteristic of the cluster workstation approach is the clustering of employee work areas around a common core, such as a set of panels that extend from a hub, much like the spokes in a wheel. The panels define each employee's work area, which typically includes a writing surface, storage space, and filing space. As a rule, cluster workstations are not as elaborate as either modular workstations or landscaped alternatives. Cluster workstations work well for situations in which employees spend a portion of their workday away from their work area.
Two distinct advantages of the cluster workstation are economics and the ease with which layout changes can be made. The cluster workstation is less expensive than either of the other two alternatives.
Landscape approach. Originally developed in Germany, office landscaping is now used extensively throughout the United States. In a way, office landscaping is a blend of the modular and cluster workstation approaches. One significant difference, however, is the abundant use of plants and foliage in the decor. Plants and foliage, in addition to being aesthetically pleasing, provide a visual barrier. Whereas both the modular and the cluster approaches tend to align the components in rows, landscaping arranges work areas in clusters and at different angles.
In its original form, landscaping eliminated all private offices. However, most organizations that make use of landscaping use a hybrid approach in which a ratio of 80 percent open office areas to 20 percent private offices is common.
In conventional office layout, status was ac corded employees through their assignment of a private office. Because the open-space concept removes a considerable number of private offices, employees are accorded status through such other aspects as their work assignments, their job duties, the location and size of their work area, and the type and amount of furniture they are given.
PREPARING THE LAYOUT
The actual preparation of the layout is carried out using a variety of tools, including templates, cut outs, plastic models, magnetic boards, and computer-aided design (CAD). For more complex layout projects, CAD is most likely the tool of choice. For simple layout projects, any of the others work well. Regardless of which tool is used, a primary concern is making sure every aspect of the layout (perimeter, structural features, equipment and furniture components, etc.) is scaled properly and consistently.
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Turner, G., and Myerson, J. (1998). New Workspace, New Culture: Office Design as a Catalyst for Change. Hampshire, England: Gower.