Small businesses often run a tight ship. But many fumble on an alarmingly simple task--keeping the office stocked with the necessary supplies. If workers don't have sufficient pens, paper, paper clips, toner cartridges, battery chargers, mobile device accessories, and so forth, that can seriously slow down the flow of productivity. Every office needs a central supply of oft-used items so that workers don't face slowdowns due to a lack of resources. Whether you have a walk-in closet or a single lockable drawer in an accessible credenza, make sure your office manager or de facto office manager keeps your inventory stocked with the necessary goods to keep the team on task. Warehouse clubs and big-box office supply stores will deliver, so consider a standing order.
Provide Tools for Visual Collaboration
Ideas and brainstorming are central to the evolution of any small business. That's why many smaller companies introduce write-on/wipe-off boards or even plastics/glass wall surfaces. Teams can create living diagrams, team leads can spec out how a product or plan will evolve, and on-the-spot brainstorms can all emerge when there are both space and tools available to visualize and draw out how an idea might work. Think of it as "back of the napkin" space in your physical office. Sure, at some point these ideas will need to be committed to the screen, a list or a mobile device--especially if office housekeepers might erase them during a zealous cleaning--but offering write-on/wipe-off space encourages workers to hit the drawing board, and then go back to it, again and again.
Choose Where to Communicate
Small offices are noisy, and even with the best noise-baffling materials and technologies there's no denying that workers will need to talk one-on-one and in groups. As the discussion gets more productive or animated, the decibels rise. And then there's always that person who talks in a booming low voice just because that's their disposition. If you're running the business, create a communications culture by using electronic shortcuts for small talk and leaving live conversations for more important matters. While it may seem cold or unproductive to encourage workers to use instant messenger programs, when used mainly for the little things ("Coming to the meeting in five minutes?" or "Do you know if so-and-so is working from home today?"), it cuts down on a lot of chatter about little things. Likewise, the occasional group e-mail with updates and notes that workers may want to reference later is a useful way of side-stepping the need for a long meeting. Still, there are obvious times when one-on-one communication or group meetings are best. One-on-one is best for disciplinary, difficult or awkward chats. And group meetings are necessary when delivering extremely good or extremely bad news. (You can e-mail follow-ups, if need be, once the news has broken.)
A small office is often full of single-minded workers bent on hitting their numbers, meeting their deadlines, and landing new clients--and it's also often full of big egos and people who are highly invested in their jobs. They may forget that others are working around them, and this can be a shame--especially if these workers like to put their calls on speakerphone and then leave the door open, or convene Skype meetings without using headphones or microphones to cut down on noise. Create rules about noisy devices and choices like these, so other workers aren't driven to distraction. Alternatively, encourage workers who must use "open air" Skype or video chat calls to do so in an enclosed room--and make the necessary tools available so they won't disturb colleagues.
Keep the Client in Mind
Do clients come to your office for meetings? Who's coming? Is it prospective accounts you might service? Vendors you're interviewing to hire as subcontractors for a project? Investors who might fund your technology? Depending on your business's life stage, your office design needs to take into account who may be coming to visit. Is there a waiting area--at least a comfy chair and table with some magazines or company literature--near the front door? Is there a meeting table or room? And, if so, how is that meeting table arranged? Is it a classic conference table? A casual dining table? These minor-sounding distinctions send subtle messages to potential business partners about how you'd interact with them once a contract is signed. Will you be a communicative, equal partner--or a domineering dictator? An investor might not mind seeing your office bursting at the seams (what a sign of productivity and expansion!) and taking a meeting by the coffee pot, but a potential client interested in hiring you for graphic design or an event plan might worry that the space is so chaotic, no one can get work done. Consider your office as seen from an outsider's eyes. Better yet, ask an objective friend who's never visited to drop by and then ask them their impressions of the space.
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Kathleen, Founder and CEO of Grayce & Co, a media and marketing consultancy, can help you develop a brand strategy, build marketing campaigns and learn how to balance work and life.