Let’s face it, we all wish our offices were better. You might want privacy. Your neighbor might want better coffee. And your boss might want you to stop complaining about it.

Many offices these days are designed based on a vision from the top down. The designs are often focused on lofty buzzwords like collaboration or openness or community. Though no matter how good the design seems to be when the office is brand new, over time they just seem to lose their original appeal and become stale.

And sometimes, big vision offices simply flop altogether. Just read the story of TBWA Chiat/Day to understand.

Office plans can also become miserable when companies grow. Just ask any developer who worked with a small team and is now in a big room with the sales team. Talk about distraction.

In order to avoid these costly errors, why not use an iterative strategy to create the perfect office design?

Starting Small, Starting Basic

I’m going to borrow Eric Ries’ idea of the Minimum Viable Product and adjust it into a Minimum Viable Office. As a small company, there is no reason to outfit your entire organization with what the latest trend in office design happens to be.

Instead, build the office your employees want and your organization needs.

  • Avoid building office features that nobody wants
  • Employees can ‘fill the gaps’ on missing features
  • Achieve a big vision in small increments

Just remember: cubicles were awesome, until they weren’t. And I predict that open offices will start to make their exit as well.

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

If you start small, you can build from there as opposed to building big, then tearing down and starting all over again. And there are many areas of an office that you can play with. 

  • Layout: You might find that using an open plan office works great as a small company, but that doesn’t mean it will work great for the life of your company.  Finding out what type of  layout works best for your company in your current situation can be an important way to maximise work processes.

    And don’t forget, you might need a variety of office layout styles for your different teams and employee types. Engineers might like privacy, while marketing might prefer an open office environment.

  • Meeting Spaces: One thing I’ve regularly seen in offices are unused conference or meeting spaces. Yes, most companies have meeting rooms – but if your company has no need of them why waste the space and resources having them?
  • Decorations: A lot of companies love to add decorations, but adding office decorations that no one likes just for the sake of it is useless. Instead, find out what sorts of things your employees like and want. You might find that they enjoy art or plants – and that that improves overall employee morale.
It Isn’t Iterative Unless You Measure

Let’s imagine a company that had 5 small conference rooms was moving into a new office and made the decision to now have 10 small conference rooms. I’d suggest that they measure the usage of their existing conference rooms to see if their proposed idea makes sense. 

  • Do the employees actually use the spaces?
  • How many employees use them at a time?
  • Do we need to have a variety of sizes?
  • Does it matter where they are located?

Ideas—BUILD > Surveys—MEASURE > Data—LEARN > Ideas—BUILD >…

Any time a new idea is dreamed up, it should be analyzed to see if it actually makes sense based on measured data.

Avoid Vanity Metrics

Do they even exist in office design? You bet they do. The basic concept of a vanity metric is that it is a metric people use that doesn’t actually mean anything, even though it sounds impressive.

Any time I hear about companies with ping pong tables or free lunches, I immediately think about that being a vanity metric. Instead of simply being impressed with these sorts of office design ‘achievements’, we should consider what they actually do for the company – and of course, if they are even necessary.

  • Free Lunch: Some companies provide lunch because they believe it helps build strong company culture. Others have done the math to find that it actually saves money compared to employees leaving work to get lunch.
Ask the Right Questions- At the Right Time

When you're working on tweaking your office design, make sure you're asking appropriate questions so that you arrive at useful conclusions. If you're looking to improve the occupancy usage of your current office floor plan, asking yourself what the current usage of each area is a good question that can help you find out a way to improve in the necessary area.

It is also important to ask questions at the proper time. If you begin by brainstorming what types of workspaces you want in your office, without actually knowing what people actually use, you might find yourself stuck with a lot of unused space.

What are some office design quirks you've had to change after implementing them?

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