Over the next few weeks I'll give you some tips on managing information in our modern offices. Today let's look at some basic layout considerations.

Notice how your office feels, looks and sounds

The way our office or working environment looks, the furniture in it, and its physical layout, all have a huge impact on how we perform. If you work in crowded or cluttered conditions, it creates stress. You may not have prison bars around you, but it has a similar effect. Think of it as mental chains. It's very tiring and you can't perform at peak efficiency - your subconscious is performing gymnastics at a deep level, in an effort to adjust.

Read also:
Who's the poor sucker sitting by the photocopier?
Put it away the first time

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Picture this. You walk into a small office filled with a mish-mash of furniture. A secretary sits at a computer desk, files in front of them, trying to get a really important task done.

You open a filing cabinet and it hits you in the midriff. You step back and do a tap-dance to avoid ending feet-up in the rubbish bin. Someone else walks in looking for a colleague and stops to chat for a few minutes. Even the thought of it is cluttering, isn't it!

Or you work in a large organisation. In your office there are row on row of desks, only low partitions between the rows, and people moving up and down the aisles. Some people have very neat desks, but the fellow behind you must have been raised in a tip. His desk is piled high with paperwork, you hear him saying 'I'm sure it's here somewhere' twenty times a day, and worst of all, his clutter can't be contained. It flows like a river into your area. You try to keep his mess at bay but it feels like a losing battle.

How would a stranger or customer evaluate your work space?

Step back, pretend you're a stranger, and review your working area. What flows, what causes blockages: not just on a physical level, but also visually? Do you have desks in sterile rows, with colleagues facing each other and no partitions (a little like battery hens!)? This can feel rather confrontational for both the visitor and the occupant. Or perhaps the layout looks messy and disorganised. Seek a balanced layout that gives you gracious order and a sense of flow.

Brainstorm with your colleagues: look for improvements. They will often be quite simple, and can save a great deal of time and money, as well as increase the well-being of the occupants.

You're about to extend or move?

If your company is relocating for any reason, or remodelling your premises, get input from the people who'll be working in it, not just the boss! Incredibly often the workers are not consulted, and within days of moving into new premises, complaints surface about inefficiencies. Many of them could have easily been avoided if the designers had bothered to ask the people at the coalface. Also, get advice from a building efficiency consultant who specialises in helping companies use their office space effectively. They can save you many thousands of dollars and costly mistakes.

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A growing company was about to sign a lengthy lease on a very attractive three-storey building. They thought it would be a good idea to have the management all together on the top floor. They didn't think about the amount of time they and their staff would spend going up and down stairs to communicate with each other (there was no lift in the building). Fortunately they got advice just in time. They realised it would be more productive to locate each manager with their team. They also decided not to enter into an expensive new lease until they could find a building with a lift.

Think of the short and long-term future.

Is there enough storage for your needs, or can you create it? What space are you likely to need in twelve months? Do you, or will you, need a large workroom for production? Where are you going to put the photocopier or the printer? Is it easy to access from all parts of the building, or are staff going to be constantly interrupted as people stand around waiting to use the equipment?