1) The Open Plan Layout
This is one of the most common layouts favoured in modern UK offices. Originally conceived to encourage communication and collaborative working, these layouts often include multiple large desk banks, as well as breakout areas for meetings or relaxation.
The office in this study had no desk divider screens or floor screen partitions; only a whiteboard at the end of each desk bank. Therefore, employees had no individual, private or semi-private workspaces. No soundproofing was introduced to the office, either.
Results: Employees recorded high levels of noise in the open plan layout, which they found distracting and made concentrating difficult. In fact, when no longer required to remain in the open plan layout for the study, they immediately returned to their non-experimental desks.
2) The Zoned Open Plan Layout
Zoned open plan offices still make use of large desk banks, but instead of these being laid out uniformly in straight lines, in the zoned version for this study they angled the desk banks in a zig-zag formation and used plants, screens and other items to form subtle ‘barriers’ between each ‘zone’. This divided the office workforce into ‘teams’ based on function and department.
Also added to this layout were acoustic pods and meeting booths, offering private spaces for meetings or solo work. This style of layout was conceived to allow both collaborative and individual working.
Results: Employees in the zoned open plan layout reported 17% higher productivity than in the open plan layout. This suggested a significant improvement in employee satisfaction, enjoyment and workflow. The addition of aesthetic elements, such as planters, and acoustic elements which provided some soundproofing relief led to improved productivity and concentration.
3) The Activity Based Workspace
Activity Based Working (ABW) is a concept which gives employees the choice of a number of different workplace settings. It involves a certain ‘hot-desking’ approach, where employees are not assigned a specific desk but instead can move around the office into different ‘activity zones’ depending on the task they need to complete.
In addition to desk banks, the layout included ‘focus rooms’ (1-person cubicles with desks and screens) acoustic phone booths and a variety of different tables and spaces set up with collaboration in mind.
The idea behind this layout is to give employees a measure of control over their own work day; letting them choose the environment which suits them best for each task they are required to complete encourages productivity and concentration.
Results: The flexibility of the activity based workspace is popular with companies as it allows them to save on floor space and the cost of installing large banks of desks. However, despite the fact that this layout gave employees their free choice of where and how to work, the study participants reported 14% lower productivity in this setup than in the open plan layout. This strongly suggests that, although this style of layout is beneficial to businesses in terms of initial set up costs, in the long run it can be detrimental to their bottom line as it does not increase employee satisfaction or productivity. Participants reported that having no designated work space meant they could not always find their preferred place to work, increasing their stress levels.
4) Team Office Layout
This layout still made use of the larger desk banks, but arranged them into large ‘cubicle’ styles for each individual team using a u-shape configuration of fabric screen dividers with an upper glazed panel. Smaller, four-person desks were included, with planters dividing off these ‘zones’. Acoustic panels were hung from the ceiling to improve soundproofing - and each had a different colour to designate different team working areas.
The idea of this configuration was to limit the interaction between different teams, allowing collaboration within each unit but not within the wider office space.
Results: The team office layout, like the zoned open plan layout, was a popular choice, although productivity only increased 10% compared to the open plan layout, as opposed to the 17% achieved by the zoned open plan. Participants reported that this increase was due to the inclusion of visual aesthetics such as planters, and acoustic products which minimise noise echoing.