After a period of long days and even longer nights, my startup, LogoMix, finally moved from my dining room table to a physical office. The space we moved into was half-constructed, but that was okay. It worked for our team of five. We were bootstrapping. We were mission-focused: where we worked didn't matter -- what mattered was what we accomplished. 

Then, over the next six months, we recruited and hired ten more people. And suddenly the space no longer worked. The office was too crowded. Too loud. And there was no privacy.

Contrary to popular belief, though, the layout wasn't the problem. Sure, open plan offices have been shown to be less conducive to face-to-face interactions. And constantly moving people around -- or even hotdesking -- does work for some companies.

But even though startups typically set up shop in a smaller footprint than their corporate counterparts, allowing for more creative configurations like an open layout, (dedicated working lounges, etc.) what matters more than the layout is the actual structure.

Physically setting up the office was one of our more difficult challenges. When you move to a new office space, it may not be exactly what you need, especially where the success -- rather than the amenities - of your business is concerned.

For us, that meant adding carpet to the second half of the office to deaden the noise made by a team that was constantly on the phone working with customers. It meant finding scrap wood to build a door that matched an existing sliding barn door. It meant building walls and adding sound-proof doors. In those cases, we weren't creating a cool office environment or nifty perks; we were putting in place structures that made our employees less distracted and more productive.

Where to Start

When you move into a start-up office space, use what you have until it truly doesn't work anymore.

Then wait three more months.

Then, if the same issues still exist, put new structures in place.

  • If privacy is an issue, create a private space.
  • If noise is an issue, add dividers, add carpet, add walls, or replace doors.
  • If ergonomics is a problem, change table or desk heights. Get better chairs. Consider a few standing desks.
  • If your fridge is too small, buy one that holds everyone's lunches (but only after you remind everyone to keep the current fridge cleaned out).

Don't worry so much about layout. There is no right layout -- except the one that works for your business. Sometimes that means desks that face each other. Sometimes that means moving individual contributors to another area so they will be less distracted by a collaborative (and therefore noisy) team.

Sometimes it means not having an office at all -- even if you're the founder and CEO.

Outcomes Are Everything

It' not as harsh as it might sound. While it's a simple example, an employee without sufficient desk space is a less effective -- and therefore less productive -- employee.

Whenever you spend money on or in your office, ask yourself two key questions:

  • Will this improve productivity/quality/teamwork/etc.?
  • Does this touch the customer?

If the answer to both questions is no, don't spend the money. If you're bootstrapping and your business won't benefit, why waste precious resources? Lean on creativity and innovation to work through issues, not money.

The same is true where customers are concerned. If customers visit you, then your office space should help reinforce the value you provide. (It doesn't need to be fancy, though. It just needs to show how effectively your business operates.)  But if you run a tech company, no customer will even know your office exists, so don't spend money on "show." Spend money on "go."

After all, success is not defined by trendy office layouts, cool amenities, or the latest in collaboration-focused design. Success is defined by revenue and profits.

Make sure your office space --and especially the structure of your office -- helps you generate the revenue and profits you need to make your business a success.

Published on: Oct 23, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.