Biz Features

6 Reasons Your Cool Startup Office Might Be Terrible

by . February 11th, 2016

The “trendy startup workspace” has captured our imaginations. But they’re not what they’re made up to be.

Certainly not for most startups of limited means. Now it’s true that you need to set up the space to reflect what you want your work culture to be. How you design your space can for better or worse, shape the behavior of those in it. It also serves as a reflection of your brand.

That said, a lot of the fancier stuff can wait. Here’re a few reasons why your “fun” startup space might not be all that great.


6.) It can be distracting.


We see this often with creative agencies. Sure you want to highlight how “outside the box” or “cutting edge” you are, but not at the expense of making sure everyone in your space can actually work.

Multiple studies have concluded that office distractions and the lack of privacy can reduce productivity and ramp up stress levels.  You won’t have to look far to find both these factors in one terrible design.


MORE: Free Food at Work Can Make a Difference. But Not As Much As You Think.


Open plan offices are the trendiest office plan with 70% of offices in the US adhering to some form of it.  They are outright terrible for workers who need to focus. Headphones are also a must for anyone who doesn’t want to get distracted by the things going on around them.  The lack of privacy also creates a sense of paranoia that might be great for temporarily boosting productivity, but ultimately more stressful for workers.


5.) Your seed money could be better spent.


If your startup is like most others, your initial operating capital will likely never be enough for everything you need. The return on investment on “cool stuff” has to be considered before you pull the trigger.

We’re not saying your startup has to be devoid of personality. Sacrifices have to be made, and it’s up to you to decide if branding is more important than actual productivity. In many cases it is. Just probably not in yours.


4.) Shallow perks won’t attract or retain the best people.


Google’s generous perks system is not only the talk of the business world, it’s legendary. In wantrepreneur and startup circles, Google’s and other similar perks systems are often touted as examples to emulate.

On the other hand, Google – as are many other Silicon Valley firms – are notorious for having some of the most disloyal employees, with some of the highest attrition rates in the tech industry.


MORE:  Why Your Workplace BYOD Policy Doesn’t Work


Great workers are drawn and retained by camaraderie, a sense of fulfillment, solid compensation, and a clear sense of vision. People are not going to be professionally invested in your company just because you hired a full-time barista, or have a jacuzzi out back.


MORE: Office Distractions: Part One


Yeah these perks are fun. But they’re only tools for building a brand and a culture, they won’t make it for you. For a new startup, there’s a bunch of better cheaper things you should be doing.


3.) Function often gives way to style.


Just how much space do you have? Are the workers in the space able to actually do what they’re supposed to? Are they able to find anything?  Is the space actually making them sick? You pretty much know where this is headed.


2.) Just how much foosball can you play?


Games and entertainment at the workplace can be great for helping workers unwind or better get in the zone, but they’re not for everyone. If you have the wrong mix of personality types, these things can often be more of a negative distraction than they are helpful.


MORE:  14 Ideas for Optimizing Your Workspace [Infographic]


Plus, they can take up space that might be suited for more work stations of something you will actually use. Don’t just buy a foosball table because every startup from San Francisco to Hyderabad has one. Make sure it’s something people there might actually need.


1.) We follow good office trends and create hellholes.


When cubicles and open offices were each introduced, they were hailed as massive innovations in productivity.

Designer Robert Propst, inventor of the cubicle, saw his design perverted from one that was intended to give workers autonomy, to one that ultimately dehumanized them in what the New York Times has described as “rat-maze boxes of offices”.

Open offices likewise, went from something intended to help certain kinds of collaboration, to business owners just going “These cubicles cost too much. Let’s just stuff everyone in the same space and get on with it.”


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What makes workspace design actually work depends on each situation. The culture and brand you want to create, the mix of personalities in your team, the kind of work each team member needs to do, the climate, the existing culture and how much of it you want to change, and your available budget all need to be taken into account before you spend any of your initial capital on setting up your space.

This isn’t a swipe at cubicle farms or open plan offices. They do have their uses and many managers consider the drawbacks to be acceptable losses. This is a wake up call for startup founders who lack direction and just follow trends for their sake. Following trends without understanding the rationales behind them or how they would apply to your setting is a recipe for disaster.


What’s your workspace like? Comment below!


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