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

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Selecting A Telephone System For Your Small Office

Businesses, even small ones, need a telephone system. If you have never purchased one before, or it has been a while since your last PABX was installed, here is your guide to selecting a phone system suitable for a small office.

Why do I need a phone system?

Haven’t got a phone system and not sure why you need one? Here are 5 quick reasons why every business, large and small, should have a system:

  1. Hold and transfer calls between handsets.
  2. Music on hold while your customers and suppliers wait.
  3. Voicemail, and picking up voicemail from any location.
  4. Night mode (send calls to voicemail or another number after hours).
  5. Expandability: more handsets, different types (simple, large, portable, etc), external bells and ringers, door phones, and much more.

Can you do this with ‘normal’ phones bought from a department store? Maybe. However a proper business telephone phone system does this and more so much better than any domestic system.

Trunks and extensions

Telephone system handsetFirst thing you need to do is work out how many trunks and extensions you need. Trunks are lines going to the outside world. Depending on your business you might get away with one trunk for 5 office staff for a quiet office, but if you are a sales-oriented business you might need one trunk for every 2 staff, or perhaps one for every single staff member.

Extensions are the internal lines: i.e. handsets. Don’t forget that special equipment such as door phones also count as an extension. Every office staff member should have an extension, and also every room in your office, including lobby / reception, warehouse, and other places where calls might want to be made or taken.

Think about the future as well: are you likely to grow? How many extensions will you need in two or three years time? A phone system is likely to stay with you for at least three years so be sure to choose one with at least a little flexibility to grow.

Digital, VOIP, or Hybrid

Digital systems are the most common out there – these are the ones that take calls in off copper wires from the street, and send them to handsets in your office. Those trunks to the street are sometimes referred to as PSTN, or POTS lines. Because of their ubiquitous nature, digital phone systems are very reliable.

VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) are the newer systems that use the Internet to make and/or receive calls. Think Skype, but more professional. The advantage of VOIP is cheap calls, particularly long distance and international calls. The disadvantage is reliability: you will need a good broadband Internet connection that doesn’t go down, because when the Internet goes down, so will your ability to send and receive calls. That includes emergency calls so you should always have a backup phone available: whether PSTN or mobile phone.

A hybrid system is the best of both worlds: combining reliability of a digital phone system, with the flexibility of VOIP. You might have incoming calls on the PSTN lines from the street, outgoing calls via VOIP, but if Internet goes down everything can automatically go through the PSTN lines. A hybrid system is likely to cost more than VOIP alone, but is probably the best system out there these days that balances features, flexibility, and reliability.

Analogue devices

Although the world is going digital you still might have some analogue devices in use. These include fax machines, EFTPOS / card processing machines, dial up modems, and alarm systems. Typically your phone technician or electrician can wire these up separate to the phone system, but if you want the flexibility of being able to move these devices around the office, look for a phone system that supports analogue extensions.

GSM Gateway

GSM is the protocol used by your mobile / cell phone. A GSM gateway is effectively another cell phone, that connects straight in to your telephone system. There is a port (or two or more) for mobile phone SIM cards to go in. Once plugged in these lines appear as standard trunk lines on your phone system.

Why would you want a GSM gateway? Because many fleet plans on your cell phones will give cheap or free calls to certain numbers. Many offices use this line to call other members of the fleet (which is often free), and/or reserve a trunk for staff members who want to call in, even if the main office numbers are busy or going to voice mail.

Portable phones

Do you need portable phones? You can’t always just plug in ordinary household portable phones in to a phone system. Most of the time you need DECT phones, and to get all the phone system features you might need more specialised (and expensive) options. On the other hand if portability is key, consider the Engenius Durafon or similar system that has long range portable phones and built in phone system features such as music on hold, call transfer, and more.

Configuration and Support

Often overlooked, but very important: who is going to set up your system and will they support it? Even modern VOIP systems can be tricky to set up so be sure to find a local person who will look after you. Also find out what it will cost to make changes later on, because a simple reconfiguration could cost $100 or more an hour for a technician to make the change. Some phone systems allow the configuration to be altered remotely, avoiding the time and expense for a technician to visit your premises, and instead make the change from their office in minutes.

Where to now?

If you choose to contact a phone system company directly you are likely to be bounced on to a reseller, who you may or may not want to deal with.

If you have a trusted phone system rep, or even just a cable guy, find out that they would recommend. Explain what you want to achieve and they should be able to recommend a system that meets your requirements and your budget.

If you don’t have anyone to call on, can you ask other businesses in your neighbourhood for a referral?

Finally, your IT technician that services your computer gear can help find a business to work with. Just be wary of the IT guy who wants to do it all himself, but might not have the experience. VOIP systems are easier to configure than traditional digital systems, but they are still complex pieces of equipment. Leave the computer guy to helping you set up your small office computer network.


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.



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.

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?

How To Set Up A Small Office Computer Network

Getting all of your computers hooked up in your small or home office can be easy, affordable, and effective. Before you call in your IT person to help you out here are the things you want to think about so you can give him or her some direction.

Wired or Wireless

Working wirelessly on the small office network

Ten years ago, perhaps even five, we would have recommended wiring the place up: running ‘Cat5’ or ‘Cat6’ cables through the walls. Not so now. With the latest Wireless-N Wi-Fi systems giving great speed and coverage over a wider area you might want to save the cost and effort of cabling. For general web browsing, email, copying of documents and spreadsheets, and working on your typical business management software, you shouldn’t have any reason to doubt wireless performance. If your small office isn’t so small after all, wireless repeaters and boosters are available and are relatively cheap at less than $100.

Where you might want to remain wired is when:

  • Your office already is cabled up, and all you need to do is plug in a network switch, or
  • You work on large documents and need to copy these around regularly: such as large raw images from cameras, video files, and large databases, or
  • Your IT guy has issues about Wi-Fi security or other technical restrictions. Take note: IT guys are often very busy so if they are recommending something it probably means they are trying to save more work and headaches for both yourself and themselves down the track.

Data Storage

A ‘NAS’ or ‘Network Attached Storage’ is a great idea for storing files centrally. A NAS is a small box, connected to the computer network, that contains hard disks inside (at least 1, but often 2 or more: creating redundancy in case one disk dies). If you have a server (such as a Microsoft Small Business Server) you might already have ‘shared drives’ set up, which we can think of the equivalent of a NAS. If not, you can purchase a NAS for a couple of hundred dollars, plus a hundred or two more for some large disks, and be able to store everyone’s files centrally. All NASs come with various security options to restrict people to only the folders they need to work in.

We highly recommend a NAS over storing files on personal computers and laptops. They let people share documents far more easily, ensures that there is the ‘master’ copy of any one file centrally stored, and makes backups a breeze.


Printers these days often come with wireless capabilities, giving you freedom to place them anywhere in the office where you can find a power point. Even if you don’t need a wireless printer we would highly recommend getting a network enabled printer (also known as an ‘IP Printer’ or a printer with a ’10/100 interface’). A network enabled printer lets you plug it in to one of those blue network cables directly, and avoid the need to connect it to a turned-on computer for staff to print.

Small and home offices might get away with a single multi-function centre that does printing, scanning, copying, and faxing. Just make sure you purchase a reputable brand and, where possible, get it serviced regularly. It hurts when the printer starts playing up and there is no alternative in the office for staff to print to.

Also look at the ‘duty cycle’ quoted in the product literature, which states the maximum recommended number of pages to print a month. Realistically you would divide by three or four to get the ‘actual’ duty cycle: manufactures are unfortunately very optimistic about how much load their printers can handle!


Internet telephony (also known as ‘VoIP’) is increasing in popularity thanks to more affordable systems, cheap phone calls, and better internet connections from your office to your service provider. If you have a good internet connection, and your internet or VoIP provider is willing to guarantee that for telephony purposes, you might want to consider going for a VoIP system instead of the usual PBX.

VoIP will save you a lot on phone call charges, and give you greater flexibility such as being able to connect a headset in to a computer and avoid the need for a dedicated telephone handset. There are cordless phones that are VoIP enabled as well. For many small offices VoIP will also eliminate the need to call in a specialised telephone technician, since many IT people have enough knowledge to set up a VoIP system themselves.

Just be aware of the limitations with VoIP before you dive in:

  • If your internet connection is not that fast, or you have limited bandwidth or downloads, you might struggle to maintain call quality
  • Setting up VoIP phones requires a bit of technical knowledge, and nowhere near as easy as just plugging a cable in to a wall when you want to move phones around the office
  • If your internet goes down, or power, so will your phone system. You probably still want to have one or two analogue phone lines (‘PSTN lines’), or cell phones, for such downtime, and for making emergency calls.

Central point of control

Finally, get all the gear hooked up in one place: your internet modems, telephone system, server computers, NAS, etc. If you have a small room, or closet, or even just a free desk that is ideal. Having all the gear in one place makes it much easier to connect everything up and diagnose faults when they occur.


Setting up your computer network for a small office takes a small amount of planning but is important in today’s connected world. You just don’t want to be messing about once furniture and computers are in, and people have work to do. Invest a the time (and possibly a little expense) now to save a lot in redesigning it later.

For more ideas check out our articles listing for other great tips and tricks to make your small or home office more productive.

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…

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.