The PivotDesk Blog

Creating Your Office Seating Plan

Running a successful business involves countless factors that must be taken into account in order to maximize company resources and employee productivity. Benefits, flexible work hours, amenities, salaries, these and many other factors are essential considerations in setting the stage for long-term success. But one of the most important parts of setting that stage is creating your office seating plan.

Few things can have a more immediate impact on employee performance and satisfaction than the way people are actually arranged in the workplace.

Long gone are the days when new hires got the cubes and everyone kept a covetous eye on the prize of the corner office. Today’s preference is open floor plans and collaborative environments, but is that always the best way to go?

Here are six things to consider when cobbling together your own office seating plan.

1 – Workflow

There are some employees who work together daily and some never cross paths. It may seem obvious, but it bears mentioning here. Figure out who needs to communicate most frequently and seat them together. It’s easy to discount the time it takes to pick up the phone or tap out an email, but it’s much more efficient to just turn your head or take a short stroll for an immediate answer. Over time, that translates to significantly more time spent working and less time spent checking out Facebook while waiting for replies.

Oh, and don’t make the mistake of seating people next to those they report to. While that may seem to make sense, it’s far more valuable to place people next to those with whom they most often collaborate. Streamlining collaboration is the most effective way to maximize workflow. In fact, a study by Sunkee Lee at Carnegie Mellon University found that an office seating plan can help increase creativity and productivity and can save companies of over 10,000 employees as much as $1MM.

2 – That means execs too

That last point means you might also want to rethink where you place your execs. It may seem natural to place them in the trenches with their direct reports, but too often execs get overly focused on their own small piece of the business jigsaw, losing sight of the bigger picture. Company priorities can easily become misaligned if execs aren’t actively collaborating to maintain a consistent overall vision. Senior leadership is also a team. Keeping them together makes it much more likely that they’ll follow the same playbook.

3 – Why can’t we be friends

It’s a fact of life. Sometimes people just don’t get along. 

Sure, company get-togethers and team-building exercises can help, but the truth is some people just aren’t going to work well together, and it’s counterproductive to spend time trying to enforce camaraderie.

Identify your employees’ personality types. Observe interactions. Placing an extreme extrovert next to an entrenched introvert is just going to frustrate the former and annoy the latter. Some people thrive on interaction, cooperation, and a constant give and take. Others just want a quiet place to get things done. Take the time to identify these differences. Your employees (and your bottom line) will thank you.

4 – Striking a balance

It’s true that an open floor plan and the proper placement of collaborating groups and compatible personalities can positively influence productivity. But there comes a point of diminishing returns. Even those who thrive on the group dynamic eventually have to sit down and focus on the task at hand. If you’ve opted for the open floor plan, make sure you also provide access to quiet workspaces where folks can get away from it all and meet that deadline.

5 – But what do they think?

Ultimately, happy employees are productive employees. There are a lot of ways to make your employees happier, but ultimately the easiest is just to listen to them. Yes, there are many factors that go into building the ideal seating plan for your company, but don’t get so caught up in everything we just talked about that you turn yourself into some sort of office space dictator. Ask your employees what they think. Ask your employees what they need. A bigger desk. An L-shaped desk. An ergonomic chair. Cooler. Warmer. Someone they don’t get along with.

Ask them.

Of course, you can’t accommodate every request. But the ones that you can accommodate will significantly impact both employee satisfaction and productivity. And ultimately they’ll appreciate the fact that you went to the trouble of asking. That’s what the cool bosses do.

Look at you. You’re one of the cool bosses.

6 – Don’t stagnate

You’ve established a winner of an office seating plan. Everyone’s happy and productive. Well done! Mission complete!

Not so fast.

Unfortunately, finding the right seating plan for the moment isn’t the end of the story. Of course, there’s the obvious fact that employees come and go. Your workforce evolves. And seating plans must evolve along with them.

As stated above, studies have shown that periodically rotating seating plans is directly associated with increased creativity and productivity. It seems that exposure to new people encourages the sharing of new information. New information and new perspectives combine with our own, and the result is often creative new solutions to familiar problems.

Summing things up

Basically, you owe it to yourself to do everything in your power to supercharge your workforce. And the fact is, where people sit makes a difference. Take the time to be smart about your seating plan and everyone will benefit.

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