Seating Arrangements - cafe style tables or hexagonal clusters?

Last post 02:37 pm January 20, 2015
by tim muttitt
8 replies
09:48 am January 7, 2015

We are looking to alter our current seating and desks from hexagonal clusters to a more cafe style arrangement to try to increase communication and therefore production.
Our long thin offices do not lend themselves to corners and nooks for break out areas so we will have to artificially create these.
We are prepared to spend quite a bit of money to make this possible and therefore do not want to find out difficulties by the trial and error route.

Some of the questions I would like answered are these:-
I have seen some fantastic and stylish furniture when Googling but does it work?
Does an all in one table for six or eight people work for the really tall guys?
Drawers under the desks or lockers at the side of the room?
How do people cope with multiple monitors?
How best to make break out areas in a regular shaped office?

Can anyone give answers to these and any other questions I haven't asked, information on their own desk layout, how good they believe it is and if they would change anything if they could.

07:08 am January 11, 2015

I assume you're asking about how to set up the office for your Scrum team... I won't be able to answer all your questions, but here are my two cents. I found that developers really like their privacy. So put the team members in close proximity so they can easily talk to each other, but make sure each one has his or her own little private space.

Don't put anyone sitting with their back to the door, and if possible, give your developers more than one monitor. You may think it's an overkill, but I always recommend three monitors per developer. One larger monitor and two smaller ones. In my experience it always increases productivity.

There are a lot of websites and services out there that specialize in advice on both practical and psychological aspects of setting up an office, I'm sure you'll find what you need with a little search from Google :).

Good luck!

04:27 am January 13, 2015

Alistair Cockburn wrote some nice stuff about team communication and layout of the workplace.
You can also find some ideas in "Peopleware" from Tom DeMarco & Timothy Lister

05:55 am January 13, 2015

Drawers that fit under desks are best avoided if they would stop two developers from sitting side-by-side. The choice of chair should also support pair programming and peer review. In my experience cafeteria chairs are best as they are light and easy to move around, but most people don't like them. One option is to have "visitors chairs" against a wall or at the end of a desk unit, but this can institutionalise the idea that paired work is the exception rather than the norm. On the whole, it's best to have chairs that can be easily moved around. Curved desks usually aren't a good idea because they are optimized to fit one person only. I generally recommend straight rectangular desks for this reason.

Seating arrangements are always a compromise. On the one hand you want to maximize eye contact, which implies that people should be facing each other around a central block of desks,and with monitors set low enough so as not to interfere with fact-to-face communication. On the other hand, this arrangement makes it harder for people to move around, as chairs have to be pushed or dragged to the other side of the block. Arranging desks around a wall shortens this travel distance but people then have to turn around in order to see others, and it can reduce the available wall space for information radiators.

03:58 am January 14, 2015

What does your team think about this?

08:27 am January 14, 2015

The best seating arrangement I ever had was having both a team room and my own cube some distance away. We did this in two different buildings (the company moved) with different layouts, and it worked great. When I needed to focus on coding, I went to my cube so I could be free from distractions. When I needed to talk to the team or just wanted to goof off, I went to the team room.

The worst seating arrangement I ever had is what I have now. We have feeding troughs, similar to this: It's handy on those rare occasions when you need to interrupt someone, but awful on those many occasions when you don't want to be interrupted. It's hard to get anything done when you're always surrounded by conversations about cats, cars, guns, glitter, etc.

03:53 am January 16, 2015

Thank you every one for your comments. Have any of you visited what you believe to be the 'ideal' office? I have been given the brief to visit some other offices to see and hear what is good and what is bad however I have no idea how to make contact with others to invite myself for a visit.

I have asked the scrum masters here for their ideas and have got some responses which are very useful, especially as it looks like they are ready for change. They all suggested the UPod of straight desks idea with whiteboards, monitors, some comfy seating and an enclosed office for occasional use, so that will be what we are basing the restructuring on, but hopefully I can add a few twists and extras to best utilise the space we have.

The one big difference between what management would like to happen and what the scrum masters want is the hot desk concept. The management believe that if we supply desks with monitors, keyboards and docking stations then each day/week people could sit in the groupings that are currently working in, plug in their laptop and off they go. Some do use desk tops as well (usually one per team) and these could be set at a specific desk that the user would then choose to sit at when they need to use it. The teams however do not seem to like the hot desk idea and want somewhere to place their personal bits and pieces and I am not sure how to get around this problem. How has everyone else dealt with this?

10:40 am January 20, 2015

Hi Avril,
as this is a Scrum forum and not an ergonomics forum, I would like to support you in how you would approach this in Scrum.
Think about self organization. The ones doing the work should be asked how they want to work. Try it, inspect and adapt. There is no single "ideal" office for all teams.
That's why I have asked: What does your team think about this?

02:37 pm January 20, 2015

To add to what Ludwig said - the team should be able to self-organize.

Getting them tables & chairs that are easily moved is the best option. The team can configure them how they like. If they wanted to rearrange how everyone is seated later on, then they can - hopefully without needing formal authority and a written work order to do so.

Let the team organize themselves.