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Improve Communication Through Office Design

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There are plenty of hurdles that a company has to deal with on a daily basis. Chances are, you deal with hard to please clients or fickle customers.  But communication goes beyond those that benefit from your services and/or product. One area that is often overlooked is communication between employees. One huge way to improve communication between employees is through the design of space.

Many mistakes being made in offices are due to poor or hurried communication. Keeping everyone connected is a challenge in itself, and inevitable human errors are happening because of the way we stay in the loop. 

There has been much discussion around the idea of an open floor plan as a way to encourage employee conversation. Millennials are especially drawn to collaboration areas and natural light, which is consistent with their values of sustainability and community.



Mutually Human headquarters has pockets of tables in a large open space

By breaking down walls, employees are able to connect more often. Does this guarantee healthy communication in every case? According to a 2008 Asia-Pacific Journal of Health Management report cited in Scientific American, open floor plans increases blood pressure and staff turnover. One might argue that being able to provide employees with privacy will encourage productivity and creative thinking. Even something as simple as privacy screens if a private office is not an option.

The new Facebook headquarters are boasted to be the largest open floor plan offices. There has been discussion around whether or not this will be a good thing. 



Facebook headquarters model

Making the conscious choice to lease an open floor plan office space should be for the benefit of the employee, not to cram in as many workers as possible. Keep in mind that not all companies run the same way. 

When designing an office for communication, consider these points:
  1. What type of work are your employees doing?

    Heads down work might get disrupted by overheard conversations, so consider workplace distractions if you are working with an open floor plan. On the other side of the spectrum, highly collaborative environments would need impromptu meeting areas for brainstorming and planning.

  2. What technology does your office use?

    As more and more mobile workers are added to companies, it's a good assumption you have some sort of webcam setup. Create a private area for this technology.

  3. How many meetings happen because of chance run-ins at the watercooler?

    Unexpected areas to meet and lounge will give you privacy away from a desk (and away from a coworker looking to steal your ideas).

  4. What is the breakdown of personal versus public space?

    Encouraging employees to express their personalities in the office is important for them to feel valued, creative, and productive. Give them the option to have a personal area for themselves as well as shared spaces for part of the team (or the whole office). There is no right/wrong ratio for personal versus public; decided what is right for your ideal working environment.

  5. How much work is collaborative?

    If you are constantly walking over to a coworkers desk to talk about a project and look at files, a shared table might be more beneficial to get work done quickly and effectively. Instead of wasting time walking back and forth, or shouting at each other, sitting at the same desk means more face to face time.

  6. What personality types exist in the office at this current time? Inverts versus extroverts, and so on?

    Different personality types are productive because of varying reasons. Many introverts feel weighed down by office chatter, and feel refreshed when they have a moment to step away and recharge. Adding in private areas will help everyone stay sane.

What do you think is best for communication in the office? And how can a design of an office encourage productivity and creativity?

Comments

Yuan Zhou February 7, 2013

chairs also helps communications. It helps people to turn around and move easily.

wholesale office supplies March 3, 2013

It is really important to setup the office design to promote communication. The conventional office design where employees are separated by workstations, isolates workers from one another. It is not healthy for the well-being of the employees.

TerraByte March 11, 2013

My 400-person office is moving to a new building in 2015. Our business involves property management and office leasing. We conducted an elaborate survey of our staff, for which I was responsible. As a consequence, we know a lot about our staff work styles including personality preferences like MBTI.

85% of the staff telework (work outside the main office) at least one day a week. A third of the staff are mobile (have no permanently assigned desk within the office). All staff will be mobile by the end of this year. On average, the staff spends 59% of their time working alone at their desks, 22% of their time in meetings, and 19% of their time interacting with others. We collaborate three times more often by technology methods (virtual meetings, email, telephone, chat, messaging, discussion forums) than we do by meetings. 60% of our meetings are informal gatherings at desks and common areas.

I don’t know the breakdown of personal versus public space but our workstations are 62 sq ft in our current space and 42 sq ft in the new office. Desks will not be assigned, but rather will be available by reservation or availability. We expect to have at least 15% more available desks than staff coming into the office on any day. Each employee will, however, have a small permanently-assigned space for personal items and file storage.

I’m trying to convince management and our space planners to take personality types into account when they design our new office space. Half the staff are introverts who don’t do well in the open-plan designs that the articles in business magazines drool over.

Do you know of any articles, case studies, or examples of businesses that have designed their office space using MBTI or other personality characterization systems?

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