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7 Tips for Office Furniture in a Shrinking Office

Whether it’s because budgets are tight or more employees are telecommuting, offices are shrinking.

According to the New York Times, the average amount of space per employee in the U.S. has dropped from 400 square feet in 1985 to 250 square feet. That number is expected to go down to 150 square feet within the next decade.

At NeoCon, which was held in Chicago last month, furniture designers showcased a variety of solutions for the problems encountered in small offices from chairs with sound-muffling felt hoods that can be lowered in order to have a private cell phone conversation to restaurant-like booths equipped with video screens and Wi-Fi for impromptu meetings, according to Chicago Business.

If the thought of investing in all new furniture for your tiny office is giving you a major heart attack, fear not. There are ways to maximize your office space without doing a complete furniture overhaul. Here are some ideas:

1. Reconfigure desks: Is the way your desks are arranged making the most efficient use of space? The productivity experts at recommended basic configurations that can maximize the space in a small office and increase productivity:
Paired islands: In an open-concept office, scatter pairs of desks facing each other throughout the space.
Assembly line: Line desks up side to side along the length of the room. If you need multiple rows, make them face each other to increase collaboration and discussion.
Blocked seating: Similar to island seating, but with four desks blocked together. It’s great for small teams.
Bullpen: Use desks to create an inside facing circle or rectangle to maximize the amount of idea-sharing and conversation.

2. Re-think the conference room: When you’re tight on space and funds and every inch of space counts, conference rooms matter. Unless that giant conference room table is in use a majority of the workweek (instead of just a few meetings here and there), it’s eating up some valuable real estate. Either consider doing away with the large conference room entirely, instead relying on smaller gathering spaces throughout the office for group meetings, or turn the conference room into a quiet workspace where many employees can make use of that big table bench-seating style.

3. Make meetings mobile: If you’ve decided to use your conference room for workspace, there are plenty of ways to create replacement meeting spaces throughout the office. Something as easy as a collapsible table and whiteboard on wheels can make creating ad-hoc meeting spaces a snap. Get a change of scenery by meeting outside or at a local coffee shop.

4. Use fewer desks: If you have a lot of employees who telecommute or work on the road, then hot desking might be a good solution for your office. Rather then giving each employee an assigned seat that might go unused the majority of the workweek, let employees sit where they want whether it’s at a traditional desk or a couch in a common area. Not having as many defined workspaces offers you more flexibility as your company deals with growing (or shrinking) pains.

5. Declutter: How much of your office space is taken up by filing or storage cabinets? Rather then just squeezing people into tiny workspaces to accommodate all that paperwork, it might be time to break out the paper shredder and clear out unnecessary documents. If the thought of not having the expense reports from 1992 on hand sends shivers up your spine, rather than keep them in a space-hogging filing cabinet, scan the documents and store them digitally. Real estate is expensive; don’t spend more money on storing paper than you would on giving your employees a comfortable work environment.

6. Tear down walls: Those high-walled cubicles ala “Office Space” that you’ve been using for the past 20 years are going out of style, which is good for you because they can make an already small office feel like it was intended for hobbits rather than real-life humans. When switching to a smaller space, instead of bringing along your outdated behemoth workstations, look for more modern, compact solutions, like Herman Miller Resolve workstations or High-Tech Desk system. By getting rid of walls you’ll not only save space, but you’ll also get more natural light which will make the office feel bigger.

7. Go shopping: If your employees work from laptops and mobile devices, then the desks that you bought to accommodate giant PCs decades ago are wasting space. Rather than trying to squeeze them into a smaller office, consider selling or donating them and purchasing more compact workspaces that are better suited to the work your employees are doing today. Since we know you’re on a budget, think about buying used (or pre-owned if you prefer). You can find plenty of stylish, gently loved pieces at more than half (sometimes 70 to 80 percent) off the cost you’d pay retail at Arnolds.

Photo courtesy of Anchor1203/Flickr

Photo courtesy of Office Now/Flickr

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