Workplace Unplugged

Neighborhood layout: A feature deep dive, part 2

Emily Byrne
June 30th, 2022

Improving the office neighborhood layout is often the key to a more vibrant and productive workplace. But that can be easier said than done when facility managers (FMs) don’t have the right neighborhood software to implement them correctly.  

“When used well, neighborhood seating can make the office a more fun place to work, and invite people back to an environment that has changed a lot,” says Jordan Y., an OfficeSpace Product Manager. “They’re a pleasant way to encourage people to give the office another shot in a very different world than it was two years ago.”

Of course, the operative words here are ‘used well’. In the right hands and using the right software, creating a neighborhood layout in the office (whether in a traditional office or an open space) can be an incredibly fruitful workplace strategy that helps create a more modern office floor plan and a better workplace experience.  On the flip side, poorly implemented and managed neighborhood development can offer comparatively less benefit. 

That’s why Jordan led a highly collaborative team of developers to create Office Neighborhoods. It’s a unique OfficeSpace feature that elegantly blends a neighborhood map with the ability to include meeting rooms, utilities, and bookable desks. Equally unique is the Neighborhood ‘Captain’ system. This can take a big workload off of the FM (who often has their own growing facility checklist to contend with); using captains can also lead to more democratization and collaboration in the workplace, benefiting everyone involved. 

We sat down with Jordan to get his unique perspective on Office Neighborhoods. In our first interview, we explored the concepts behind how to maximize working neighborhoods in any office—even the most traditional. 

Jordan helps us understand how to use distinct options and features within Office Neighborhoods to improve any office neighborhood layout. 

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Before we jump into specific features, what separates OfficeSpace Neighborhoods from similar options on the market?

First, the way we institute neighborhood captains is more robust than most of our competitors. That’s not to say that we do it and they don’t—it’s just that we think we do ours better. That’s because very few competitors bake-in bookable seating as elegantly as OfficeSpace does. Bookable seating is an integral part of our whole platform. And therefore any other feature that we add, like Neighborhoods, has to play nicely with it. 

With COVID-19 changing work flows and how we work at the office, bookable seating use has really skyrocketed. People are trying to make better use of more limited real estate. Quite a few companies have closed down buildings or lost floors (often to save money on corporate real estate). And now that people are coming back to the office, they have to vie for fewer seating options. Office Neighborhoods makes this process much easier and even a little fun. And since captains are in control, there’s less work for FMs who have traditionally managed everything. 

“Neighborhoods are a way of making the OfficeSpace platform more relevant, useful and fun for people, while also lessening the workload of whoever is in charge of the facility.”

Second, our non-contiguous neighborhood options are unique and really important. A lot of competitors only let you draw neighborhoods in one big, unbroken shape. So if you’ve got a big floor plan, you can only mark off a single portion of it in your neighborhood planning. 

In comparison, our neighborhoods can actually be split up into as many non-contiguous parts as you need. So you can have a territory that might be in different parts of the floor plan, but run by the same captain. Our clients really seem to love it. 

Neighborhood-layout

How much control do Captains have over their neighborhoods? Can they manage moves and booking requests?

First, I’d like to point out that Captains are usually not facility managers. So we designed the platform to be intuitive and easy to use, even if you’re not familiar with facility management software. And you can have up to five captains per neighborhood, to help split the workload. 

From there, the level of authority a captain can have is quite variable. This goes from the least amount of control to the most. You can have what we call an ‘informative captain,’ where they can’t really do much with the neighborhood but observe it. But you can gradually ratchet it up from there, by adding the ability to manage the membership list. These captains can admit people onto the list or kick them off if they want to.

And then from there, you can also add the ability for captains to manage desk bookings. They can even manage moves within that neighborhood, too.

Can you be a captain of a neighborhood you’re not a member of?

You can absolutely do that. It just might make it a little lonely, not dwelling in the neighborhood yourself!

How many people can a neighborhood layout accommodate?

In theory, neighborhoods can have an unlimited number of members. There’s no real limit to the people who can be shortlisted for admission.

The ratio can become a little counterproductive though. For instance, if you have 2000 people on a shortlist and only five desks that they can book. So even though there’s technically no limit, there are some practical considerations to keep in mind in your planning process. 

Can you be a member of more than one neighborhood?

Absolutely. You can be a Captain in multiple neighborhoods. And you can be a member in multiple neighborhoods, or a combination of both.

Are Neighborhoods restricted to members only?

No, neighborhoods can be mixed-use, so they don’t have to be restricted to members. In fact, you can open up the borders of your neighborhood in a couple of different ways.

You can create dynamic rules (referred to as ‘Members Matching Rules’ in OfficeSpace) for your neighborhood. So you can admit people based on different criteria, which can offer some great flexibility. 

But if you’re looking for the most flexibility so that anyone can come in to visit the neighborhood, you might want to set up a couple of bookable seats in it that are open to everyone. 

With the seats configured this way, you can still have the vast majority of the seats in that neighborhood limited to certain people as you probably would want to. But if you want to have room for a couple of visitors every now and then, you just need to set aside a few open desks, and literally anyone can come and hang out.

What happens if you want to add new areas to an existing neighborhood? 

This harkens back to one of the unique value propositions of our Neighborhoods initiative. Ours don’t have to be one contiguous block. 

So if you have one neighborhood design that’s set up and working well, but later you wish you had included another part of the office, you can easily still do that. It’s easy to edit existing neighborhoods and expand them to include other sections of the office. Better still, the membership list will update in real time, to include the identities of seated employees being absorbed by the expansion. 

Can you maintain social distance in an OfficeSpace Neighborhood?

This is a really important question. We have a feature in OfficeSpace called Distancing Planner, which is designed to simplify social distancing. It’s completely compatible with Neighborhoods. 

Distancing Planner will help you easily figure out design guidelines around how many people you can effectively put in a neighborhood, while still maintaining a radius of separation between them. You can specify what that radius might be (usually six or nine feet), and we support both imperial and metric measurements for our international clients. 

With Distancing Planner, it’s easy for Captains or FMs to deactivate a desk that might fall in the ‘sneeze radius,’ if you will. The tool will basically gray out any desk in your neighborhood if it’s not safe to occupy, based on whatever radius you’re going for. 

And I should stress again that Distancing Planner is not exclusive to Neighborhoods. You can use it in conjunction with Neighborhoods, as well as other OfficeSpace features.

What types of rules can you make for each neighborhood?

One of the great things about Office Neighborhoods is that you can make dynamic rules. For example, you might have an employee who has a title, maybe they’re a senior manager in accounting. They could then be a member of a neighborhood for all of accounting, and/or a neighborhood for employees with titles, and/or a neighborhood for senior managers only, and/or for senior managers in accounting only. So you can get very specific. 

It’s kind of a matter of ‘and/or’ statements. You can either keep it very simple, or quite complicated and quite granular. 

And if you want to keep things really simple, you can just make a static neighborhood list that only has employee names on it. Ultimately, we don’t want to overwhelm people with too many choices if they don’t need them. OfficeSpace does offer support through the Client Support team. So companies can get assistance with set-up and optimization of their new neighborhoods.

What types of User Defined Criteria can be used to customize membership in a neighborhood?

Each employee record in OfficeSpace comes with a couple of default fields, like Name, Department, and so on. They come shipped with the product. Those fields need to be filled out by the client for the product to work properly; however, it’s easy to upload these default fields and in some cases, can be done automatically using HR files. 

From there, in addition to those standard fields, we also have support for up to 35 user defined fields (UDFs). These are empty fields to allow for custom data points that are unique to each client. You can use them to create a very robust set of rules for your neighborhood. I’ve even seen clients use them to denote food allergies. This ensures you don’t have someone with a nut allergy sitting next to someone who loves their peanut butter sandwiches.  

Finally, Office Neighborhoods makes it easy to track sharing ratios. Why was it important to include this feature, and what sharing ratio would you recommend? 

Ratios are a great, simple way to check the pulse of things, vis-a-vis capacity and whether or not your neighborhood layout is at a healthy number. I’m going to say, in a highly unscientific way, that I view anything lower than five to be healthy, but that’s really just a gut check for me. I’m sure you could get a dozen different answers from a dozen different people. And each client will have different ways of calculating what a healthy office is to them. 

But if you’re talking of a ratio of 20-to-1 (i.e.: 20 employees to one available desk), that should probably start to ring some alarm bells. I think in this case, the average FM would start to think the neighborhood needs more desks, or some other fix. 

That said, if you’re telling me that fifteen of those twenty people are traveling executives who aren’t in the office most of the time, then maybe that’s not a problem. Again, it’s really about finding a capacity and a level of complexity and sustainability that is right for your organization. 

Treat your ratio as a pulse check, but make sure you’re coming up with the right plan for the way your people work. 

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To learn more about how to come up with the right plan to make Office Neighborhoods work for your organization, don’t miss our first interview with Jordan. Read it here: Working neighborhoods: A feature deep dive, part 1 

OfficeSpace offers software that makes it easy to optimize any neighborhood layouts. Reach out for a free demo.

Photos: PeopleImages, hobo_018, filadendron, Cecilie_Arcurs