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The Many Faces of an Office Floor Plan

The biggest challenge with office floor plan design is making an effective contribution to your process.  The philosophy behind it has changed quite substantially over the years.

I keep thinking back to that homage to George Orwell’s novel “1984”, produced by Apple as a commercial to introduce the Macintosh computer, during that year’s Super Bowl.  You might remember the large rooms in which row upon row of “workers,” all clad in gray coveralls, are listening to a “leader” telling them how the world advances through conformity.  An absolutely terrific ad, and directed by Ridley Scott, no less!

Luckily, we seem to have moved beyond the horror fest of the workplace that was nothing more than a schoolroom arrangement brought forward into the business world:  all the desks face the front of the room, and having workers practically elbow-to-elbow was a sure-fire method to douse creativity.

The Early Days of the Office Floor Plan

Robert Propst moved to solve the problem of the Office Wasteland, as he called it, of the 1960s.  He claimed it stifled creativity, blocked talent, frustrated people endlessly and sapped their strength.  His answer: in 1968 he invented the three-walled mini-office, which he called the Action Office.  We, of course, came to know it as “the cubicle.” Dilbert™ fans rejoice!

The new office layout reduced the noise generated by co-workers, and provided some privacy, but still allowed people to discuss and collaborate on projects.  It incorporated storage space that necessitated periods of standing, which he thought was a wise and healthy thing to do.  The walls helped workers escape the feeling of “being watched,” and at the time, it was enthusiastically embraced.

The Modern Office

Enthusiasm waned for the rigid, interconnected office design, and soft walls on pedestals took over.  These were better at absorbing sound, and provided a place to add a little personalization; the added bonus was that the size of the office space could be altered according to need.

The Dilbert™ Generation

Nothing lasts forever, and once DuPont™ tried the German “Office Landscape” floor plan, North America started to gradually switch over.  Though Propst won a 1985 award for best office innovation in the previous twenty-five years, people had fallen out of love with the cubicle and longed for the open floor plan design.

What they had forgotten in the intervening years was just how annoying their neighbors could be.  Many people found it much harder to concentrate and focus on tasks.  “Cooperating and interacting with fellow workers” evolved into “a complete lack of privacy,” and many workers reported that they wished they could have their cubicles back.

Where does that leave us?

The answer is: there is no definitive answer.  Each situation has unique aspects and there is no office floor plan one-size-fits-all solution.  If you are an ad agency, for example (think The Crazy Ones, or Mad Men), then you might benefit most from the open office floor plan design, as it encourages collaboration and creativity.

If your staff is on the phone all day long, then you probably don’t want a lot of background noise.  In this case, cubicles, or even private offices, might be the best solution.

It doesn’t end there

There are a number of additional considerations in office floor plan design, including color, comfort, lighting, environment, as well as services & amenities. 


Psychological studies have demonstrated that green relaxes us and makes us feel better. Red inspires us to creative action, but only for a short period of time. Pink calms us down, brown makes us lazy. Blue is by far the most popular.  Perform a color study before you invest in paint, new furniture, or equipment for your new office floor plan concept.


Good office furniture works wonders and can provide many years of service.  It can also contribute to the good health of your employees.  Cheap, sticky drawers make us angry; rickety chairs make us worry.  Make your selections wisely and your office floor plan will actually support greater productivity.


Natural source sunlight makes us feel better.  We don’t have much control over the availability of sunlight in our office spaces, but if not available, at least use full-spectrum lighting in the workspace, since it enhances creativity.


If an office is too warm, it makes us sleepy and inefficient.  If it gets too cold, we can’t focus.  Additionally, if an office is too moist, it is a source of distraction and discomfort, but if it is too dry it can strain our immune system and make us frequently sick.  Think in terms of office plants — they are not only visually pleasing, but they tell us when the office environment is unhealthy for people, too.

Services & Amenities

Not enough can be said about wireless and hardwired Wi-Fi Services.  They are vital to the way we do business nowadays, and generally speaking, neither is adequate on its own.  In addition to an ergonomic office floor plan, the correct provisioning of an office is an essential step in making your business a success.

Do not, however, overlook the niceties such as good quality beverage services (water, tea, coffee, or specialty items) that appeal to your office demographic.  People will always need a proper lunch facility that is away from their desks, as changing environments do wonders to reset your brain.

This is the primary reason we use separate Conference Rooms or Training Rooms: it prepares the brain to accept new data.  As some people like to say: a change is as good as a rest.

The Takeaway

A good office floor plan isn’t rocket science.  A comfortable place is conducive to good work.  When people look forward to going to work, they always perform better. Most importantly, it sets the tone for all your dealings with customers that might have occasion to visit.

So, next time you consider your office floor plan, think on this: if it is some horrid little dungeon, expectations are going to plummet, and that’s a given. Your employees probably won’t stay, and customers might even decide not to do business with you. You spend a large portion of your day ensconced in your office, doing what you do. Don’t you think it’s about time for an office floor plan that actually works?

If you need a convivial, impressive, and pleasant location to meet with customers, please feel free to call us at 973-575-6080, or stop by either of our locations at 330 Changebridge Road in Montville, or 181 New Road in Parsippany.  We would love to talk with you!


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