So you’re going to use your entrepreneurial skills and take your business to the next level by creating a professional office space to house employees and to work with customers. Congrats, this is a gigantic step and requires a massive amount of groundwork. Maybe you have an outdated office and you’d like to freshen things up around your workplace, or you could just be just trying to improve the work spaces for yourself or your employees. Whatever the reason you are reading this article, I assure you that I can help. I have worked in 6 different industries including Real Estate, Marketing, Management, Data Storage, Travel, and Internet services- many of which were start up businesses. I started my journey through these industries as a Receptionist, and worked my way up to Upper Management. I have updated, designed, launched, relaunched, and created 5 offices and work spaces.
Before I get started discussing the meat and potatoes of setting up an office, I strongly recommend finding a reputable Commercial Realtor if you have not found an office space yet. They have so much knowledge about lease rates, common area maintenance charges and amenities, location, taxes, and understand lease contract legalese, that it would be a waste of your valuable time to try and negotiate all of this on your own. Along with my advice, I recommend products that are for sale on Amazon.com for your convenience. I do receive affiliate marketing commissions for any products that you purchase by clicking on the links that I provide. Now, let’s get started with the 8 basics to setting up an office.
I am listing this first because without it, your customers, clients, and delivery drivers will be frustrated and confused. You want your clients, customers, and guests to feel like they could find your office building or suite easily and timely. Having a large visible sign on the outside perimeter of your parking lot, or on the exterior of your building is also extremely important for advertising your company to the local population.
If your office is inside a large building with multiple tenants, make sure that your business name is visible on a directory map close to hallways and elevators. There should also be a prominent sign within eye shot from the front door of your office or suite front door. Sign prices vary and can quickly become very expensive. For indoor signage, I have had great results with light weight 3D foam core logos that sticks to the walls or front base of the reception desk with screws or adhesive. These can be covered in a metal or acrylic veneer for an upscale finish. They are typically a great value, can be installed for a fee, or you can test your handy skills and install them yourself. Vinyl lettering and logos are also great for FLAT drywall or glass wall or door surfaces, however, it won’t work well on a textured surface. Keep in mind that if you are applying vinyl on a surface that is exposed to the elements or extreme temperatures, it will peel and need to be replaced eventually. Vinyl printing is also very inexpensive and relatively easy to apply and remove.
2. Reception Area
This is the first impression your clients and customers will have of your business. Make sure that the space feels warm and comfortable. It should have an attractive reception desk area that includes ample hidden storage for paperwork, supplies, and clutter. Here are some examples of effective reception desks, ranging in size and shape, and also some furniture:
Often times in an office environment, the Receptionist or Administrative Professional seated in the greeting area is responsible for organizing paper files (if you still haven’t gone paperless) and sorting and packing mail, so they need a large desk space to work from. Make sure that the desk that you choose is in good shape and free from large scratches, scuffs, and wear. Also, elevated counters attached to the desk will help your receptionist focus. Between answering a constant stream of phone calls, being distracted by every client, employee, delivery person, and solicitor that walks through the front door, a small barrier between their desktop and the rest of the reception area will help them have a little bit of privacy and space to concentrate.
I’ve been able to find reasonably priced new/used furniture from office furniture warehouses and consignment shops, Craigslist, and also IKEA. Sometimes large franchises or businesses close down a branch and sell their lightly used furniture for the depreciated cost. I see this mainly on Craigslist, but this is also where office furniture warehouses attain the majority of their used furniture. Also, many office furniture consignment shops offer delivery and set up of desks and cubicles (if you’re going that route) for an additional cost. I’ve helped set up cubicles before and I can say that I will probably never want to do it again.
Most people prefer single chairs to sharing a couch or a love seat with another stranger. This area will have a higher volume of traffic than the rest of the office, so choose fabrics and surface areas that are durable and cleanable. I typically try to arrange the seating away from the reception desk, but still close enough so that the visitors can be helped quickly. Turn the chairs into a conversational layout, so that visitors can chat with each other, instead of distracting your receptionist the whole time they are in the waiting area. While some chatter and friendly conversation is very important for their experience, you need your employees to be able to get some work done as well.
End tables and coffee tables are a great place for guests to set their laptops down on and are also a great place for advertising and marketing materials. Another great way to showcase products or services is by mounting a display tv on the wall in the reception area. I’ve used this as a way to present business milestones, charity event photos and videos, explanation of all services offered, customer testimonials, and product advertisements. I’ve seen these be made from a Powerpoint presentation loaded onto a flash drive, to a YouTube video played on repeat.
In my opinion, offering refreshments to visitors who are waiting or about to enter a meeting adds class and professionalism to the experience. Now, having a coffee and water station out for anyone and everyone to have access to is very convenient, but if abused, it can become expensive. If you plan on having refreshments always readily available, I’d recommend signing up for a coffee delivery service that leases industrial coffee makers, delivers coffee, cups, lids, sugar, creamers, and other supplies on a regular basis. You can also elect to sign up for a water cooler and bottle delivery service. I’ve noticed that these services become pretty spendy and have elected to purchase a large clear glass water container with a spout at the bottom which can be filled with ice water each day.
I believe that to offer the best customer service, the person working at the front desk should offer coffee, tea, or water and bring it out to the guests, but time does not always allow.
3. Work Spaces
I have fallen in love with the look of the new co-working space fad, but have found some serious flaws within the industrial style and concept. For example, concrete flooring is cheap, can look nice, but it is terrible for noise in an office. If there aren’t enough textures like carpet, rugs, fabric blinds, or sound absorbing panels on cubicles and sometimes ceilings, noise will carry far and your employees will be yelling over each other. Even worse, your customers will here it in the background over the phone. I have had customers and business leads ask me if I was working out of a telemarketing center, just because they could hear my other coworkers on the phone in the background. This is distracting to a customer and might make them feel like they are just a number or a dollar figure, not a person. The best service experiences I have had, are the ones where you feel like you are having a real conversation with another person, where both people can focus and listen attentively without any background distractions.
Personally, working from a desk without any surrounding barriers like walls or cubicle partitions has been very difficult for me. I have a hard time reading, calculating, writing, focusing, and talking on the phone when I can hear and see other distractions like people walking by and talking on their cell phones, the sound of someone crunching potato chips behind me, water cooler conversations, or even the glare from the sun coming through a window.
Sit/Stand desks are not only great for creative personalities and job positions, but they help increase energy, tone muscles, and strengthen your upright posture. Sitting at a desk all day creates fatigue, weakened core muscles, and legs. “For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking.” said Martha Grogan, who is a Cardiologist at Mayo Clinic [Cronk]. Most administrative employees prefer to have the option to sit at a desk where they can spread their paperwork, so adjustable desks are great! Standing at a desk provides better blood flow to all major organs, including the brain, and gives the employee a little more exercise to keep productivity flowing. Now, not every person will love a standing desk all of the time, so adjustable desks are great! The CDC conducted a research project called “Take a Stand” in 2011. While conducting research to measure the benefits, they found that the people using the stand up desk reported elevated mood, decreased neck and back tension, improved self esteem, less fatigue and confusion, and much better focus [Pronk NP]!
Now, remember that the correct posture to sit and type all day is being able to comfortably sit upright with both feet strongly planted on the ground, keyboards should be placed at elbow level with the arms resting along your sides, and monitors should be elevated so that your chin can stay parallel to the ground. Looking down at a monitor that is too low for a long length of time can cause neck pain and headaches. I’ve always had trouble getting comfortable at most desks and recently found out that most sitting only desks are made for much taller people than me. I am 5’5″ and need a desk that is around 25-27″ tall, but most desks are make to be 30″ tall! Purchasing an adjustable sit/stand desk has been a life changer for me.
Here are some examples of a well priced sit/stand adjustable desks with a hand crank or electric lift, an anti-fatigue mat to stand on, and chair systems available on Amazon.com:
4. Computers, Technology, and Software:
Don’t skimp on the computers! I’ve had penny pinching bosses from time to time, which forced me to use computers that were over 5 or 6 years old with operating systems that weren’t even supported by the majority of the software needed during my day. I was only able to use about 50% of the software’s functions, and constantly under scrutiny about the timeliness of reports that were generated from these programs. There is nothing more inefficient and frustrating than sitting and waiting for your PC to load software for 18 minutes while the phones are ringing, customers are waiting, and you are late for a meeting. On a couple of occasions, I forced my boss to stand behind me and WATCH as the computer malfunctioned and wasted 30 minutes of both of our lives. Poorly functioning computers make poorly functioning employees.
It is a very good idea to hire an IT professional or a service to manage all of the computer hardware, software, printers, scanners, phones, and most importantly- the server. If you plan to store your server equipment on site (somewhere in the office), you’ll need to have a secure area within your office not accessible to the public or employees. The area that you choose to store the equipment in needs a lot of ventilation, cool air, and should be kept away from materials that cause static electricity and dust particles. You’ll also need access to a surplus of power and data connections, depending on how much equipment you need to run. Consult your IT department or a professional service to see what you will need for your specific technology needs. You may need to hire an electrician to add or move around data and power connections for you office needs. Here is an example of a server rack/enclosure for a small to medium sized office:
5. Copy/Print/Scan/Mail Area:
This area is often victim of heavy use, so it is wise to install heavy duty materials that are can handle daily wear and tear, and are easily cleanable. Organize this work space so that there are exposed counter tops for assembling mailings, shipments, portfolios, presentations, training packets, etc. I’ve ordered melamine cabinetry with durable Formica that looks like granite- it’s durable, lasts a long time, and can be ordered in many different colors and configurations. This space is a great place to store supplies like paper, labels, binders, pens, etc for the entire office if you have enough storage space. In most past work experiences, the copy and scan machine has typically under performed for the amount of usage it got. I have not had good experiences with all-in-one machines that you can buy at Best Buy or Costco. Those are meant for individual use at a single desk, and absolutely not meant for use by multiple employees.
I’d recommend comparing machine lease costs from a few different companies. The least expensive models won’t scan or print very fast. I’ve also noticed that the lower end models only scan small stacks of documents in one sitting, and this can be a really big pain. Talk with a salesperson about scanning capacity, speed of scanning and printing, duplex printing, and also ability to load card stock. I’ve been able to save money by keeping the machine lease and the service agreement separate. You will absolutely need a service contract, unless you consider yourself a copy machine mechanic. These machines are operated by humans and will inevitably get jammed with staples, paperclips, cheap paper, earrings, coffee, and whatever else might happen on a sluggish Monday morning. The toner, drum kits, and other internal parts will need to be periodically replaced and the materials can be toxic. I find it best to leave the servicing to a professional who is just a phone call away.
6. Conference Room:
This room is a gathering center for employee training, interviews, office potlucks, team meetings, clients meetings, and much more. It should be clean, professional looking, have a few items of updated decor, and a long conference table with matching chairs. Having a table with electrical outlets to plug in laptops, tablets, and phones in the middle is nice for long meetings. Most people expect coffee and water to be available during meetings, so having a nice long skinny table in one corner of the room with coffee and water supplies like cups, sugar, napkins, creamer, straws, and tea will offer convenience to everybody. My favorite coffee machine for office conference rooms is the Keurig 2.0 Brewing System. It is a one-cup brewer, but it also offers a carafe that hold 4 cups of coffee that can be passed around the table. You can purchase the one cup coffee pods at most grocery stores, as well as the larger 4 cup pods.
7. Break Area:
The break room or area is used as a space for employees to unwind from their daily grind, eat lunch, drink their coffee, chat with coworkers, or to work on appropriate personal tasks. Whether you elect to have multiple break/kitchen areas in your office or just one, make sure that employees have access to clean and functional kitchen appliances like a microwave, sink, dishwasher, refrigerator, utensils, plates, etc. A seating area with small tables and multiple chairs are helpful for employees who prefer to eat lunch at work, or who can’t afford to go out to lunch everyday, or for the ones who have a very packed schedule and only have time to grab a bite to eat very quickly.
Some companies have break areas with couches, books, and magazines. Getting employees to socialize with each other in a comfortable environment is a healthy breeding ground for creativity, problem solving, and collaboration. I’d recommend purchasing some simple furniture that is cleanable and modern.
Again, the Keurig 2.0 Coffee Maker is also a winner for the break room. It’s quick, and you don’t ever have to drink the burnt coffee that was brewed 4 hours before.
People prefer privacy when they need to use the restroom, and the majority of people don’t mind having to walk down a hallway to get to a bathroom. Having a bathroom located down a hall or just outside of the office suite, keep things private, separate, cleaner, and also gives everyone a chance to get some movement in throughout their work day. Having the restroom on a separate floor, however, can be quite annoying to those who are on a time crunch or have to use the restroom frequently. I don’t know about you, but I am a water guzzler and see that restroom more frequently than I check my email.
If your office space has a restroom in a heavy traffic area, make sure it is getting cleaned regularly, has proper ventilation, and air fresheners. Random tip: sometimes the bathroom drains in the floor need to be sanitized if there is a funky smell radiating out of the doors all of the time. I sometimes ask the janitorial service (or just do it myself) to pour a water and bleach solution down the drain to kill the smell. There is nothing worse than a client walking into the reception area who immediately says “Hm, it smells like raw sewage in here”!
Women’s bathrooms should have trash cans with lids for feminine products. You can set up a service through a supply company, or have your janitorial service replace paper towels, soap, air fresheners, or feminine products. If you’re a small office, you can also do it yourself, or designate an employee to manage the bathroom supplies.
Now that we’ve discussed the meat and potatoes of setting up an office, I really do hope that you feel like you have a basic road map to getting this up and running. This will take a great deal of patience, confidence, money, time, and resources. I wish you the best of luck on your journey. If you have any friendly comments or questions, please comment on this article and I’d love to start a discussion. Also, if you click on the Amazon links to the products listed, I do receive an Amazon Affiliate commission, so I do appreciate if you use the links to the products in this article.