Will Your Office Design Hold Up When You’re No Longer a Startup?

When you’re in the startup phase, workspace flexibility ranks low on the priority list. Every day is about carving out your niche, ideally with a handful of trusted colleagues or founders. The goal? Be lean, work scrappily and operate lightly.

Entrepreneurs lucky enough to work through this phase and come out stronger should be congratulated. As every innovator knows, half of all new businesses never make it to a fifth birthday. However, the struggle isn’t over once you’re rolling along with steady income. As each employee joins the payroll, physical and social demands take a toll on the office dynamics. A once perfectly suitable design suddenly feels cramped and unfeasible — but relocating isn’t always practical.

Startup office design

At times like those, most founders wish they had planned and prepared for the small- to mid-sized enterprise phase. The good news is that it’s never too late to think about the future and change the way a company functions, physically and culturally.

Workspace Growing Pains: Staving Off the Discomfort

One day you wake up and your office space no longer fits. At least that’s how it feels. Up until now, you’ve concentrated on being nimble, but each time you increase your team size, friction points arise. Maybe people feel segmented in their current spaces. Perhaps they can’t huddle around the conference table that once fit everyone easily. Whatever the reason, the result is disgruntled employees who can’t perform at their peak.

A knee-jerk response to this dilemma would be to buy new pieces of equipment à la carte, but that’s not a sustainable option. Slapping random pieces together just to fill an immediate need isn’t aesthetically pleasing; your overall vibe will suffer.

A better way to approach office growing pains is to take a step back and focus on one word: simplicity. How can you make simple, deliberate, thoughtful moves today that will last for as long as possible? For instance, you might want to equip some workers with furniture that’s easy to set up and move. In doing so, you’ll have increased your team’s working and collaboration choices immediately with something that you can use down the road. Plus, you haven’t had to do anything involving construction, which is very costly. Similarly, you may want to invest in movable walls to give workers the opportunity to switch out their spaces as workloads dictate.

No matter what you do, don’t expect to remain stagnant. Have a team of 10? What will happen when you reach 20, 30 or even 50 employees? That’s when strategic long-term planning is necessary.

Spacious startup office space

Seeing the Eventual Forest in a Plain

Being pragmatic about your inevitable business scaling (fingers crossed) involves becoming a bit of a fortune teller. You can’t be sure of what the years ahead might hold, but you can use your best judgment to prepare your workspace for what you imagine will occur. Use these tips to get started:

1. Incorporate multifaceted designs

Have the chance to give your workspace a facelift? Go with a design that makes your employees’ lives easier. Talk with employees about what they do day in, day out. What spaces do they need to achieve maximum efficiency? These could be anything from an on-site cafe to private offices to huddle rooms. Take your findings to your facility manager and figure out the best way to make your workers’ wishes come true while still allowing for adaptability.

2. Go beyond design updates

Functional furnishings and accoutrements are critical to maintaining flow within your office, but business can also get a boost from lesser considered changes. A great example is to pipe in music, white noise or pleasant aromas. You could even add a designated coffee hub. Be sure every time you try something along these lines that you measure the results. After all, just because someone theorizes that the fragrance of peppermint will increase production doesn’t make it true for your peppermint-averse workforce. You’d need to take (and pass) the smell test first.

3. Talk about changes before they happen

Humans generally resist anything outside the norm. Consequently, when you make changes in your corporate environment, you can expect some pushback from wary employees. Counteract this type of response by reinforcing that the changes you’re making aren’t set in stone. If they don’t work out, they can be undone. At the same time, be firm in expecting your people to at least try new ways of working, whether that means sharing a central printer to encourage more walking breaks or turning a private office into a yoga room.

Modern startup office

For all businesses, it’s imperative to stay flexible no matter what stage you’re in, and office furniture that’s simple and easy to set up makes that possible. Old, cumbersome cubicle systems are expensive and laborious to build — plus employees can be “offline” for the better part of a day while waiting for outside help to construct the furniture. That approach is officially obsolete.

New, flexible options make installation a breeze. The right sit-stand desks, for instance, take a handful of minutes to set up and offer a lifetime of health benefits for employees. Prioritize competent, long-term purchases that keep costs down versus splashy, unnecessary items like ping-pong tables or expensive fitness memberships. Some simple planning will allow you to grow at a comfortable pace and keep your workspace contemporary.