Strategic Office Layout

Having read this book, you should now be able to arrange your office furniture in such a way as to have as much power, status or control over others as you wish. Here is a case study showing how we rearranged a person's office to help solve some of his supervisor/ employee relationship problems.

John, who was an employee in an insurance company, had been promoted to a manager's position and was given an office. After a few months in the role, John found that the other employees disliked dealing with him and his relationship with them was occasionally hostile, particularly when they were in his office. He found it difficult to get them to follow his instructions and guidance and he heard that they were talking about him behind his back. Our observations of John's plight revealed that the communication breakdowns were at their worst when the employees were in his office.

For the purpose of this exercise, we will ignore management skills and concentrate on the non-verbal aspects of the problem. Here is a summary of our observations and conclusions about John's office layout.

1. The visitor's chair was placed in the competitive position in relation to John.

2. The walls of the office were timber panels except for an outside window and a clear glass partition that looked into the general office area. This glass partition reduced John's status and could increase the power of a subordinate who was sitting in the visitor's chair because the other employees were directly behind him and could see what was happening.

3. John's desk had a solid front that hid the lower part of his body and prevented the subordinates observing many of John's gestures.

4. The visitor's chair was placed so that the visitor's back was to the open door.

5. John often sat in the both-hands-behind-head position (Figure 96) and in the leg-over-chair position (Figure 132) whenever a subordinate was in his office.

6. John had a swivel chair with a high back, arm rests and wheels. The visitor's chair was a plain low-backed chair with fixed legs and no arm rests.


Considering that between 60 and 80 per cent of human communication is done non-verbally, it is obvious that these aspects of John's non-verbal communication spelt disaster. To rectify the problem the following rearrangements were made.

1. John's desk was placed in front of the glass partition, making his office appear bigger and allowing him to be visible to those who entered his office.

2. The 'hot seat' was placed in the comer position, making communication more open and allowing the corner to act as a partial barrier when necessary.

3. The glass partition was sprayed with a mirror finish, allowing John to see out, but not permitting others to see in. This raised John's status and created a more intimate atmosphere within his office.

4. A round coffee table with three identical swivel chairs was placed at the other end of the office to allow informal meetings to take place on an equal level.

t-'ijiUi* 163 Original office layout
Figure 164 .Yeuv office layout

5. In the original layout (Figure 163), John's desk gave half the table territory to the visitor and the revised layout (Figure 164) gave John complete claim to the desk top.

6. John practised relaxed open arms and legs gestures combined with frequent palm gestures when speaking with subordinates in his office.

The result was that supervisor/employee relationships improved and the employees began describing John as an easygoing and relaxed supervisor.

Continue reading here: Status Raisers

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