Hacks for making a small office look bigger

Forward-thinking design is giving the gift of space to cosy offices

February 18, 2020

For many small businesses running on a tight budget can be a typical scenario. But operating in a tight office no longer has to be.

Digital transformation and flexible working has allowed many businesses to opt for a modestly-sized workplace while investing in a design that makes the most of whatever space is available.

A reception area that doubles as a meeting space or café, sliding, folding and relocatable walls, and plant life are the office design hacks giving businesses who occupy smaller spaces - often in older buildings - some of the country’s best workplaces.

“Many offices have a lot of extra room, yet many business owners don’t realise,” says Anthony Walsh, Design Director, JLL. “The diversity and creativity of furniture and design is making it easier for small businesses to deliver the optimal workplace – one that is engaging, seamless to navigate, experience-driven, and in some aspects feels just like home.”

While the perfect workplace is difficult to pinpoint as it must continually be tailored to specific employees, Walsh says there are some fundamentals: privacy (even in an open office); limited visual distraction; space designed with employee types and tasks in mind; and external places to collaborate.

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Given that small businesses are increasingly clustering around the characterful suburbs on the fringe of Australia’s main cities, spaces for collaborative and creative thinking can be easy to find. These areas include Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Redfern in Sydney, Cremorne and Collingwood in Melbourne, and downtown Brisbane.

“Real estate is incredibly expensive in the city hubs,” says Phylicia Cohen, Commercial Manager, Projects and Development, JLL. “There’s often more character in the buildings slightly further afield, and interiors can be optimised with simple space-saving techniques, such as desk-sharing, personal lockers and linear desk arrangements.”

Fast and flexible

An important tactic for creating a spacious workplace is versatility. This extends to the reception area, a cornerstone of the traditional office, which has been evolving from a formal space into something more multipurpose. Some businesses are ditching their reception desk altogether.

“Automation is driving the trend for the receptionless office, and as a result we are seeing valuable space freed up for both visitors and workers to use, while bringing the buzz of the office to front of house,” Cohen says.

To prevent visitors feeling disorientated when they arrive, some offices have placed branded markers on the floor to guide them to different rooms.

Another practical move is bringing nature inside. Plants are not only great for stimulating creativity, but they are also practical. While walls and solid screens can easily make a small office feel cramped, plants can all at once provide privacy, insulate sound and improve light without compromising sense of space.

“Fresh air nourishes our brains,” says Cohen, who notes a significant trend towards balconies, terraces or other types of outdoor space within an office building.

“I’m working on a project that includes a ‘bird cage’, an outdoor structure where staff can have meetings. It’s a lovely, practical space that shows what you can do in smaller offices.”

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