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Should There Be a Seating Plan In the Office?

12.02.2013
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When you're organising a wedding or a dinner party, the seating plan is always the first thing you consider. Which kind of personalities will fit well together? Will your uncle Phil get on with your mate Jim from college? Is there a decent spread of ages, personality types and genders? When it comes to arranging workers in an office setting though, it's rare that as much thought and foresight is given over to the seating plan, which is odd considering the political, emotional atmospheres that can rear their ugly heads when people spend enough time together in an enclosed space.

Though you might not want to admit it to yourself, you probably spend more time with your 'office family' than you do your actual family and as such, it's in everyone's best interests that the work environment is comfortable and largely free of conflict. A logical, considered seating plan can seriously help catalyse a calm, happy and stress free environment.

It has been proven that a considered seating plan can dramatically increase productivity in the average workplace but it's not as easy as it sounds to get it right. An office is a place of conflicting ideals, constant demands and high pressure and rearranging employees who have become comfortable and stubborn can lead to increased tensions amongst staff. In the long-run it will almost certainly prove beneficial though, so here we'll be discussing a few tips to consider when re-arranging your workforce.

Space

Draw up a map of your available office space so that you can more accurately visualise how the seating plan will work. The seating plan you eventually settle on will need to reflect how the business functions on a daily basis so try to take this into account. This means making sure there is plenty of space but also that your employees are comfortable. Seating them where they have an air conditioning unit blowing directly at them all day for example would be far from ideal and sitting them where the glare of the sunlight might make looking at their computer screen difficult wouldn't be suggested either. It's these ergonomic factors that are perhaps the most difficult to fully predict so you might want to ask for some outside help from an architect or a skilled, trusted employee.

Departments

The next and perhaps most obvious change should be to make sure that all of your individuals departments are sat together. This will promote communication and will mean less time spent walking around the office or on the phone. You should also take into account how often each department needs to communicate with one another and group them accordingly. For example, if the finance department needs to converse with the sales department on a regular daily basis, seat their departments close to one another so that there is little time wasted exchanging information between the two departments.

Personalities

We spend at least 35 hours of our week at work but you can't force people to get along (unfortunately). Speak with your employees before you make your plan and try to gain some insight into which employees get on with one another and which ones don't. If you seat your employees near people they don't get along with it could sow the seeds of discourse in the office.

Experience

Seating less experienced employees with more experienced employees might just give them the confidence boost they need. It also means that the more experienced employees will be on hand to provide help and support to their colleagues so that you don't have to.

Relationships

Are some of your employees in a relationship? Or are they just very good friends? Either way the relationships that will have formed between your employees will have a marked effect on how they work with each other. It's up to you whether or not you think sitting friendly employees together will result in more of less productivity. Of course you can't possibly be 100% sure but you can most likely make an educated guess. Try to be quite subtle with your movements though as you don't want your employees to feel like they're being treated like children at school being separated from their friends.

Fine-tuning

Don't be afraid to make some last minute adjustments if things are not working out as planned. Also consider not only your employees working attitudes but their well beings. A happy employee is more likely to be a productive employee so consider implementing an area where your staff can 'chill-out'.

Ultimately it's all a matter of taste and circumstance. It also depends what kind of office you're running and what kind of office you want to be running but by following the tips above you'll at least be off to a head start. So start planning!

This post was written for Foxhall Business Centres by Crispin Jones – serviced and managed offices for Nottingham. Crispin writes on a range of topics including business productivity and business growth.

Published at DZone with permission of Paul Andrews, author and DZone MVB.

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)