Startup Design Guide: How to Choose and Furnish Your First Office Space


One of the biggest challenges for businesses, and especially new ones, is finding the right office space. As a startup founder, you may need no more than a laptop and an internet connection to carry out your work, and you may have no problem doing it from your living-room couch, coffee shops, or even park benches. When you’re finally ready to expand, however, you need to set up an office space that represents your brand, fosters innovation, and sustains growth.

From how to choose the location of your business to the types of furnishing you need to support different work styles, this guide contains some of the most important considerations to help you navigate the process of setting up your startup’s first office space. Read on.

  1. Choosing the Right Location

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Finding the right location for your office is perhaps the biggest task of the entire process, so you should spend plenty of time and resources on finding the best spot. Depending on the size and type of space you need, your budget, market availability, and lease documentation, you should allow a minimum of 2-4 months for your search (and even more, if you’re looking for a bigger space). In addition to vetting office spaces, you also need to conduct a thorough neighborhood assessment. Ideally, your employees would step out the front doors and have plenty of options for food and drink; the surrounding area would also have a low crime rate, and public transportation would be readily accessible. (If you don’t have a choice and must locate in a remote area, consider organizing team carpools, contracting a shuttle company, and considering other options that would make commute convenient).

  1. Deciding on the Size

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In general, the amount of office space you will need depends on the industry you’re in. The average space typically allotted for one worker has been decreasing from 200-250 square feet/person to as low as 100-150 square feet/person, but the difference in median square feet per worker varies greatly depending on the industry:

  • Call centers: 150
  • Real estate: 225
  • Communications: 260
  • Computer design & software: 270
  • Insurance: 310
  • Financial institutions: 310
  • Architecture: 310
  • Accounting: 310
  • Government: 390
  • Law: 410
  1. Planning for Growth

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Especially for new startups, it’s crucial to ensure you don’t get locked into a lease that’s not convenient for your long-term business plan. You may have 5 employees right now, but if your company is rapidly expanding, there is a great chance the space you choose right now will no longer be sufficient for your 50+ employees two years from now. As tempting as it may be to settle for a particular location, you should explore more flexible options first – shared, co-working, sublease, etc. – before going for a space with a multi-year lease requirement.

  1. Reflecting Your Style

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Once you have decided about location and size, it’s time to take your company’s core values and mission and translate it into the office design. For instance, if you own a travel agency, you can consider adding maps and introducing souvenirs from some of the more popular destinations you offer. Also think about putting up travel posters and cork boards with postcards and trinkets and adding stylish elements, such as vintage travelling trunks, to give the place an elegant and classy look. If defining a style for your startup is challenging, you could definitely use the expertise of an experienced office space planner.

P.S. You shouldn’t worry about the overall style of the office space being ruined by employees decorating their workstations with a few personal items or contributing ideas. Quite the contrary, it will raise worker morale and make the office look animated.

  1. Setting up the Right Mood

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It’s easy to moving into your new space, set up some desks, and ask your employees to get to work, but that simply won’t get you anywhere. If you are looking to motivate folks into using their skills and talents to full potential, you need to set the right mood first. We know that differently colored walls influence workers in different ways: red makes people more alert and energetic, while blue soothes the mind and stimulates clear thought; yellow is a strong emotional color that inspires self-esteem and creativity, while green promotes balance, refreshment, and reassurance. Other decor elements such as custom art, inspirational quotes, murals, greenery, and various games will maintain a good morale and increase worker satisfaction.

  1. Creating Comfort

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The easiest way of empowering your employees and stimulating their productivity is to create an environment that feels like home to them. After being pioneered by the tech companies in Silicon Valley, the casual culture has become the norm, with the new generation of workers now seeking cafe-like workspaces instead of the drab cubicle farm. Since people are spending more and more time at work, they need to be offered the comfort and excitement they have access to at home in order to stay focused and inspired.

  1. Supporting Different Work Styles

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Different types of work styles require different types of support, and your office space should provide the necessary accommodations for workers more inclined to:

Focus: Provide privacy booths and enclosed areas where workers, both introverts and extroverts, can carry out their tasks without being interrupted.

Learn: Create clusters of desks where employees of different ages and skill sets can willingly share their knowledge with one another.

Collaborate: Add shared workstations or benching systems and set up special zones where workers thirsty for collaboration and socialization can gather.

Your startup’s office layout and design is crucial to attracting and retaining new talent. Without spending outrageous amounts of money on furnishings and decor, you can easily create a flexible and friendly work environment that will stimulate and empower your employees. Get the help of an experienced office space planner and start work on your new headquarters as soon as possible.

About the Author Lynne Lemieux

Lynne Lemieux, Founder and President of Alliance Interiors Inc., has devoted more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing growth opportunities for some of Canada's leading office furniture dealers. Her ability to provide clients with inspiring and versatile interior solutions for both business and home office environments has garnered her title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year in the city of Toronto for 2012. In her spare time, Lynne takes an active interest in politics, public speaking, and philanthropy, but also enjoys gardening, interior decorating, cooking, yoga, and traveling.

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