Who sits where, and who decides?
Over the past several years, the larger working world has clued in to a fact facility managers have known all along: where people sit matters.
You don’t need to be a productivity expert to guess that putting the right people in close proximity can have an impact on work quality, collaboration and even innovation. Instead, the surprise is in just how large that impact can be. Practical experience from planners and data from the research world both point to thoughtful seating arrangements as having major value, with benefits that spread to every level of an organization:
- Optimized seating can result in financial savings. Not only is real estate expensive, but daily expenses also add up quickly. By putting careful thought into seating arrangements it’s possible to drive down operational costs.
- The right employee placement can improve workplace satisfaction, since everyone has their own likes and dislikes in terms of social activity and ambient noise.
- Strategic layouts create potential for cross-pollination, whereby employees pick up job tasks, work habits and best practices from their neighbors.
But what’s the first move for companies that haven’t fully optimized seating around the office? While the small details will vary depending on the office, its culture and the desired outcomes, several tips apply to any business looking to get better value from its seating and move protocols.
Consider your teams’ habits
There’s something to be said for putting employees with similar working styles in close proximity. Let’s say half of your team always comes in early, while the other half prefers to stay later. The early-arrivers stand to be interrupted by the staggered entry of their later peers; the latecomers might feel isolated when their section of the office is a ghost town later in the day. Grouping these employees by behavior makes sense when it comes to setting up a seating plan that works for as many of your employees as possible.
This principle applies to a variety of working styles, from phone calls to brainstorming sessions. What do your people need in order to be at their best? If you can provide optimal conditions by assigning seating based on habits, we suggest going for it.
Aim for contagious productivity
Department-based grouping is an important factor in office productivity, and the main reason organizations have been sitting accountants next to accountants and sales personnel next to sales personnel since the beginning of time. While this may seem like common sense, you should also consider the benefits of seating departments close together based on conceptual links. A few similarities is all it takes for departments to be able to learn from and bond with one another, a form of professional cross-pollination that can pay dividends in the long term. Pair your Marketing and Customer Support, for instance, or Finance and Compliance, and see what new collaborations float to the surface.
Aside from the chance to learn from one another—it’s easier to teach reps about the company’s voice when you can pop across the hall—arranging seating by paired departments also gives your organization the chance to strategically place resources both may need, a fact that applies to physical spaces such as boardrooms and to equipment like copiers and scanners. If you’re having trouble finding conceptual bonds that work, don’t be afraid to ask—employees have a good sense of whose roles sync with their own, and might appreciate the chance to give input.
Don’t be afraid to change protocol—and know who determines it
Some companies use the arrival of new hires as an excuse to shuffle the seating plan; others have quarterly intra-office moves on the books. Following this logic, don’t be afraid to make changes to your own workplace seat-changing protocol if you feel that the current plan isn’t providing enough value. Nothing is set in stone, and even short-term seating trial runs can tell you something new about your teams.
While plans can be in flux, though, make sure your organization has a clear sense of who dictates seating arrangements. In an office with an open seating scheme, this could mean the difference between simply telling employees to sit where they want—not the best idea, unless your organization thrives on chaos and confusion—and putting a formalized, technology-enhanced hot desking solution in place, thus giving employees the flexibility of pick-your-own seating with the structure of a dedicated system. The FM team should also take time to review current seating practices for pain points and areas that could use improvement. Do you have employees walking too far for team meetings? Is there a corner of the office that is consistently abandoned? Ensuring your facilities management team has a visual directory and the ability to schedule moves in advance is a great way to boost the planning already in place, and address any less-than-optimized seating arrangements.
Provide the best tools
When it comes to seating, the tech you use can be the difference between efficiency and obsolescence. Consider the employee who needs to know whether a desired desk or boardroom is available at a certain time of day. Checking—and reserving—from their desktop or phone is far easier than checking a reservation sheet or a whiteboard. By the same token, FMs can make better decisions with a real-time view of office logistics: validating (or denying) move requests becomes easier with the proper tools, as does planning a move or locating important equipment. Good FM software offers sophisticated reporting and analytics that make it much easier to optimize seating.
In other words, if figuring out who sits where is a problem, your planning may not be the issue—without the right tools in place to support decision making, even a great scheme won’t be enough. With all the benefits an effective seating plan can provide, it only makes sense to adopt the tech solutions to match.
Photo Credits: Shutterstock / luchunyu, Shutterstock / Monkey Business Images, Shutterstock / Goran Bogicevic