Organizational Culture and Office Layout

Organizational Culture
Here we see an office layout that does not include desks or tables.

Did you know that the way your company’s office is arranged and the type of furniture you use is also a reflection of your corporate culture?

The relationship works in two directions–depending on the culture you already have, certain setups might be more appropriate. But the setup you have also determines to some extent what your corporate culture looks like.

Imagine that you work in a very open office space. Chances are, the work you do will be somewhat collaborative. You probably don’t spend a large percentage of your day on the phone discussing sensitive topics. Because you and your colleagues can overhear the phone calls you do have, chances are that information is shared fairly freely. Casual socialization is probably common.

Contrast with an environment where everyone has a private office or cubicle. Here, it may be easier to spend an entire day working productively without talking to anyone. If someone comes by to talk to you, it’s possible they have a reason for it.

This is an office I had at a previous job. It was very private and spacious, which may have been at odds with a relationship-driven culture.
This is an office I had at a previous job. It was very private and spacious, which may have been at odds with a relationship-driven culture.

In work I did with a colleague on office layouts and employee reactions, we learned that multiple cultures might co-exist within a single organization, which means it might make sense to adapt office layouts for different teams or functional groups.

We also discovered that even though there are hundreds of variables that might describe an organizational culture, you really only need to assess a few to understand how that culture works. The reason for this is that certain cultural characteristics tend to go together. Collaborative cultures aren’t usually also competitive or secretive, for example. The implication is that understanding an organizational culture well enough to make smart office design decisions doesn’t need to be an onerous undertaking. And that’s a good thing, since employees benefit from a layout that supports their culture.

The main benefit seems to be in terms of energy. We found that when people’s office setups worked well with the organizational culture, they were more likely to enjoy a sense of energy at work. Our guess was that interactions between coworkers feel more energizing when they support the overall culture.  If your culture resembles the more casual, collaborative environment I described above, then an open floor plan enables your work and gives you energy. If it doesn’t, then an open floor plan may become something that depletes your energy as you struggle to get your work done with environmental obstacles.

Recently, there’s been more focus on creating workspaces that complement various personality types as well as the overall work culture. I’m excited to see if it yields boosts in productivity, energy, and happiness among office dwellers.