A floor plan is as important as any other type of plan you need to run an effective business.

What makes me a specialist at designing office layouts?

Well, you’ll need to know a little bit about my own shop. My dad and my uncle had started the business in 1936 in what was then a thriving beach community located on the shores of the Atlantic in the furthest section of greater New York City.

Before air-conditioning was as prevalent as it is today, our company’s hometown (and my hometown as a kid) was a premier destination for all those who sought relief from the oppressive heat of summer.

By the 1960s, however, air-conditioning was common and those who used to summer by the shores were staying away in droves. They’d found new places to while away their long summer days, and when they didn’t feel like chilling out at the sea they plopped themselves down in front of their new fangled air-conditioner.

All of which accelerated the decline of our service area and the surrounding area of our shop. By the time the 1970s and 1980s rolled around, our customers had fled, and our service area and the location of the shop became like the “little house on the prairie” in the now-abandoned outskirts. The whole place was in steep decline economically.

By the 1990s, we knew we had no choice but to move our shop to a more central location that was more accessible to our customer base. And we knew we had one chance to get this move right, so my brothers and I scouted around for a new location for about a year.

Central Locale

Our goal was to find a new home that would be central to our service area, closer to our supply chain, better able to handle the growing company and more conducive to recruiting and hiring.

When we finally had our location picked out, I studied the challenges that our existing shop created and came to the following conclusions:
  • Adding on space in a haphazard way had destroyed the effectiveness of communication.

  • A second floor in an office is an open invitation to over-stock things that should be tested, tagged or tossed. And it was a great place for staff to hide away.

  • There was no proper place to hold meetings or run ongoing training.

  • Most of our day was spent driving to reach our customers.

    After finding the right location, we committed to a total remodel of the inside of the building to better suit our goals.

    One goal was to make the building itself a “living” showroom that we occupied and used as a center of learning for our staff and our customers. The building wasn’t designed just to run the business, it was designed to show everyone what the possibilities were.

    The floor plan we came up with created a maximum of open space built around office modules with half-walls to allow open communication with some level of privacy. The other goal was to make the floor plan easy to change when our business needs changed.

    We put up the minimum amount of solid walls. And the walls we did erect had been done in metal stud and the building itself had no inside load-bearing walls so even the solid walls could be changed if the need ever arose.

  • The Rules

    As a result, the floor plan I use when helping clients design their new office space or to maximize existing office space always follows these rules:
  • Never build a second story. (Note: Not only for the reasons I have already mentioned, but it’s a terrible practice for owners and managers to move to a second floor. Does living in an ivory tower sound familiar?)

  • The center of the building is reserved for open modular space for the CSRs since it’s the center of the flow of information.

  • An organization chart dictates where everyone’s desks are. There is always a direct line of site from managers to staff they supervise for visual accountability and to quickly provide help in handling challenges.

  • The meeting room and the training center are to be more than an afterthought. They need to be designed with adequate space to handle all current training, and with room for new products and services we’ll inevitably need training on.

  • The warehouse is kept small, unless access to vendors is limited. Normally, I advocate contractors get out of the supply house business and partner with a supplier who can do this work better than they can.

  • What we do stock in the warehouse makes use of the 80/20 rule - stock only the stuff you use 80 percent of the time and purchase the other 20 percent as needed. The key items are located on shelving from eye level to knee level. Excess stock is kept above or below and in tight minimum and maximum quantities.

  • Technicians and installers are kept out of the warehouse and out of the office unless invited inside by the people they report to. (Note: Using a sliding glass window at the dispatcher location and a dutch door to a gated warehouse usually does the trick.)

  • Proper protection for the computer and phone systems is built into the design. Office supplies and access to them is kept locked with the office manager and/or owner having the key to access it.

  • How Big?

    As to how big the shop should be, a lot of that is determined by whether the trucks go home at night with the techs or get parked at the shop. If the trucks are parked at the shop, does weather and protection of property dictate that they get parked inside or outside?

    If you’re fortunate to have a large company, you may find that one giant shop has different challenges when it comes to office design. Once you reach about 25 to 30 trucks rolling each day, it gets very tough to keep the one-to-one interaction and culture intact. People come to giant meetings and sit in the room and feel disconnected.

    My advice is to give strong consideration to creating multiple shop locations. My guess is the service area has grown to allow you to have that many trucks rolling each day, so the remote location has many benefits.

    If and when you do graduate to a multiple shops - our family once ran four separate locations at one time - you’ll need to pay special attention to which shop functions you centralize and which ones you don’t. For instance, answering phones, dispatching, bookkeeping and human resource work should be centralized to maximize your economies of scale.

    To create and run effective satellite locations, however, the real secret is to have well-documented systems and well-trained managers. They get empowered to run the remote shop according to your written manuals and company guidelines, but they still get to run the shop’s day-to-day operations. This will mean objective tracking measurements on how well the remote location is performing and periodic scheduled, as well as unannounced, visits by upper management to make sure things are being done in a way that’s consistent with company standards.

    Get really good at “office by design” and it will springboard your company to the next level.