How to Design an Office Space on a Startup Budget

By Katya Puyraud

In the hustle and bustle of starting a business, the last thing you’re likely to think about is how your office will look. Yet this seemingly trivial detail can be key to all manner of things: your recruitment, the productivity of your workplace, and the image you project to visitors and the other businesses you work with. It’s not quite as crucial as turning a profit, but it will help you along the way.

Many entrepreneurs and startup owners don’t feel they have the time or the resources to make their office look nice, and neglect it until further down the line. By doing so, they are unnecessarily shackling themselves to an uninspired space, and potentially making their lives that bit harder. Designing an office space on a startup budget isn’t just possible – it can be an enriching and enjoyable experience to boot.

Bring Your Own Entertainment

Ideas about startup offices fall into two camps: either your space is ultra-modern and minimalist, or it’s stuffed with beanbags, ball pits and pool tables aplenty. There’s nothing wrong with either of these models, but they reflect paradigms that most startups probably shouldn’t be aiming for. Google can afford to turn their HQs into play parks because of where they are as a business, and the quality of talent they can attract. The same probably can’t be said of your first office.

This doesn’t mean that entertainment has no place in the workplace, however; it’s always good for people to have a space where they can genuinely unwind, and forget about their looming deadlines. But it’s likely that your employees are enthused enough about this idea to be willing to chip in towards it. They may not have a TV to spare (although it doesn’t hurt to ask!), but they might have a spare games console, some magazines and books, or just a Netflix account.

By designating a space to use as a rec room, you’re already sanctioning an area for people to unwind, and sending a signal about your company culture. Tastes differ enough between age groups that investing in a pool table or dartboard may go to waste. Let people bring in their own entertainment, however, and your employees can tailor the space to suit them. This gives them agency, makes them feel valued and saves you money, making it a winner all around.

Embrace Nature

Startups tend to value things like transport links and an economical space, which can often mean setting up in a gray, urban environment. Unfortunately, this can have a knock-on effect on your employees, as access to green spaces and pleasant views has been directly attributed to better mental and physical wellbeing. Thankfully, indoor plants can also make a great design element for your office, creating a little oasis from the outside world.

Indoor plants add a splash of color to any space, with color psychology suggesting that green decor makes us calmer and improves reading comprehension. There are more tangible benefits, however. Plants have also been shown to improve air quality, ‘scrubbing’ the air of volatile chemicals and contaminants. Just one or two plants in a large office can solve the issue of ‘sick building syndrome’, relieving headaches and boosting energy levels.

A NASA study into indoor air ranked the best plants for improving air quality, and found that ferns were the most efficient at removing pollutants. If you want to go even further, you might consider cultivating a small indoor or outdoor garden, and delegating watering responsibilities to different employees each week. This will serve as a sort of team building exercise and provide you with a short break from your work, helping to refresh the mind.

Use Personal Effects

In a sleek, modern office space, the temptation is often to make desks look as regimented as possible – and this can mean fewer personal effects. The popularity of the ‘KonMari’ method (removing things that don’t ‘spark joy’) has led people to intensively declutter, and this trend is extending itself to the workplace, with any extraneous items being binned or sent home with their employees.

It’s a popular opinion, but this is entirely the wrong thing to do – and the wrong message to take away from your Marie Kondo binge-watch. ‘Sparking joy’ may seem like an excuse to throw away magazines and decade-old socks, but it’s also a demonstration of the importance of the items around you. Joy is at least as important in the workplace as it is at home, and neat binders of documents aren’t likely to spark it either.

By inviting employees to bring in effects that genuinely mean something to them – be they photographs, artwork, toys or a potted plant – you can inject a little bit of home comfort and fun into the workplace without being too distracting. With a bit of luck, this familiar environment will make employees happier and more comfortable, and give them more impetus to put in a hard day’s work.

Get Creative with DIY

One of the most interesting generational shifts between young and old is the increased acceptance of used goods. Younger people are increasingly phasing out the purchase of new clothes entirely, instead relying on Goodwill and eBay bargains. Finding, making or repairing old items is seen both as fashionable and economical – and fits the ethos of a startup perfectly.

While you may not want to recycle work uniforms, you can look for some bargain office decor. Knickknacks and trinkets can make interesting pieces for desks and shelves, or be framing and mounted. Antique desks, tables and shelving can give your startup a unique, rustic aesthetic that sets you apart from the usual sterile office environment, while also being competitively priced.

If you’re feeling creative, this theming can go a long way. Depending on what your business does, you might find opportunities to ‘upcycle’ discarded items into industry-appropriate decor. From stacks of old CD cases or records for a music business to a table full of toy cars at a dealership, there are all sorts of unique ways to turn trash into conversation starters.

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Katya Puyraud on Twitter
Katya Puyraud
Former journalist Katya Puyraud is the co-owner of Euro Start Entreprises, specialising in company formation in France and the rest of the EU. Since 2007 Euro Start Entreprises has helped budding digital nomads, entrepreneurs and expanding SMEs to open their companies in over 30 countries worldwide

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