In the realities of the modern world, people spend a huge amount of time at work. To make their working process effective, there is a whole industry of office, business centers, the areas of which include the place of work itself as well as related premises such as cafeterias, studios, and workshops. Competent layout of these areas and spaces ensures not only a safe stay of a person in the workplace, but helps to increase the efficiency of work in the whole enterprise, which is the ultimate goal of office space design. Designing offices and office centers is an essential area of engineering, affecting both the life and needs of one particular person and the whole enterprise. The specifics of designing office centers combine several areas of engineering solutions and technologies. When constructing office centers, everything is subject to detailed study – architectural and structural solutions, engineering networks, fire safety, because these sections of the design greatly affect the subsequent work productivity and safety of people in these buildings and structures.
This project is focusing on designing a new facility layout to achieve the company’s goals. The company employs many technical and administrative employees, the number of which is constantly growing and results in crowded work spaces and subsequent decrease in employees’ satisfaction and productivity of their work. At present, several company’s departments are divided into two different locations due to the absence of space for all employees in one area; this situation leads to miscommunication and misunderstanding between the workers. In addition, it affects the employee performance, attendance, and safety. To combat this situation, the company commissions building a new extension to shift administrative employees there and wants it designed based on the departments’ needs.
The project comprises several stages: preparatory stage aimed at collection of initial data and management’s wishes; design concept; design project; and architectural and construction section. Moreover, heating, ventilation and air conditioning considerations that are not a part of this project will have to be added before the building is fully completed. Preparatory stage includes identifying the employees’ needs and developing a plan of building with arrangement of equipment, as well as establishing the total capacity and suitability of the potential premises for the needs of the company (Andrade & Bragança, 2019). Design concept presupposes visualization of the main functional areas and determining an estimated cost of the project.
Design project is developed on the basis of design concept and consists of measurements of the building; design solution with indication of all the necessary dimensions of premises; a plan with the arrangement of furniture and equipment. Moreover, it comprises six sigma DMAIC methodology with engineering tools (Abualsaud et al., 2019). Architectural and construction section is the optimal set of working drawings necessary and sufficient for obtaining a construction permit and carrying out construction work (Rezaei et al., 2019). Finally, heating, ventilation and air conditioning considerations that are to be examined after the project is finished include determining the capacity of heating and air conditioning system, axonometric scheme, and specification of equipment and materials. The contribution of this project lies with the fact that the new extension will allow employees to have a more comfortable workplace that will boost the effectiveness and productivity of their work.
The Features of Office Layout
The importance of comfortable working environment and the necessity to design spacious office layouts has long been recognized. The office layout is understood as the proper location of workplaces, open spaces, meeting rooms, and offices. The office layout project begins with the development of planning solutions and the construction of logistics communications between the departments of the company. At the first stage of design, office layout options are created and the concept of the idea of the future office project is being worked out. The layout options include the design of public spaces: reception areas for partners and visitors, meeting rooms, workrooms, open space, and executive offices.
Researchers stress the interconnection between comfortable work space, productivity, and effectiveness and focus on effects of ambient environment features in employees’ job satisfaction (Lee & Brand, 2005; Öhrn et al., 2021; Solomon, 2018). The studies found that removing partitions and small offices and replacing them with large areas often facilitates interaction and cooperation between employees. This approach can be especially useful for departments that rely on creativity to solve operational and marketing issues. Among the factors that have a direct impact on employee’s productivity, researchers name low noise levels, good light, décor elements such as plants, rugs and pictures, non-linear placement of furniture, adequate ventilation and heating issues (Lee & Brand, 2005; Öhrn et al., 2021; Solomon, 2018). However, it has been found out that location of offices, departments, equipment, and tools have a major effect on employee productivity, while décor elements have a low effect. That is why nowadays office layout is seen as a determining factor in enhancing employees’ productivity and must be primarily considered when planning to build an extension for the company.
Practices of Designing Office Layouts
Designing offices has long been seen as a major part of office building; however, it’s very concept during the years has undergone significant changes. Initially seen as any premises where any amount of work could be done, offices have transformed from dim crampy places into spacious suites suitable for business meetings and presentations. Seitz (2019, p. 5) states that transformation of office space began with “the proliferation of paperwork associated with the Industrial Revolution” as the quantity of the administrative work increased. In the first part of the twentieth century, offices were seen as crampy spaces with numerous desks for employees. The design left little room for movement and comfort of employees with the focus of sitting as many people as possible into limited spaces. The desks conformed to straight lines and no room for décor elements was provided. The first changes were introduced with the development of Bürolandschaft office design concept in 1958 that “entailed the strategic arrangement of large open-plan spaces, with desks and plants placed at odd angles to break up sightlines, carpeting and acoustic ceilings to absorb sound, and sophisticated heating and cooling systems maintaining an even temperature”. (Seitz, 2019, p.7) This design was seen as more employee-friendly as it allowed more room for self-reflection, which ultimately translated into higher productivity.
The next step of evolution of office design comprised making partitions to enhance employees’ privacy. The best-known concept of this design is the cubicle, a relatively small space with a table and a computer surrounded by walls of grey fabric panels (Beno, 2021). While ensuring privacy, cubicles did little to boost employees’ performance since the enclosed space made people feel depressed and gloomy. Due to this, in the 1990es, office designs underwent a transformation towards an open plan office designs. Open plan office is the layout of a workspace where there are no walls as such. The only exception may be the executive offices with glass walls. The transparency of the partitions supports the concept of an open plan office (Beno, 2021, Seitz, 2019). The advantages of such a layout lie with the easy interaction between departments, openness and transparency of working processes. Moreover, it facilitates communication, though privacy issues may be compromised.
Nowadays, after the COVID pandemic, the concept of facility designs has undergone significant transformation. Design solutions of modern offices are moving towards transformable multifunctional spaces. The same room can be a meeting room, a collaboration area with a podium and marker boards, a training class or a gathering place for all employees (Kaufmann-Buhler, 2021). Such a request for mobility of solutions is born due to the rapid mobility of employees: one day a hundred employees may come to work, and the other one hundred and fifty. More and more people work and do not need a fixed office space. Managers try to anticipate these risks and ask to create a space without walls, using mobile partitions that two people can take and simply move, if necessary. An increase in the proportion of those who work remotely requires appropriate office equipment. Screens, cameras, microphones, interactive electronic boards with the possibility of collaboration should be installed in meeting and conference rooms (Pimenova, 2019). Moreover, Plexiglass or glass screens separating managers from customers and visitors from each other, have become widely used in 2020. Furniture manufacturers are working to ensure that offices after the coronavirus are not only safe, but also stylish. Another modern trend is the inclusion of natural elements in the interior of the office (Gnedina et al., 2019). It is not simply beautiful: the abundance of plants, the use of natural materials and sufficient natural lighting have a positive effect on the physical and mental health of employees, their performance.
The Impact of Office Layouts on the Employee Productivity
Due to the fact that a number of approaches have been adapted to development of office design, such as cubical offices, open-space offices or modern transformational offices, researchers cannot come to an agreement as to the optimal features modern facility layout should have to boost employees’ productivity. Moreover, the methods through which such a layout can be designed differ greatly in different studies. Thus, Reggasa (2013, p.54) emphasizes the necessity of “the layout problem—placing the manufacturing resources (machines, departments, or cells) within the available floor area” and “the determination of the network system to support material flow interaction between facilities”. The method she recommends is the simulation of process flow, which presupposes the creation of a mathematical-logical model of a real layout and then subjecting this model do different tests using computer-based programs. Liggett (2000) sees the most important layout factor that enhances productivity in assigning different activities to different locations done through the use of automated space allocation algorithms. Ali Naqvi et al. (2016) stress the importance of ‘lean manufacturing’ which they consider the combination of material flow that allows to get rid of storage spaces with the increased efficiency of workforce. Wei et al. (2019) highlight the importance of creating flexible environments that will allow the enterprise to reduce costs when changes have to be made. The methods proposed to design such layouts is ‘a chaotic generic algorithm with improved Tent mapping’ that allows to model the space in different time settings and improve its effectiveness.
LSS Practices in Employee Productivity
“Lean” is a methodology aimed at increasing productivity and eliminating steps that do not add value. “Six Stigma” is a set of tools for continuous improvement of the process and may be seen as an approach to improving performance, based on obtaining information about the variability the capabilities of the process (Singh & Rathi, 2018). Simultaneous use of these technologies allows to save time, improve labor productivity, reduce the number of errors, and at the same time increase the amount of work performed. The “Lean” technology has been widely used to increase productivity of workforce within different companies and aims to reduce the speed of any process by reducing six types of losses. These processes include excessive processing, multiple and unnecessary transportation, excessive movement of personnel, excessive commodity material stocks, time delays, and overproduction (Singh & Rathi, 2018). With the help of Lean Six Sigma tools, the process flow and the delay time during each individual operation are analyzed. At the same time, steps that add and do not add value are identified. These actions help to get rid of operations that do not add value and the costs associated with them. Minimizing the excessive complexity of the process and standardizing it helps to save resources and eliminate the possible defects.
The Six Sigma system is an active approach to improving the performance of the enterprise. One of the methods of solving problems in the Six Sigma system is the approach DMAIC. This approach provides the process improvement team with a specific action plan. “Lean” and “Six Sigma” are complementary elements: the introduction of “Lean” and “Six Sigma” tools in the DMAIC approach makes it possible to target the project at the same time to eliminate losses and variability (Madhani, 2022). The combination of these approaches works well for assessing the productivity of workforce allowing the managers to determine the company’s lean wastes and at the same time to determine the roots behind the lean wastes problem. Though few studies describe the application of LLS practices in developing an optimal office layout, the potential lean wastes in office environment have been well defined. They include excessive personnel movement, when employees have to move between departments to solve tasks; unnecessary transportation of documents and facilities from one department to another; time delays due to inadequate office layout, and overproduction (Madhani, 2022). The development of an optimal office layout is aimed at reducing these lean wastes by improving the productivity of workforce.
Technological Solutions in Office Layouts
The rapid development of technological progress makes the use of technologies in planning office layout more and more mandatory. Visualization within the framework of interior representation is a photorealistic perspective image that allows seeing the design solution of the projected space or even several interconnected buildings (Bingkun & Hong, 2018). The visualization method allows the customer to immerse himself or herself in the future interior, evaluating its advantages and identifying disadvantages. This significantly reduces the risk of implementing a project that ultimately will not meet the needs of the customer. LSS Practices mentioned earlier are also instrumental
Virtual reality is understood as a world created with the help of modern technologies that recreates all the sensations of being in a space created with the help of computer graphics and third-party programs. Virtual reality creates an object completely, and this process requires a good technical base. In order to recreate office layouts engineers use sophisticated software that allows them to create realistic projects. The project is created using special software, such as the program “3ds Max” in combination with add-ons such as “V-Ray” or “Corona Renderer” (Juan et al., 2019). There are also programs that do not require any additions, as they comprise the means for immersion in virtual reality – “Planoplan”, “HomeByMe”. The created project is demonstrated to the client with the help of special software and auxiliary equipment: a VR helmet or virtual reality glasses. Virtual reality and visualization allow to evaluate the solutions in terms of quality, efficiency, and flexibility. To this end, simulation and optimization methods can be used.
Simulation is an effective method of developing a design solution, characterized by innovation, technological realism, and ergonomic validity. Simulation is able to indicate the need to change the overall design and provides for minimizing of errors of the drawing-orthogonal design method. Optimization is understood as practical calculation of optimal options and, in projecting office layouts bears the abbreviation ADO (Architectural design optimization) (Naili et al., 2022). ADO is a group of optimization methods for training and assistance in finding solutions to the problem of layout planning. Modern engineers who deal with determining the parameters of the project, use computational mathematics. The new claimed software tools allow designers to conduct a comprehensive analysis and determine the content of the project with scripting tools. To determine the optimal office layout, such MCDM techniques as Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) Method, Technique for Order of Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS) Method, and Elimination and Choice Expressing Reality (ELECTRE) Method can be used.
Data driven Techniques in Office Layouts
Value Stream Mapping (VSM) is a systematic approach to visualizing the steps needed to create value. It allows one to quickly realize that the steps to create value within DVS, such as creating code and components, deployment and testing, take only a small part of the total time of value delivery (El Kammouni et al., 2020). The first step of the approach is the visualization of all stages in the development Value Stream. The second step is to identify all the people who participate in one or another stage of DVS. The third stage is the measurement of the parameters of the development Value Stream. After these steps, the final metrics are completed and the results of the calculations show how the developed Value Stream works as a whole. Another data-driven method is Lean Six Sigma 4.0., which is “a synergistic [method] between LSS and Industry 4.0” (Antony et al., 2022, para 3.). Antony et al. (2022) state that “companies having a strong LSS culture can ease the transition to Industry 4.0 while Industry 4.0 technologies can provide superior performance for companies who are using LSS methodology” (para 5). This technique allows to combine the best practices of LSS and Industry 4.0 technologies significantly improving the project output.
While Lean Six Sigma method had been widely used to assess the measures needed to boost employee productivity, few studies describe the application of the method for designing an office layout. Meanwhile, an optimal office layout plays a key role in enhancing productivity of the working processes of any company. The gap in the knowledge related to the virtual absence of data concerning the application of designing office layouts has long been recognized. This project aims to close this gap by designing an efficient office layout using Lean Six Sigma techniques.
The abundance of different approaches raises the question as to what an optimal layout should be and through what methods it can be achieved. This research sets the task of determining an optimal layout for the company’s facility as well as the method suitable for building an extension to it. The research aims to combine the mentioned above elements and work out a layout that would at the same time be comfortable and stimulating for workforce. While the strength of other studies lies with the fact that a variety of settings and designs have been developed, the drawback is that there is no universal approach that can be used for similar facilities (Liggett, 2000; Wei et al., 2019). That is why, the project will have to be developed from scratch using the solutions outlined in scientific literature. Moreover, it is essential to bear in mind that each project is unique and aims to meet the needs of particular group of managers and employees which necessitates finding the right properties and methods used.
While the proposed techniques, such as simulation of process flow, automated space allocation algorithms, and lean manufacturing help to tackle the problem of design layout from different perspectives, their usage in my project is limited due to the specific tasks set by the managers of the company. The novelty of this research lies with the method used for design which is six sigma DMAIC methodology with engineering tools. Though this methodology is a common way of designing production processes, there are few studies as to how it can be used for office space design. This project aims to close this gap in knowledge by applying six sigma DMAIC methodology with engineering tools in designing an office extension for the company, explaining the advantages and disadvantages of the method. Moreover, the difficulties encountered in the implementation of this method will be outlined for future researchers to work on the improvement of this project’s techniques.
Research Purpose, Objectives and Scope
This research project aims to develop an office layout that increases the employee productivity and reduces the potential lean wastes.
The following research objectives clarify the purpose behind conducting this project, which will guide in achieving the study aim:
- To identify the factors that affect employee productivity.
- To identify the best practices of office layout.
- To assess and improve the current working environment.
- To design an improved facility layout that satisfies the current needs and future demands.
- To evaluate the impact of the new layout on employee productivity.
Antony, J., McDermott, O., Powell, D., & Sony, M. (2022). The evolution and future of lean Six Sigma 4.0. The TQM Journal, (ahead-of-print). Web.
Bingkun, C. H. E. N., & Hong, Z. H. O. U. (2018). Uncertainty Network Visualization Method Based on Multilevel Graph Layout Algorithm. Journal of Graphics, 39(6), 1130. Web.
El Kammouni, R., Kamach, O., & Masmoudi, M. (2020). Value Stream Mapping 4.0: A structural modeling approach. In 13ème Conference Internacionale de modelization, optimization et simulation (MOSIM2020), AGADIR, Maroc. Web.
Juan, Y. K., Chi, H. Y., & Chen, H. H. (2019). Virtual reality-based decision support model for interior design and decoration of an office building. Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management. Web.
Naili, B., Háber, I., & Kistelegdi, I. (2022). Simulation-supported design of high-rise office building envelope. Pollack Periodica, 17(1), 139-144. Web.