Discover ideas and get tips on how to make your small office, home office, or personal workspace look and feel productive

desks

Unusual (And Cool) Stationery Ideas For Your Desk, Or Somebody Else’s

Looking for a small gift that is a little outside the ordinary, but still useful? Check out these three novel ideas. They won’t break the budget and could bring a smile to even the grumpiest of workmates!

Charging Charlie the Fireman Charger Cable

Charging Charlie Fireman Cable HolderNever lose your phone charger again! Charging Charlie will keep it secure and avoid your MP3, iPod, iPhone, or USB cable from escaping out the back of the desk. At under $20, bright red, and taking up a small desk footprint, it is both practical and fun!

 

Splat Stan the Drink Coaster

Splat Stan Drink CoasterMaybe you are looking for something with humor a little darker than Charging Charlie. Splat Stan is a coaster for your beverage of choice. Made of a funky silicone rubber it will insulate your cup and keep it from sliding around the desk. This one is under $10 at Amazon and a bargain if you are looking for a small Christmas or birthday gift for somebody at the office.

Amazon also sell a bunch of other similarly black-humored and unusual office accessories by the designer Suck UK.

Tech Tools ‘Fist’ Pen Holder

Tech Tools Fist Pen HolderMost of us have pens, pencils, markers and other odd bits of stationery rolling around the desk. Sure a jam jar can serve the purpose of keeping them together, but why not get funky with this white fistful of usefulness? The end is also magnetised to keep paperclips and other metal objects close at hand. Also available online for under $20 at Amazon.

 

 

 

Increase Office Space By Minimizing Paper

To make your office appear larger and maximize the space available you sometimes need to take a step back and look at behaviors, rather than physical equipment. Reducing paper is one such example of a change you can make to your office that can have a big effect on how much space you really need. The behavioral change will, in turn, reduce the dependency on physical equipment.

Storage

Filing cabinets and bookshelves can take up a significant amount of floor space, and in a small office, space is at a premium. By reducing general paper usage, such as reading on screen instead of printing, digitizing invoices, receipts, statements, and other general paperwork, you can reduce or eliminate the need for so much storage. Also consider the length of time to retain documents and what relics from history you are keeping in those cabinets: perhaps you can cull some material that will never be used again?

Printers

Small Office Laser Printer

In general if you reduce your dependency on paper you should be able to reduce the number of printers required for your office. With a lower demand for printing you might be able to get away with a compact printer next purchase. Lesser printing also means less consumables such as copy paper and toner, which in turn means less running costs and less storage space needed to house spares.

Desk space

An indirect benefit of reducing general paper usage around the office is that people will not have so many physical files, papers or documents to keep close by. Large desks are no longer required when you only need enough space for the computer and one stack of files.

Bins and Recycling

Less paper usage will result in less rubbish or recycling. You will not need as many bins in or outside the office.

Stationery

Staplers, paperclips, folders, etc all take up space – typically in the stationery cupboard. With a lesser demand for paper you probably don’t need so many spares on hand. If you have shredders in the office you might also be able to eliminate them and free up floor space.

 

So how do you start reducing paper? In our next article we will detail some methods to get started.

The idea of a truly paperless office is outdated and in most (if not all) industries will never happen. There is something quite nice in the tangible feeling of paper, or the ability to draw ideas in freehand with a pen. However you can reduce paper usage and in turn, reduce a lot of the need for office furnishings, big and small. You will also save money and help save the environment. For more tips on minimizing paper use and making your office more eco-friendly, check out The Environmentally Friendly Office.

Beating That Confined Feeling In The Small Office Environment

Small and home offices need a few sharp stategies to avoid that confined sensation. There will often be a minimal level of ‘stuff’ necessary to just make the office operate. The following are some space-saving ideas to turn that crowded office towards a more productive one.

 

Additional lumination

A home office showing smart storage and lighting solutions

Sometimes the issue is basic: you simply do not have sufficient light. The confined experience you’ve got could just be a shadow. Examine your ceiling lighting. Fluorescents will be weaker than incandescent or LED lighting, so you may require more of these to fill up the room with light.

Also look at your table: have you got a table light? In many places of work tables are situated against a walls, and consequently with overhead lights they are usually behind your office chair. You may be creating a shadow over your workdesk and for that reason an economical table lamp can certainly help brighten your personal work space.

 

Unlock your window space

Further to artificial lighting, check out the sunlight pouring in in to your office. When you’ve got a window, consider what is surrounding it or shielding it. Bookshelves and cupboards which are positioned near the window frame perhaps is decreasing the perspective that light enters in the room. Try relocating those furnishings a number of inches to the side which will permit more light to come in and saturate the room.

For those who have curtains or coverings over your window, should they be opened up? If you’d like to keep these things closed for personal privacy reasons, or perhaps to avoid glare from the sun, you may want to check out something semi-transparent which will soften the light and shield you.

 

Tidy up the desktop

This holds for the pieces of furniture variety of desk, and the desktop on your computer . Clean it up! Do away with anything except the things you require.

Desk clutter in a home office that is contributing to that confinement feeling

On your furniture desk this means only keeping the documents, documents, and devices you require at the moment. Whatever else really should be away from view and out of mind. With your computer desktop the same is applicable. Wipe out all the icons and only have the programs and data files you really need.

All those items in front of your vision are potential distractions from your work that you should be doing.

 

Go up with shelving

Maybe you already have shelves, but are you taking advantage of them? You should think about extending shelving up to the roof. It is likely you have many folders, gear, and bits and bobs that you rarely use, but do not wish to throw away. So go vertical and put them up high. On the random situation you need to stand on a crate or stepladder to get them it certainly won’t be as terrible as tripping on them everyday because they are lying on the ground or taking up table space.

 

Combine or take away gear

The typical example is the MFC (Multi Function Centre) which combines a printer, photocopier, scanning device, and facsimile device all-in-one. These days there’s no excuse to have individual pieces of equipment.

In addition look around at specialized gear you could have such as binding equipment, guillotines, and laminating devices. Do you want them or would they be placed away to storage? Even better, give them to charity and on the situations you would like this sort of devices, head right down to a nearby copy centre and make use of their own.

 

We would all prefer to have more office space yet it is not always feasible. By employing some of these hints you should be in a position to open up your office area and get away from that closed down, crowded sensation. A brighter, less cluttered area will probably inspire work productivity and creativity, and help keep your head focused entirely on the task at hand.

Indoor Plants Suitable For An Office Environment

Plants are a great way to both decorate your office and improve wellbeing. But if you aren’t a green thumb, what is a good plant to introduce in to the office? You need to look for green life that looks good, is low maintenance, and going to survive indoors. Here are some options…

Palmspalm in pot suitable for an office environment

Always a favourite because they can grow tall in a small pot, excellent at cleaning the air, and very hardy. There are lots of varieties and if you are after a specific variety try The Areca Palm (Dypsis lutescens) which according to NASA is one of the top air purifying plants and humidifies the air – an excellent choice if working in a dry air conditioned environment.

YuccaYucca Potted Plant suitable for office environment

Yucca elephantipes (also known as Yucca gigantea, and Yucca guatemalensis) is also a great office plant. They are very hardy and will tolerate some abuse, but could do with a bit more light than other indoor plants… so place near a window if possible. Their interesting structure of a tall trunk and bushy top discerns them from most other common indoor plants. Try positioning one either side of your office entrance.

Ficusficus plant in pot in office environment

A perennial favourite – so much so that when you see one you start wondering whether it is real or plastic, given the number of plastic ficus plants that made their way in to office buildings in the last few decades. Ficus benjamina (commonly known as a weeping fig, Benjamin’s fig, or simply a generic ‘ficus tree’) is hugely popular variety because of its tolerance to long periods of neglect. As with many plants, a bit of sunlight is good but will otherwise hold up to the average office environment very well.

Succulentssucculent cactus garden in pot for office environment

Not sure what a succulent is? Think any of those (often colorful) plants that thrive in desert environments such as Arizona, New Mexico, and California. Cactus and Agave plants are succulents. We love succulents because they are the ultimate in low maintenance, have great texture, and come in all sizes from tiny desktop varieties to larger potted options. Just give them some sunlight and give them a (very) sporadic watering and they will be fine. You can even take a cutting of the plant off and transplant it in to a new pot to grow more of it. It’s the plant that keeps on giving!

Lucky BambooLucky bamboo in small vase in an office environment

Some might consider these a gimmick, or even tacky, but you have to admit they look interesting. Botanical name Dracaena sanderiana, these Lucky Bamboo plants are cheap, available seemingly everywhere these days (supermarkets, thrift shops, etc), and require a once-or-two week water. They also don’t like direct sunlight and will happily live in the office environment.

Flowers

If you are having trouble committing to a live plant you could always grab a vase and throw in a few bright flowers. Gerberas, daffodils, sunflowers, or whatever looks colorful from your local florist is a great option, especially if your office is looking a little bland or bleak with white walls and grey furniture. Flowers are great for reception areas to brighten up the space and welcome in visitors to your office. Just be aware that some people are sensitive to the pollens if flowers, so keep an ear out for increased sneezing!

 

If you are still unsure, you could head down to your local garden center. Staff there will be able to recommend something that fits your space requirements and is in budget.

Have you got any suggestions on plants for people to place in their office? Let us know via the comment form below.

 

How Many People Can You Fit In A Small Office?

No, we aren’t talking about a Guinness World Record stunt. How many people can you realistically fit in to a small office or home office before productivity nosedives?

Bottom line up front

Assuming a small office room of around 330 square feet (30 square metres), in a workplace that tends to have people working by themselves most of the time, you are probably looking at 4 being the most before comfort ends and tension rapidly mounts. Three people would be more sensible.

Of course this scales up: so if you have double the space (in an open area) you can probably get 8 people in, at most. 6 would be more suitable.

Let’s look at the factors which determine this number…

Noise and distractions

With any more than one person in a room and you will find that noise and distractions increase, but that isn’t practical for a business operating out of a small office. Not everyone can have their own room, with additional common areas for meetings and collaboration.

Generally speaking, more people in an environment means more communication paths between them. If we give people the labels A, B, C, D, E, etc:

  • Two people share one path to each other (A to B)
  • Three people share three paths (A-B, A-C, and B-C)
  • Four people share six paths (A-B, A-C, A-D, B-C, B-D, C-D)
  • Five people share ten paths (A-B, A-C, A-D, A-E, B-C, B-D, B-E, C-D, C-E, D-E)
  • Six people share fifteen paths… you get the idea!

Of course not everyone needs to talk to everyone else all the time, but in an open small office people tend to overhear everything that is going on. Each additional person adds an ever-increasing number of communication paths. It’s the reason why teams tend to keep small and not too large: communication in large teams can be difficult to manage.

Physical space limitations

Although some modern organisations have shared workstations where multiple staff share the same desk and PC, we think that the 1-desk-1-person maxim will hold for many years to come and is what people expect when working in an office.Small office size and people capacity to fit them in

Desks, chairs, filing cabinets and shelving all take up room. Sometimes in highly collaborative environments you can get away with more than one person at long desk (such as in agile software programming in pairs). However modern office furniture is typically designed to having a single person per desk.

Furthermore you need space between desks for people to move about. Perhaps you also have a whiteboard, or meeting table, and need more floorspace for people to comfortable move around in.

If you are trying to work out how many people you can fit in the office then working out desk placements is going to quickly limit you, making it a good starting point to office design.

Ventilation

Anyone who has sat in overcrowded classrooms or boardrooms will know how uncomfortable it can be if the cooling and ventilation has been pushed beyond its limits. Rooms get stuffy, warm up, and people start to doze off and lose concentration.

If you don’t have the capability to modify the heating, cooling and ventilation system then this could also limit how many people you fit in a room. An open window and a fan can only go so far. At some point, with people’s body heat, and computers running, temperatures rise beyond an acceptable level.

But you can break the rules…

Yes sometimes you do want to push the comfort levels and put more people in a room, for short periods of time. If you are working on an intense, short term project then the tension of having a number of people in the room can push them to perform better. Having more communication paths can work for you if the work is very highly collaborative and demands a lot of verbal communication.

However we wouldn’t recommend you push this for more than a few weeks, or even a few days. For whatever savings you make putting more people in a room, you will lose that and much more through lesser productivity in the long run.

 

Have you got a small office horror story of fitting too many people in a room? Share your story below through the comments form…

Tackling distractions in the small office

A small office (or home office) often means a small business, and in small business distractions are rife! You need to take control of the situation and work on reducing both the frequency of distractions, and the intensity. Here are some of the top distractions you are likely to encounter in a small office and what you can do about them:

Turn down the volume

We have covered this before in dealing with Noise and Small Talk In The Small Office. Less noise means less temptation to listen in or otherwise have your attention diverted from the job at hand.

Turn down the phone ringer volumes (and altogether if you have multiple phones ringing in one small office), speak softer, and generally encourage less social chatter during work hours. In a small office just two people talking can (and probably will) distract everyone else in the room. Whatever you can do to reduce the volume will have a profound impact on people’s ability to get work done.

Hold the toast

You know that pop-up message that appears in the corner of your screen when email arrives? That is called toast (as in toast popping up out of a toaster, get it?). You need to get rid of it! Turn off all visual and audio alerts for email so that you aren’t interrupted when new mail arrives, and tempted to go read them.

We also suggest setting your email not to download automatically: force yourself to click the button to grab new mail off the server. Doing so means if you need to get in to your email program to check your calendar, or look at a previous email, you won’t be pulled away to look at new emails arriving.

Email less, Web Less

This is for masters of personal time management, and the effects can be spectacularly good.

Try to cut email down to just a few periods a day. Three periods of 30 minutes each, at most. Think you have too many emails? If you can discipline yourself to clear the boxes in 30 minutes you will find a way to get through it. You might need to write shorter more direct emails, less fluff, and perhaps file all those email newsletters in to a folder to scan through just once a week.

If you can avoid email when you first get to your desk that is also a fabulous habit to get in to. Instead, when you arrive, work on the things that really matter – your priorities. Unless your job is to perform a support role via email, the chances are email is not your #1 priority!

Remove clutter

All those papers, books, stationery, and general ‘stuff’ lying over over your desk should be cleaned up – they constantly strive to have your attention. Check our Ideas On How To Organize A Small Office for a strategy on removing clutter. If office supplies and stationery is your problem you will find some more great tips in How To Organize Office Supplies In The Small Or Home Office.

Environmental distractions

Sometimes you have done all you can in your personal space, but there is something else bugging you, and you just can’t work it out. You feel constantly distracted, fidgety, or inattentive. Perhaps it’s the environment you work in? Look for problems with these items and whether you have the right ergonomics to support productive work:

Furniture placed too close to each other can be a distraction in a small office

  • Chair – comfortable? Correct height and angle?
  • Desk – large enough? Correct height?
  • Proximity – are desks too close to each other? people bumping in to each other when moving about?
  • Light – too much? too little?
  • Color – too bold? or bland and uninspiring?
  • Heating, cooling, and ventilation are also worth checking out to make sure they are all set correctly.

 

There are probably many more distractions that are common in small offices, so share them through the comments form below and please tell us how you tackled them. We would love to read about your experiences.

 

Desk Placement In The Small or Home Office

You aren’t working in cube farm, so don’t arrange your desk as if you are!

Placing your desk against a wall (or worse a corner) closes out light and locks you in. Why not get smart about the most important piece of furniture in your office?

Look for the light

Small office with desk against window


Try to put your desks under natural light wherever possible.

A splash of light, especially starting work in the morning, is a welcoming you to a fresh new day. The window also gives you opportunity to stretch your eyes and look out at a distance – something you can’t do if your desk is up against a wall.

If you don’t have natural light, or just can’t find a way to get desks under the windows, at least position them out from a wall. Again, being able to look in to the distance and pull your focus away from the screen in front of you really makes a difference to your health, and hence your productivity, each and every day at work.

Don’t forget about foot traffic

Open small office workspace

You need to get in and out of your chair without bumping in to people. Be sure to place desks in such a way that everyone can get straight to their desk without climbing over anyone.

The downside to such an open plan is you will not be able to fit as many desks in to a space. Perhaps consider smaller furniture items (desks, chairs, filing cabinets etc), or just start removing the clutter altogether. All those files you are accumulating could be scanned in and digitized, or maybe they aren’t useful files at all and can be thrown out altogether?

… but my home office is just a small part of a larger room
Home office desk placed at angle and inwards to invite the workspace in to the room environment

If you don’t like the idea of dividing a room off for your workspace you can create an aesthetically pleasing arrangement with a tweak of the desk placement. Desks against walls, and furniture at right angles, can sometimes divide the room up in a dis-jointed way. Try placing your desk at an angle, and facing in to the room, to connect it back to the environment.

When you look towards the workspace you get the feeling it is friendly and facing towards you, and not rude by turning its back on you.

… but I don’t have any other space?

Maybe you really are locked in to a set position. Let’s try to make the most of the situation. We have put together some tips on How To Make A Home Office In A Small Corner which will help you maximize the limited space available.

How To Make A Home Office In A Small Corner

Perhaps the ultimate in small office ideas? To position a home office workspace in a tight fitting corner, under a staircase, under a pitched roof, or somewhere else where you have very limited space to work with. Here is how to do it…

Clear The Area

Clear it all out! Anything that isn’t bolted down (and perhaps unbolt things that are) move out of the way. This has three important benefits:

  1. You can clean the area. A clean workspace can make it look larger and more productive.
  2. You can re-paint the area, again to make it look larger, or just to encourage some energy in an area you need to work in
  3. You need only put back what you absolutely really need. Space is at a premium.

Position A Desk

Obviously you want to put in a desk that fits, and for smaller furniture you are sure to find something at Ikea that works for you.

Make sure it is large enough, and the legs are in the right position, for you to sit in at the table without bumping your knees in to anything. If you can’t make it to the showroom try to visualize how you will work. For example, consider these two options:

Desk 1

Corner DeskThis one you sit in the middle, and you have a little space on your left, and a little space on your right. Unfortunately for this orientation you aren’t maximizing the table area available.

Also if need to place a computer monitor on your desk you will lose the space behind it, where the back corner is.

What looks like a cheap, stylish desk, could be a real pain if you had to work at this regularly.

Desk 2

At this desk Corner Desk you face the towards the long edge, giving you less space on your left, but substantially more on your right. That’s great if you need to keep an open book, notes, trays, and equipment such as your computer tower.

The desk also comes in a left handed variant, has height adjustable legs, and various accessories are available.

Although more expensive than desk 1, it is a lot more practical and has obviously been designed by somebody who thought about how people will use the desk in a working environment.

Set Up Shelving

Think vertically for shelving. Go as high as you can reach and maximize the number of shelves available.

Also consider keeping shelving ‘open’, rather than closed. With closed or boxed shelving you will lose some inches in the frame, as well as lose a lot of flexibility in to what sized objects you can place up there.

Closed shelving: Open shelving:
Closed Bookshelf Open Bookshelf

Sort Out Lighting

In a small corner you are likely to need more lighting than that bulb on the ceiling behind your head.

Consider going for a small halogen or LED light for your desk – either of which will provide a lot of light in a small package. Just make sure the base is small so that it doesn’t take up valuable square inches of your desktop! If space is really tight you could mount something underneath your shelving, or even just rest something on top.

What is important is that you can comfortably read at your desk and not feel like your eyes are strained. Doing so will just make you tired and less inclined to get to work.

Keep It Tidy

It’s easy to let things slip and get a little messy around the home office. A notebook here, an article there, a few pens there, and before you know it… woah! No room to work.

Here’s an idea to help you keep control of the situation: make a time at the end of each week, just before you knock off, to clean up the area. It need only take 5 minutes, tops. If you have a calendar on your phone or computer that’s great: set it as a recurring event. Then, when you start work in the new week you’ll have a workspace ready to go and no excuses to getting stuck in to the work that needs to be done!

 

Creating a workspace in a tight fitting space has some extra challenges, but it is far from impossible. You just need to keep things really simple and eliminate as much as you can so that you are working with just the necessary furniture and tools to stay productive. Please feel free to share your experiences with a comment below, perhaps you achieved something amazing out of an impossibly tight spot in your home?

photo credits: Ikea || ejhogbin via Flickr cc || Rubbermaid Products via Flickr cc

Ideas On How To Organize A Small Office

Working in a small or home office forces you to think smart about organization. Here are some ideas on how to get organized and more productive:

Work Slowly But Surely

If you have the time to spend a day working through everything… great! But most of us need to figure out this organizing thing around real work.

Clock

So write down out all the things you need to do and tackle one at a time, whether that be one a day, or one a week. Determine which actions are going to give the biggest payback for least effort and cost, and do them first. Adding more furniture is rarely the right answer: it can be expensive and time consuming to measure up, pick out, and (if you are in to flat pack) assemble it.

De-Clutter

Clear the decks! errr  Clear the Desk!

The only things on your desk should be items that are:

  • heavy, such as your monitor
  • fixed or cabled, such as your keyboard or a desk lamp
  • used multiple times a day, such as a pen and paper, or a bottle of water

    Cluttered Office Desk

Everything else can probably be safely stowed away. Keep those sometimes-used items such as stationery in storage bins or a drawer, where you can reach them without leaving your chair. Move those rarely-used items such as reference books to a bookshelf out of the way. Finally consider dumping anything that you honestly don’t use. The souvenir from your vacation 5 years ago might look cool, but is it serving any useful purpose taking up valuable desk space?

Oh and you don’t score points for stuffing everything in a drawer. The drawer too should be organised in such a way you don’t need to lift things out to find something. Less is best!

 

Get Smart About Furniture Placement

When you walk in and out of your workspace, do you have to climb over or walk around anything? Perhaps there is furniture you can get rid of that isn’t serving any useful purpose? Or maybe your desk just needs to be moved around to open up the space more?

A couple of common opportunities include:

  • Visitor’s chairs. Unless your job is to consult others face to face, the chances are you don’t need extra chairs next to your desk all the time. Find a place nearby and pull them out when required.
  • Modify furniture from their original state. That side return on your L-shaped desk might not be serving any purpose. Can you unscrew it and free up space?
    Or perhaps you have 4 drawers down the side of your desk but you really only need 2. Can you remove the bottom two and in their place put your wastepaper basket, computer box, or other essential equipment?

Are you setting up a home office or don’t have a lot of space? Have a read of How To Make A Home Office In A Small Corner for some specific advice.

Install Shelving

Look up! See any available space on your wall?

Shelving in a home office

Shelving is inexpensive, relatively easy to install, and is versatile. You can put books up there of course, but don’t forget storage bins/baskets and filing trays can live up there as well.

Best to go for a colour and material that matches your furniture, or failing that, a simple black or white lacquer.

These are just some of hundreds ideas out there on how to organize a small office or home office. We’ll be posting more articles on how to get organized and make the most of your small space. In the meantime why not leave a comment on how you organize your small office?

photo credits: {N}Duran via photopin cc || smittenkittenorig via photopin cc || lovelihood via photopin cc