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


How To Minimize Overheads And Expenses In A Small Business

When you are just starting out, or perhaps you simply just have a small business, keeping costs down is crucial. You can’t afford to waste cash on things you don’t need, and time dealing with anything other than your priorities. Here are five key expenses faced by many small offices and how to minimize them.

1. Office Space

First you should ask yourself, Do I really need an office at all? Working out of one’s home is quite acceptable these days. Internet based businesses are able to put up their shopfront in a virtual world without anyone knowing where the physical work happens. Even if you do plan on bringing clients over to meet you, a home office can still be a cheap, neat, and functional space separate from living areas of your house. You can read about setting up a home office here.

If you must have office space, try negotiating the rent down a little. In many areas landlords are struggling to fill space, and once tenants are in there they don’t want to lose them. Use it to your advantage. Ask for lower rent or more flexible lease terms such as a rent-freeze for two or more years.

If you are locked in to a larger office and not fully utilizing it, perhaps you can sub-let out a room to somebody. Sometimes micro-businesses need office space because their home is unsuitable, and a single cubicle or a small room would be perfect for them.

2. Office Furnishings

Small and simple office with few furnishings to save money

Whether you are working from home or in a commercial office, you are going to need some basic furniture such as chairs, desks, and storage. To keep costs down you should look on the second hand market – whether that be EBay, Craigslist, or some other local classifieds service. There are many bargains to be found at a price heavily discounted off retail. Plus you are in a better position to negotiate down the asking price. Items for sale might not be in new condition, but who cares if there is a scuff or scratch present? There are hundreds of dollars to save by buying used furniture, or conversely, hundreds of dollars to waste on purchasing new furniture.

3. Staffing

For many businesses this is a significant cost, perhaps 50 to 80% of your total overhead. Hire only when it hurts – when you just can’t survive without the extra help, working crazy hours, and the business simply cannot function much longer on the staff you have. It will mean the new recruit won’t be sitting idle waiting for business to develop, so you can get more output from their wage, and they will have plenty to do to keep them occupied and interested in the work.

On the other side of the employment ledger, if somebody is not working out, or you just can’t afford them long term, firing should be done fast. Don’t wait, don’t hope, just get it over and done with. The conversation will be uncomfortable for many bosses but you, the former employee, and the rest of the office staff will be better off for it. Once the deed is done don’t jump straight in to hiring again – try to delay, again until it hurts.

4. Consumables

Reduce paper, reduce toner and ink, reduce printed material in general. This eco-friendly idea is also a major cost saver. Check out our tips on How To Reduce Paper Usage In The Office on exactly what you can do to reduce consumable costs.

If you have a fax machine consider moving to an email fax service, even if only for inbound. Many e-fax services will port your existing number, and although the initial setup cost might seem high, over a year and beyond you will save money each and every month you don’t have to pay for line rental, paper, toner, and equipment maintenance costs.

5. Power

If you run a lot of electronic equipment and/or you have heaters and air conditioners, electricity costs could be significant for your small office. For tips and ideas on how to reduce power costs and help save the environment, have a read of The Environmentally Friendly Office. There is always opportunity to reduce power usage by turning off or changing lights, turning down the cooling just a pinch, or replacing energy-sapping equipment.


Here we have presented strategies for reducing overheads and expenses in a small business. Office space, furnishings, employee, consumables and power costs can all be reduced with some smart thinking. Why not have a look at your office expenses today and see what savings you can make? Both now and over the next 12 months.



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.




How To Reduce Paper Usage In The Office

In our previous article, Increase Office Space By Minimizing Paper, we explained how reducing paper usage in the office can in turn have a positive impact on the office space available. Now we look at exactly how you can reduce that paper usage to reap the benefits.

Make it harder to print

Sometimes it is just too easy to print off documents. You could try to discourage this by making it harder to print by:

  • Having less printers in the office
  • Positioning the printers out of the way, so you need walk further to pick up your print job
  • Limit the number of pages in a print job – either as a suggestion to staff, or control the setting in your computer systems. If you need to print a large document, send it to your local print shop. It will be cheaper and easier for them to do the printing

Email more

If you traditionally print off invoices and statements to snail-mail to customers, try emailing them instead. If your software doesn’t support an export of reports to PDF, try something like Cute PDF. It’s free and it is like a special type of printer that prints to a PDF file, instead of paper.

You will also save money on postage, envelopes, and the labour of folding paper and addressing the mail.


Row Of Green Ring Binders

If you have never used a document scanner with a sheet feeder, prepare to be amazed! Even on many of the basic models you can dump a pile of paper in, back to front, upside down, and mix odd sizes of paper (including receipts). The scanner works it all out for you. Typically you output to PDF files which you can store on disk in whatever folder and file naming structure you desire.

There are many benefits to digitizing documents, including:

  • Less need for filing cabinets and storage
  • Ease of backup – you can’t take those filing cabinets home, but you can take a USB drive with the same material
  • Ease of passing files around to staff and associates, no need to photocopy. No need for the bookkeeper to take originals off site
  • Some digitizing software also has OCR (Optical Character Recognition), which attempts to work out the text in the document. It isn’t necessarily 100% accurate, but it might be good enough for searching through thousands of files in a few seconds.

Periodic Cleanout

Do the ‘Spring Clean’ at least once a year and clear out filing and storage cabinets of old files. Check your local tax authorities for retention, for example the IRS recommends some documents be kept up to six years.

Also throw out old catalogues, brochures, and other printed material that serve no useful purpose. Sometimes even books and reference manuals have past their due date and need to be recycled or passed on to somebody else.

Encourage Good Behavior

This isn’t easy but will have the biggest long-term impact. If your workplace is the kind where emails and other documents are printed out for reading and reviewing, it is now time to change. Encourage staff to read from the screen – first starting by doing it yourself to set the example. Let other people know what you are doing and you might get a few followers.

You might need help from your IT guys to make the ergonomics work for staff. Larger screens, tweaks to software (such as font sizes), or perhaps some cheap tablet computers could all help if there are technical reasons why so many documents are being printed.


Reducing paper usage in the office is not an easy job, but it is well worth it. You will reduce operating costs for your business, reduce the need for storage space, and help the environment as at the same time. Utilizing the technology in your office such as scanners and email is a great starting point because it is already there, or just needs a little effort to make it work for you. Don’t forget to do a thorough clean out every year – because as each year passes there are probably many folders of documents that can be disposed of – and unless you take action they will keep building up and taking up space!


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.


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?


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.


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.

Tips For Selecting A Small Office Printer

When you walk in to any technology or office supplies store to buy a printer for your computer it is easy to be overwhelmed by the choices available. It is wise to do some research beforehand to try and narrow the choice and pick the printer that is best for your business. Here are a few tips to selecting a small office printer:

Ink or Toner?

Laser and LED printers use a toner, instead of ink, and are quite affordable these days. Generally speaking we would recommend a toner based printer for a business, instead of an ink jet printer. They offer good print speeds (compared to ink jet printers) and you won’t find yourself replacing toner as often as you would with ink. However ink printers might be a better choice if you plan on printing on to specialty paper, such as photographic paper. The color with ink jet printers is much more vivid.

As with any printer you should compare the cost-per-page for replacement consumables. What might appear to be a very cheap purchase price could be expensive over the long term. To calculate cost per page, take the purchase price for a toner (eg $90.00), divide by the number of pages that the toner will last for (often 5000 pages at 5% coverage but check), and multiply by 100 to get the cost-per-page in cents.

Example: $90.00 divided by 5000 multiplied by 100 = 1.8 cents per page.

You can calculate cost-per-page from a number of different models and brands to see what is more economical.

Paper sizes and paper traysSmall Office Laser Printer

Consider what size paper you are going to print on, if you are deviating from the standard Letter or A4 size. Pretty much all printers have a manual feed if you need to print smaller, such as an envelope. However if you want to print smaller sizes regularly you should look for a printer that has a second paper tray that fits your desired media.

Similarly if you intend printing on large format paper (such as A3) this will dramatically narrow your choices and will incur a greater cost. The demand for larger formats is low and so the options are limited and substantially more expensive. It might be easier and cheaper to head down to your local print store to print the occasional large format document.

MFC or Dedicated

MFC stands for Multi-Functional Device. These are printers with scanning, copying, and faxing built in. Although you might not require such features every day, they can be handy to have in case your other scanning or copying device has a problem or is tied up with other staff.

A dedicated printer on the other hand is likely to be faster at printing, have less things to go wrong, and fewer buttons to operate.

Computer Interface

Every printer these days will have a USB interface. We recommend selecting a printer with a network interface (sometimes called LAN, 10/100, or Ethernet). The advantage of these is that the printer does not need to be connected to a turned-on computer to operate, and so can be placed in the office in a convenient location.

Many modern small office printers also have Wi-fi (wireless network) capabilities, which is great if you have laptops that need to print, but are not always wired in.

From a technical viewpoint the network printers are not as difficult to install as they used to be. You now insert the CD in to your computer, run the install program and it will discover the printer on your network and install the driver for you. The software can also be downloaded from the manufacturer’s web site.


If you are accustomed to printing single-sided documents you might not imagine how useful an automatic duplexer can be. Duplex printing means double-sided printing; printing on both sides of the paper. This can dramatically reduce paper usage in your office, which is good for the environment and good for your bottom line. Other environmentally sound ideas for your office can be found in this article of the Small Office Ideas web site.

Duty Cycle

Finally if you are evaluating office printers the product literature often quotes a duty cycle number. This is a recommendation from the manufacturer of the maximum number of pages you can print in a month through the printer. Our experience suggests that this number is highly exaggerated, and you should divide by three to get a genuine number. Pushing the printer every other month is ok, but regular over-printing will wear down the mechanics inside and you are likely to need to get the printer serviced quite frequently.


Above we have detailed some key factors in narrowing down your choice for a new printer. If you make a few easy decisions before you start looking, you should be able to find a printer that is best for your small office and performs year in year out.

The Environmentally Friendly Office

An environmentally friendly office is good for the environment and good for your bottom line. Reducing energy consumption saves dollars and emissions. With prices continually rising due to various environmental and carbon taxes, now is a good as time as any to go green and eco-friendly. Here are five simple ways to get started:

Raise Awareness

Talk is cheap – so do more of it! You should ask staff in the office what changes can be made to become more energy efficient and environmentally sound. Even if you aren’t a manager you can still make a difference, starting at your own desk, and share ideas around. The chances are your workmates have done some things at previous jobs, or at home, or at their kid’s school, to help the environment. What cheap and simple ideas can you bring in to this office to help get you started?

The great thing about this is activity is infectious. A change you make in your office might be replicated at home, or other organisations, and the pattern continues. Even if your small office cannot make a big impact, the attitude will propogate through your community and together a difference will be made.


This is an easy one: replace incandescents with flourescents. In some places around the world you can no longer purchase incandescent lights, thanks to governmental policy to reduce energy consumption.

You might even consider replacing arrays of screw-in down lights with banks of flourescent tubes. They are no longer the buzzing annoyance they once were. Quiet, cheap, long lasting, and great reflector systems can spray a lot of light over the room with little energy consumption.

Check the air conditioning

Air conditioners can consume a lot of electricity, which means carbon emissions at the power plant, and an electricity bill to match.

Sometimes in office environments we get so used to turning on the air con and leaving it on all day. Is that necessary? Is there any natural ventilation, such as opening a few windows and/or using just a fan, that could help move air through the office?

A green office can save you money and save the environment

A green office can save you money and save the environment

If you must have the air conditioning running, check the temperature. Just a degree or two warmer and you can save 10% on the power bills for cooling each year!

If you have an old split system air conditioner, check it’s energy efficiency. Perhaps it is time

to replace with a more efficient inverter model. Inverter air conditioners run at different speeds, rather than a stop-start motion. They are quieter, more efficient, and less prone to breakdowns. The cost of replacing an air conditioner unit might be cheaper than keeping your older, louder unit running year in year out.

Use recycled paper

We now know that the paperless office is a work of science fiction. More than ever we are printing stuff out and working with paper copies. So why not make the switch to a better paper for your printers?

Next time you are ordering in paper, or down at the office supplies store, have a peek to see what else is available. It might cost a bit more, but the cost-per-sheet difference is probably in fractions of a cent. It’s a small change but an easy one to make.

If nothing else do a little investigation to see where the paper is sourced from. Managed plantations are good. Brazilian or Indonesian rainforests are not so good.

Also try re-using scrap paper. Most of us do this already but in case you don’t, you can save a few sheets of paper and use it instead of purchasing notebooks. Cutting the page in half gives a nice ‘notebook’ size that is great for writing down notes at the desk, doodling, sketching ideas, etc.

Finally, don’t forget to recycle your recyclables. Make a habit of having two bins available everywhere: one for paper recyclables, and one for garbage.

Check for rebates, incentives, and more ideas

Your local energy company and local government probably has a web site full of green ideas and options. Check for governmental rebates and incentives: you might be able to get a discount on installing solar panels, or rainwater tanks, or switching light globes, or any number of other purchases that you might consider making.


Going green and staying true to your word is easy, and you don’t need to go overboard with policy changes or major investment. You just need to get started with a few small changes and work upwards from there. Whether you are making changes to save the environment, save on expenditure, or both, you can make a big difference to your office whether that be large, small, or a home office.

Looking to go green on a different level? Check out our guide to office plants and greenlife. It’s a great way to pretty up the office, plus if you pick the right plant, it will clense the air for you as well!

Five Fun And Cheap Ideas To Boost Staff Morale

Sometimes the budget does not stretch very far when working in a small business, or in a small office away from a larger business. You cannot afford to install pinball machines, ping pong tables, and chill-out rooms with bean bags. You wouldn’t have the space anyway. Here are five fun and cheap ideas that any little office can implement to help boost staff morale and improve productivity:

Go out for drinks or dinner

Let’s bring back happy hour. It doesn’t need to be every week; it could be every fortnight, or just once a month. Day-to-day firefighting at work can take a toll. You might work next to each other but socially you are isolated and don’t make time to find out more about the people you work with. The chance to socialize away from the office helps strengthen interpersonal relationships with staff. And in the world of business, relationships matter. This event does not need to be an all-out drinking session. You could go out for dinner, or just share a pizza in the park. Whatever feels comfortable to staff.

Network games

Having Fun In The Small Office

Having Fun In The Small Office

The idea of network gaming on your computers might initially turn some people off. Try to at least give it a go. Find somebody (possibly a younger staff member, or a teenage kid of another) and get him or her to set up your computer network with a multi player game. Older, simpler games are great because they don’t need fancy computer hardware and are easier to learn. Hold it at the end of the day and/or week when most people are switched off anyway. Even non-gamers can usually figure things out, or simply enjoy the screams of delight from other staff. Blowing up the boss with a grenade launcher has never been so much fun!

Birthday Celebrations

Do you know the birthdays of all your office staff? You should! Have a little celebration when the special day comes around. All it takes is a cake bought from the shop on the way in to work, a few candles, and a rowdy rendition of Happy Birthday To You to liven up the afternoon!

You could snap a picture on your phone and start a collection to pin up on the notice board. Even the grumpiest birthday boy or girl will appreciate the recognition.

Free Snacks and drinks

This is not as expensive as it sounds. Drop in to the supermarket and hunt for specials on cans of soda, candy, chocolate, nuts, fruit, cookies and other snacks. Some air tight jars or containers will keep them fresh and tasty for weeks. It’s the cure for people who tend to doze off in the afternoon, and don’t have any food on hand to keep them going through to the end of the day.


100% free and 100% effective. Just smile more. Work is not that bad. Share a joke, or a funny story, or just say hello to others as you come in the door each morning. If you aren’t a smiler, practice. Even if you don’t feel like smiling, please try it. It is infectious.


Five fun and cheap ideas to boost staff morale in your small office environment. There are hundreds more and these are just a few of our favorites. What are yours?

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.


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.


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…