Modern Office Floor Plan Design

You no longer listen to big hair bands and drive a TransAm so why are you still working in an office with a floorplan from the 80s? Survey results suggest your company may be a few decades behind in the office floor plan design evolution. Working in an office floor plan layout that doesn’t support your team’s work style can hinder productivity. Here is a quick summary of the past, present, and future trends in the office floor plan design adapted from the research of workplace strategy firm NBBJ.


Conventional floor plans typically have a mix of private offices and open space cubicles. These spaces were very popular in the 1980s and 1990s and remain popular with law firms, investment banks, and companies in, ah-hem, less creative industries. Conventional layouts are great for privacy but are typically rigid in nature and lack collaborative spaces. Promotions, re-orgs, or simply shuffling project teams can cause logistics nightmares for companies with conventional floor plans.


Benching floor plans rose in popularity during the 1990s and 2000s thanks to Wall Street trading floors and Silicon Valley startups. Benching does away with conventional cubicle farms replacing them with long benches which typically have minimal partitions. Benching reduces barriers to social interactions making it great for impromptu face-to-face conversations. Benching is also an extremely efficient use of real-estate which makes it the modus operandi for cash strapped startups.


Mobile layouts are designed with a mobile workforce in mind. Mobile layouts typically support two types of workers i) remote workers that occasionally “touch down” in the office and ii) workers that base themselves in the office but work with lots of different teams and move around the office regularly (think project work, hack weeks, rapid prototyping). The mobile strategy generally uses a hub and spoke model where there are multiple offices which have mobile workspaces that team members can use when they are in the area. Silicon Valley companies continue to open mobile optimized offices in San Francisco where team members can “hotel” in a desk or host customers even if San Francisco is not their home office.


Activity-based workspaces create space assignments based on one’s activities rather than one’s department or title. IDEO made this workplace design famous in its Palo Alto office. The idea is to co-locate multi-disciplinary project team members in a flexible and adaptable workspace for the duration of a project. Once the project is over, the individuals move on to new projects and the company allocates the space to a new team. Activity-based workspaces are extremely flexible by design. They do, however, require team members to make a mental shift from “I work here” to “I’m working on this.”


The Hospitality strategy is the most radical and forward thinking of the five strategies. Strategy firms like NBBJ believe knowledge workers in the future will perform most of their individual tasks in locations of their choosing (e.g. home office, coffee shops, co-working spaces) and then come into the office only for collaborative sessions. These offices have plenty of collaborative spaces for jam sessions, brainstorms, and project planning. They also have a few private areas and “hotel” desks but generally have limited individual work space.

There is rarely a one-size fits all design strategy for your company. Most companies create hybrid environments which blend these strategies to meet their workers’ unique needs. One thing is certain: if you break down the walls of the conventional 80’s-style floorplan your team will reap the benefits of increased creativity and happiness.