A Complete Guide to Deciding Who Gets an Office in Your Company


Office allocation is nearly always a thorny procedure for businesses. When many people clamor for office spaces, managers have to ensure that the distribution maximizes productivity and satisfaction. Assigning the wrong offices to the wrong employees might lead to dissatisfaction and demotivating, aside from being a waste of resources.

So, how should you decide who gets an office in your company? There are many criteria that you can use to determine which employees need offices the most. Many frameworks also exist when it comes to determining the optimum office allocations. By applying these concepts and taking company culture into account, you can make sure that offices go to people who can utilize them the most.

In this article, we will show some of the factors that businesses take into account when allocating offices. This list reflects reality, so we’ll explain which ones are more effective than others. Many frameworks are also relevant whenever office space allocation issues occur, and it’s essential to realize the implications of each.

This article also contains a short discussion of common ways to arrange office space. Finally, we give you guidelines on making office allocations less of a hassle and more useful for employees.

10 Factors to Consider in Allocating Offices

1. Rank

2. Tenure

3. Role

4. Health Conditions

5. Disabilities

6. Clients

7. Staff Requirements

8. Workspace Format

9. Interactions

10. Environmental Preferences

When leaders start to think about how to distribute workspaces, they usually have to rank employees based on one or more criteria. They proceed with assigning people based on priority; people with higher priority get more appropriate offices. Other adjustments, such as swaps, usually occur after an initial office allocation is present. Hence, the factors you use when assigning offices will largely determine who gets offices.

Many factors mentioned in this article make sense. They help ensure that employees who need officesOpens in a new tab. the most have access to one. This fact is especially important when you consider that not all roles are appropriate for remote workOpens in a new tab.. For example, team members who need to discuss quickly and respond to sudden events would be better suited to have physical offices that are close to each other.

However, many of these factors are also less appropriate for fair allocation. Some of them are relics of a time when meritocracy was not yet as prevalent as it is today. While they still have niche applications today, they have the potential to increase feelings of injustice if misused. Nonetheless, some industries and sectors continue to employ them, so it’s still important to learn about these criteria.

We wrote an article entitled “What’s the Purpose of an Office and When Should a Company get One?Opens in a new tab.” that underscores the importance of physical offices.

1. Rank

The most common criteria that people use to assign offices is rankOpens in a new tab., especially in more conservative companies. In these businesses, levels give employees power and influence. The organizational culture requires that those higher in the corporate ladder should enjoy more benefits. The concept of corner offices, where bosses get the best offices, is an excellent example of using rank to determine office allocations.

When done correctly, this system can have some advantages. It encourages people to work hard to get promotions since the prospect of having a better office is enough to motivate many workers. Since those higher up in the company need access to more resources, giving them an office with more amenities is a good idea.

That said, things can quickly go sour if the suitable workspaces go only to people high up in the corporate hierarchy.

First, this system enforces perceptions of inequality since it symbolically gives certain people more power over others. It can make it harder for leaders to relate with their direct subordinates, especially if office spaces show an extensive range of quality in the company. If junior employees get cramped cubicles while executives have sprawling rooms, workers can start to build up resentment.

Second, rank-based allocations can encourage people to get to the top at a grave cost. Competition may become rampant and out of control.

Third, this system is open to abuse as it prompts people to become hungrier for power. Employees may start to ingratiate themselves with their bosses to increase their chances of getting promoted.

Many companies already use rank-based allocations, so they should be familiar with the pitfalls of this scenario. Even if they are used to these conditions, it’s recommended to switch to other criteria if the workforce starts to become too competitive.

2. Tenure

Another standard method of assigning workplaces relies on seniority. The argument is that employees deserve rewards for remaining with a company for many years, even decades. As these people would know a lot about the internal dynamics of this company, they can be excellent sources of experience and guidance. Being the “wise elders” of the business accords them several privileges, including better office space.

This system can indeed make employees more loyal to their company. It encourages them to remain and grow with the company since they stand to earn better office spaces.

The problem with relying solely on tenure-based criteria is that it’s not necessarily a meritocracy. AgeOpens in a new tab. does not always translate to skill. Employees can be with a company for years and still perform poorly. However, assigning office space based on tenure may teach people that age, and not skill, determines rewards. When this happens, expect people to lose some motivation when it comes to working.

Another prominent problem with this scheme is that it encourages social divides based on age. Like rank-based assessments, it empowers some groups of people over others. Increasing gaps can cause unhealthy power relations that can complicate teamwork and communication.

Finally, rewarding age too much discourages proper turnover. While most companies would benefit from lower turnover rates due to lower HR costs, too low rates lead to workforce stagnation. People would be less likely to pursue opportunities elsewhere, limiting the number of slots that are available for other job applicants. As a result, diversity and innovation can start to drop.

3. Role

Role-based office assignments mean that employees get offices based on their job. For example, people working in marketing and sales might get offices that give them fewer restrictions on Internet usage. Programmers might receive a workstation with powerful hardware. Office assignments rely on function; leaders match their people with offices that give them what they need.

The use of roles in deciding office allocations is also common. However, unlike criteria based on age or rank, role-based decision making is less likely to encourage power struggles. Employees get to understand that the offices they get or don’t get are a result of their work description and nothing more.

Something to note with role-based assignments is that it reduces the number of tangible rewards that you can provide to workers. They can no longer rely on premium office spaces as a motivator to work hard. Of course, there is a multitude of tangible and intangible rewards that leaders can use to motivate their employees. Hence, role-based assignments shouldn’t be much of a problem.

We have an article called “What Roles Need Office Space?Opens in a new tab.” that delves deeper into role-based allocations.

4. Health Conditions

Unlike the three previous criteria, health conditions are more of an obligation than an optional factor. Employees need to work in environments suitable to their capabilities. Forcing them to conform to unjust work conditions endangers their health and harms their productivity.

An example of this criterion in action is when one of your employees develops deep vein thrombosis. In this condition, patients develop blood clots deep in their legs, causing reduced circulation. One prevailing countermeasure for this illness is to avoid prolonged standing, sitting, or other positions where the legs are still for extended periods. Given this condition, would you still insist on them using a standing desk?

Surprisingly, some managers would insist on forcing employees through scenarios such as those described above. If you want to become a proper leader, you need to place a significant emphasis on your people, lest you risk alienating them.

5. Disabilities

Disabilities share a fine line with other health conditions when it comes to dictating who gets an office. One key difference is that addressing them is a requirementOpens in a new tab.. Government regulations require employers to provide just opportunities for persons with disabilities who want to work. These opportunities may include office spaces that allow disabled employees to work despite their limitations.

For example, some employees might develop excruciating migraines whenever they encounter brightly-lit areas. Hence, these employees would benefit best from working in dark spaces with minimal sources of illumination.

It’s essential to provide persons with disabilities the right facilities to make them competitive with the rest of the workforce. Inclusivity requires that executives provide workspaces where everyone can work at their best.

6. Clients

When giving office spaces, you should note that some employees, such as consultants, have to meet clients directly. In this case, it’s almost a requirement to provide these employees with proper working spaces that allow them to communicate with clients.

These spaces are more extensive and contain more amenities since they have to cater to people that come outside of the company. Businesses also pay more attention to the design of these rooms since they need to communicate in an environment that represents the company.

Of course, just because employees deal with clients directly doesn’t mean that they automatically get the best offices. Some businesses prefer to meet clients in locations outsideOpens in a new tab. of the company. It all depends on the particular strategies of the corporation. However, the most common case involves giving front-end employees their own office spaces.

7. Staff Requirements

Another factor to consider involves staffing requirements. In some industries, the number of active employees may vary regularly. In these cases, HR executives have the additional role of adjusting office allocations seasonally as employees come and go.

In this case, officers may elect to give more permanent employees priority in office space, especially if they play heavy roles within the organization. In some scenarios, it’s better to provide transient employees with office spaces that encourage flexibility and mobility.

Of course, people should be careful when it comes to using staffing requirements as a criterion for office assignments. If done improperly, this scheme can easily lead to feelings of resentment and unequal treatment. Employees who actively work transiently might feel that the company values them less than the rest of the workforce.

8. Workspace Format

How workspaces are arranged in your company influences which people get offices. For instance, all employees will need to use offices if your company does not have any work suitable for virtual offices. Note that this case is rare; usually, many tasks are feasible on a remote basis.

Another example is when the company has an open workspace format, such as the use of shared tables versus cubicles. This setup may potentially allow the company to give more employees valuable working space.

Whenever you plan to allocate office spaces, you still need to account for current workplace setups; otherwise, the risk of misallocation increases.

9. Interactions

Employee interactionsOpens in a new tab. are essential factors to consider when assigning workspaces. Nearly all businesses rely on teams and groups as their basic productivity units. People, even those that work in jobs that don’t require much communication with others, will have to interact with others sooner or later. As any office-based worker can tell you, relationships with other people can make or break their effectiveness in their jobs.

For instance, some employees might exhibit behaviors that alienate them from other people. The typical response that leaders take here is to transfer the person to another department or to fire them outright. However, it’s also a valid option to let them work at home instead.

Accounting for employee interactions prevents many trigger points of conflict. With your workforce becoming more harmonious with each other, the employees are less likely to bother and annoy each other. They are also more able to work efficiently, increasing their productivity and satisfaction.

Unfortunately, employee interactions are easy to ignore in favor of other factors. Many HR departments don’t even bother to study how each employee acts with their co-workers. By neglecting to study the interactions of these employees, the company is setting up a recipe for disaster.

10. Environmental Preferences

Interactions with other people should not be the only factor that affects how compatible someone is to their workspace. Executives should also consider environmental preferencesOpens in a new tab. when deciding which offices to allocate to employees. Some people might prefer to work at different temperatures. Particular employees might prefer to be close to windows, while others might prefer to be in the center of the room. Others might even prefer working outside the company premises as opposed to receiving an office.

These preferences may seem petty at times. However, leaders should treat these preferences with the respect they deserve. When workers work in an optimal environment, their morale and productivity can increase significantly. Barring other factors, make sure to account for preferences to keep people satisfied.

That said, don’t bow down to preferences if they overrule more critical criteria, such as health conditions or disabilities. Choices based on unjust discrimination should also receive no attention. Just because the guy next door doesn’t want to work beside someone in a wheelchair doesn’t grant them the right to move to a different office.

Frameworks For Deciding Office Space Allocation

1. As a Sign of Prestige

2. As a Reward

3. To Attract Clients

4. As a Manifestation of Organization Culture

5. To Increase Efficiency

6. To Accomodate Capabilities

7. To Follow Preferences

Aside from the different factors dictating office allocation, there are also frameworks that leaders can use to ensure that they give the right offices to the right people. These frameworks put into account the goals that the company wants to accomplish. In particular, they dictate how members of the workforce view the offices that they receive. 

1. As a Sign of Prestige

Many companies use workplace assignments to signal prestige and power. As mentioned earlier, a typical example of this framework is the corner office, a large, well-stocked room which the company usually gives to department directors. When employees have to work at cubicles while leaders get to enjoy private rooms, it signals that the company places greater emphasis on its leaders.

Using office allocations as a sign of prestige can work in some cases, especially in companies that thrive on intense competition. Employees can easily see where other people are on the corporate ladder based solely on the office that they use. Hence, people who do well and receive promotions are more likely to be seen by the public eye. Many employees thrive on attention, so they will be more likely to work as hard as they can in this scenario.

However, companies need to remember to limit the extravagance of these individual offices. Seeing managers relish in premium offices may not sit well with many employees. During hard times, it’s outright insensitive for leaders to hold offices with expensive amenities while the rest of the workforce suffers through layoffsOpens in a new tab..

2. As a Reward

Another use of office allocations is as a form of reward. Since people use up roughly a third of their day working, they would appreciate being comfortable as they hustle. When businesses use office assignments as rewards, they usually stock rooms with useful and convenient features, such as expansive desks or high-quality chairs. These rooms might also offer higher levels of security and privacy, allowing employees to work with fewer distractions.

Again, HR personnel needs to be careful when offering office spaces as rewards. It helps no one if employees become so competitive that they start to actively harm each other’s prospects to get to the top. Such a crab mentality can devastate corporate productivity and ruin the organizational culture.

The use of office spaces as rewards can encourage more significant corruption. Those in power may use their ability to grant offices as a way to unfairly favor certain groups and maintain their power. In turn, this scenario leads to increased corruption, creating a feedback loop that can quickly go out of control.

3. To Attract Clients

If companies have to interact regularly with clientsOpens in a new tab., it makes sense to assign office allocations to employees who need to work closely with outsiders. Otherwise, the company risks alienating customers and hurting their reputation.

It’s easy to see if a company regularly accounts for client visits. It may have several high-quality rooms plastered with company branding. These rooms are where executives, consultants, and other forward-facing employees get to interact with clients and customers. These areas have locations that make them easily accessible to clients. However, these same locations have privacy features that ensure any confidential conversations receive protection from prying eyes and ears.

If impressing clients is the goal of your planned office allocation, remember to be inclusive. It doesn’t bode well with employees to work with cramped spaces and inadequate equipment while clients, who aren’t even always within the building, get the lion’s share of space. Be equitable in assigning office spaces and don’t neglect the employees who work harder for the company than any client.

4. As a Manifestation of Organization Culture

Office allocations signal more than just individual prestige. They also indicate certain aspects of the prevailing organizational culture. For instance, people may think that companies who primarily use tenure-based allocations are antiquated and too conservative. Companies who entirely avoid rank-based assignments may seem too idealistic and unwilling to reward excellent performance.

The criteria that companies choose when assigning office space reflect the values that they want to uphold. Allocations based on capability leaves the impression that the company values equal access to opportunities. Distributions based on performance emphasizes a result-oriented culture, while those based on age imply conservatism.

Whatever method you use to give out office spaces, make sure that they reward values that you want to impart to your employees. This way, even a concept as simple as who gets an office can have a profound effect.

5. To Increase Efficiency

A more practical way to assign office spaces is to optimize for efficiency. Criteria that accounts for ability, such as role-based allocations, fit into this category.

The benefit of this viewpoint is that it encourages more equality than most alternatives. If HR personnel distribute office spaces purely with efficiency considerations in mind, people are more likely to feel inclusivity.

However, strictly following efficiency considerations can be difficult for many companies, especially those that are already accustomed to allocations based on achievement or seniority. In these environments, expect to meet stiff resistance whenever someone tries to change how people get their offices. The techniques mentioned near the end of this article should make any transitions less difficult.

6. To Accommodate Capabilities

This framework is one of the most obvious but also one of the most ignored. Office spaces fundamentally exist to give employees the best environment they can get to support their work. Hence, it makes sense to assign offices by accounting for individual capabilities and requirements.

It seems odd for anyone to try to move away from this option. These companies quickly lose their employees, who become dissatisfied with being unable to work the way they want. Accounting for capabilities becomes mandatory when the company has employees with disabilities since the law protects disabled employees from workplace discrimination.

7. To Follow Preferences

Many companies follow preferencesOpens in a new tab. only after considering other frameworks and often discount them altogether. Happy employees are more efficient and hardworking, so the benefits of fulfilling employee desires tend to pay over time.

Common Office Space Configurations

Aside from understanding motivations for office allocations, it’s also essential to investigate the nature of many of these offices. The type of office space configurationOpens in a new tab. used by an organization can dictate which criteria for assigning workspaces would be more appropriate.

1. Private Office Layout

The most traditional office configurations fall under the private office layouts. Remember those cartoons that depict rows and columns of cubicles? They are typical examples of arrangements that emphasize privacy.

In this environment, people tend to spend much of their time working individually. Standard rooms provide the main venues for interaction since cubicles and office walls pose physical obstacles to communication.

The benefit of private office layouts is that the barriers shield employees from distractions. Hence, office allocations based on employee interactions are less influential in private layouts.

A significant drawback of the private office layouts is that they quickly become dreary for employees. Working day after day at the same workstation can soon become tiresome. Workers need an incentive to motivate themselves to work, and one such encouragement can come from better workspaces. Hence, achievement-based office allocations tend to work better in traditional settings.

2. Open-Plan Office Layout

Open offices are more common in newer companies that would like to emphasize creativity and openness. In this setup, few barriers separate workspaces. In most cases, employees share tables with co-workers, so it’s up to the workforce to define boundaries and manage personal space. Sometimes, managers and even executives share the same communal workspaces with other employees.

In an open-plan office layout, workers are more likely to annoy other people with some of their mannerisms. Some people, particularly introverts, also have personalities that make them prefer higher levels of seclusion. Hence, interaction-based office allocations are crucial in mitigating the tendency of open offices to cause excessive annoyance.

Conservative allocation criteria that rely on rank or seniority are inappropriate for open-plan office layouts since they go against the intention of these offices: to promote equality and collaboration.

Techniques for Implementation

Before your company decides to change the way offices are distributed, make sure to reflect first. Remember that the criteria you choose to adopt will have a significant influenceOpens in a new tab. on the organizational culture that will form within your company.

In many cases, you’ll have to make significant changes to how employees get their workspaces. Like any other significant organizational change, you’re apt to encounter considerable resistance. To make the transition more comfortable, you should practice these approaches to minimize the stress that the event imposes on workers.

1. Set priorities

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to follow all of the criteria mentioned earlier in this article. What would you do if you want to assign offices based on roles, but senior employees insist on getting the best spaces? You’ll have to make compromises and prioritize specific criteria over others.

Again, remember that your set of criteria should be in line with the collection of values you want to encourage. It’s wise to set a reasonable amount of time discussing the criteria you want to use with HR personnel and other authorities who do the actual sorting of offices.

2. Practice inclusivity

Whatever criteria you eventually end up with, never compromise accessibility and opportunity. Denying persons with disabilities from office spaces that they need is the complete opposite of inclusivity. Not only do you lose a vital member of the workforce, but you also risk being the target of lawsuits.

3. Be dynamic

It’s prudent to reshuffle office assignments now and then. This procedure tends to reduce any inequalities and allows employees to get a new office from time to time. The consistent changes also reduce the ability of power-hungry individuals to keep on clinging to prime locations. Finally, the regular changes allow you to reassess and revise the factors you use to give office spaces.

4. Avoid intrusiveness

At the same time, it’s important to avoid changing offices too frequently. Your company probably has more important things to do than reshuffling everyone every month. Frequent changes limit productivity, as employees need to adjust to their new workspaces. It also costs time, energy, and money that the company can utilize better elsewhere.

Check out other Topics:

CoworkingOpens in a new tab.TechnologyOpens in a new tab.StressOpens in a new tab.WellnessOpens in a new tab.SustainabilityOpens in a new tab.Workplace ProductivityOpens in a new tab.Employee ExperienceOpens in a new tab.Hot DeskingOpens in a new tab.

Related Questions

Why not avoid physical offices altogether? Companies can thrive even without a physical location. Advancements in technology allow virtual offices to encourage performance at par with physical workspaces. However, this feat is easier said than done. Like the majority of companies worldwide, your business is likely to keep on relying on physical offices, at least for the next few years. 

Is office allocation all that important? Feuds sometimes erupt over office allocations, especially in conservative firms where established employees always expect to get the first pick. Understanding the factors and frameworks that people practice when choosing who gets an office is vital to keep a positive organizational culture. We wrote an article entitled “What’s the Purpose of an Office and When Should a Company get One?Opens in a new tab.” that underscores the importance of physical offices.

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