When your small business outgrows your garage or home office, you'll be faced with the task of buying office furniture. But before you order top-of-the-line desks and and uber-modern waiting room furniture, stop to think about what suits the needs of your growing company.
First, you should consider the type of workspace that would function best for you and your employees. There are four main categories of workspace; and depending on your business, you might find that you need a combination of these spaces.
1. Private offices: If the type of work you and your employees do requires privacy, room for meeting with clients, or a lot of concentration, then traditional private offices with four walls and a door are ideal.
Drawbacks: Less communication and spontaneous brainstorming between co-workers, feelings of isolation, reduced ability for managers to monitor what employees are doing. Private offices also tend to be more expensive because they take up more space.
2. Cubicles: The most popular compromise between private offices and open offices, cubicles give employees some private workspace while still offering opportunities for collaboration and interaction with co-workers, and efficiently using valuable office real estate. Depending on the needs of your business or a specific department within your business, you can find cubicles with varying wall heights:
- Low (42" high) allow employees to interact with each other from a seated position. They're great for teamwork and collaborative efforts, but don't offer much quiet time or privacy.
- Medium (53" high) allow employees to see and interact with each other when they are standing, while still offering some privacy and quiet workspace.
- High (66" high) give employees plenty of privacy and quiet workspace, but could lead to feelings of isolation or disconnection from the rest of the organization.
In addition to considering how much privacy or quiet workspace your employees need, it's important to consider how much natural light they'll get. Exposure to natural light and views of the outdoors have been shown to improve employees' health, attitude and productivity - and choosing cubicles with lower walls gives employees more access to windows.
Drawbacks: Employees could feel like they're stuck in a box. Depending on the height of the walls, they could have trouble doing work that requires a lot concentration.
3. Open office: This type of office is becoming increasingly popular as it allows for more collaboration and teamwork, while using expensive office space more efficiently. Open offices consist of desks or tables with low barriers or no barriers, depending on the needs of the business. Small conference rooms can be used for private meetings or for more concentrated work. Open offices offer the most flexibility for growing businesses -- allowing for multiple workspace configurations -- and tend to be the least expensive option.
Drawbacks: There is very little privacy and employees might feel like they have trouble concentrating on more involved tasks with increased noise.
4. Mobile office: Depending on your line of business, you might not even need to lease and furnish a traditional office for your small business. With laptops, cell phones and other mobile devices, it might make more sense to allow your employees to work from home. If necessary, you could lease a small office for meetings with clients and employees -- furnishing it with a conference room table and chairs.
Drawbacks: Little to no opportunity for face-to-face collaboration and team efforts. Employees might feel more disconnected from work and management.
After determining which type of office space is best suited for your business, you'll need to determine the style of office furniture you want to purchase. Office furniture manufacturers offer a broad range of material to fit just about any type of business, whether you want traditional design or a more modern look.
For a classic, more formal office, look for desks, work surfaces, tables and cabinets in darker wood or laminates. High-tech or design-oriented businesses tend to favor a more modern look, using bolder colors, metal detailing and glass.
If you are purchasing your furniture new from a manufacturer, you'll have the opportunity to choose the materials and finishes for each piece of office furniture. And the design possibilities are endless. Here's a broad look at the different types of furniture you'll need to consider purchasing and what options you'll have:
Desks, tables, filing and storage: Generally made from some combination of wood, veneer, metal and/or laminate.
Desk chairs, conference room chairs, and waiting room chairs and couches: Leather, cloth, synthetic materials with metal, wood or plastic frames
Cubicle walls and desk dividers: Upholstery, wood, veneers and glass.
Before shopping for your office furniture, be sure to answer the following questions:
- How much space do I have and what's the layout of the office? This will help you determine what size furniture you should purchase and the possible layouts for workstations to most efficiently use that space.
- What is my budget? There are many price points for office furniture. Before you decide that you want all solid wood and leather pieces, it's best to evaluate how much you can afford to spend. Keep in mind that you can also buy used and/or refurbished furniture if you like higher-quality pieces but can't afford to buy them new.
- What kind of meeting space will I have? If you plan to hold larger group meetings, then a conference table would be a wise investment; otherwise, you might be able to use smaller tables for more informal meetings with co-workers, contractors or clients.
- Will I have a reception area? If you expect a lot of clients, visitors or contractors walking into your office, think about purchasing a reception desk and waiting room furniture.
- How much storage do I need? If you're going for a paperless office, then chances are your employees won't need huge filing cabinets or extra storage space at their desks.
- How easy is it to move and/or rearrange the furniture as your small business grows? Desking systems tend to be easier to rearrange than modular workspaces (cubicles) if you expect your business to expand. Before purchasing your furniture, find out how easy it is to to rearrange. Some systems might require professional assistance, while others are easier to move on your own.
- What type of image do I want to project (Traditional? Modern? Youthful/fun? High-tech?) Especially if you plan to host clients, investors, contractors and others, you should be conscious of the image you're projecting with your furniture. If nothing else, you want to make sure that it's clean and not worn out (especially if you're buying used).
Learn more about buying office furniture for your small business at Business.com.