By Daniel Cochran

In the best interest of your sanity, and that of your employees, rearranging a few walls and desks in your office could be crucial. Business process efficiency, stress relief, natural flow of collaboration and creativity: these are all contributions to your bottom line, and they are all directly affected by who sits where.

If you Google the topic, the majority of the articles that come up will either be for or against an open layout. And if you ask any managerial entity since the 1950s, they will say the same thing.

The Age-Old Question

Why is the open/closed debate so prominent? If you leave your office door open most often, it conveys a willingness to hear about issues and ideas, an interest in collaborating with colleagues, and a love for laid-back workflow that focuses on the group more than the individual. On the other hand, it also may show a lack of work ethic or disinterest in boundaries between employees and employers.

Likewise, a closed door is the ultimate symbol of concentration, managerial boundaries, and office privacy. This can be seen as distant and overly-authoritative.

These principles directly apply to an overall layout. The way your employees perceive how you manage your access to them is the same way an outsider would evaluate how your company manages its access between employees.

A New Angle

As companies become more transparent, how their workspaces are laid out, and how work is completed, comes under greater scrutiny. The issue ceases to be whether we should have a football-field layout versus a maze-like one. Instead, it is which layout both suits our needs and allows employees to produce their best work.

If we’re scrapping the old debate, how do we pick an office blueprint? That’s the simple part. Ask the team. What do your employees find to be their greatest efficiency issues? What makes them comfortable and keeps them productive? What is most distracting? What is most helpful?

A, B, or C?

You’ll probably find that the best solution, satisfying the least common denominator, is neither the maze nor the open field. It’s also not a cubicle farm from 1990. Open offices are good for collaborative creativity. But, after an idea has been struck, it may be time to shut out that noisy environment and pound away at the work. Productivity and imagination co-exist best when they can have some time apart from one another.

That’s the simple part. Ask the team. What do your employees find to be their greatest efficiency issues? What makes them comfortable and keeps them productive? What is most distracting? What is most helpful?

So, set up your open working environment, as clear across from one side to the next as a Best Buy. Just make sure to give people spaces where they can also do work on their own, take business calls, or brainstorm with small groups. Everyone gets their best work done differently, so make variety a priority.

On top of that, keep an eye out for how your particular company does day-to-day business. This is about departments and individuals. If HR works most closely with finances, seat them together. If tech support and development are always walking half a mile to each other for a simple question, try shifting around who sits between them. And don’t put the chatty interns from marketing next to the gossip specialists in sales.

Your Business, Your Choice

Office design is less about how open or closed anything is than who is where and for how long. In other words, running an organization is about organization. Making a compromise isn’t really the end of the problem; it’s the very beginning of a solution. Don’t take my word for it. Do research. Send a questionnaire throughout the company or ask for some help from a professional designer.

Whenever you should decide to make the change, remember that your office space is about who your company is. Don’t let “open or closed” define you.

Daniel Cochran is a writer with Computhink. His background is in fiction writing and book sales, but he is thrilled to be a part of the marketing revolution. He is currently enthralled in the throes of blog writing, comic drawing, and brain storming, loving every minute of it. Daniel also enjoys riding his bicycle to and from the coffee shop, ordering coffee at the coffee shop, and enjoying coffee with other coffee hounds at the coffee shop. He can be reached at dcochran@computhink.com.