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Redesigning an Office Space to Maximize Efficiency

Wednesday, November 19, 2008
By Anne Kramer

Office workspaces are often cobbled together over time; cubicles are squeezed in wherever they fit, with little attention to what workers need to maximize productivity. The key to a great office design is deliberate planning every step of the way, from the basic floor plan to the location of power outlets.

Designing the Perfect Office Floor Plan

The “Golden Rule” of office layout is to consider function in every decision. Thus, before purchasing the first cube wall, it is important to consider two critical components:

  • Proximity patterns: A necessary consideration is employees who require frequent contact with one another. Despite the ubiquity of telephone and email communication, face-to-face contact should still be convenient, especially for employees who work closely with one another. These employees’ workstations should be placed in close proximity, while still providing privacy.

  • Traffic flow: Not only should main entrances and exits be easily accessible, but the path should also be clear to places like the break room or copy machines. Maintaining direct—and wide—walkways to these areas reduces time wasted in wandering though a cubicle maze.
Often it is possible to hire a consultant to diagnose layout problems and to create a plan that minimizes the need for furniture reconfiguration.

Configuring Task-Specific Workstations

Different employees will have specific workspace requirements. Computer programmers, for instance, would probably need numerous electrical outlets in handy locations, while administrative personnel might want conveniently located file cabinets. The well-designed workspace will incorporate these features seamlessly. Several factors should be considered when designing for specific tasks:

  • Lighting: People who primarily read from a computer screen need dimmer lighting than those who mostly read from hard copy, so lighting should be chosen accordingly.

  • Technological needs: Employees who use laptops will need different accommodations than those who use desktops. Furthermore, employees who do significant amounts of reading from a computer screen need to rest their eyes frequently by focusing on something in the distance; they will need an opportunity for that within easy sight of their computer workstations.

  • Workspace usage: Desk space should be configured for functionality, with areas available for different kinds of tasks. For instance, computer programmers who often do paired programming should have desk or counter space long enough to host two computers side by side.
Tailoring Workstations to Each Employee

Even people who do the same job have different needs. Ergonomics comes into play here: each workstation should be adjustable to fit the physical needs of the individual employee. This does not mean ordering a different style of office chair for each employee. Instead, it is preferable to order workstation components that are adjustable, to fit any employee’s physical requirements.
  • Chairs: All components of the chair should be adjustable, from the height to the armrests. A properly fitted chair encourages proper posture, a key factor not only in injury prevention, but also in maximizing productivity.

  • Work surface height: Along with the height of the chair, that of the desk is also important. Adjustable tables work well for employees who complete a wide variety of tasks. Desk risers are an economical alternative to replacing a desk.

  • Office accessories: Adjustable keyboard trays, monitor risers, and footrests, may be necessary to adapt the workstation for injury prevention.
Although it may seem more cost effective simply to purchase generic cubicles and workstations in bulk for all employees, customizing the layout and workstations of the office will ultimately improve productivity and employee satisfaction.

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