Profit Minded

How to create a great small business workspace

Pets can be part of a productive workspace. Photo: turnstone

Think that a better-designed workspace, or even a more wellness-oriented culture, could help your small business be more productive and get to the next level? Kevin Kuske would bet on it.

He’s Chief Anthropologist and General Manager for the office furniture company turnstone, which caters to entrepreneurs and businesses with fewer than 100 employees. In his studies of great small businesses—the kinds of startups that brilliant people grovel to work for—he’s seen how attention to office design and culture can support success.

In these workplaces, Kuske says, “there’s freedom and the boundaries between work and home are blurred; you see dogs and skateboards and teapots, which creates a very strong culture of personality that is the sum of all the people who work there.” That's also a great recruiting tool, he says.

In fast-moving small businesses, Kuske says the team members are working so hard that social bonds are important. An element of play in a workspace can help to establish those, he says, and he’s not talking about foosball and ping-pong. “It’s about creating spaces. One business we know has bleachers like you’d see in a high school gym where they have a daily meeting.”

Kuske says attention to wellness should be built into the workplace, too. “Why would we design workspaces so that you go to work and come back less healthy? Those are 8-12 hours a day that could be improving your health.” Kuske says the biggest contributor to a healthy workspace is mobility. “We as humans were not designed to sit all day.” He urges employers to design spaces that make people move and to establish cultures that give them permission to.

For instance, turnstone did away with desk-and-chair workstations for nearly half its employees. Kuske says that with mobile devices, they can work from a variety of spaces around the office—on sofas, at kitchen counters, in collaborative spaces, and at stations in between. “They’re happy not to go back to the ‘that’s my desk, that’s my chair’ thing,” Kuske says.

Important to small businesses that don’t have the budgets for office design overhauls, Kuske points out: “If you make people mobile workers and give them this palette of places to work, you’re not spending money on a sea of desks. Your space becomes livelier and noisier.”

The noise, he says, is a good thing: “The worst thing you can have is an open-plan space with no background noise. It’s like being a couple in a booth in an empty restaurant when another couple is seated behind you; you both have to whisper.” But Kuske acknowledges there are going to be times when workers in an open office want to signal colleagues that they need privacy or time to concentrate. He recommends the Brazilian steakhouse system: a red card signals no more interruptions.

To be sure, the real value in any office redesign comes with behavior change, Kuske says, and that depends on the culture and the personality of the company. When you see a top exec lead by example and work on the couch or at the standup station, it gives permission to employees to do the same. Companies with reputations for being cool, fun, productive places to work—think Etsy and Method—have a high level of involvement at a very personal level from the leadership, Kuske says.

Kuske is passionate about enlightening all small business owners and entrepreneurs to the wisdom of creating great workspaces. After all, he says, we know space matters at home, we know it matters on vacation; somewhere along the line we decided it didn’t matter at work. He is pretty certain it does.

Read Four Office Design Tips from a Workplace Anthropologist and learn how to enter for a chance to win a $20,000 office makeover from turnstone.

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