Finding a suitable space or tenancy for your small or medium business can be a challenge. If the tenancy you already occupy is perfect in all but space, there are strategies you can consider to plan ahead to create an ideal office design for the long term.
Your business needs to squeeze in all of the same types of facilities that a larger business does to work functionally for your staff: reception & waiting, meeting & boardroom, printer & store room, tea & lunch amenities, etc.
When planning a new office (or changes to your existing one), here are some tips to consider when maximising the design of your small business office space:
Do you have too much space?
How much area do you need for your business? Don’t fall into the mistake of leasing too much space, as I’ve seen happen time and again. A key rule of thumb is to allow for is a minimum 10 square per person (i.e. 1:10 ratio), based on the National Construction Code. So if you have 50 staff, you need to allow for at least 500 square metres, overall tenancy size. The smaller the office you have, the higher the ratio of space per person, as you still need to allow for all those facilities I just mentioned above. Most of the smaller offices I have designed have a ratio of between 1:12 to 1:13 people per square metre, depending on the other facilities you need. This is the most critical time to engage a designer who can work with you on your needs now and your expectations of expansion in the future.
Go for a straight desking system workstation to save space & allow for flexible future staffing
Like many offices, you may currently be sitting at an L-shape desk. Many options in straight desking and benches allow to fit more staff in your space. Yes. The desk area is smaller. That’s because pc’s take up less space than they did 10 years ago, and realistically, most computer based task only need space for phone, pc, an A4 notebook & keyboard – you can fit all that & more in a straight 1800mm long desk. The other benefit of having rows of straight desks is that if you put on more staff, you can simply shuffle everyone along & add one more chair & computer.
Maximise desk space
Add a monitor arm to lift computer monitors off the bench, and if you can choose a computer with out a separate CPU. I find Macs’s are great: there’s no separate CPU ‘box’ to take up desk or floor space, and wireless keyboards & mouse neaten desktops. Because the bench space is smaller in a straight workstation system, carefully considered personal storage like mobile drawer units, mobile returns or shelf are a must. However don’t overdo the personal storage, or you’re just encouraging clutter.
Ditch the reception desk
Many small & medium businesses now plan their office without an allocated receptionist. One of the benefits of this is that you no longer isolate one very valuable member of the staff to an often enclosed area, with no natural light; bring your receptionist or office manager into the fold of the main office (within view of the entry), so he or she may become a part of the team. If you’re concerned about security, access control with a buzzer (or even a monitor) can be added to the main entry door: this is a common feature now in tenancies of all sizes. The benefits of this is that your reception area can be smaller, with just waiting chairs & perhaps a shelf for a phone & extension directory. You’ll also save the cost of the reception desk, which invariably is the most expensive item of joinery in your office.
Let your signage & branding tell your story now that you don’t have a physical staff member occupying the waiting area; increase the scale of signage, and select every finish, surface and object with absolute purpose to evoke your Company Vision & values. See “Creating a Workplace that reflects your Vision” for more ideas.
Meeting spaces designed for flexibility
If your business has a high use of meeting spaces, consider your answers to the following questions, as they will play a key role in determining where you should be using that precious space.
- How often you use enclosed rooms for meetings?
- Do your meetings require audio &/or visual privacy?
- Could some meetings (i.e. non-confidential) take place in an open & more casual environment?
- Do you really need a boardroom? How often do you use it? Monthly? Quarterly?
- How often do you use a large meeting room? Daily or weekly? How many people generally meet at one time (10, 12 or more)? Often, my clients comment that their large meeting rooms are fully booked, used mostly by small groups of 2-3 people
- How many smaller meeting rooms do you need? Really think about how many people attend these type of meetings: 2-3, 4 or 6?
- Do you need a large open space for all-staff meetings?
The answers to these questions will determine if your meeting spaces could make a vast difference to the size and quality of rooms you need, and if operable walls can be utilised to make smaller meeting rooms for daily use, or one large meeting room for occasional use.
Ditch the separate office & embrace a flexible open environment
An open office space is now the norm. It is only on rare occasions now that I design office spaces with enclosed offices for Directors, CEO’s, CFO’s, and managers. In many cases, executive and management staff sit in a workstation with their teams nearby; executive workstation desks may be slightly larger and the finishes slightly fancier than other staff. A small office is 9 square metres, whereas a workstation takes 4 square metres; you’re saving massive amounts of space just there. Additional to the cost savings is the reduced build cost (walls, air conditioning, fire safety, lighting) of using an open workstation layout instead of an enclosed office space. This changes the dynamic of the company, diminishing different levels in corporate structure and encouraging camaraderie.
Use that breakout space!
Make sure your lunch area is working hard for you. When I first started designing offices 20 years ago, lunch and tea rooms were small pokey places. These days the tea room is now a “breakout area”, with an entirely different anatomy. Many staff and management see the tea room or lunch room as a place to be used only between 12 and 1pm. I encourage my clients to change their perspective of this space, and use it throughout the day for informal meetings. Even in a small office consider providing a variety of seating types (a couple of armchairs, movable stools or ottomans, 2 or more movable tables to seat either small groups or 1 large group), can cater for anything as small as 1-on-1 chat, group casual meetings, or an all-staff Monday morning get-together. Introduce a coffee machine (even a nespresso will do) to encourage people to us the area.
Too much storage
Before I include storage in a plan, I always look around my client’s existing office to see how they are actually using their storage now. I’ll open rows of metal filing cupboards and find them quarter filled with old keyboards & junk, but not many actual files. Often this is a result of a client not knowing how much storage they need, or changing filing principles to archiving, etc. Sometimes is this as a result of furniture companies actively selling more than a client really needs to fill up the space.
Places I do like to pay attention to storage are a shared space for storage, printing facilities & communications rack. The other must is functional storage in the lunch area for small bench top appliances crockery, meal items staff bring in & considered fridge & freezer space – essential for a clean & tidy lunch area that everyone will want to use,
Do a declutter.
It’s easy to just let old files, brochures and catalogues build up. Don’t just de-clutter paperwork. Look with a critical eye at all those old, uncomfortable or broken chairs in the ‘chair graveyard’ corner. If they’re uncomfortable, no-one’s going to us them anyway – they’re just wasting your valuable space that you could put to better use. Organise a team clean out of an area; you’ll be surprised how many spare bits of space that emerge.
Use all those spare bits of space
Identify all those bits of space that are vacant or under-utilised. Turn a small open area adjacent to existing workstations into a ‘huddle space’ for team meetings. I prefer to use stools in these type of situations as they give cool & casual air, are generally less expensive than upholstered chairs, as well as the added benefit of tucking away under the table when not in use. These stools can also be moved to a desk for an impromptu 1-on-1 meeting at a workstation.