Young colleagues at computers in a busy open plan officeI recent years, you may have noticed a growing number of companies taking the idea of a traditional office and turning it on its head. Nearly one-quarter of employers surveyed by real estate services firm CBRE said they have implemented the concept of unassigned seating, and 52 percent of the rest of the companies surveyed said they plan to do so within the next three years.

Instead of assigned work stations, unassigned seating involves just that — seating that workers can occupy on a first-come first-served opportunity each day. Employees may work at home one day and find an open workstation on days they are in the office. Or they may work solely in the office, finding an open workstation from day to day. It’s a bit like the concept of a cafe — there’s plenty of wifi, electrical outlets, tables and chairs and perhaps a sofa or two and/or a big table on which multiple people can type away on their laptops.

Of those companies in CBRE’s survey that said they were moving toward unassigned seating, 38 percent said they planned to go with a partially unassigned seating environment, while 14 percent expected to adopt 100 percent unassigned seating for all employees.

What’s the appeal of unassigned seating? Surveys show that unassigned seating can foster innovation and collaboration. It also can be a cost-saving move that works well for companies that employ a significant number of employees who work at home part or all of the time.

There are unique issues to unassigned seating environments. One is privacy and security. Companies such as Citi, which uses unassigned seating in some of its locations, provides lockers for employees to store personal belongings. Most companies with unassigned seating are also mostly or completely paperless offices, which eliminates or reduces the need for much paper storage. To accommodate private meetings or phone calls, many companies that offer unassigned seating also offer private meeting rooms.

What do you think? Are you happy with the idea of open seating or do you prefer to have your own space that doesn’t change each day?