Office Design

Modern office floor plan strategies

Darin Herle
June 7th, 2022

Modern office floor plans are about so much more than good office furniture, choosing the right color schemes, or letting in more natural light. 

While office interior design will always be important, today’s workplaces are most focused on creating workstations and layouts that better serve their employees, leading to more productivity and an improved workplace experience

In this article, we explore modern office floor plans, including their benefits and how to implement them. 

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Modern offices need modern office floor plans

It’s clear the pandemic has ushered in a ‘new normal’. But the reality is that office design and layouts have been in flux since the 1960s. This is when open offices started to rise in popularity

Back then, one of the biggest concerns about these new open layouts was about whether it was appropriate to ever see women in skirts, prompting a new desk feature called a ‘modesty panel’ that hid the front of their desks. 

Today, of course, concerns about office layout and the office environment have more to do with creating work areas that better serve the needs of both employees and employers. This is a task which is inherently complicated by the rise in hybrid work. Hybrid is quickly becoming our default way of working. 

For this reason, modern office design tends to focus on creating bespoke offices that enhance wellness and productivity. They also improve the hybrid workplace and employee experience

And even more traditional offices have to consider how best to maximize their real estate portfolio. All while also designing around employee behavior.  

Thankfully, a variety of different work environment types have emerged to help address these concerns. These types also ensure the physical office continues to support meaningful and effective work. 

Specifically, modern office floor plans often have to accommodate new ways of working. 

New ways of working

For example, ABW: activity based working and agile working both allow employees to move around and sit or work in different areas, depending on their given task and preferences. As such, both require office layouts that build in many different zones for many different types of working. This can include couches and collaboration spaces, along with both private and quiet spaces. Agile and activity-based workspace design therefore often leads to open—but not completely open—layouts. 

Meanwhile, companies that use office neighborhoods will  group their employees together based on shared projects, teams, departments, or other criteria. Everyone in a ‘neighborhood’ needs to sit together, in co-working spaces that enable best work. These neighborhoods are mostly dynamic and liable to change. So laying out the office building for this way of working requires smart and flexible design ideas. 

Finally, in large part to accommodate differing hybrid work schedules, many companies are now offering a variety of flexible seating arrangements. These include hot desking, office hoteling, and free addressing

People are the single most important asset to every organization, yet many of today’s offices aren’t designed to support their needs and activities.

Mindy Koschmann, Herman Miller

Of course, this requires the right number and configuration of office desks to accommodate a constantly changing workforce. It also requires good desk booking software to make the process as simple as possible. 

What is a modern office layout?

Open-plan offices are by far the most common type of co-working office currently being used today. In fact, about 70% of American offices have adopted open floor plans. 

That said, studies have demonstrated what we all know intuitively. For all their benefits, open floor plans can also be quite distracting, leading to more stress and less productivity at work. 

That’s why creating a modern office layout isn’t just about blindly creating an open space. It’s about creating an inviting and open space that encourages meaningful collaboration. At the same time, it needs to have ample quiet and ergonomic workstations or private offices for quiet, focused work. 

Building in spaces where occupants can make quiet phone calls, complete heads-down work with ease and maintain some measure of workplace privacy goes a long way toward ensuring workplace satisfaction.

Janelle Penny, Buildings

In other words, office layouts can and should vary from office to office. A truly modern office layout is one that is fit for purpose. I.e., one that is designed around what employees actually need and how they actually use the office. 

What are the benefits of a modern office layout?

Many companies veer towards an open-style and/or more modern office layout in large part to how it can optimize space. Ten employees sharing one long desk fits in a lot more people than in ten separate offices. Or even ten distinct cubicles. 

Assuming that they stay focused on creating spaces that are fit for purpose, companies can also use good interior design strategies. This helps make incredibly attractive and inviting spaces that showcase your flexible work culture. Great for attracting new hires or clients who stop by. 

And of course, many companies, spurred on by examples from Google, Apple, and Microsoft, now use their creative layouts and attractive campuses to further their branding efforts. Other companies use design elements like clever room names or biophilic design. This further brings elements of their brand ethos into their built environment. 

Finally, modern office floor plans can help maximize the hybrid workplace experience.

For example, companies may realize that their hybrid workers seem to prefer doing quiet work from home. But they still crave a physical space for collaborative work, mentorship, and team building. 

If that’s the case, companies can focus on building a physical office space with extra conference rooms and cooperative spaces. Their layout can be much more open to accommodate collaboration. This is because there’s less concern about keeping noise down for other employees.  

office floor plan

How do you make an office floor plan? 

When creating an office floor plan, the goal should always be to create the most useful space for the people using it. And in the most cost-effective way possible. 

That means you need good, reliable workplace analytics. Preferably analytics informed by IoT sensors. They can show you exactly how people are using the office—and how they’re likely to use it in the future.   

Remember that of the three elements of space management, the first and foremost are space planning using good data. Similarly, when making a new office floor plan, you need to carefully plan any proposed changes using robust workplace analytics

You do this with good space utilization data (again, preferably coming from smart buildings/IoT information). This is along with having a good handle on your occupancy rate compared to your room capacity.  

Of course, making changes to your office layout can be costly and time-consuming. You need to get it right based on how your workers are currently using the office. But also based on how they might use it in the future. That’s why you should future-proof your layout by using headcount planning for a distributed workforce. This can help you better predict both how many workers you’ll need to accommodate in the future. And what their needs will be. 

Delivering an office design that optimizes productivity, while breeding innovation is not an easy task. It requires strategic focus and inspiration driven by how employees interact in the space. And also by future projections for work and culture.

Tiffany Hanken, Tiffany Hanken Design

Ultimately, when making an office floor plan, it’s critical to leverage the right data and have the right tools to get invaluable insights. This data be invaluable to any proposed changes, and will help with all aspects of facility planning, too. 

Implement change properly

Of course, using data to create a new office layout is only the first—albeit perhaps most critical—step in this process. That’s because even the best laid plans can run into unexpected issues. And issues in strategic space management can lead to unnecessary, frustrating, and expensive downtime. 

That’s why facility managers (FMs) or anyone else responsible for redesigning the office should use planning strategies like scenario planning and restacking the workplace to create a better picture of proposed changes before any are made. Being able to experiment with different options before making any physical changes is the safest and most reliable way to restructure the office. 

Similarly, it’s also important to get employee buy-in when implementing any changes. This is typically best through eliciting feedback from employees in the planning and development process. Also by genuinely listening to what they have to say. 

FMs may also want to include HR in the roll-out. This is to ensure there’s good communication in place with all team members about what’s coming and why. 

Don’t neglect meeting spaces

Even when using an open layout, most workplaces can still benefit from dedicated meeting rooms. Therefore, good meeting room design, accompanied by good meeting room signage, should always play an important role in workspace interiors. 

Moreover, companies should also consider creating guidelines for hybrid meetings, which still often remain unwieldy despite their new pervasiveness. 

Providing employees with the right meeting spaces, the right technology to support hybrid, and good meeting room booking software is the best way to create more effective meetings while also avoiding the problem of empty meeting rooms

Help people navigate

Just because you’ve created an open layout, that doesn’t mean people will be able to automatically and easily find all the people and resources they need. 

Specifically, every office requires good wayfinding signage. Especially when it’s used by hybrid workers or clients who may visit less frequently.

And despite the many benefits of a hybrid workforce, one big drawback is the accompanying lack of visibility. 

Namely, unless each employee knows where all their colleagues are at any moment, there will be struggles to adopting hybrid work. 

If employers want to make the open-office model work, they have to take measures to improve work efficiency.

Lindsey Kaufman, Washington Post

For this reason, a good strategy for the office should also include a cloud-based visual directory app that helps workers instantaneously see where people and resources are at any given moment.   

Don’t forget social distancing 

Not only has the pandemic led to new office space considerations by ushering in a more rapid adoption of hybrid working than would have likely happened naturally. It has also introduced the concept of social distancing. 

Even as restrictions ease and things are slowly going back to normal, companies shouldn’t expect to start cramming people in as they return to the office. Not that cramming people in was every good policy! 

Building in more room for social distancing into your office layout can help reassure employees. It also creates healthier environments that can withstand any future health measures that may be required. 

For this reason, FMs may want to consider using a tool like Distancing Planner to more easily create socially distant floor plans for the office.  

Don’t forget the home office

Companies with hybrid and/or remote workers have a lot more to consider when thinking about creating good working environments for their staff. Companies may not be responsible for the entire home office layouts of all their staff. But they are responsible for ensuring they have what they need to work well. 

Specifically, an office layout is only as good as the digital workplace solutions that support it. 

And many companies are now offering stipends to help employees create better workstations at home. Even if that’s just a corner of the living room. 

Don’t forget to keep tracking

Finally, the third element of effective space management (and therefore of creating a new office layout) is space tracking. After implementing any new layouts, FMs should keep collecting data about how well the office is serving its workers. 

Bear in mind that there’s no such thing as perfect office layout. The next best thing is one that is well-planned, yet nimble and easy to adjust based on data. 

modern office

While an open office layout is currently the most popular, it’s not necessarily the top choice for employees due to some of its drawbacks. That’s because employees don’t just need fancy, magazine-worthy workspaces. They need workspaces that suit the work they need to do. 

So while the open office layout is the most common, the most popular layouts among employees will be those that consider all their needs and build around them. 

Whether you’re managing a small office with just a few employees or responsible for complete, large-scale enterprise facility management, it’s important to remember that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ office layout. And the only way to create one that works is to collect data, experiment, stay flexible, and elicit employee feedback. 

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Photos: pcess609, Explora_2005, Kelly Huang