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Over the last few years, there has been much debate over what is the most effective design for office workspaces. Some organizations advocate more traditional, individualized spaces: cubicles or private offices, with separate conference rooms for meetings. Others, including Google, have moved toward a more open layout– shared workspaces, fewer walls and more places designed for collaboration.

There are arguments for both ends of the spectrum; more privacy aids productivity and keeps distractions at a minimum, and more shared space makes an organization less hierarchical and more cooperative. There is no one model that works for every office, so it’s important to experiment with your workspaces to find a design that serves the needs of your team.

1. Build around an average week.

What does a week in the life of your office look like? What tasks does each person perform? Are there a lot of group-based projects, or do employees mostly work individually? Toward which spaces do people naturally gravitate? Over the course of a full work week, ask your team to take notes on their observations about the design of your office. What works, and what would improve productivity?

For example, if you often hold big brainstorming meetings, you might jot down that it would be helpful to have a room with white boards on each of the walls. If you have trouble concentrating on technical projects, you might note that there should be quiet, solitary workspaces people can close the door and escape when necessary.

2. Make space for collaboration.

Even if a full open-plan workspace isn’t right for your office, it is essential to create comfortable places for groups to work. Consider different areas for various types of team projects: large tables in common areas for impromptu brainstorms or meetings, small nooks with easy-to-rearrange furniture for smaller groups, large rooms for big staff gatherings. Keep pens, paper, highlighters and other helpful materials handy; WhiteyBoard is a movable, adhesive, affordable alternative to large fixed white boards (and an asset to team planning).

3. Pay attention to the details.

Look for small, gradual ways to increase productivity and collaboration through your workspaces. Lower cubicle walls so it is easier to see and communicate with nearby colleagues (while still having some separation). Utilize natural light where you can, and swap out harsh fluorescent lighting for sunlight-simulating bulbs. Paint walls colors other than white or gray to create a more welcoming atmosphere. Try holding standing meetings in a room with no chairs so updates are focused and efficient.

How is your office arranged? What changes have you made to increase productivity or collaboration?  Do you subscribe to a professional development newsletter?

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