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As van Meel tells it, workstations in a typical office are occupied just 50 to 60 percent of the time -- which means companies are frittering away tremendous sums on real estate and energy costs. Open plans, where several employees share a single table or work space (as shown here) can moderate the outlay.

Design Council UK

Obviously, a lot of organizations still want -- and in many cases need -- private offices. So how do you create privacy without shutting off the rest of the workplace? Answer: windows, windows, and more windows. "Visual privacy is limited," van Meel says, "but you get plenty of acoustic privacy. And it sends a strong symbolic message: 'We’re open, transparent. We’re not hiding anything.'"

The Writable Office

Another benefit of glazing: It keeps private offices from feeling like prison cells. Cubes here designed by Chadbourne + Doss Architects

Google Zurich

Small, shared offices, like Google’s in Zurich, are great for work that requires deep concentration. They also encourage employees to interact with each other.


The particulars of a meeting room have everything to do with how you plan to use it. The architects Bosch & Fjord turned this space for a Danish marketing agency into a rakish playroom, complete with whiteboards and mobile furniture -- the perfect place for free-flowing brainstorming sessions.

IT-University Copenhagen

Increasingly, meeting rooms resemble classrooms and vice versa. "In terms of design, workplaces and learning outfits are both doing the same thing," van Meel says. "The idea that learning is important in an organization has become a mainstream accepted idea. You see spaces now that show that."

LEGO Group

Everyone’s favorite spot: The break area! But you shouldn’t overdo it, van Meel warns. "There’s a danger that many of these places will be underutilized, "he says. "Most work takes place at a desk. You want to create a few of these break-out areas at strategic points."


At this medical products company in Denmark, Bosch & Fjord combined the pantry and the break area -- which ostensibly saved on construction, rental, and energy costs.

Stichting MEE

"As we go digital," van Meel says, "mail areas will be the first to drop from the list" of mandatory workplace features. In the meantime, managers still need to designate space for snail mail. This office in Utrecht cleverly incorporated mail slots into employees’ lockers.

Selgas Cano Architects

One of the most important things to think about when designing an office is how to stay true to your brand identity. These stunning, futuristic headquarters in the middle of a Spanish weald are perfect for an architecture firm, but probably wouldn’t help a law firm nab clients.


A creative agency in Oregon looking every bit the part


An architecture firm in Genoa, Italy

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Managers: Here's a Primer for Creating the Perfect, Productive Office [Slideshow]

The field of workplace design can feel absurdly like political debate. You've got experts on one side barnstorming for freewheeling open-office plans and experts on the other side espousing the 9-to-5 equivalent of a sensory-deprivation chamber, with each concept held up as an affirmation of some all-important corporate value. (Creativity! Privacy!) The whole thing's terribly reductive, and it glides over the fact that different organizations benefit from different office arrangements. Not only that, the same organization often requires a variety of layouts.

Planning Office Spaces: A Practical Guide for Managers and Designers, by Juriaan van Meel, Yuri Martens, and Hermen Jan van Ree, is the rare bipartisan primer. First written in Dutch and now available in English, it presents the pros and cons of a raft of workplace features, from team spaces and locker rooms to cubicles and private offices. The point is less about proving the superiority of one plan over another than helping managers, employees, and others decide on the design best suited to their company. That, in turn, can vastly improve worker productivity and even reduce the cost of doing business. "I get a little tired of this formulaic thinking," says van Meel, who, like his co-authors, has spent his career analyzing and researching workplace design. "If you look at the existing literature, people are saying oh, 'Everybody needs a hot desk.' But companies should make up their own mind. What works for a creative start-up won't necessarily work for a well-established law firm."

Consider the open-plan office everyone goes gaga for nowadays. As the authors point out: It makes efficient use of space, which managers loves because they pay less rent; it's easy to reconfigure; and it eliminates pretty much all barriers to communication. On the negative side: Open floorplans are noisy, depersonalized, and they're lousy for confidential work. You don't see many lawyers sharing enormous craft tables.

Or, think about game rooms. They're practically mandatory at studiedly casual Internet startups nowadays. But while they can improve morale and help employees unwind, they're also a waste of expensive office space — especially if they're underused.

To help managers make design decisions, the book includes a handful case studies. Among them: a refurb of an insurance office that was spending 25 percent more on operating costs than comparable institutions and as a result, decided to place the entire workforce at shared desks; and a media company that filled its office with designer furniture and brainstorming space to stimulate creativity.

Here, van Meel takes us through some of the key factors to consider when piecing together a new workplace.

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