Business Essentials : Three L-shaped plans, one perfect fit

What do you get if you divide an 80sq ft office by 16 people? Kate Hilpern goes back to the drawing board for an answer

Anyone who has worked in an open-plan office will know just how crucial it is to get the layout right. Get it wrong and staff can feel isolated or, at the other end of the spectrum, they can suffer from lack of any privacy. Meanwhile, noise levels can be unbearable or communal space almost non-existent.

Ian Peel, the director of the media and marketing consultancy MCC International, knows this all too well. Based just outside Winchester, the firm has trouble fitting its 16 employees - who work in five teams - around its L-shaped office.

"We want to make it as communal as possible," Mr Peel explains, "but also keep noise and interruption to a minimum. We've tried various arrangements, none of which we've been particularly happy with."

When the company first moved into the office in 1999, the desks were set up facing each other in pairs all round the room. "People got on well and worked fine, but the employees at one end of the room had no idea what their colleagues were working on at the other end," says Mr Peel. "We'd go down the pub on a Friday and you'd get people saying, 'Oh, you're working on a project very similar to me. I could have helped you with it if I'd known.'"

As a direct result, MCC set up Monday morning meetings for all employees to share ideas and views. "But it still didn't change the fact that one employee might ring a journalist, and another employee might ring them a few minutes later," he says.

The current arrangement is a combination of desk clusters, one for each team. Crucially, Mr Peel says, although three teams of three people do similar jobs, the other teams - one of four people, another of two and another person on their own - can all exist independently.

Although the inter-staff communication level is now higher than it was, the layout still isn't anywhere near perfect. "There is a physical problem as well," says Mr Peel. "During the summer, we had one day when an employee had her back to everyone all day. That's not on."

To make matters worse, one member of the team of four people has to sit on his own because there isn't room for four desks to fit together.

Mr Peel's preference is for what he calls "the classic model agency layout". "Whenever I see model agencies on TV, the desks seem to be in one big oval facing each other, and I can see how that might lead to very focused work chat. I'd be happy to try this, but my only concern is that you might get someone on the phone all afternoon sitting next to someone else who is trying to write an article."

He is also willing to try hot-desking, with staff using any available workstation rather than having one assigned to them. Alternatively, a "social corner" could be set up, where colleagues could chat over a coffee. But he is keen to stay clear of cubicles, "because they can create a feeling of isolation".

www.mccint.com

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

£18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat