5 Design Tips for Smaller Working Spaces

Office refurbishments and refits are often considered the realm of huge companies, but what about businesses who aren’t quite ready for the move to a larger premises and still want to grow? Here are 5 office design tips for smaller workspaces.

As a smaller business it can be extremely difficult to grow when you're restricted by the size of your workspace. Without the resources of larger competitors, you can’t simply take the plunge and move to a bigger workspace before filling it with employees – overeager expansion is often the road to ruin.

Instead, small businesses need to find creative ways to grow and, for many, boosting productivity by increasing employee engagement or attracting supremely talented workers are popular strategies. And the space people work in can greatly influence their choice of job, with studies showing that one third of employees across the globe say office design affects their decision of where to work.

With relocation off the cards for most small businesses, that just leaves a refurb or refit for those looking to add some “wow” to their workspace. Here are 5 design tips to help you squeeze every inch of usability out of your current workspace:

Help employees bloom with the natural look

Green-fingered staff have long upheld the tradition of keeping flowers in the office, but employers might want to head to a garden centre themselves to purchase the new must-have performance booster – plants!

Research done at the Chelsea Flower Show revealed that having plants in a workspace can increase creativity by 45%, productivity by 38% and increase well-being by 47%. This research is much in keeping with previous studies into biophilic design.

Biophilic design has also led to the discovery that more natural lighting can play a huge part in improving performance. Renowned organisational psychologist Professor Sir Cary Cooper has demonstrated that employees working in environments exposed to natural elements report a 15% higher level of well-being, are 6% more productive and 15% more creative overall.

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Research by the University of Oregon has also shown that workspaces exposed to sunlight and outdoor views led to 6% fewer sick days than those without. Further studies have also shown that exposure to natural light helps improve employee wellbeing, with those working in offices with windows getting an average of 46 more minutes of sleep a night on average and fewer sleep disturbances.

All is not lost for businesses that can't conjure up more sunlight on demand; LED light sources are a worthy substitute and have been found to boost productivity by 13% and decrease absenteeism by 25%.

Reduce the amount of space dedicated to desks

The way people work is changing. The success of start-ups and digital entrepreneurs has fueled the rise of the “gig economy” and furthered the burgeoning flexible working movement.

Today, one in seven workers in the UK (14.9%) is self-employed and flexible working is now an everyday part of life in Britain – with 8 million people working part time and around 4 million often working from home. In fact, it’s estimated that 77% of employers now offer flexible working.

This is hardly surprising. Organisations have reported that when a staff are set free from the traditional 9-5 structure they deliver an average of five extra productive hours a week – that’s an annual boost of £4,200 per employee!

Of course, with fewer employees in your office every day you’ll have empty desks and research from HermanMiller reveals that workstations are only occupied 40% of the time. Worse still, private offices are unoccupied a staggering 77%. Five years of our own research concurs with this hypothesis, with workstation occupancy rates averaging at 46%.

Therefore,  one of the most important aspects of designing for a smaller workplace is understanding the way your employees use their desks. What percentage of the day are your employees using deskspace? How often is your whole team working from the office (if ever)? If employees aren't using their desks, is there something more suited to working practices you could replace them with? These are all questions you should consider before simply reducing your desk count – whether you do so yourself or with the help of a workplace consultancy

You should of course note that while fewer desks means you free up more space, it also means being better organised to ensure every employee has a space to work when they’re in the office. Enabling employees to “book” a desk before they come into the office, often known as “hoteling”, is a great way to empower your workforce with the flexibility they crave.

Build your workspace to match your people

A good manager understands that a company’s greatest asset is its people, and this is twice as true for small businesses – it’s why successful start-ups are often those with a devoted (some might say cultish) workforce.

Great managers also understand that not every employee needs the same thing from their work environment. For example, 71% of workers value quiet spaces for more focused activities, yet only 30% say they’re satisfied with the quiet workspaces they’re provided.

Surely, it’s unfair to expect the best from your employees when you aren’t creating an environment conducive to productivity?

A simple survey of your workforce might reveal that:

  • Some employees want a quiet space to think and focus on their work
  • Others need collaborative areas where there’s no need to worry about interrupting others
  • Many require private zones where phone calls can be made
  • Client-facing staff want somewhere nice to take clients
  • Almost everyone would appreciate a relaxing space to eat lunch

Obviously, these spaces aren’t interchangeable and filling your office with copy-and-paste workstations won’t result in productivity increases. Which is why we’re seeing a rise in mixed-use premises with different areas optimised specifically for particular activities.

Quiet areas are now kept away from entrances and communal areas; collaborative spaces are more open and creatively decorated; large private offices are being split into smaller, functional pods for phone calls and conversations.

This provides employees with a choice over where they work, socialise and relax, when they’re in your office. Trust us, workforces absolutely notice this and realise that their needs are literally being built into the business.

And furnish it in the same way

Different activities don’t just need a mix of different workspaces, they also need different furniture and equipment – further signalling the end of cut-and-paste office space.

When working collaboratively, employees are unlikely to want individual desks that will only get in the way. Instead they’ll need a relaxed space that is conducive for the transfer of ideas and equipment for group brainstorming.

Alternatively, quiet working spaces will need a smaller desk away from any hustle and bustle, as well as plug sockets for laptops – not to mention perfect Wi-Fi connection. Desk phones are less necessary now we have with emails, mobile phones and instant messaging, but keeping landlines in some smaller rooms will provide more privacy for meetings.

Not only is it time to break down your cramped cubicles and identikit desks, you’ll also want to do away with archaic equipment like filing cabinets and fax machines to make more space in your office.

Document your space if you want to make the most of it

How much do you actually know about what goes on in your office? There’s a surprising amount that slips past most of us but it’s not always office politics or employee performance you need to keep an eye out for. When thinking of refitting or refurbishing a smaller workspace it’s important you make the most of what you have – therefore you need to be able to answer questions like:

  • How often are all your desks occupied?
  • Are people cramming themselves into unsuitable collaboration spaces?
  • Who is getting use out of your meeting rooms and private offices?
  • Are your staff working from home at all? Are they interested in flexible working?
  • Does the layout of your furniture efficiently use space?
  • Where are you wasting opportunities to use space better?

Staff surveys and visual monitoring are simple methods for recording this information. However, for a truly insightful exploration of workspace use, you should enlist a consultant to monitor average and peak occupation of each area using high-end software and heat mapping.

While this is undoubtedly more expensive, not having this information can prove financially and logistically disastrous. It’s vital you find out how your current workspace is used and what employees need from it, or you might end up wasting significant time and money on your refurb.

While refurbishing or refitting a smaller workspace is naturally a less expansive project than a huge office, bringing in experts in workspace design will ensure you get the most for your money. Not only will they help develop your plan, but their experience will help you avoid common pitfalls.

Although smaller businesses tend to be very flexible, it also means there’s less room to prevent your refurb from interfering with your day-to-day operations. After all, working on a building site is unlikely to motivate employees or boost productivity.

At Rhino, we work in close collaboration with you, to get to the heart of what your space, staff, and business need. A consultation with one of our specialists can therefore empower you to squeeze as much use out of a smaller space as possible, while reducing any interruption to your business. To find out more, visit our workspace consultancy page.

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