Functionality in an office or business environment is necessary and cannot be ignored. An office steeped in chaos does not promote a “friendly” work atmosphere for management or employees. It also does not present a professional appearance for clients or customers.

In organizing and creating functionality, it is necessary to understand function, explore the cause of chaos, and then develop a course of action. Achieving functionality doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. The end result will create a happier work environment, better customer relations, and a streamlined business model.

What is Function

To function, in its most common usage, is to complete an action. To work, to file, to meet with customers, or to make telephone calls is to function. While the actual definition may cause some confusion, the basic premise of functioning means the ability to do things.

Understanding Function: Definition

As a noun, Oxford Dictionary shows the actual function definition as “An activity that is natural to or the purpose of a person or thing.” In use, it results in the following:

The bridge was built to function as a safe walkway for pedestrians to cross over the highway.

Secondary definitions in the noun form are: “Practical use or purpose in design” and “A basic task of a computer, especially one that corresponds to a single instruction from the user.” In use:

A file cabinet is designed to function as a storage unit.
The computer program is designed to perform the function of tracking customers.

The word also serves as a verb or action word. The definition of the verb: “To work or operate in a proper or particular way,” and “Fulfil the purpose or task of (a specified thing).” Used in a sentence:

A function of your job will be to maintain an alphabetized filing system for all files.

Functionality, then, is the ability to function.

Functionalism in an office setting

Achieving functionalism in an office setting means setting up your workplace to make it easier to function, or to do the job. This need could result in something as simple as providing a notepad, a pen, a telephone, a flat surface area, and a chair. If the required job is more complex, you might add a computer, filing cabinets, shelves for books, and a plethora of other office gadgets.

Make sure your office flows. A reception desk in the back of the room behind a bank of cubicles doesn’t work very efficiently. Think like a customer or client. What is the first thing you would expect to see on entering an office? If employees meet with customers in separate offices, do they pass the employee lounge where someone just reheated fish for lunch?

Knowing the job requirements and providing the means to perform the job is integral to create a functional office space. When using an existing building, you will be limited by the type of furnishings that will fit in the space. If you are building from the ground up, you’ll probably be working with a reputable construction firm. Many firms will have a design team to assist you in creating a functional space.

Achieving Functionality

Making your office or business as functional as possible increases your ability to be successful. Basic principals of organization will create an environment of functionality. This applies whether you are in the customer service industry, a retail establishment, or a doctor’s office. Employees and customers both prefer a functional office to a chaos jungle.

Function Defintion is an organized office space.

Image from Furniture Factory, LLC used with permission


All things begin with organization. This is where you sit down and make lists. Without determining your current status, it is impossible to determine a path out of chaos. Don’t be afraid to be hyper-critical. Nit-picking small details at this phase can mean great leaps by the time you reach the finish line. Take an honest look at where you are right now.

With an existing business or office, start with determining the processes that aren’t working out well. If your backlog of filing is due to over-stuffed filing cabinets, put “buy new filing cabinets” on your list. Maybe you don’t have a file clerk, and it might be time to add one. Make a list of everything that is not functioning.

If you are a brand new business or office, your first list will include everything that you will need for success. Desks, computers, filing cabinets, telephone systems — everything. Don’t forget to include personnel. If you need employees, they should be included in your plans.

Next, make a list of everything that is functioning well. This should include computers, desk space, filing systems, and even available restroom facilities. If something you use or do works well for your business, list it here. That stellar employee you can’t live without? Add them too, because you want to try to duplicate that job performance in your other employees.

Standard operating procedures

Defining each persons’ job within your business is a must-do business practice. This starts with a basic outline of duties and responsibilities for each position. Beyond that, establishing a set routine or specific way to perform tasks is very helpful. These standard operating procedures (SOP) come in handy if an employee calls out sick during a big project. An SOP allows someone to step in and perform the actions needed to maintain continuity.

Maintaining SOPs will also add to your business’ professional appearance. With new-hires or employee transitions, your office will maintain its functionality. Employees can work with a greater sense of security when they know what you expect of them. Training becomes easier. Adding new procedures is easier. The workflow continues unabated by confusion. Everyone in the office knows what everyone else is supposed to be doing. With a better workflow, everything runs smoother.

Finding Order in Chaos

Now the real work starts. Employees don’t generally like change. Some might fight it tooth and nail. In an optimum environment, giving employees a voice in making changes is a huge help. Ask current employees to assist in the list-making and to make recommendations. They might be aware of a certain practice or habit that is contributing to the overall chaos.

Employees often have a better working knowledge of areas with potential improvement than the boss. They might hesitate to mention problems or to make changes in procedures. “Because we’ve always done it this way” is standard business language for people afraid of change. Encouraging employees to take an active stance in promoting change is empowering them. Asking them to participate in every phase of improvement will create a better work environment.

If you are moving into a new facility, make it an all-hands evolution. If you are upgrading an existing facility, including everyone will create unity. Just rearranging the furniture and developing SOPs for existing positions is an area where including employees is beneficial.

The biggest hurdle in overcoming a chaotic environment is creating cooperation within the workplace. Including employees in the planning and execution of change will make any transition easier.

Tying it all Together

Planning should be foremost in any process to increase functionality in an office or business setting. Scrimping during the planning phase will create bigger issues later and add to the chaos rather than alleviating it. Don’t be fearful of getting outside assistance during this phase. Finding a reputable firm that will work with you to help design a workplace is a definite plus.

It doesn’t matter if you are building a new facility or upgrading an existing and established location. A design team can help make your office function well. They can make recommendations for furnishings, storage, and filing needs, while including everything on your list.

Creating functionality from chaos is not an impossible task.


Featured Image: Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0), by Meaghan O’Malley via Flickr

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