As a co-founder of a few different startups, I used to believe that if you equip your employees with the desks and computers they need, the office was set. I wanted to keep focused on driving our business metrics. Experience has taught me, however, that the space you share with your team does matter. It contributes to the vibe of the office. It facilitates a more creative and productive environment. It’s the place you spend most of your waking hours. If you have an open-space floor plan, it matters even more. Before we committed to renewing our lease in our small 685 square feet space, we committed to investing in interior design.
According to the CoreNet Global Corporate Real Estate 2020 survey of 500 corporate real estate executives, square foot per employee has decreased from 225 in 2010 to 176 in 2012. It is projected to reach 151 square feet in 2017.
My team all shares the same open space, which is useful given that we collaboratively build social network apps. Recently, we renewed our lease for another year and a half at a great rate. The trade off? We were already working in tight quarters, and plan to add a few more employees in the next few quarters. Moreover, about 25 percent of our space was being used as storage space. We need to grow, but want to keep our real estate costs down while maintaining a comfortable work space. Admittedly, we weren’t sure how we could add more people comfortably and productively. So we brought in an expert to design around space constraints. The following steps are based on what we did and how you can maximize the space you have.
Set a Budget and Timeline
If your space is less than 5,000 square feet, you can spend anywhere from $5,000-$20,000 dollars. Noa Santos, the founder and CEO of Homepolish says, “For spaces that are 5,000 – 10,000 square feet, you need a budget of $10,000-$200,000 dollars. The numbers change drastically depending on what needs to happen to the space. An office that just needs some editing will be cheaper than a space that requires construction.” Once we set our budget, we targeted a two-month time frame for the scope of work we wanted done: painting, wallpaper and some new furniture.
Make a list of what exactly you use the office for. Brainstorming? Weekly team meetings? Lunch? Client meetings? Storage? What else would you like to use it for? Map out where these activities currently take place in the office. Next, list the furniture that you use and like, you use and don’t like, and that you don’t use. Sometimes clearing away extra items helps make more space. Holding onto used printer cartridges? Do you really need an extra monitor? There are many organizations that will take your donations or recycle electronics. Some will even pick them up for free.
Create an Inspiration Board on Pinterest
Pinterest is a great place to start. Type in keywords to get ideas. Start with terms like, “small conference room,” “startup office,” or “creative work space.” Then re-pin images that you think would be good inspiration for your office space. If you decide to hire an interior designer, an inspiration board is a great basis for communicating preferences. It’s no wonder Pinterest has become interior decorators’ go-to tool.
Assess Your Space
Break out the measuring tape and jot down the dimensions of each room, including ceiling height. Sketch out the room and spec it out with measurements. Next, realistically assess your space constraints. For example, our landlord would not let us paint the exposed concrete ceiling. Finally, understand your space’s best assets. We have big windows we can open, which provide natural northern light. This helps you accentuate the positive.
Prioritize Your Investment in the Space
What do you see every day when you walk in? For an immediate visual impact, consider painting your walls, even if you’re renting. You can always paint over them when you move out. Investing in a professional designer’s time is worth the fresh expert perspective on the space’s potential. They can also help prioritize based on your budget. Santos says, “If you’re a small business that’s growing rapidly, we recommend investing in quality furniture and items that you can take with you once you outgrow your space.” The hottest buys among his designers for small businesses tend to be creative storage alternatives and co-working/break out space furniture that allows them to throw an event or meet in small groups.
Even if you’re doing the work yourself, having professionals itemize what has to get done will be insightful. This may start with an interior designer, a painter or movers. If you’re doing construction, you’ll need to involve a general contractor. You’ll quickly see your initial budget and timeline be tested.
Invest in a Layout Plan From a Designer
Unless you have training in interior design, it can be tough to see what your space has to offer. You may be able to find junior designers with affordable rates who want to build up their portfolios. Also, some designers may give you an additional option that takes into consideration a growing team. “Once we complete an office space, we try to leave our clients with a second option floor plan that maps out designated areas to add more work stations when they meet space capacity,” says Santos.
Decide How Much You Want to ‘DIY’
You may want to try to handle some of the office refresh yourself. Or you may be considering outside help from contractors. Whatever the case, start planning for the following: contractors’ availability (will you have to close the office and have everyone work from home during the week?), when goods will arrive (furniture ordered online can take anywhere from three days to three months), the order in which events need to happen.
Expect a Little Chaos Before Completion
Even if you’re just replacing a few pieces of furniture, there is a little chaos with change. Be sure your team has heads up, so you can schedule meetings outside the office if needed. During our office redesign, some of us were working in chairs with or without makeshift desks on our laps or filing cabinets. The excitement of the changes to come made it all fun. We even held a conference call while some very courteous movers quietly took out old desks.
Take a Little Time Out to Enjoy the New Space With Everyone
Sometimes, more can mean less. Remember, if you can’t increase the square footage, it may be cheaper to invest in making each square footage better. You may surprise yourself and your team with a higher return on investment.
All photos by Aubrie Pick.