A few years ago when I started a new job with a local PR firm, I had to share a desk for the first few days. Then, thanks to one of those community websites where goods that are no longer wanted by the owners are offered free to others, I got myself a huge beech-finished desk with solid metal legs and two drawers - free gratis. I was delighted.

When I moved the desk into the office, however, it immediately became clear that the whole layout would have to be changed. There were now three large desks to be accommodated, as well as all the usual office furnishings of filing cabinet, oscillating fan, yucca etc. We also had to find room for the not-so-usual item of a giant plastic dog basket for the boss's lurcher.

It was a big problem. We tried two desks against the left wall and the other by the window, but the gap between was too tight to walk through. We tried two at right angles in a corner, which was fine until we brought the chairs in, when we realised that there was not enough room to accommodate both comfortably. In short, we were stumped. Yet the whole problem could have been solved without any physical effort at all if only we had access to Microsoft Visio. We could have planned the whole office layout with the mouse.

It may have required a little preparation, but given the physical exertion we suffered in shoving furniture around, this would have been well worth the effort. The basic measurements we would have needed were the dimensions of the office and the surface area of each desk. In Visio we would go to the getting started page and from template categories we would choose maps and floor plans and from this we would select office layout.

To start our floor plan we would click on the walls, doors & windows tab and drag the walls of the office onto our page. As our office then was rectangular, we would have dragged the room shape, although there are also templates for L and T shaped rooms. As we had the dimensions of or office we would go to view, then size & position and then enter the dimensions. We would then drag across the door and drop it into place.

Visio knows what this is and it creates a space and snaps the door into place automatically. If our floor plan door opened in the opposite way to the actual office door, we would swap the hinges simply by selecting the door and right clicking, and from the menu selecting reverse left/right opening. We could also alter the width of our door here if we wanted our plan to be truly accurate. We would add a window and what we have is a to-scale representation of our office with no furniture inside.

To move our desks in we would click on the office furniture tab. This would open up a whole array of office furniture that can be dragged and dropped into place with far less effort than attempting the real thing. Having dragged the first of our desks into the office we then select and right click and check the width & height in the size & position pane. We would enter the actual physical dimensions of our desk and then drag and size the other two. The desks could now be moved and rotated within the office walls until the most suitable positioning was found.

We could then drag in the office chairs and position those. If we wanted to see how a chair would look when it was slid under the desk when not in use, we would right click and select shapes, then send to back. The chair would then slide smoothly under the desk. The filing cabinet would be next and then the yucca (yes, there are plants that can be dragged in). I would pull out a basic ellipse to represent the dog basket and that would be about it for the furniture.

But we could take things a stage further by bringing in our computers, printers, phones and other office equipment and setting them up on the desks. These are all available on the office equipment tab and they can be useful when laying out your floor plan and you need to know the relationship between office equipment and plug sockets or the telephone line.

To be honest I would have considered planning our office in Visio to be fun rather than work, although it would still have served a practical purpose. The beauty of the plan would have been that when we moved the furniture into place we knew that it would fit as the plan was made to scale. It's just a shame that Visio's involvement would have ended where our physical involvement began.

Visio is a remarkable application with a multitude of uses. It is easy to use and many of its features, flowchart for example, are already familiar to us through applications such as Word. If you enjoy technical drawing of any kind I would highly recommend seeking training in the use of this application.