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5 Ways to Get Big by Staying Small

Sure, downsizing your office will save you money. But it's good for collaboration and productivity, too.
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You want to grow your business and see it get big. But getting big can cost a lot of money in real estate: more employees, more offices, more cubes, more printers and computers, more meeting space, more, more, more. Maybe it's time to channel a comic bit that Steve Martin did in the 1980s and "get small." Not revenue and customers, of course, but your company's digs.

The New York Times recently wrote about companies that physically downsized, moving employees into smaller amounts of space. In the process, they not only saved significant amounts of money, but increased collaboration. (Side note: The ability to collaborate, according to a recent IBM study of more than 1,700 CEOs globally, has become "the No. 1 trait CEOs are seeking in their employees, with 75% of CEOs calling it critical." Collaboration not only helps attract top talent, but it can foster innovation and make better use of the brainpower you've hired.)

The idea isn't to pack people like sardines, but smartly reduce the amount of space you need. Save some here and some there and suddenly you're looking at leasing less space while you get employees to work more closely together. Here are five ideas you can try:

Scan and then dump the paper.

When's the last time you literally cleaned out the office and got rid of all the paper, and the accompanying cabinets, you didn't need? You can go further by scanning documents onto servers rather than keeping physical copies. There is even software available that satisfies the IRS. I once spoke with a small insurance office that moved to electronic documents and paid for the conversion immediately by giving up no longer needed office space for filing cabinets.

Downsize devices and desks.

The bigger the electronic equipment and desks your employees use, the more space they take. So reconsider whether you they really need to sprawl to be effective. Some might need more space, but many will likely get along with less. Look at slim-profile PCs, printers, and other equipment that could be less taxing in their demands for square footage. Consider how to rearrange desks so that they fit more efficiently without leaving people feeling cramped. (Getting an expert in office design can help there.)

Virtualize your data center.

You may have heard of virtualization, in which companies use more powerful hardware and special software to more effectively use their servers. Power consumption and cooling needs typically drop, as does the amount of floor space necessary for the servers. The technology has come a long way and now smaller companies can get products and services that will allow them to do the same thing as corporate giants. The less space your servers need, the less space you need.

Rethink your meeting room.

Sometimes you may need a formal meeting with a customer or some employees. But you may not need as much dedicated meeting space as you have. Instead, embrace alternative work spaces, which can serve multiple duties, whether meetings, brainstorming sessions, or quick check-ins.

Embrace telecommuting and mobile connectivity.

If you think that you need to have everyone under your watchful eye to get work done, then either you're hiring the wrong people or you're not effectively managing. Give people options to work home or at remote locations and then have common workspace they can use when in the office. You adjust schedules so there are always desks available to them and because they're not in at the same time, you don't need one cube per person.

That's just a start at the ways you can save space and bring your team closer together. What techniques have you seen work?

IMAGE: augustinrouchon/byJoeLodge
Last updated: May 31, 2012

ERIK SHERMAN | Columnist

Erik Sherman's work has appeared in such publications as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times Magazine, and Fortune. He also blogs for CBS MoneyWatch.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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