Basic office planning guide – How office environment and seating plans change people’s attitudes

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Basic office planning guide – How office environment and seating plans change people’s attitudes


You may or may not be aware of this, but in the office environment, seating plans and the style or desks utilised can have a huge impact on your workforce – for better and worse. We’ve created this basic guide to ensure you don’t fall into many of the hidden pitfalls of simply buying office furniture without regard to how this will impact your members of staff.

The negatives of getting seating and desk plans wrong

The difference between happy staff and low morale can have severe detrimental repercussions for your businesses bottom line. Everything from level of stress, job satisfaction, absenteeism and staff turnover can be a direct impact from the way the office environment has been designed or through the continuous churn of office desk and seating movements. Take note of the below points – do you feel that your business falls below par on any of these, or perhaps there’s something new for you to try?

Overview – 1900s to present day

The 1900s office environment was mastered by plans of open office environments that were cram-packed with as many bodies as possible, lined up with military precision in most cases with high levels of surveillance from line managers, keeping their eye on what staff were up to. Unfortunately, there may have not been much change from then up to present date for many businesses around the globe, mostly because this is what small business owners and office managers stereotypically see as the standard office environment.


It’s not until you start looking at ’21st-century’ companies such as Google that you start to see the biggest change. A great example of taking things to the extreme, you have to look no further than the geniuses at play @ Mind Candy AKA Moshi Monsters HQ in London. View this short video and look at what we believe to be an extreme ‘prototype’ of the office of the future in this video.

The lean office environment

The learn office environment says exactly what it is – it’s a minimal concept that allows for easy hot desking because of the lack of personalisation, which many believe to be the most efficient way for people to work – clutter-free desks = clutter-free minds?

Unfortunately, while some studies show that hot desking can have a positive impact in certain office environments, it is now widely accepted that not giving staff members a place they can call home can lead to a negative impact on workload output.

The enriched office environment

The enriched office environment sees employees working in an office environment that offers decoration around the office, but this is strictly dictated by management.

While this notes a slight positive impact on the environment, the problem here can be that it’s a ‘forces’ enriched environment that has no empowerment or personalisation by individual staff members.


The empowered office environment

The empowered office environment takes decorating the office a step further by allows members of staff to enrich their environment by selecting their own means of decoration. You, of course, don’t want complete free-reign to create a hugely cluttered environment, but perhaps suggest to members of staff the budget or number of items that they are allowed to purchase (or perhaps both – we don’t think you want anyone buying just 1 high expense item)! As previously mentioned in a recent article we created, you may want to allow members of staff personalise their environment by creating a focal point in the office and perhaps give some persuasion on ways to keep a tidy desk with numerous desk accessories.

While your members of staff may want their own strong personalised look for the office, we also suggest you bring colour and keep a sense of your business by allowing small amounts of firms colours to splash through the office environment – perhaps taking note of our HD Colour office desk and storage range, available in 5 different colours. There are also numerous other ways to help add colour to the office environment.

Where and how people are seated

We recently created an article on the varied styles of office desks that are available and the best practice use of each, so if you haven’t given this a read yet, it’s well worth a few minutes of your time by clicking here. In essence, you need to think about your team(s) and how best collaboration will work. For example, IT developers typically prefer to work in calm, not to conversational environments. Thus, giving a ‘home base’ environment that allows for quick access with co-workers is ideal, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that IT developers want to be in close proximity to others. However, as surveys have shown, many IT developers are, by the nature of the beast, socially awkward, so it’s important not to create too much of a ‘walled garden’ that IT developers find it hard to reach out to others and visa versa.

If however, you need a team that’s sole purpose is all about cohesive teamwork, 120 degree 3-way cluster desks are ideal for gelling teams and ensuring the free flow of communication.


When it comes to meetings – you are where you sit

In fact, this is not just meetings, it’s how desks are planned out, period. However, typically in meetings, people have free choice of where to sit, so pay close attention to those seating positions, or, if you want a certain outcome (or at least help perpetuate one), the following seating principles will help you.

Be the leader – Head of the table

If you are not naturally the best leader or communicator, but you are in a position that is required of you to be just that, the best seating position for you is to be ‘head of the table’. Typically, this is best done on a rectangular meeting table, however, be aware of anyone that sits the opposite side as this person will be the one who feels most inclined to offer a counter view to yours. In this instance, it’s best to remove the seat from the opposite end if you want to keep conflict to the minimum.


If you have other people in the meeting that you believe have the same views and pointing in the same direction as you want to take the meeting, have these people flank you by either side – these people are your first line of defence.

For those that you believe to be most divisive, or against you in a meeting – sit these individuals to the middle of the desk. In this position, the least amount of people will see them and it’s only you and those that sit opposite of them that have direct eye contact. Remember; direct eye contact plays an incredibly important part when you are trying to put your point across, thus, head of the table, you can have eye contact with everyone, but everyone seated in other positions have less – far greatest being in the middle seat.

However; be cautious of no end seats to rectangular meeting tables – this now puts the people in the middle as the leading figures and those at each end with the least fighting chance to add to the conversation.

No leader – the circular meeting table

It may be that you need to resolve conflict, or perhaps you are the CEO of a business needing to discuss matter with lower or non-management. In this instance, you want to come across in the least authoritative position – that’s why the circular table is best for you. Everyone has the exact same amount of desk space and with no head of the table, this encourages people to be more open in expressing their opinions.


Enrichment and identity empowerment increase well being and organisational citizenship behaviours, thus having a positive impact on output, but be cautious of violating identity realisation that can pull down staff morale.

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