The ideal desk layout for open plan offices?

Chances are that you are working in some form of open plan office. So you got a lot of, well, open space. The problem is: How do you organize all that open space? It seemed trivial in the beginning but it took us quite a while to figure out the perfect desk layout to create a friendly, collaborative working environment.

When we first moved into our office, we bought a bunch of desks and tried a bunch of set-ups. We eventually settled for a desk layout that I now refer to as “the galley.” Sixteen desks were organized in two rows, dividing the room into two areas. One in the front — which was buzzing and vibing. One in the back—which tended to feel somewhat lonely and sad, especially on quieter days.

Buzzing Friday morning office vibes. (Photo by Sebastian Dörken)

When new people were joining, everyone naturally wanted to get in on that front row.

To discuss work, people would just roll over to another person’s desk, or simply grab temporarily unused chairs from the other row and assemble in front of one desk. A rolling office chair ballet. It was fun, in a weird way, but it really only worked for those that were “on the same side of the row,” your nearest galley rowers.

There had to be a better solution.

“The Wheel” – maybe some other time.

We brainstormed all the desk layouts we could possibly think of and after about an hour decided to prototype the strongest contender in order to get a feel for it.

The winning layout is now referred to as “the pinwheel.” Four desks are forming one island, and there are three islands in total. This layout works amazingly well for us. It facilitates conversation, halves the width between people, makes for everyone having much easier eye contact with each other (even inter-island eye contact is now possible!), and makes much better use of the available space in general. It’s fun and functional at the same time, the space feels more welcoming and everything is much more connected.

So much nicer to work together, if you’re not having two meters of desk between you all the time.
The morning after.
Getting the hang of it.
A different perspective.

Amid all the criticism they’re getting, open plan offices are still our preferred layout, and with this new desk arrangement, we feel we’re finally making the best use of it. (Until, we find a Rundbüro, that is.)