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What is the Best Office Layout for Productivity and Collaboration?

The Robin Team
Published on

Looking to evolve your office space to meet the changing needs of your workplace and employees? You’re in good company. Seven of the ten (70%) organizations we surveyed are doing the same. And you might be surprised to hear you can gain inspiration from one of the world’s oldest office environments.

Built in 1726, the Old Admiralty Building (OAB) in London was the operations hub for the worldwide affairs of the Royal Navy. Now, it houses the Department for International Trade and has a modern workforce.

Imagine redesigning a building that once held offices for Winston Churchill and James Bond author Ian Fleming (a one-time naval intelligence officer). That was the mandate given by architectural firm Willmott Dixon. Contracted to outfit the office space to accommodate 2,400 people, the firm transformed the world-famous London landmark with modern, open-plan office spaces.

Today the building features a mix of work settings, meeting spaces, open space, and amenities (e.g., gym, coffee carts, cafeteria); indoor plants and easy outdoor access to nature… all complemented by cutting-edge technology to support hybrid work.

Let’s explore how such office and workspace elements improve productivity and, in turn, job satisfaction.

Your office design should reflect the type of environment you want for your teams.

Does Office Design Impact Productivity?

Organizations have long understood the link between office layout and promoting productivity. Over the years, office layout and workspace design have kept pace with changing work styles, management approaches, and technological advancements. Whether these shifts have been undertaken to ensure a productive workspace, reduce wasted space, improve efficiency, or enhance productivity, the pendulum swing between open floor plans to cubicles and back to open offices has been downright dizzying.

Yet organizations are wise to keep pace with latest trends around the best office layout for productivity – and the factors impacting performance. As a majority of office workers experienced the benefits – and frustrations – of working from home offices during the pandemic, they gained a strong sense of how they are supported in doing their best work.

In spite of many stories about employees balking at reporting back to the office, many people recognize the advantages of doing so. Consider that 64% of those responding to Robin’s Employee Motivators survey were more likely to come into the office if they knew their team members would also be there. In fact:

The Gensler Research Institute’s 2023 Work, Life, and the Workplace report found that “office workers…say to maximize their productivity, they need to spend 63% of their week in the office.”

While the ability to communicate and collaborate on the fly are clear motivators, it turns out that many people also get more done in an office environment humming with activity and paving the way for interactions. According to a Stanford University study, people who worked collaboratively were able to stay with a task 64% longer than those who worked independently.

This makes sense in light of research findings that “face-to-face interactions are by far the most important activity in an office; creating chance encounters between knowledge workers, both inside and outside the organization, improves performance.” Simply put, we get jazzed interacting with others – and that energizes us to dive into our own work.

What these findings underscore is that productivity is about more than knocking tasks off a to-do list as measured by output-related metrics. In offices where knowledge and innovation are the linchpin to business success, the creativity and problem-solving enabled by collaboration are a critical form of workplace productivity.

Sometimes, it can be harder to get things done quickly when working remote. When together in the office, teams can quickly communicate.

What is the Best Office Layout to Boost Productivity?

Simply put, office layout influences how and when employees interact – and the best ones are designed to support the way people work. That said, with open floor plans the norm, it helps to understand their strengths…as well as how and why they fall short.

Open office layouts and flexible workspace design (think modular spaces and ergonomic furniture) can accommodate the meetings and brainstorming sessions that occur in vibrant businesses. When your network engineer and director of product marketing bump into each other and want to bounce ideas off each other, ideally they can plop down in comfortable seats in an available space while pulling in a white board. At the same time, the optimal office space offers conference rooms and quiet zones where people can lose themselves in deep work requiring concentration.

The latter brings us to an important point about the failure of many open plan offices  to date. As early as the 1960s, open floor plan offices were met with resistance – even as they gained traction with the increase in knowledge work and the attendance interaction between employees. The problem? They failed to provide the privacy and quiet necessary for focused work. As today’s employees seek both interactions and privacy, workplace leaders and facilities managers are wise to foster both teamwork and solitude.

So, what does it take to strike the right balance between enabling both collaboration and the ability to work individually without distraction? To start, always base office-layout decisions on your organization’s unique needs. What type of work needs to get done, how do your employees work, and what spaces and resources do your teams need to be most productive?

If you’re unsure of the designs, configurations, and office layouts that will work best for your employees, ask them. Whether you use employee feedback tools or workplace analytics, be sure to consider your employees’ perspectives as you figure out the best office layout for productivity.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to productive office layouts but there are some best practices.

In addition, it may help to consider three modes of attention outlined in a Harvard Business Review article on the topic of balancing workspace collaboration and solitude:

  • Controlled attention is required when a task takes intense focus, such as writing or thinking deeply, and the desire is to minimize distractions.
  • Stimulus-driven attention describes what happens when we switch focus as something catches our attention – and are open to interruption and distraction. An example? Going from checking email to joining a conversation about the latest company news.
  • Rejuvenation refers to periodic concentration breaks we take throughout a day, which may mean engaging socially with others or spending a few moments in a peaceful environment.

As everyone enters and exits these three modes throughout a day, they need spaces that provide either more or less privacy. Even better, ideally those spaces enhance each mode.

You may also want to take into account research around office-layout characteristics associated with knowledge sharing:

  • Percentage of floor space (or square foot) dedicated to shared services and amenities
  • Visibility across different spaces

Undertaking this multifaceted process will help you start visualizing a new office and productive office space that promotes employee interaction while accommodating focused work. Whatever office layout you decide works best for your employees, the most effective ones usually feature some or all of the following:

  • Modular spaces and organized workspace
  • Comfortable, easily moveable office furniture
  • Ergonomic chairs and adjustable desks
  • A mix of private offices and open spaces (think break room, central water cooler, along with productive office space)
  • As much natural light as possible, along with other natural elements that promote well being
  • Pleasing temperature
  • Storage solutions to accommodate employee belongings in a flexible work environment
  • Live plants throughout (complemented by outdoor green spaces, when possible)
  • Noise control (perhaps offer moveable walls and provide noise canceling headphones)
  • Colors and natural light that set the right tone and mood (to both stimulate creative thinking and conversation, and soothe overworked minds)
  • Technology designed to support collaboration, such as interactive whiteboards, AV equipment, and conferencing tools
  • Technology that eases resource and room booking
  • Tools to streamline office visits and manage visitors
Consider what holistic productivity looks like for your company; you can enable focused work AND active collaboration.

Better Understand the Office Layouts that Work Best for Your Team

As mentioned earlier, you can arrive at clear insights into the best office layout for increased productivity by analyzing your own office data. Here are some examples of this in action.

Maybe you find that employees are complaining about lack of available desks when they’re in office – and data shows that your desk-booking software is largely going unused. This insight might indicate the need for additional hot desks and training on how to use your reservation software. Our Return to Office Report 2024 found that over 70% of those surveyed said they use desk booking software. Of the ones who did not, 62% spent up to 10 minutes looking for a free desk.

Interestingly, the same report uncovered what most employees seek when selecting a desk. In order, they prefer a desk:

  1. Near their team
  2. Near teams they want to collaborate with
  3. Near their favorite amenities (coffee, kitchen, collaboration areas)
  4. With the right equipment set up
  5. In proximity to leadership


Perhaps your own data shows that a growing number of leaders are reserving meeting rooms to accommodate their teams, while hot-desk bookings are on the decline. By correlating such data points – and confirming through a quick survey – you may realize it makes more sense to consolidate your hot desks and redo office layouts to create team “neighborhoods” outfitted with required resources. Just don’t assume all teams are created equal. Here your workspace analytics can surface the unique requirements of each team as relates to resources and space configurations.

When it comes to achieving the collaboration/privacy balance, remember that private spaces can block out noise but private offices might also be counterproductive to cross-departmental collaboration. Rather than dedicate a chunk of your office space to privacy, perhaps offer smaller “phone booths,” huddle rooms, and conference rooms that people can step into as needed.

No matter where you land with your office-design decision, stay curious and open about how your employees are using your physical space now. By continually consulting your workplace data, you can evolve your office design and resources to keep pace with employees’ changing needs in ways that foster productivity.

With flexible work, days in the office should include some level of collaboration that you can't recreate at home.

The Importance of Measuring Office Collaboration

Knowing how valuable data-backed insights are to your workplace strategy decisions – and that many of your employees are in office to collaborate – it makes sense to also track and analyze office collaboration. All worthwhile measurement exercises begin with the goal in mind. What metrics will you use to gauge employee performance as relates to effective collaboration within and between teams?

In addition to determining how often collaboration is occurring, you’ll likely want to understand how that collaboration impacts key business strategies, such as reducing costs, driving new business, and increasing revenue. By regularly tracking these metrics and understanding the impact of collaboration on your business, you will gain yet more data points to support your office layout decisions -- and improve employee satisfaction.

Maximize Productivity With the Right Office Layout

As you reimagine your office design in the name of boosting productivity, remember that a space and office setup alone doesn’t translate to collaboration. A thriving and productive work environment reflects a healthy company culture and successful business. Since face-to-face collaboration is a major driver for your employees being in the office, start by defining productivity for your teams. Then brainstorm ways you can encourage and nurture those face-to-face interactions and help all employees make the most of their in-office time.

featured report

Return to Office Report 2024

Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot
Does your office collaboration need a reboot?

Find out if your workplace strategy is a hit or a miss.

office map
an employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshotan employee headshot