How to Design an Office Space That Startups Will Love

By Stefan Bhagwandin and Tamara Romeo

Close your eyes and picture the ideal startup office. What do you see? Beer on tap, colorful bean bags, eccentric decor? If you’re an office designer, you’ve no doubt asked yourself this question (and agonized over the answer). You can follow trends, but it’s hard to say what prospective tenants really want versus what blogs tell you they want.

According to a report by Share Your Office, startups and small businesses have their own ideas about what matters in an office. The report reveals what startups don’t care for, what they can’t live without, and why they choose to rent an office in the first place.

Here are some key tips that’ll help you design the perfect startup office space:

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1) Make it easy to communicate in peace and quiet

Across the board, respondents who had full-time coworkers said that it made sense to physically work side-by-side. According to Lauren Mosenthal of Glassbreakers, it’s helpful to be able to “slide over” to a coworker and ask their opinion on something, especially when your team first starts growing.

The corollary? The office has to make it easy to communicate with the person sitting beside you. On one hand, this means that cubicles and offices shouldn’t be too isolating (employees need to bump into one another). On the other hand, it’s crucial that you avoid the most common pitfall of open office designs: too much noise. If the work space is too loud and social, it actually gets harder to talk to the person beside you.

If noise is a problem, consider adding acoustic panels or floating “clouds” that help to dampen noise. You can also try acoustic light fixtures, or even acoustic wall treatments and wall paper like cork or other natural materials. These materials not only function well, but look cool and creative too.

2) Ping pong tables are nice, but only if they build culture

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The Silicon Valley stereotype is that startup employees want their offices to be fun and easygoing to the point that work hardly looks like work.

This stereotype holds true to an extent, but only insofar as a fun office generates an upbeat community. In the survey, amenities were voted as the second-least important factor in choosing an office space. For the majority of respondents, flashy and expensive amenities are nice, but they aren’t the deciding factor.

What really matters is that amenities boost employee happiness, which can in turn improve productivity. They’re also fantastic for recruiting, and startups know how hard it is to attract real talent when every competitor is venture-funded and willing to go the extra mile. In short, it’s true that fun amenities are a big part of startup offices, but you have to keep your eye on the bottom line. The end goal is community and culture, not luxury for luxury’s sake.

Doing double-duty: when in doubt, consider furniture that can have multiple uses, which will stretch your furniture investment dollar further. Tamara Romeo, Office Design Expert and owner of San Diego Office Design, recommends purchasing pieces like a combo conference table/ping pong table with detachable net, or one that flips and turns to hide the “fun side” when you’re getting down to business.

 

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3) Make privacy an option, because some startups need it

Privacy was rated as the least most important factor in the study, but that statistic is misleading. The majority of startups don’t care about privacy, but those who do care value it highly. Some respondents even indicated that a lack of phone call booths would be a dealbreaker. David Head of DesignLive and Waytao Shing of Remark both said that they need private space to make calls without bothering anyone (and without being bothered).

Privacy isn’t important to every company, but it’s important to enough of them. It might be the deciding factor, so make sure your design offers at least some private space for calls.

Millennials are used to having an abundance of choice in their work and social environments (what Tamara calls the “coffee shop” mentality). When you imagine a coffee shop environment, there are both active and quiet zones within one space. Many of these areas are delineated with certain types or groupings of furniture. For instance, you would see a bar height group table in the active zone that encourages spur-of-the-moment interactions, and in the quiet zone you may see high back sofa chairs with side panels that encourage small group gatherings or quiet conversations.Sartups aren’t one big demographic, of course, so the individual client’s needs still come first. But if you’re working on a project where you’re not sure who the eventual tenant will be, these are a few tips to make your design as versatile and appealing as possible.